By Milton Wendland
Columnist for Diversity Rules Magazine
© 2011 Diversity Rules Magazine. All Rights Reserved for Milton Wendland and Diversity Rules
Milton Wendland is a licensed attorney and a professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, where he teaches courses in LGBT cultures, sexuality and law, and queer theory.
“Inqueeries” is an interactive column where readers are encouraged to submit questions for Milton to answer! Contact Milton directly at:
The holidays are stressful enough, but as queer folks we often face additional issues when it comes to gathering together with family. Whether you are completely open with your family, completely in the closet, or somewhere in between, these tips can help make the holidays a bit merrier.
Plan. Which part of the visit causes you the most distress? If you can identify your trigger points or the situations that are the most uncomfortable, you may be able to get around them. Talk with your parents about sleeping arrangements with your girlfriend weeks before your visit rather than on the day you arrive. Consider booking a hotel room for one or more nights of your stay. Ask gay-friendly Tio Julio to run interference if Aunt Delores persists in badgering you about the “gay agenda.” Decide ahead of time exactly how much information about your life you want (or need) your family to know. A witty prepared response will go much further than a spur-of-the-moment blow-up.
Practice. Instead of waiting until you’re on the spot when Cousin Burt asks if you’ve “had that top surgery yet” or Grandma Gloria asks for the millionth time when you’re going to settle down with a nice man, take time to prepare what you’ll say ahead of time. And then practice it until it rolls off of your tongue as easily as holiday greeting.
Peeps. Even if you’re trapped in the family home, you can escape by spending time playing with the kiddies and leaving the adults to their own drama. And keep that smart phone handy for emergency texting and Facebooking with friends who can keep you sane from afar.
Physical. No, I’m not talking about how to have a quickie between the main course and dessert. I’m talking about taking whatever workout routine you have and staying the course during your family visit. No gym? Take a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Have a snowball fight with the kiddies. Volunteer to be the pet sitter and visit the dog park. Whatever gets you moving will work because physical activity increases your energy levels and relieves tension. Even if this is beyond your fitness level, remember to breathe. Literally! When distressed we tend to breath more shallowly. A respite in the bathroom or kitchen alone, along with 30 seconds of full inhalations and exhalations can do wonders for your mental landscape.
Perspective. Remember few families are postcard perfect and all family members (even you!) have their own prejudices or idiosyncrasies. Great-Grandpa Abe might always say “them lady boy men” and it’s okay to let some things go. Remember, not every battle is worth fighting. On the other hand, if you keep in mind that every question and comment – no matter how awkward or phobic – can be a chance for you to change minds, then you’ll be less likely to be hurt or offended and more likely to be happy to educate.
Perogative. Yes, that’s right. If you feel “obligated” to visit your family even though it drives you batty, it may be time to be realistic with yourself and exercise your prerogative of self-acceptance and self-protection. Sure, you’ll get flak for missing the festivities but isn’t your sanity worth it? Offer an alternative: “Gee, Mom, it looks like I’m not going to be able to fly in for Christmas but I bet I can get some time off in March.” And of course, he most important consideration is your own safety. Visiting family might always be a little distressing but it should never be physically or emotionally dangerous. If it is, then avoid the visit at all costs. This is also important if you are in recovery and may be without access to your sponsor or other support.