By Leah Harris

Queering the Holidays: Strategies to Cope When Your Family Doesn’t Accept You

If you’re LGBTQ+, family rejection can literally mean the difference between life and death. According to the Family Acceptance Project, “LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.” A 2016 study published in LGBT Health found that in “high” level rejection, transgender people were three and a half times more likely to attempt suicide, compared to those without such rejection.

Family rejection can take multiple forms. High level rejection, where a person is disowned or cut off from the family is the most extreme example. But even if an LGBTQ+ person is considered to be a “part of the family,” when acceptance of their gender or sexual identity is limited, denied, or ignored, going home for the holidays can be extremely stressful. As Michael Arseneaux wrote in an essay published by NBC News, “Although I love my family dearly, with every visit I am reminded that although we are sold the idea that love is unconditional, unconditional love can, in fact, come with an asterisk.” 

If you face any level of family rejection, here are some tips from fellow queer people and allies on how to survive the holidays and maintain your mental health.

Plan ahead for difficult conversations. Decide if or how you will respond to that relative who always makes a sarcastic comment about marriage equality. Engaging with disapproving or downright hostile relatives can be scary and uncomfortable. Trust yourself about whether it is safe to do so, and when to disengage. Amy Stulman, a nurse practitioner specialized in LGBTQ care, told Bustle, “Change often occurs incrementally, so it may be worth investing in these conversations if it’s someone who genuinely cares about you and has good intentions.” If the family’s remarks are based on scriptural teachings, the Human Rights Campaign has a series called “Coming Home” with a focus on Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam and Christianity. These guides can equip you with answers to common questions, and may provide you with tools to encourage a more accepting theology within the family.

Put your support system on notice. Connect with your friends in advance and let them know you may be reaching out over the holidays. It can be invaluable to have at least one person you can slip out and call (or text under the table) when your grandmother calls your partner a “friend,” or if the conversation takes an uncomfortable or hostile tone.

Limit your time with family, if necessary. You don’t have to spend more time with your family than feels right for you, especially if you are being treated unkindly or made to feel badly about your gender or sexual identity. As Preston Mitchum writes in The Root, “Family is not a performance that we pay for with our well-being.” Consider hosting or attending a gathering with “chosen family,” or spending holidays volunteering with an LGBTQ+ or other organization feeding unhoused persons or doing other valuable work in the community.

Here are some resources for further exploration: