Trans for the holidays

Shot of the transgender flag blowing in the wind at street
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

We’re in that time of year, post-Thanksgiving but not yet Yule, when you cannot breathe without being hit with messages of twee family get-togethers for the holidays. It is simply unavoidable, as companies seek to make that final, year-end money and promote nostalgic stories of gift giving and large spreads of food with family and friends.

Of course, for those of us who are trans, this may not be as happy as one might imagine.

Many of my trans friends are dealing with a lot right now. Not just the usual issues with politicians writing laws to outlaw us existing in public and getting adequate care, nor the constant barrage of hatred focused on us from the media, but a holiday season that isn’t what we were promised by the wistful holiday specials and their eager commercials.

I have a lot of trans friends who are facing their first holiday season without the support and love of their families. For some, they have been shunned by parents and siblings, as their invitations over for the holidays are conveniently forgotten or, in extreme cases, they’re told very clearly that they are persona non grata at the family home.

Others have had to turn away from their families for their own health, as a toxic, unsupportive environment can be just so bad as to require cutting one’s own ties. Early in my own transition, this was something I found myself having to do, in order to maintain my own sanity. It was simply the better choice to avoid family who were not supportive of who I am.

The frustrating thing to me is this: We are told, throughout much of our lives, that our families love us unconditionally. Parents may tell us how they will always be there for you, through thick and thin — and yet, being a transgender or nonbinary person becomes that bridge too far.

Indeed, if you pick up an air of cynicism in this column, you are correct. I come from a family where we once did those big gatherings for the holidays, when everyone would come together for the holidays, no matter how far away they lived, and spend that Christmas breakfast or Thanksgiving dinner hashing over the year with one another.

Yet once I transitioned, I no longer heard where the holiday gathering would be and, after a couple years of animosity from my parents, and their unwillingness to accept me as, well, me, I moved on. It was a few years later that my parents and I did start to talk again, though much of my extended family has decided they do not wish to have any contact with me. It is, frankly, just as well.

Yes, I won’t even get into the in-laws. Just as well. Even today, I’m not allowed to attend those get-togethers.

Mind you, I’m not talking about those moments of awkwardness where families may blow a name or pronoun while passing the mashed potatoes, or might mistakenly put an item under the tree that affirms the wrong gender. We know accidents happen.

No, some people make it clear that they see no reason why they should accommodate a trans person in their families, and decide to dig in their heels, using an old name deliberately, and applying incorrect pronouns whenever they can, knowing that they can wield such as a weapon.

It’s a strange way to celebrate a holiday.

Yet one hears plenty of stories about how the racist, right-wing cousin is still allowed at the dinner table, or the creepy uncle gets to come over, and so on. Their behavior, while seen as wrong, is still tolerated, because they’re somehow still viewed as family.

I would like to see at least this same level of acceptance extended to one’s nonbinary or trans family member. If you are willing to accept someone who you might find abhorrent  simply out of some sense of family bonding during the holiday season, then why do you feel it is okay to shun a trans family member?

Let me lay it on the line: if you have a trans or nonbinary person in your family, I want you to understand that we have had a truly awful year on one level or another. A sizable number of people have, though words and deeds, done their level best to make our year a horrible one. Many of us have had to move to get basic care, as medical providers have either shut down or been barred from giving care in some states. Many may have seen issues in their schools and communities. Some have been harassed and assaulted.

Many, too, have had friends die due to anti-trans sentiment and violence.

These are the holidays, a time that should be about togetherness, good will, and yes, celebrating family and friends. If you cannot take a few hours out of your life to welcome a nonbinary or transgender relative, and offer them a moment of acceptance and joy, then why do you think you deserve their company in the first place? Perhaps it is you who should reconsider just what the holidays are all about.

One final word for my trans siblings: Family is what you make it. Know there are those in your community who know where you’ve been. Your people are out there this holiday, and you don’t need to be alone.

Gwen Smith wishes everyone some comfort and joy this season. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com