With a delightfully odd mix of octogenarian great-aunts, straight-talking toddlers and angst-driven teenagers, it’s not uncommon for the Christmas dinner table to play host to the odd moment of tension or colourful conversation. Happily, these episodes are often more amusing than agonising and are just part and parcel of the family Christmas experience. But sadly, for some LGB+T people – particularly in Christian families – this time of year can provide as much tension as it does turkey with all the trimmings.
For too many, the invite for a family Christmas sadly never arrived in the post. After having found the courage to be honest with their loved ones about their sexuality or gender, they find themselves banished from the festivities. But even for those who are still welcomed back to the family home, yuletide celebrations can offer up a multitude of problems. From mildly irritating passive aggressive comments to full-blown confrontations and arguments, the first Christmas after coming out can set stress levels rising faster than Santa’s late-night dash around the globe.
These kinds of tensions are often more than just narks and niggles – they can be really distressing to all involved. While, generally speaking, these difficult moments can’t be avoided altogether, with a bit of forward planning it might be possible to make riding the emotional wave that little bit more bearable. Here are 5 tips to surviving the first festive season after having come out to your family.
1.Anticipate the tension touch points – People are people and no Christmas runs to a pre-ordained script. Nonetheless, there are certain things that if we search our minds, we can make realistic predictions about. Is Dad likely to make a negative comment if two gay people kiss on TV? Will Mum murmur about not having grandchildren as she lays out your stocking? You know your family well and might be able to navigate in advance where some of the tensions could crop up. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.
2.Decide your boundaries in advance – You know yourself and hopefully you’ll have an idea of what you can and can’t tolerate. Perhaps your Gran’s reference to you being ‘confused’ is bearable but your brother directly confronting you to surrender to the authority of Romans 1 isn’t. There’s no right or wrong about what you have to put up with, but having thought through what some of the possible tensions are likely to be, decide which ones you can and can’t tolerate and rehearse in your mind what your response is likely to be. Are you going to politely say that you are hurt by the tone of the conversation and need a little time to yourself before calmly excusing yourself to your bedroom? Is there a line that if crossed, will mean you need to cut short your involvement with the family festivities? In as much as you possibly can, try and have all that decided in advance.
3.Devise a few coping strategies – Remember when you were studying and told yourself that if you just got to the end of that boring chapter, you’d be allowed a little chocolate treat? Sometimes dealing with relatives can be similar. If you know you’re going to spend all of Boxing Day under the disapproving glare of Aunt Janice, can you arrange to meet up with a sympathetic bestie for a glass of mulled wine afterwards? Not only does this give you something to look forward to but you’ll have the chance to let off steam with the comfort of a sympathetic ear. Not to mention the fact that mulled wine is delicious!
4.The pen is a more powerful weapon than the sword – Before things get going, pop out to the shops – buy yourself a lovely new notepad and if you’re so inclined, a fancy pen. If someone or something upsets you, make your excuses and start writing. In the safety and privacy of the written word, let your feelings out and put them on paper. Sleep on it and when you wake up the next day you can decide if what happened is something you really need to talk to your family about (and if so, last night’s scribblings will give you a ready made script for the conversation) or if, in the cold light of day, it is (for now) better best forgotten.
5.Ask for support – Hopefully there is someone in your life that understands how hard this season might be for you. Talk to them about it in advance. Can they pray for you? Perhaps they could phone you once or twice or at least be available at the end of the line if you need them. Even knowing someone is out there thinking of you can make all the difference.
We at the Open Church Network hope that none of this advice is necessary. We hope and pray that your family and you will be able to focus on your mutual love, happy memories of the past and the deep truth that all of you want nothing but the best for each other. But we also know what families are like. Tensions, niggles and upsets are almost inevitable. However, with a bit of forward planning, a level head and some well-rehearsed coping mechanisms, a peaceful Christmas and Happy New Year might just yet be on its way down the chimney.
Don’t forget, if things get really tough this Christmas, and you don’t have the support you need, there are still people you can talk to. You might want to try:
Tel: 0300 330 0630 10am-10pm
Tel: 116 123