By Ashley Altadonna
The holidays are upon us once again and, despite Andy Williams’ crooning insistence, for many trans and non-binary folks this is definitely not the most wonderful time of the year. Let’s be honest: many of us, regardless of gender identity, find the prospect of visiting family for the holidays stress-inducing. However, for many transgender and gender-expansive folks who are striving to be their authentic selves and affirm their self-worth, seeing family who may not be accepting can put a damper on the season’s merriment. So how does one deal with these festive familial misfortunes?
Start by trying to identify what (if any) potential issues could arise ahead of time. Figuring out what might spark a potential argument beforehand can help prepare you, at least somewhat. Will your in-laws off-handedly or directly criticize your gender presentation or gender identity? Will your parents or siblings forget to gender you correctly? If so, recognize that while you can clearly state how you wish to be addressed and treated by drawing your own healthy boundaries, you ultimately cannot control another person’s behavior. You only have control over how you behave if and when your boundaries have been crossed. Pick your battles. Getting into a heated argument isn’t likely to sway anyone’s hearts or minds, especially during holiday gatherings. Try to dismiss inappropriate remarks by gently reminding your family that it’s holidays and you’d prefer to avoid “personal politics.”
If you haven’t already come out to your family and loved ones yet, keep in mind that the holidays are likely not the best time to do so. There are lots of things to consider when coming out. Of course, depending on how much your gender expression may have changed since your family last saw you, you might not have much choice in the matter. If this is the case, giving your family a heads up that they should expect some differences before your visit may help. This provides your loved ones and you a chance to prepare before seeing each other face-to-face. It also gives you an opportunity to set boundaries about the sort of topics, questions, or comments you consider to be inappropriate. This doesn’t guarantee they will abide by your instructions, but if they do start to cross the line, you can politely remind them that you already let them know that a particular subject or question is off-limits.
It may also help to come out to your parents, siblings, and extended family members during a quieter moment of your visit, in a more personal one-on-one setting, rather than as a grand declaration to your entire family. People respond to the news of someone they know changing their gender in a variety of ways, including rejection, tolerance, acceptance, and full support. You may be surprised at how well some members of your family take the news, but if their reactions aren’t what you were hoping for, try to realize that people’s thoughts and feelings often change with time. Let them know that they are important to you and that you are open to discussing things more when they are ready.
If you’re already out to your family but their acceptance is less than ideal, remember to take care of yourself first. Often our time during the holidays is centered around family obligations. If you feel it would be healthier for you to skip out on a family event, do so. If you can’t and tensions are rising, find ways to maintain your emotional wellbeing. If you’re feeling anxious, angry, out of control, or overwhelmed, consider coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, listening to soothing and calming music, doing heavy work like lifting/pulling/pushups, jumping up and down, throwing an exercise ball against a blank wall, taking a warm shower, or using a weighted blanket. If you are feeling spacy, zoned out, numb, or frozen, try smelling essential oils, chewing crunchy food, going for a walk, rocking in a chair, finger painting, or dancing to music. If visiting your family is absolutely unbearable, connect with friends or community members, by phone or online, who will support and understand you. You can also leave. Spending the holidays with friends or chosen family is certainly a valid option to consider.
Keep in mind that while holidays are a taxing time, thankfully these get-togethers are also temporary. Enjoy your family and time home as best as you can. Take care of yourself and we hope you have a happy and healthy holiday season.