Coming home for the holidays is often believed to be a happy event. There are visions of family gathered around the fire, laughing, and singing. That’s the subject of many a Christmas carol. But, then again, there’s the Christmas song, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
But for many in the LGBT community who are closeted to their families, holidays can be an isolating and lonely time. So it’s no surprise that coming out for the holidays is on the minds of many people this time of year. The holiday season can be a time to slow down, embrace family, and possibly even have the conversation about your sexual orientation.
Given the outcome of the family discussion, however, your coming-out process could turn into a really bad video for that other beloved holiday song, “Merry Christmas from the Family.”
I want you to be successful when engaging your family, and in that spirit I offer the following:
DO consider telling your family members in person and in private about your sexual orientation.
DON’T unveil your sexuality on any type of social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, especially beneath a picture of you and your latest conquest.
DO allow your family the time to process this new information.
DON’T come out to your family in the car 30 seconds before arriving at Grandma’s house for the holiday dinner. It will not be a happy time for anyone.
DO realize not everyone is going to be respectful of your news. Cultural bias and conservative religions still rule in South Texas. Have you heard of the Texas Republican Party’s 2014 Platform and Reparative Therapy?
DON’T start a fistfight with Uncle Charlie just because he thinks you’re going to hell. Now, if you choose to tell him, “I’ll see you there”, well, that’s your choice.
DO have a trusted friend you can call if you experience rejection.
DON’T add to the toxic environment in the event some of your family’s actions are disrespectful. Although it may be difficult, this is an opportunity to be a role model for tolerance and mutual respect.
DO have readily available resources for family members, such as PFLAG information and YouTube videos. Some people need to take an intellectual approach to new information. Celebrate that and give them the resources.
DON’T assume that just because someone is older, that person won’t accept you. My mother was homophobic when I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. But when I had a gay son in the ’80s who wanted dolls instead of trucks, that southern granny made sure her grandbaby got what he wanted. The protests of my Italian father were met with, “Shut the hell up!”.
DO know that coming out is a continuous process both for you and family members. Embrace patience.
DON’T mistake a family member’s initial shock for rejection. See above.
DO know that your family loves you and may be reacting to holiday stress rather than your news. Believe it or not, even though you are coming out to your family, the holiday spotlight is not constantly on you and sometimes holiday stress is just that, holiday stress amplified by dinners, numerous relatives, gifts, parties, etc.
DON’T assume that the family stress is all about you, either. Whether it’s the holidays or not, families tend to experience stress. Let me assure you, when my mother- in-law came around, we would have experienced family stress even without gay children.
DO come out when you are comfortable and ready.
DON’T feel forced to come out just because your cousin starts talking about seeing you in gay bars. And, of course, don’t share what he was doing in gay bars, either, even though you really want to. On that note:
DON’T out your hyper-religious cousin who is casting gay slurs your way even though according to his Adam4Adam profile he trolls for mature hairy bears.
DO seek guidance from out friends and role models who successfully survived their family holidays.
DON’T try to out yourself to your dad by bragging that your gay porn collection is larger than his porn collection and then offering the evidence.
DO remain sober. Liquid encouragement is not a good idea for any serious subject. Getting high is not encouraged either, as the amount and detail of information shared will be a good thing to recall the next morning.
DO consider NOT bringing a boyfriend or girlfriend home when coming out to your family. Some family members might make your significant other the target of their anger. But if you do …
DON’T announce that this is the most important person in your life and the rest of the family can go screw themselves if they don’t accept both of you as a couple.
DO thank those that have been supportive of you during your various conversations.
DON’T discuss your drag-queen persona the same day you come out. Baby steps! Give them a little info at a time.
DO remember to embrace your courage and reaffirm that you are the same wonderful person you have always been.
DO know you will be leaving as soon as the holiday festivities are over.
DON’T beat yourself up because of your family’s limitations.
DO embrace your family of choice versus your family of origin if the family of origin continues to be disrespectful. You deserve better.
DON’T hesitate to reach out for a professional if you need assistance in processing negative emotions experienced during your time with family.
And know we can embrace the holidays with a new Christmas carol, Crystal Bowersox’s “Coming Out for Christmas”.
I wish you much love, courage, and peace this season.
Jacqueline Parsons, PhD, LPC (Coming out for the holidays) is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Private Practice in San Antonio and an Adjunct Counselor Educator at UTSA. Follow and tweet Dr. Parsons with your questions and/or comments about being an LGBT ally or parent, supporting your loved one, etc. @drparsons Email: [email protected]