Surviving Family Time Over the Holidays

While the holiday season is filled with gift giving and joy for many, some of us often encounter the gift of “best intentions” with friends or family that cannot reconcile their Christian faith with our sexual orientation or gender identity. Trying to set you up on a date with the neighbor’s son next door or introducing your date/significant other as your “friend” to other holiday guests can go right up there on the shelf with that ugly over sized sweater that Aunt Maude knitted you for Christmas last year. It is often hard to know what to say, or even how to respond in the moment to those we care about when they are acting in homophobic ways. For some, just thinking about sitting around the dinner table with family who do not know how to accept them can be anxiety provoking and can feel as if the Grinch has come and stolen all of your holiday spirit.

Here are some tools for conversation to have in your back pocket while you are passing the turkey, cranberry sauce and sides of tense conversation. They could be helpful in managing the indigestion of “best intentions” and ignorance.

1. The Buddy System

Talk with someone who supports you before you embark on your holiday with family or friends who might not fully support you. Make sure this person is available for you to talk with if you need to reach out to them when you will be with your family.

2. Do Not Allow Your Life to Become an Issue

So often LGBTQ lives become pinned against Christian scriptures as if they were enemies. For those who identify with other faith traditions or who do not identify with religion, your religious affiliation/non-affiliation can be demonized and used as the excuse for why you have “chosen to live this sinful lifestyle.” Try and stick with statements from your own experience and ask clarifying questions of the other person from their own understanding. For example if Grandma just cannot stop quoting scripture at you, try asking her “When did your personal faith become important to you?” Then, if you feel comfortable try sharing something about your own understanding of faith or meaning in the world that might find common ground with her. If her answer is that her love of nature had a large influence on her personal faith and you also have a love of nature but a different understanding of faith, share your experience that is similar with hers as well as your own understanding.

3. Safety word

During the holidays last year my in-laws created a safety word for conversations that tended to get a little hairy. “How about those Cowboys?” is our phrase, and we know that the other person has had enough and that it is time for a breather. It’s important to note that this is not sweeping the issue underneath the rug or shoving it in a closet. This tool is to allow tensions to cool off and for revisiting the conversation once everyone has had time to do so.

4. Connect with Healthy Familial Teachings and Norms

Remind your family of some of the teachings you have learned by being a member of the family, honesty, authenticity, respect, etc. Reflect on these as teachings you are thankful for and that influenced your understanding of your own identity. If your family norms are rooted in religious tradition, share your current understanding of those teachings that you still connect with even if you do not follow a specific religion or your faith tradition has changed. This could be the Golden Rule (treat others as you would treat them) or the importance of unconditional love.

5. Be Honest With Your Feelings, Experiences and Convictions

Sharing your reaction to religious proselytizing can provide the opportunity for your overzealous religious family member to hear how what they have said has hurt someone they care about. Even a simple, “I find what you said offensive,” or “I hear you telling me this because you love me, but what you said and how you said it does not make me feel that way.” If you know what you need from your family members when spending time with them, try and communicate that as well. For example, say, “It seems that every time we are together you say hurtful things to me. In order for me to spend time with you I would like for you to stop talking to me about your religious beliefs.”

Good luck everyone and I hope your holidays are fun, joyous and affirming of who you are.

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