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.
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.