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Queer Thanksgiving plans and memories
Some gays and lesbians will spend time with their birth families, while others plan to be with their partners and friends

by Katie Dyer and Donald Miller

Mitchell Gold will spend a comfortable Thanksgiving in Hickory with his very closest friends.
This past summer I went to my first gay wedding, marking the progressive change occurring in the tradition of marriage. With Thanksgiving approaching I began thinking about the traditions followed on this holiday. How do people decide which traditions to continue, and which to let go of in order to make room for new ones? Who do people spend the holiday with, their family of origin or their family of choice?

Traditionally, I spend the holiday with my family of origin. Like clockwork my mom makes a green bean casserole just like her mom used to make on Thanksgiving. We have squash with maple syrup, potatoes from the garden, turkey and homemade stuffing with sausage (a dish I sorely missed during my vegetarian years). My brother makes the cranberry sauce, sitting propped up on a stool in front of the stove stirring and stirring until the last berry pops and the sugar has thickened. We don’t usually eat breakfast, but we make appetizers of olives, pickles, deviled eggs, celery sticks filled with cream cheese and Chex party mix. We get out my grandmother’s fancy punch bowl and the matching cups to go along with it. Our traditions are based around the food we eat.

About five years ago my sister had her first baby and she stopped coming over to our house for turkey dinner. She began spending the holiday with her husband’s family. Initially this change was hard for me to take. I missed her presence and was not comfortable with this break in our tradition. I wanted her to be cooking, to fill her plate and to lay down with us on the couch after dinner, overstuffed from too much food. I also understood that she had another family to share her time with.
Now five years and two kids later, their family comes over after dinner. We enjoy slices of pumpkin, chocolate cream and apple pie. My sister is there to laugh alongside me when my brother gets out of control with the whipped cream and he piles a huge spiral on top of his plate.
As I’m getting older, it has become increasingly important to me to acknowledge my family base within my community. For the first time, I am thinking about having a Thanksgiving with my friends in addition to my traditional Thanksgiving with my family of origin. My girlfriend usually goes to New York City to spend the holiday with her family, but at this point in our lives it feels odd to not celebrate the holiday together. I can feel my old traditions stretching to fit my current needs, and ultimately falling short. Perhaps it’s time for a change, and what that change will look like, I still don’t know.

We wanted to find out about other folks’ thoughts on the Thanksgiving Holiday, so we talked with a few friends, Some of them shared their thoughts about humorous past experiences, while others talked about their plans for the upcoming Thanksgiving and some of the changes that have occurred over the years.

John Pilcher, a gay 20-year-old, will be having Thanksgiving with his family of origin. For him, one shift in tradition occurs with his family composition. His parents were recently divorced so this year he will spend the day with his mom and her new boyfriend. Pilcher says that it’s important to him and his mother that they spend the holiday together. His mom even suggested that they have Thanksgiving without her new boyfriend, but John is supportive of his mom’s new relationship and is open to the change in tradition. One thing remains the same as always: he is still looking forward to cooking cranberry chutney. This dish is more about the smell that fills the air than the actual product, which usually is too tart to eat. John will most certainly uphold his 10-year tradition of eating lasagna for his meat-free Thanksgiving.

For many in the LGBT community, longtime friends have become cherished family members. That’s the case for furniture designer Mitchell Gold, who says this year he’ll spend a comfortable Thanksgiving in Hickory with his very closest friends.

Gold still chuckles, though, when he thinks about a particular year when he figured he’d try his hand at being the host.

“ Several years ago we had guests visit us for our first Thanksgiving in our new home,” Gold recalls. “I cooked a little then and figured I could pull it off after seeing everything look so easy in a Williams Sonoma catalog.

“ Well,” he says with a note of disdain, “I bought everything but totally read the directions for making a turkey incorrectly. The dinner that was supposed to be at six p.m. wasn’t on the table until after 10, and that was only because one of our guests was a good cook and bailed me out.”

South Carolina’s Charlie Smith has plans for Thanksgiving this year that are definitely unique — he’s avoiding it altogether. Though his bittersweet recollection of a past Thanksgiving might not be too different from experiences many of us have had.

“ When Thanksgiving arrived in 1987 my late partner, Carlos, and I had been together for only four months and had only lived together for four days,” Smith recalls. “We were both very much in the closet and were faced with my having to fly home to Charleston to do the family thing. Since my family did not know about Carlos and me, I had to leave him in Miami by himself and spend another week pretending that I wasn’t gay.

“ I thought I could get through it one more year, but Mom fixed that by outing me at the kitchen table on Wednesday before the family arrived. I was horrified at the timing, but as a more experienced friend later exclaimed, ‘What’s Thanksgiving and Christmas without a little gut-wrenching gay drama?’ I think most gay folks know just how true that is.

“ This year I’m avoiding the holiday entirely and going to Argentina — but I’m stopping off at Carlos’ mom’s house in Bogota on the way home. At 90 she’s long since gotten over most everything and she likes turkey about as much as I do.” 

Bryan Thompson prides himself on his cooking skills and plans to host Thanksgiving dinner at his house this year. He still laughs, though, when he thinks about an experience with his grandmother several years ago during a Thanksgiving meal.

“ Many years ago, my sister, having just returned from an extensive vacation in Paris, announced how well her gay Parisian friend, Francois, was able to make fowl. My grandmother nearly choked on her canned cranberry sauce (no doubt from Food Lion) and said without hesitation ‘My Gawd, do they teach them to cook in France — I never saw one on Julia Childs show.’

“ I quickly chimed in, ‘Yes, they do, and they teach them to read, write and a few of them get to be museum curators if they are obedient.’ Of course we all laughed after that, even grandmother.”

Jill Hoppenjans currently spends the holiday with her partner’s parents, who keep a kosher Thanksgiving. Traditionally she makes her own butter for the occasion, but in a kosher meal you do not have dairy and meat in the same meal. As a result, she has let her butter-making tradition go. A tradition she keeps intact, however, is a paper-plate turkey decoration that her little brother made in school many years ago. On the plate is a poem that Jill knows by heart. She recited it for us on the phone:
For biscuits high, for pumpkin pie,
For turkey stuffed with dressing,
For corn and peas, for all of these,
We ask dear God, your blessing.

Whatever you end up doing this Thanksgiving Day, be it keeping old traditions or creating new ones that better suit your current needs, Q-Notes wishes you a happy and healthy holiday.
— Portions of this article originally appeared in Mountain Times.

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