Happy Holidays with Homophobic or Transphobic Relatives
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Take these ideas home for the holidays
For LGBTQ solo parents and solo parents raising LGBTQ kids, the holidays can be a mixed bag of sparkly gift wrap and lumps of coal.
Those blessed with supportive families can look forward to sharing warm holiday traditions, while others prepare for family gatherings as though they’re headed into a psychosocial battle.
Got a family that serves homophobia with their latkes or transphobia with their Christmas ham? Pack these tips in your duffel bag.
Make a conscious decision
Before you invest in that bus ticket to Stressville, ask yourself, Is it worth it? Whip out a pen, divide a piece of paper into two columns, and list the pros and cons. Why would you attend your family’s holiday celebration? Why might you opt out? After you’ve listed the pluses and minuses, give them a good, long look.
If you see more reasons to attend, then by all means, go! If the going gets rough, remind yourself of your conscious decision: you came here for a reason, so focus on the reason you came.
If you see more reasons to avoid the family debacle than to engage in it, make a self-affirming choice and decline to attend. Instead of investing your emotional energy in managing family tensions, use your energy to build new traditions, to grieve the family you wish you had, and to connect with people who love and support you and your children as you are, for who you are.
Commit to a project of self-love
Sahaj Kohli, blog editor at the Huffington Post, says, “The fact that someone else loves you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself.”
As you prepare for the holidays, make a commitment to the project of self-love. Solo parents have a tendency to make sure everyone else is OK before they tend to themselves. Time to reverse that trend, starting with two practices (which, by the way, are helpful for your kids, too.
1. List everything you love about you. Are you funny? Do you always look for the positive in a negative situation? Are you creative? Are you a hard worker? List at least 10 of your lovable qualities. If you find this difficult, ask around—what do your trusted friends, family, and coworkers love about you? If you’re too shy to ask, remember what they’ve told you in the past.
Next, create a list of everything you love about being part of the LGBTQ community, either as an LGBTQ person yourself or as the parent of an LGBTQ kid. For example, look at all the extraordinary LGBTQ role models carrying the message that we all have the right to live as our fully expressed selves. What’s not to love about that?
Keep these two lists close. Read and reread them. Add to them. Memorize them. Internalize them. These loving truths are the antidote to the homophobia or transphobia you might face at home.
2. Enjoy a 10-minute lovefest. Can you remember a time when you felt truly, fully loved and accepted, either by another person or by life itself? What did your body feel like? Your mind will want to recall the details of the story, but what matters here is your body’s cellular memory. Close your eyes, and see if you can recall the physical feeling you experienced at that time, stripped of the story. Got it?
Now here’s the practice: the moment you wake up, before you do anything else, for 10 minutes, call into your body that physical feeling of love. Imagine the feeling as a warm presence, like candlelight glowing in your body. Imagine that your slow, intentional breath keeps that presence lit, alive. Your brain will try to interrupt this visualization with thoughts. When that happens, just notice the interruption, gently let it go, and return to breathing into this light, experiencing its warmth.
The more you experience this feeling of warmth, the more access you will have to it throughout your day. If things start heating up with the family, you can detach from the tensions outside you, connect to your breath, and let your breath connect you to that bottomless well of love.
Make agreements ahead of time
You can create a sense of safety for yourself and your kids by setting boundaries before you arrive at the family celebration. If it’s age appropriate, have a discussion with your kids, or reflect on your own about what you are and are not willing to tolerate. The agreements you make will depend on your situation. Here are some examples:
- If you’re bringing your gender-creative child to a family gathering, let people know how to interact with your child. Do you want them to use a particular gender pronoun? Do you need a compliments-only policy when it comes to commenting on your child’s clothing?
- If you have known homophobic offenders coming to dinner, you might ask for an agreement with your family members that no one will discuss politics.
- If your family is open to making agreements, also discuss what you plan to do if an agreement is broken; for example, “I love you all, and I really want to spend this time with you, which is why I’m trying to find a way to make it comfortable for all of us. If this agreement doesn’t work out, I plan to leave, and we can try again next time.”
- If you cannot depend on your family to make agreements or respect boundaries, you might make agreements with your child or with yourself; for instance, “If Uncle Joey goes on a homophobic rampage, we will leave the room.”
When making agreements, remember, deep down you all want the same thing: peaceful, enjoyable family time. You’re simply offering some suggestions to help reach that goal.
Develop conversation strategies
If your family isn’t the agreement-making kind, bring these tried-and-true conversation tactics to the dinner table. Of course, having heartfelt, consciousness-raising conversations with family members is important, too. But not every family member is ready for that, and very few are ready during the holidays. These strategies require extraordinary patience, but the payoff—a relatively peaceful family gathering—is well worth it.
Disengage. There are a million ways to disengage from potentially hurtful conversations. Try these:
- “Mom, I love you deeply, and I don’t want to talk politics with you. Please stop.”
- “Aunt Norma, I want to spend quality time with you. I don’t enjoy these conversations. Let’s talk about something else.”
Hint: You may need to use these disengagement tactics several times, but if you’re steadfast, eventually your conversation partner will get the point.
Deflect and redirect. Aunt Ruth has cornered you in the kitchen, and she’s bringing up the whole gender-and-public-restroom thing. Time to pull the old deflect and redirect. Try these tactics:
- Acknowledge that she has spoken, “Mmm hmm,” then redirect her attention elsewhere: “Do you think Julia will bring her sweet potatoes again? I’ve been looking forward to those all year!”
- Ignore the statement, and share a fond holiday memory: “Remember when the tree lights blew a fuse, and we ate dinner by candlelight?”
- Ask her a question about herself: “Did I hear that you’re volunteering at the senior center?”
Hint: It’s hard to come up with redirect topics at the same time that you’re deflecting emotionally damaging comments, so make a list of go-to topics in advance.
Retreat into self-care
OK, so you’ve made a conscious decision to spend the holidays with your family. You’ve been practicing self-love. You’ve made your agreements, either with family members, your kids, or yourself. You’ve got your list of conversation disengagers and redirectors. You’re almost ready to go.
But first, this question: How are you going to take care of yourself and your children when you’re there?
Whether things go along swimmingly or you feel like you’re stuck in a dinghy during a hurricane, socializing with homophobic or transphobic relatives can take a lot of energy. So make some plans to retreat and recharge during your stay. Try these:
- If you’re the nature type, schedule a walk in the woods.
- Call a friend who will empathize with you, celebrate your strength, or make you laugh.
- If your kids need to blow off steam, find a physical release for them—bowling, batting cages, a journal-writing excursion at a local coffee shop.
- If weather keeps you in the house, retreat into projects. Nothing releases tension like scrubbing the baked-on guck off a casserole dish. Nothing says “generate goodwill” like, “Grandma, may I fix the towel rod in the bathroom for you?”
Most of all, stay connected with yourself and your children. If you feel like you’re coming apart, or if they do, a nice, long snuggle can put you back together.
If you appreciate practical advice from Solo Moms, turn to our confidential Sister Chat section where you can ask the hard questions.
Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.