How do you identify? How has this affected your relationship with your family?
I identify as pansexual and gender fluid. While my family is not currently aware of my gender or sexual identity, it has still certainly affected my relationship with them. Their off-handed, homophobic and transphobic remarks, or attempts to force me to look or act more “feminine” stings me deeply. I’m hyper-aware of their unconscious bias, judgements, and criticisms and the more I notice the more I feel isolated, unaccepted, and anxious about coming out to them.
Tell us about your experience visiting family for the holidays.
Visiting my immediate family has been a source of internal conflict for me since I moved out at the age of 18. I constantly feel torn between my sense of responsibility to the family who raised me and my responsibility to myself to make healthy decisions that promote my mental well-being. I usually only stay for a few days, and we generally just see each other for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Are you out to your family? Is your family accepting?
My immediate family does not know how I identify. I am very concerned that they will not be accepting. I really admire my queer friends who are out to their families. I think it’s usually much better in the long run to allow your most authentic self and voice to be seen and heard. While I praise the strength of others who can do this, I’m still working to build up the courage to get there myself.
Anything specific to your family’s background/culture that makes coming home and being yourself specifically tricky to navigate?
I come from a conservative family of Irish Catholics. They tend to have very traditional expectations for me, so knowing that I don’t fit neatly into the straight cis woman box makes it difficult for me to let my guard down and be my whole self around them.
What has been the hardest thing to navigate when coming home for the holidays? How do you handle this or how have you in the past?
The hardest thing to navigate have been the passive aggressive comments and the one-sided (often offensive) conversations that leave me walking on eggshells and feeling totally overwritten and unheard. A good strategy that I’ve found when one person tries to dominate the dinner conversation is to start an entirely different conversation with someone else at the table, the more relatives you can get to join in the better. Bringing friends home with you for the holidays helps too!
How do you establish personal boundaries with family?
It’s best to be as direct and non-confrontational as possible. The NVC method has helped me a lot. I start with an observation, then express how it makes me feel, what I need or value and I end with a clear direct request. With practice it starts sounding less scripted.
Have you ever chosen to not go home, and spend time with friends instead?
This year will be the first year that I’ve chosen not to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I’m still conflicted about my decision. I tend to feel responsible for the emotions of others, so I feel guilty for taking space from the family this year, but at the same time, I felt immediately relieved after I told my relatives I couldn’t make it. The toll it takes on my mental health is not worth accommodating [others].
Do you have other tips on how to have a happy and healthy holiday?
Give yourself breaks from interacting with the family. Sometimes small doses of family work better than too much all at once. Set your expectations before you arrive. Know your exit strategy, it’s okay to walk away if things get too toxic or confrontational.