There’s no denying that the holiday season—regardless of your beliefs—is a busy and often maddening time. We nearly kill ourselves for a month of the year for the sake of family, significant others, shopping, decorations, cooking, baking and more shopping, all in the name of living up to some version of an “ideal” season.
In most cases (but definitely not all), friends can be our saving grace during the harried holidays. Friends often don’t expect as much as families or partners do, and they become a source of solace when everything else in our lives seems a bit too awry. In no community is this more evident than in LGBT circles, where for many, friends are the family they have chosen—sometimes because of rejection from their own families.
Thankfully, society is moving along fairly quickly when it comes to lesbian and gay acceptance (for transgender—not fast enough—but more on that below), and such estrangements are more and more rare. But ask anyone who is LGBT, and you’ll quickly find stories or people who know of stories with undercurrents of sadness, separation or loss. In a way, this is no different from the straight community, but LGBT stories are unique and worth recognizing as such.
One of my closest friends, “James,” has visited his parents in another state each Christmas without his partner of 22 years, “Alex,” at his side. James had not even been able to tell his parents that Alex existed because of an unspoken family “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It wasn’t until 2010—when their relationship neared the 20-year milestone—that James threw down the gauntlet, told his parents about his lifetime love and essentially said they could accept all of him or nothing. Now, James and Alex both visit during holidays, and they’ve welcomed James’ mom to visit them. But it took two decades to get that far.
Even in cases where acceptance by family members is more the norm, there can still often be issues. Perhaps the LGBT person is out to most of the family, but not all—such as grandparents or more conservative members of the family. In such cases, both the LGBT and the open-minded relatives can find it difficult to work out holiday traditions.
Or maybe the family members truly want to be happy for their gay child/sibling/cousin, but they can’t let go of the heterosexual “ideal” they had in their minds for that individual. This can lead to awkwardness at best or anger at worst.
Longtime activist Lauryn Farris explains that the vast majority of people who are gender-transitioning lose marriages, family and friendships throughout their transition process. Although these schisms can occur any time, they are often exacerbated around the holidays, where family involvement becomes an expectation.
One facet that isn’t often discussed is children who must learn to accept their lesbian, gay or transgender parent. As Farris explains, “It can be very difficult for others in the family, mourning the loss of the person as they were but also trying to find ways to celebrate the new person they’ve become.
Mourning the loss of someone who is still here—but is changed—is as difficult as mourning someone who is lost completely.”
Farris’ son, Mark, adds, “The hardest thing for allies of people who transition is the fallout from family members. Lauryn’s birth family has alienated not just her, but myself, my wife Danielle and our three-month-old son, Austin. We stand with Lauryn, of course, but we’re caught in the not-so-friendly fire.”
Danielle has reached out to Lauryn’s sister, this being Austin’s first-ever Christmas, but thus far has not received a response.
Importantly, there are resources available. Jennifer Boylan of Colby College in Maine offers a free service called the December Project, through which a trained volunteer will call a transgender person during the holidays to talk and, hopefully, raise their spirits. More information about this non-crisis service can be found at jenniferboylan.net
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the impact of lost loved ones during this time of year. It’s something we all face in one form or another, and within the LGBT community, it can still be difficult for people to find comfort for their grief. Darwin Huartson of VITAS Hospice and board member of Pride Center San Antonio explains, “Holidays become a collision of emotions—reconciling happy and sad. It’s important to find ways to claim our loss and not [allow] the loss to claim us.”
Huartson, who has himself experienced the recent loss of a partner, is conducting an LGBT Grief in the Holidays workshop on Saturday, December 7 at 10 a.m. at the Deco Building at 1800 Fredericksburg Rd. “Workshops offer the opportunity to find a safe space to create a plan among others in a similar situation. LGBT people can feel disenfranchised by their grief, and times are hard enough as it is. No one wants to be a victim of the holidays.” For more information on the Grief Workshop, please email pridecentersa (at) gmail.com.
Below is this month’s “I Am” statement. Send your own 100-word statement to currentlyrichard (at) gmail.com for publication in future “Just Happens to Be LGBT” columns.
I am a filmmaker and activist. I am a native of San Antonio and have lived here all but two years of my life. I have recently become a father, and am a very happy parent. I love the fact that my son will grow up in the same town I grew up in, but with a fully inclusive NDO to protect his grandmother and those like her. I graduated from TCU, and am currently working in the local film community. I am very close to my family, both blood and chosen. I am first an activist, the silent A (ally) in the alphabet. Secondly, I am a son of a T (transgender).