The holidays can be a time of stress for many gays
by Michele O’Mara . Special to Q-Notes
When it comes to holidays, there tend to be two camps of people; those who love them and those who hate them. Rarely do you find too many people in between.
Holidays are complicated. At first glance, it would seem they are simply a time reserved to celebrate the respective events and spiritual beliefs with family and friends. Upon closer examination, however, they represent so much more.
Holidays serve as an annual relationship evaluation, of sorts. Think about it. Holidays have a very subtle, but powerful way of informing us about the exact nature of our relationships with friends and family. When the holidays are drawing near, we slowly become much more aware of the exact nature of our connections with the people closest to us. In some cases, we eagerly anticipate reconnecting with family and friends we don’t get to see often during the year. In other cases we find ourselves planning and scheming ways to avoid certain gatherings or the pain of seeing this person or that person.
All of the unfinished business in our relationships has a way of slowly revealing itself during the holiday season. Whether we experience the guilt of not spending more time with those we love, grieving the death of a loved one who we won’t be seeing or dreading the pain of having to spend more time than we want with those to whom we feel obligated — holidays will serve as an unrelenting reminder of exactly what is going on with our relationships.
How we respond to these symbolic events reveals our own priorities, values and feelings about our various relationships. For gay men and women in relationships, struggles often begin to brew around this time of the year as each partner is deciding how to celebrate the holidays together while also seeking or avoiding time spent with our family-of-origin. These struggles, of course, are not unique to gay couples. Heterosexuals must negotiate these details too.
What is different, though, is that when a heterosexual couple marries, the family-of-origin typically expects the new couple to celebrate holidays together. That is, after all, what couples do, right? The struggle is about where the two of them will go, not whether or not the two of them will go together! And I’ve never heard a married couple fretting about where they’ll sleep (different or same bedrooms) when they visit family.
I can’t recall a single incident when a married woman said to her husband, “Honey, I wonder if we should sleep in separate rooms so my parents won’t be uncomfortable.” Have you? Same-sex couples often negotiate by saying, “You go to your family’s and I’ll go to mine.” The real message being, “You make your family happy and comfortable and I’ll make mine happy and comfortable.”
At the same time, we mustn’t forget that there is a whole population of same-sex couples who are not “out” to their families at all. The situation of a closeted relationship almost guarantees a distant holiday (even if celebrated together as a “friend” who has come home with you).
Whatever the exact nature of your situation, I suspect you can relate to the notion that holidays will challenge even the healthiest of same-sex couples to create boundaries that are designed to protect your relationship with your partner, rather than your relationship with your family.
I often refer to the process of shifting your focus from protecting your family-of-origin, to protecting your partner relationship as “growing up.” Growing up means separating from our parents and making choices that affirm our adult lives and relationships. What are your priorities as you move into this holiday season? Have you made relationship-affirming choices for yourself and your life?
Tips to deal with stressful family gatherings and family-related decisions
• Stay healthy — By staying healthy, you’ll have a better chance at staving off any colds or sicknesses. When you aren’t sick or feeling down in a physical way, the odds of dealing with stress are much better. Eat wisely; drink plenty of water and exercise. Don’t over-indulge on the alcohol and get plenty of sleep.
• Know your family — The best way to predict any stressful family gathering is to know your family. You, and you only, have the ability to know best how your family might feel when it comes to acceptance (or tolerance) of you and your partner. If you know that your homophobic uncle is certainly the one who will give you or your partner a hard time, plan your visit to grandma’s for when you know Uncle Billy Bob will either be gone or passed out on the couch after his eggnog and Budweiser.
• Inform your family — If you’ve never introduced your family to your partner before, perhaps Christmas Day isn’t the best time to do it. Let your family know about your relationship before the massive family, gift-giving gathering.
• Stand up for yourself — You are a big girl or boy. You don’t need your family telling you how to behave. That was fine when you were eight or nine, but now you’re all grown up. Stand your ground and stick up for yourself and your partner. If Mom doesn’t like the fact that you’ll be sleeping with your partner, then politely inform her you’ll be sleeping in a hotel. If a stronger stand is needed, then tell your family that unless you and your partner are fully accepted, you’ll be passing on this year’s trip “over the river and through the wood.”
• When all else fails — If the problems with family members or stress are just too much to handle, then spend the holidays with your “other family.” Follow the example of openly lesbian Myers Park Baptist Church deacon Nancy Walker, who once opened her home to gay friends who were not welcome with their own families.
info: Matt Comer, Q-Notes staff, contributed to this story. Portions originally published at www.Bilerico.com and re-printed here with permission.