’Tis the season to be jolly. Peace on Earth, goodwill to… men? And the classic holiday song — sung by a gay man — says this is the most wonderful time of the year: a time of togetherness, conviviality and above all, family. Images of happy traditional heteronormative families abound. Families where all the women are femme presenting and/or coupled with men. Families where gender-non-conforming women and trans people do not exist. Families where everything is binary and there are no pairings of two women or two men. Even in advertising that is hoping to reel in LGBTQ holiday cash, there are only glimpses of a gay man here, a lesbian there and no trans people anywhere.
Those images dance like sugarplums in our heads as many of us prepare for holiday time with our families of origin. Or prepare to be alone again at the holidays, unwelcome by the very people who are supposed to love us unconditionally.
LGBTQ people are still viewed as outliers, sexual and social outlaws, whether we want to be or not. So for many LGBTQ people this is anything but the most wonderful time of the year — the holidays are when we are most invisible to the culture and feel most erased. Despite polling that asserts there is more acceptance of queer and trans people in the U.S., such acceptance isn’t reflected in real world experience for many of us. Our families of origin have often rejected us or accepted us only if we leave our partners at home and not to flaunt our identities at family gatherings.
Those of us who have been raised in religious households may feel the conflict between religion and our sexual orientation or gender identity most profoundly during the holidays. Can we feel welcomed in places of worship or will we always be the outcast and pariah?
Some LGBTQ people will insist “My family accepts me” or “I’m out in my dorm and on campus” and “I just go to church on Christmas and it’s fine because the new pastor doesn’t talk about gays.” But these personal assertions don’t negate the larger picture: The holidays are when queer and trans relatives are most inconvenient to a majority of American families.
Discrimination is the shadowy backdrop to our lives that is always there, regardless of whether we are blissfully happy or deeply sad. We often live within the confines of double, triple, quadruple oppressions as queer and trans people, and we are always aware of how at risk we are to violence, as the recent mass shooting at Club Q reminded us.
Yet how many cis-het people are heading their New Year’s resolution list with “be a better LGBTQ ally”? Queer and trans people are so invisible, so easily dismissed as both individuals and as a group, that even our own families and our self-proclaimed allies, people who claim to love us, inadvertently contribute to that invisibility.
The invisibility many LGBTQ people feel during the holidays can also feel like erasure of hard-won identities. This can be especially crushing for those who have recently come out. Statistics on depression show that the marginalization of LGBTQ people is felt most acutely in December and January.
The reality for most LGBTQ people is that this time of year leaves many feeling lonely and searching for inclusion. The CDC reports that substance abuse increases during the holiday season. Substance abuse is higher within the LGBTQ community, so the added stressors of the holidays can intensify those issues, putting people at risk.
That response — self-medicating — is not without cause. In 2022 anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, harassment, discrimination, policy, laws and violence have all risen exponentially, as I have reported in a myriad of news stories throughout 2022. Republican politics and policies have made gay and trans people a focal point. The claim that gay people are “grooming” children to be queer and trans has exploded this year, culminating in a myriad of “Don’t Say Gay” laws. Florida’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading presidential contender for 2024, invented the narrative. The “grooming” claim was endemic to the midterms.
The recent Senate race in Georgia also highlighted anti-trans issues. Despite GOP candidate Herschel Walker having a gay son, conservative podcaster Christian Walker, the candidate ran on a staunchly anti-LGBTQ platform. In the final weeks of the run-off, Walker did a controversial ad assailing trans women in sports.
The debate over the Respect for Marriage Act illumined how these conflicts within families remain central for many LGBTQ people. GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler sobbed on the floor of the House as she said marriage could only be between a man and a woman. But Hartzler’s nephew Andy is gay and spoke out against his aunt’s comments. President Biden invited him to the signing of the RFMA.
Biden isn’t Andy Hartzler’s family, though, and like many LGBTQ people, Hartzler will still have to deal with the rampant homophobia within his own family. It is this volatile political landscape that many LGBTQ people must navigate at the holidays, going home to families who support GOP candidates and politics, the families who spout the Fox-touted narrative of “groomer” gays that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and others keep repeating.
The sheer welter of these issues can be and often is overwhelming. How do we deal with these conflicts? Avoidance? Confrontation? It’s an individual choice, but as those of us who came of age as activists during the AIDS crisis recognized silence is not an answer. The best way to end invisibility is by making ourselves seen, our voices heard. We should embrace our identities with the same love for ourselves that we have for other queer and trans people.
Iconic Black radical lesbian theorist Audre Lorde wrote, “I betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.”
Lorde explains, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”
Our silence won’t protect us, but it does allow other people — even our allies — to project images onto us that are not us. Resist that. This season, resist the silencing. Resist what the Trumps and DeSantises and Hatzlers and even our own families tell us about who they think we are, but who we know we are not.
In this season of giving, be self-caring. In this season of giving, give yourself the gift of acceptance. Give yourself the gift of voice. It’s the best present you could possibly get. And one you’ll treasure forever.