Yep. It’s December. The last month of the year, and goodness this year has flown by! Fall Quarter is almost over, finals are looming large in the sight of students, and the holiday season is in full swing. Christmas music accosts us in every conceivable establishment, advertisements for 30% off store-wide are plastered across billboards and blanket the airwaves, red buckets and panhandlers are posted up on every corner, light displays compete for best in show.
The hustle and bustle of shoppers and travellers serves to remind us of the social expectation to be merry, jolly and full of holiday spirit. It reminds us of our obligation to gather with family, buy presents for people we don’t even like, and pretend that we all love each other and everything is fine. But we don’t all love each other, and everything is not fine.
For some, the holiday season is soul-crushingly depressing, especially if you identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The holidays can be a painful reminder of the family we’ve lost, simply for being our authentic selves. Many queer and trans people have bitter, uncomfortable, estranged relationships with their genetic families. It seems the more open we are about our identities, the more persecution we experience from family members. Even for those who are still welcome in the homes of their relatives, years of hurtful behavior, homophobic comments and mis-gendering from family members makes the very idea of being around said relatives dread-filled and intolerable. Oftentimes, it is simply easier and less traumatic to spend the holidays alone.
Blood family can do some pretty terrible things to queer people. They force us to endure criticism, humiliation, rejection, trauma, abandonment, disownment and even imposed homelessness. Righteous religiosity often leads family members to outright banishment of their LGBTQ+ kin, seeing them as ungodly, wicked, immoral and perverse. If you know a queer or trans person well, you know these perceptions are unfounded. For those of us for whom this is true, this time of year is like a cruel joke with no punchline, thrusting reminders of our outcast status in our faces at every turn. It is difficult to find the joy in any of the goings-on around us, and even more difficult to participate in them. If Scrooge were a real person, he would be queer, with abandonment issues.
This is the time of year when many LGBTQ+ people turn to the bottle or drugs for comfort, wallow in isolation and battle with suicidal ideations and attempts. For people with addiction problems, this is the most likely time of year for relapse and overdose.
Of course, these situations are not isolated to queer people, they can happen to anyone; but they are especially prevalent within the LGBTQ+ community, for obvious reasons. Would you want to break bread with the people who have called you a fag, told you you’re a pervert and are going to hell, renounced you as their son or daughter, or refuse to stop dead-naming you? I sure wouldn’t. In my experience, “chosen” family can be a hell of a lot better than blood relatives, because we actually like our chosen family as much as we love them. No one said we have to like our relatives.
So, what’s a queer to do? No one wants to be alone, and lonely, for the holidays. We all need to feel a sense of community and support to make the days bearable. Some of us have had no choice but to make our own chosen families -and that’s awesome, but this time of year tends to see many of those chosen family members indisposed and people get left behind and slip through the cracks. With the current administration attempting to take away the rights of queer and trans people, the sense of impending doom, hopelessness and woe has peaked for many of us, and we need love and support more than ever. It’s especially important that we be that network of loving support for each other during the holidays.
I happen to not care much one way or the other that I don’t have genetic family to spend the holidays with. I’m utterly independent and happy about it. I like being alone, I hate having to buy gifts or make food I can’t afford on my student budget, and it’s a relief not to have to participate in the holiday chaos and commercialization. I am an exception, however.
For Thanksgiving, I received several invitations to people’s homes, which I declined. In my self-centeredness around getting to spend Thanksgiving alone, I accidentally neglected friends of mine who had nowhere to go for the holidays. Had I been more thoughtful and attentive, I would have noticed that they hadn’t mentioned having holiday plans. It wasn’t until the next Monday that I found out that, not only had they not been invited anywhere, no one had even called them. Not even their mothers. Not even me. They were utterly alone that day, and they felt hurt and forgotten. I felt ashamed of myself for having been so oblivious, for neglecting to be there for my loved ones. Had I been more present for them, they might not have tried to harm themselves because they thought no one cared about them. Thankfully, they survived, and I learned a tough lesson about what it means to be chosen family and the responsibility that comes with it.
If you happen to be friends with folks who fit any of the above descriptions, keep your eyes peeled and your heart open, and make sure you reach out to them in between your mad dashes to buy last-minute gifts. Sometimes, just being noticed and included by someone we care about can make a huge difference.
A lot of folks have “orphan” holiday gatherings, but not everyone has one to go to, or is bold enough to ask for an invite if they have nowhere else to go. If you have room in your home for Christmas and you love someone who doesn’t have plans, invite them over. Let them know they’re not invisible. Who knows, they might even buy you that thing you’ve been wanting for Christmas. The point is to let them know that they do have family that loves and cares for them, even if you’re not connected by blood. Because you’re their chosen family, and they love you, too.
There is another faction of society for whom this time of year is equally harsh: the unhoused community. They are the forgotten ones, neglected and abandoned by society and their own families. Many people see them as being homeless by choice or their own doing, but this is an erroneous and conceited assumption.
I imagine that you would do almost anything to have a roof over your head and food in your belly if you were in a serious pickle, and I imagine the same is true of most -if not all- of “them”. I can personally speak to the frequency with which people are cast out of their homes through no fault of their own; either by some cruel twist of fate or because of someone else’s cruelty.
Government assistance with housing and other resources is often much more difficult to come by than the more fortunate realize. The waiting lists for many of these resources are miles long, space is limited, and funding is scarce. Our current administration’s budget cuts and policy changes have certainly not helped. It’s so easy to look away, place the blame on the shoulders of the victim, and dismiss how fortunate we are to have drawn a better hand in the game of life than the ones “they” have been dealt.
But it is about to literally be freezing outside, which is these unfortunate folks’ living room. There are shivering and hungry children out there, abandoned and defenseless against the elements. While you’re glutting yourselves on holiday excess, throw your spare change at someone. Not literally of course, that would be highly uncivilized of you. Hand it to them gently.
Volunteering, donating toiletries, money and supplies to shelters, even buying the guy on the corner a coffee, are all ways you can spread the holiday cheer to those who have none, without being terribly inconvenienced. Several Seattle colleges, shelters and grocery stores have food drop-off bins you know. You could buy a can or twelve of holiday-appropriate foodstuffs on your next shopping trip and help someone have a better X-mas.
Did I mention volunteerism yet? Oh yeah, I did. Well, tough cookies, I said it twice because it bears repeating. Your time is precious, and is therefore the best gift you can give to the less fortunate. How do you show someone you care? You show up and get your hands dirty. These are all just gentle suggestions, if you can. If you want to help the young people’s, homeless and LGBTQ+ communities in one fell swoop, try lending a hand or making a donation at PSKS (look it up) or YouthCare. Fully half of the homeless youth they serve identify as LGBTQ and have been forced out of their homes by their families for being who they are. That sucks, it’s not right, and it shouldn’t happen to kids. Go meet some of them and hear their stories while you help out, I promise they’ll appreciate it.
My point is that the holidays are a very self-absorbed time, for all that we pretend it’s “better to give than to receive”. It’s really supposed to be a time to be grateful for who and what we have. I am of the opinion that, if you are truly grateful, you also take a moment to reach out and give back. We are a community, we all live here, and we all deserve some holiday cheer. Be grateful by being present for others less fortunate than yourself, by being part of the solution. Spread the love, people.
Stuff that in your stocking.
Happy holidays to each and every one of you. Please be safe out there, and be kind to one another.