As a gay man, returning home for the holidays is always a sobering experience. Living in the bubble of university means I’m constantly surrounded by ‘woke’ millennials, free-thinking arts professors, and, of course, a group of friends who are predominantly LGBTQ+. I have the support of a great group of queer people and my sexuality is almost never questioned. Upon returning home, however, darker feelings sometimes start to resurface.
Thankfully, my relationship with my close family hasn’t altered since I awkwardly told my mum about my boyfriend – and I’m incredibly privileged in that respect. Life moved on, my sexuality became normalised, my family are starting to develop a deeper bond with my partner (he’s even managed to bag a seat at this year’s Christmas dinner), and I have a wonderful set of accepting friends at home, too. But this utopian ideal hasn’t yet materialised with my extended family.
Slowly but surely, I’m starting to tell my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins about my partner – and it’s mostly going well – but the awkwardness that pervades the room as the conversation turns to the ‘boyfriend question’ is still uncomfortable. My straight brother is asked about his love life and the conversation moves on, glazing over my two-year relationship, to the pitfalls of Rotherham United and the latest gossip on Corrie. We sit, silent in our acknowledgement of my queerness, eyes averted as Christmas lights flicker in the background.
It’s a shock coming from an environment in which I speak about my sexuality without any hesitation, to then suppressing it in the most unexpected ways at home with people I’ve known my whole life. Feelings of shame and guilt re-emerge, however temporary and subtle they may be, as the clichéd teenage desire to ‘just be normal’ comes back like a ghost from Christmas past. I’m sure these feelings will fade with time, but as someone who is only just making the tentative steps to reach out to their extended family, they still spark and fly with unpredictable intensity.
My experience is in no way uncommon – most LGBTQ+ people have to jump the ‘coming out’ hurdle over and over as they reveal themselves to every family member, anxiously anticipating their reaction. But it’s important to acknowledge that I am privileged and other queer people can have a much tougher time over the holiday season
Many of the issues LGBTQ+ people face at this time of year stem from being rejected by their families. LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts and more than half of transgender individuals suffer from depression and/or anxiety – and this can often be exacerbated by the loneliness as a result of familial rejection. It might be a morbid point to make, but it’s important to consider that life can be difficult for those who lack strong family support at a time of year when ‘family’ is emphasised, celebrated, and advertised relentlessly.
Familial rejection can also lead to homelessness. As The Albert Kennedy Trust (ABK) reports, 24% of homeless young people identify as LGBTQ+ and 77% note that coming out to their parents was the main factor in causing this. Last year, ABK provided over 6,000 nights’ accommodation to vulnerable homeless LGBTQ+ youth – but many still remain on the streets this Christmas. ABK operates in three cities in the UK, but more needs to be done elsewhere to combat this escalating issue.
Life as an LGBTQ+ immigrant or displaced identity can also be tough over the holidays. Although Christmas is becoming even more a celebration of consumerism rather than spirituality, it’s still a Christian holiday that often excludes those from different faiths, leading to further isolation and loneliness.
The experiences of those in our community differ greatly over the festive period, from feelings of shame and guilt to mental health issues and homelessness. However significant, subtle, or hidden, these issues can make life as an LGBTQ+ citizen much more difficult over Christmas. Being queer often changes your relationship with your family and, whether the coming out process results in abandonment or mere uncomfortableness, returning home to such an environment – or excluding yourself from it – can feel strange and alienating. It is now more than ever that we need each other.
Those in a position of privilege need to reach out and help by donating to charities like The Albert Kennedy Trust to help combat the homelessness crisis. But, more significantly, we just simply need to be kind to one another. Reach out to queer friends, loved ones, and those in our community over the next week. Tell them you love them. We need to let one another know that we are all welcome in this big, queer, glittering family, whether we celebrate Christmas or not.