Surviving the Holigays

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes a number of challenges unique to members of the LGBTQ+ community. As our families gear up for “the most wonderful time of the year,” Family Equality’s Director of Program Events, Sarah Hyde (She/They), shares their tips and tricks for surviving the holi-gays.

Ahhh… the holidays. Many of us have some time off, and the lucky ones even have full office closures. There’s so much possibility with time away from work. Maybe we’ll cozy up with a book with a loved one and just chill for a few days. Maybe we’ll travel to see extended family and have a great time sharing meals and laughs. Perhaps we’re hosting and have grand plans for new recipes to try and thoughtful gifts to give. Or maybe, just maybe, Mom will finally remember that Drag Race isn’t a show about cars!

If life were a holiday movie, this would be the “record scratch, freeze frame” moment. Then, the frame would flash to real life. Flight delays. Weather mishaps. Burnt potatoes. Relatives arguing. Aunt Esther referring to your longtime partner as your “friend.” Dad complaining about they/them pronouns and “woke culture.”

The holidays can be a challenge. And for LGBTQ+ folks, it can be especially stressful and anxiety-ridden, all compounded by our queerness.

“The most wonderful time of year”

There’s a number of challenges associated with the holiday season. For example, traveling during this time of year often means traffic, weather headaches, and flight delays. Plus, if you’re parenting (especially little ones), you’re never truly “on vacation” — vacation just means taking care of the kids somewhere different! 

And, while it’s amazing to get gifts we love — and even better to some to find that perfect gift for someone on your list — sometimes, the expectations for gift-giving go beyond our financial capacity. Plus, for every one person who finds gift-giving energizing, there’s someone who finds it incredibly stressful!  

But that’s not all. What about receiving a gift that shows that the gift-giver has a profound misunderstanding of who you are — or a gift that pushes a belief system you don’t agree with? Those situations make for very awkward and uncomfortable moments, compounded by the season’s expectations of generosity, gratitude, and togetherness. Make it make sense!

Further, at a time when most of us want to start hibernating for the winter, there is often less chill and relaxation and more crossing things off our to-do lists than we’d like over the holidays — even if you’re not traveling or parenting. Some folks — introverts or not — need to gather their strength and resilience for all the socializing that’s required over the holidays…especially because we are often expected to see and interact with folks who haven’t fully shown up for us as queer and trans people. 

Challenges unique to LGBTQ+ people

But wait, there’s more! Amid all of these common stressors, LGBTQ+ folks have to dig even deeper to survive. Some are gathering extra strength to handle challenging personalities. Others are making certain parts of ourselves a little quieter than we’d otherwise like to. We might avoid topics of conversation to prevent conflict or fake our way through conversations we don’t care about. Some of us may have to change the way we dress or present to the world to fit into family expectations, avoid comments, or even just stay safe. Here are just a few of the many things that LGBTQ+ people must cope with during the holiday season:

  • Coming out, not feeling ready to come out, or having to be closeted for safety reasons
  • Traveling to our hometowns, which pulls us farther away from our “chosen family” and puts us in communities where we have fewer supports available to us
  • Facing stress around introducing partners to our family or stress around our relationship statuses
  • Feeling misunderstood, triggered, and judged
  • Feeling unable to speak up for ourselves for fear of it being labeled as “political,” “acting out,” or “making it about us”
  • Being misgendered or deadnamed or seeing our partners, friends, or loved ones get misgendered or deadnamed
  • Tackling misconceptions about how we create families, questions about who is the “real parent,” and refusal to see our families as whole and real
  • Facing microaggressions that — intentionally or unintentionally — communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights to a target person or group

All of this (and more) can lead to feelings of obligation, heaviness, and anxiety instead of that light, excited feeling that this time of year should inspire. How can we create and maintain boundaries, ask for what we need, and prioritize our values during the holidays?

Creating boundaries

  • First, ask your chosen family to be in touch during the holidays. It can be crucial to mental health. Whether you need a vent session, want to share an unexpected win, or need to get their thoughts on a tricky dynamic, it can be so helpful to talk to someone.
    • Plan ahead: Think for a moment about a few people you’d want to call or text you during the holidays. And, remember to return the favor! Who do you need to check up on?
  • Don’t stop doing the things that make you feel good. Getting in some exercise, making yourself the breakfast you like to have every day, or taking some time for spiritual practices — whatever it may be, think about how you can prioritize taking care of yourself.
    • Plan ahead: What are some personal practices you want to maintain during the holidays?
  • You don’t have to see everyone or stay where you aren’t comfortable. Traveling and visiting folks can feel overwhelming.
    • Plan ahead: Where is a supportive place you can stay during the holidays (with friends, at a hotel, etc.)? How long do you need to stay? What do you need to arrange in terms of transportation so that you have an exit plan if you need it? Who or what will you make time for this year? Who or what can you skip?

To aid you in continuing to incorporate boundaries into your holiday season, Family Equality is thrilled to share our Holigays Survival Plan. Make a copy of the resource for your own records, and get planning!

We know the holidays can be hard for so many. But, with a little preparation and planning, perhaps they can be a bit more reflective of what you want them to be! The first and most important step is always to listen and take good care of yourself.

Sarah Hyde

Director of Program Events, She/They

Sarah Hyde (she/they) joined the Family Equality team as Director of Program Events in February 2023. Sarah has worked in LGBTQ+ nonprofit spaces for the last decade, in addition to being a certified sex educator, abortion doula, and domestic violence advocate. They are compelled by the mission of Family Equality and aim to create events that are accessible, equitable, and centering on trans and BIPOC folks.

Sarah lives in Oakland, CA, with their wonderful partner Atom. You can catch her at a burlesque show, browsing her favorite grocery store (shout out to Berkeley Bowl), or watering her 30+ houseplants.