Christmas can be a difficult time for many LGBTQ+ people who are estranged from their families. Karen Pollock explores the myths and pressures of the perfect family Christmas.
So, as the song, says, this is Christmas, a time supposedly of merriment and goodwill to all. For some though it can be a season decidedly lacking in goodwill. The Hidden Voices report into family estrangement, supported by Stand Alone, a family estrangement charity, found that 90% of people who are estranged from their whole family, or a key family member struggle in the holiday season.
This is hardly a surprise if you think about the way Christmas is sold to us. Happy families sit around tables laden with a feast of herculean proportions. Everyone is smiling, granny is never racist, and Uncle Ted never makes pointed comments about how it’s high time you settled down and got married. Being cut off by, or from, your family is not an experience exclusive to the LGBT community, however it is something many members of it are familiar with. The Hidden Voices report particularly highlighted how bisexual people seem to be affected more by family estrangement (8% of respondents identified as bi, compared to 2% as lesbian and gay, and 1% as trans). Many more people may have some contact with families, but still, in order to avoid hurt and with the knowledge of how Christmas has been in the past, will not be driving home for Christmas.
The Hidden Voices report into family estrangement, supported by Stand Alone, a family estrangement charity, found that 90% of people who are estranged from their whole family, or a key family member struggle in the holiday season.
For some the reasons to avoid family at Christmas are even more serious. Emotional, physical and sexual abuse predominate in the reasons LGBTQ+ youth give for homelessness. Many people cannot go home for the blunt reason it would not be safe for them to do so. A stark echo of the Christmas story, regardless of your faith.
In our minds we may know to stay away is the sensible choice, in our hearts we could feel that we have failed. Rather than seeing self care as the vitally important thing it is, we are often made to feel selfish. Add onto this the avalanche of societal and cultural messages telling us that blood is thicker than water, and suffering silently in the face of family abuse and neglect is expected.
Should is one of the most toxic words in existence.
You should forgive. You should spend Christmas with your family. You should be silent in the face of homophobic family members, misgendering, invites which don’t include your partner.
Rather than seeing self care as the vitally important thing it is, all too often we are made to feel selfish for doing it. Add onto this the avalanche of societal and cultural messages telling us that blood is thicker than water, and suffering silently in the face of family abuse and neglect is expected.
This Christmas, ditch the shoulds. Far too often therapists are accused of not taking a position either way, and it’s true, I rarely give advice, it’s not my role, this time I will however. There are no shoulds around Christmas. They need to be ditched; shoulds hold us back, filling us with guilt and ideas of failure where it does not exist.
If you chose not to spend Christmas with family who do not respect your gender or sexuality, I salute you. If you practice self care, place it above conforming to a John Lewis ad version of Christmas, you are engaged in one of the most radical acts possible, As Audre Lorde said.
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
If your estrangement is not through choice, you face Christmas apart from family because you do not conform to their expectations, I send love and a Christmas wish, that you will remember there is no failing at Christmas, no failure on your part at least. There is no rule book which says how Christmas must be done, if you are not with family, do it your way. For some that means ignoring the day completely, for others treats they choose rather feel obliged to indulge in. For whatever reason you are not with family, may I wish you a Merry Queer Christmas.
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