We’re often told that home is meant to be a safe, warm, comforting place that we can always return to for unconditional love. Quotes like “There’s no place like home” or “Home is where the heart is” reinforce this notion. Mix in the idea of holiday joy and you get the popular conception of going home for the holidays being an accepting, cheerful experience filled with unconditional love from family and others close to your heart.
Now, the holidays may not be ideal for most people, and I’m sure most of us have had our fair share of drama with extended family, cramped living situations, hectic travel schedules, and awkward dinner table politics. But the holidays can be an especially complicated time for BGLTQ people: for those who aren’t welcome home; for those who are just tolerated at home; for those who are physically welcome home but not emotionally or spiritually; for those who feel distant from their support systems when they’re home; for those who feel distant from their home communities even when they’re home; and for those whose holiday traditions intersect with religions or belief systems that do not affirm them.
The holidays can be incredibly isolating when you don’t feel the unconditional love and warmth that you’re expected to feel, particularly from those who are supposed to love you most in the world.
For me, the holidays are a season of mixed messages. I’ll receive gifts in the mail from relatives who love me dearly but shudder at the thought of two women kissing. I’ll spend Christmas Eve at church, surrounded by people who’ve known me and helped raise me since I was in preschool, yet are convinced that all homosexuals are destined for hell if they don’t turn away from their sinful lifestyle. I’ll enjoy my favorite meal with my family that hasn’t dined together in over a year, but hear concerned commentary at the dinner table about our society’s downfall due to the “gay agenda” and its destruction of “family values.” Years of living at home and coming home for the holidays still have not fully prepared me for the cognitive dissonance of “I love you, but….” It still shocks and hurts me every time.
The problem with this conditional love lies in the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance is for the things we don’t love or like but choose to put up with. We might tolerate having to get up early for morning classes. We might tolerate strangers’ rude behavior. But we don’t just tolerate those we love; we accept them completely, including all that makes them who they are. Family and close friends must go beyond the bare minimum of tolerance; they must fully accept us in order to love us.
My sexuality is a beautiful, integral part of me: If you only tolerate my sexuality, then you only tolerate me. My sexuality is not a hurdle that must be overcome. It is not an undesirable add-on that others can begrudgingly tolerate to get to the parts of me they actually like. You cannot love me without also loving my whole being, including my sexuality. “I love you” is hollow if I must change myself to be worthy of that love.
To any BGLTQ person who’s struggling with a complicated or unaccepting home this holiday season, I want to reaffirm that you matter and that you’re deserving of unconditional love. I’m sorry if you’re not getting that love from your family and home communities, but that doesn’t make you any less deserving of it.
While your holiday experience may not be ideal, there are some adjustments you can make that can hopefully make it go more smoothly. When interacting with people who aren’t actively trying to hurt you but still hold unaccepting views, try setting expectations from the get-go of what you need and make it clear that certain behaviors are detrimental to you. For example, I’ve requested in advance that certain harmful phrases — such as framing my sexual orientation as a choice — not be said in front of me. Even if I haven’t changed anyone’s mind on the issue, at the very least I won’t have to be reminded that they hold these opinions or be forced to address them.
Pick your battles. There will be plenty of moments where I’ll hold my tongue and set aside the more “controversial” parts of me to keep the peace. It’s not fair and not how it should be, but reopening the wound by voicing concerns and getting into arguments might be more painful. You have not failed or conceded your values if you choose to stay silent.
When possible, look for or build support systems. Have a friend, even if they’re virtual, that you can vent to when someone says something hurtful. Set aside time to hang out with affirming people so that you have a space to decompress and feel fully seen and welcomed. If you don’t have these support systems available to you, plan alone time away from your family doing something relaxing and affirming.
Above all, do whatever you need to do to affirm your self-worth. These next few months may be difficult, through no fault of your own. Whatever happens, remember that you are valid, you are whole, and you are deserving of unconditional love, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.
I’m wishing you the very best this holiday season, and I hope you experience unconditional love and warmth in some aspect of your life.
Becina J. Ganther ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a History and Science concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.