The winter holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year for some people, but many LGBT youth find it's a season they would rather skip right past. Not only is it cold and dark outside, but LGBT youth are often forced to spend time with family members who are less than supportive. There’s also something about the religious origins of Thanksgiving and Christmas that seem to make "Crazy Uncle Bob" double down on the anti-gay rhetoric.
Young LGBT people don't have the same power as Crazy Uncle Bob in these situations, making it important to come up with alternatives for surviving traditions like Thanksgiving Dinner. I've gathered these five tips to help LGBT youth cope with the Crazy Uncle Bob in their life.
1. Remember, nobody wins a dinner fight. I have a strong personality, and have reduced two of my sisters-in-law to tears in the past 20 years. After I “won” those fights my relatives told me that I was right, and I was a jerk. I’ve learned that sometimes I have to choose between being right and being happy. If I had it to do over again, I would choose being happy each and every time. Take the high road and be happy – there will be plenty of time to be right later. You don't want to become the bad guy; let Crazy Uncle Bob keep that title.
2. Assume good intent. Our family members, including Crazy Uncle Bob, are generally good people who want the best for us. These are the people who watched us when we were little, changed our diapers, and kissed our boo-boos. They worry about our future, and they want us to have happy lives. When I get stressed about Crazy Uncle Bob’s anti-gay rants (and yes, even though I'm 40-something, I have a Crazy Uncle Bob), I take a deep breath and remind myself that he thinks he’s helping. While it doesn’t make what he’s saying right, it helps me to listen to what’s behind the words – a desire for me to have a happy and successful life.
3. Become a master of redirection. While Crazy Uncle Bob just can’t help but argue about sex, politics, and religion, most people will roll their eyes and wish that something else was on the agenda. Come ready to talk about a few other topics, like what color your next iPhone should be, a silly cat video, or how horrible it is to drive in the snow. Last year, Slate columnist John Dickerson came up with a long list of alternatives to fighting over politics. Check it out for some additional inspiration. When Crazy Uncle Bob starts talking about how Starbucks is destroying Christmas, you’ll be doing the whole family a favor when you say, “I don’t know about the cup; I’ve been too busy with class. Maybe you have some ideas about the symbolism used in King Lear.”
4. Remember your friends. Michael M. from San Francisco suggests “bookmarking the experience with a trusted ally.” This means talking to a good friend before you spend time with family members who are less than supportive. Then, after dinner, you can call your friend for an emotional detox. He also suggests that you keep a small gift from your friend in your pocket. Get something small like a rock or a coin. Then, when things get tense, you can squeeze that item and remember your supportive friend. This way when Crazy Uncle Bob speaks up – and you know he will – you know somebody has your back.
5. If all else fails, walk away. Sometimes Crazy Uncle Bob can’t take a hint, and the rest of the family lets him get away with anti-gay nonsense. Rather than get pulled into an ugly fight (remember rule #1), make up a reason to step away from the table. I’ve seen people hold their stomachs and excuse themselves for the restroom, or grab their phones and apologize because their friend is having a crisis and needs help. The rest of the family will understand why you’re stepping away, and Crazy Uncle Bob becomes the jerk. If you need to confront Crazy Uncle Bob and set the rules for your relationship, you can do it later, and with a smaller audience.
Thanksgiving dinner is stressful for just about everybody, and when rich food and strong drinks are served, things can get a little tense. Taking some time to emotionally prepare for a turbulent dinner with Crazy Uncle Bob can make all the difference.
Halloween is the highest of the Gay High Holy Days, or at least I'm told. Some say its gay because ancient pagan priests, who were often queer men, believed that the boundaries between Earth and the spirit world are thinnest on this day. Because gay people live in a place between the extremes of masculine and feminine, and a day the celebrates the thinning of the veil of between the extremes of physical and spiritual is a day we can claim as our own.
Some say it's gay because Halloween is really campy. Everything is exaggerated and not much is taken seriously. The drag queen is the modern incarnation of camp, and gay historians point to San Francisco's Halloween costume contests where drag queens would enter alongside straight folks as a turning point in October 31 becoming a big gay holiday.
While the history is important, I think Halloween belongs to us because it's a day we can safely express ourselves. Society tells us we have to look and act a certain way, and Halloween gives us a chance to be more authentic.
When I was in grade school, I went as half man, half woman one year. While that's not the right expression for me today, the time I took to plan that look and then express myself as somebody who sits between masculine and feminine was powerful. As an adult, my favorite costume has been a prison jumpsuit. I could have fun letting my slightly wicked side out. It gave me the opportunity to express a part of myself that doesn't often see the light of day.
Whether or not you put on a costume, take advantage of the opportunity to express yourself a little more freely today. All you need is a little imagination and the willingness to be campy.
This video may be the best three minutes of your day. It shows the moving story of a farmer dad giving advice to his flamboyant son. It's great advice, and a great story. It's well worth watching.
To many people, including many out gay men, that statement will be controversial. So, I will say it again -- being gay is a GIFT!
In a world where we are told that we are "intrinsically disordered" by a major religion, called perverts, or worse, it's important to remember that we are a gift. And, if we are a gift, all parts of us -- including our gayness -- are part of that gift.
Remembering that we are a gift means that we value ourselves. We see ourselves as worthwhile and important. We know deep down, even on the days when we have a hard time getting out of bed, that we make a difference for our friends and our families, our schools, our workplaces, and our communities.
Embrace the gift that you are. Embrace the gift that being gay is. And give the best YOU that there is to give.
Today's contribution comes from Robert Roush, who I have styled as a "gay elder." That is, in my mind, a term of high respect for somebody who has lived well, and is sharing parts of his life with others. Expect to see that term show up here frequently.
Robert describes himself by noting: I am married to my partner, Steven, of 26 years for one year, legally. We live in Central PA where the politics are conservative and the Confederate flags fly, yet, we surround ourselves with love every day!"
When we think about gay history, there is a tendency to jump directly from ancient Rome (circa 400 CE) to Stonewall in the summer of 1969. We largely ignore the 1600 years between the two, despite ample evidence of gay people not just existing, but living openly in many parts of the world.
When we look at this time in history, we focus on Europe where homosexuality was condemned by religious leaders and living as openly gay people was punishable by death, and we were frequently murdered in horrible ways. Under this barbaric religious rule, we had no choice but to hide and suppress our true selves. Because we hid it's easy to pretend we didn't exist. But that's just not true.
For the past several years, I've subscribed to a daily email from Gay Wisdom. Each day, I get to read the stories of the GLBT people who came before us.
Take time to read about our gay ancestors, and you'll realize we aren't new to the world. We've been part of the fabric of society since the dawn of recorded history -- we've just recently been given permission to come out of the shadows and be part of it once again.
Today's quote comes from Daniel Hall, who describes himself as a gay man (cis), out since 1983. Quaker, artist, sailor, motorcyclist.
I'm a gay father with gay sons. My mission is to work with the community to prepare them -- and other young gay men -- for a happy and successful life.