The holiday season can be fraught with emotion and expectation. For LGBTQ people, it can be a particularly trying—and triggering—time as they return to their families of origin and navigate people and spaces who may not be fully supportive of their identities.
This is especially true for LGBTQ people from more conservative parts of the country, populated in some capacity by individuals who feel empowered by the bigoted nature of our current political administration. It can also feel especially challenging for LGBTQ people who disproportionately suffer from mental health issues and, as a result, may have trouble coping with situations that feel oppressive.
For all of these reasons, developing healthy coping mechanisms for LGBTQ people traveling to conservative parts of America is crucial for making it through the holidays.
Christopher Lineberry, a Brooklyn-based artist from North Carolina currently pursuing an MFA at Hunter College, told NewNowNext that he used to drink a lot of alcohol to deal with uncomfortable conversations and microaggressive statements from family, like requests from him to remove his nail polish. However, he’s reached a point in his life where he seeks to handle these situations in a healthier way. “In intimate situations like family holiday gatherings, I think we should help people who want to learn how to help, not punish them with radical rhetoric about their shortcomings,” Lineberry says. “Get some apps that guide you through meditation or breathing exercises. That’s probably my biggest and most universal advice right now in dealing with discomfort: Breathe.”
Lineberry also came to recognize the importance of having a support network—even if its virtual—so he can have people to turn to in moments of pain or anxiety. Tammy Holcomb, a professional mental health counselor, says that having people to reach out to can be a cornerstone coping mechanism.
“Having a friend or ally in the family present can be really helpful in helping a young person feel safer and less alone,” Holcomb says. “It makes so much difference knowing at least one person present knows who you are. One of the risks for LGBTQ folks is losing their sense of self. They spend so much time ‘pretending’ to be the person people want them to be that they sometimes lose touch with who they really are. If unable to have someone physically present, it can help to have trusted ally ‘on call’ and available to talk to process thoughts and feelings about visiting home… actively work not to feel isolated and invisible.”
Beyond the pressures of family, LGBTQ people also have to grapple with the pressures of navigating potentially threatening public spaces. Shiny Penny, a Brooklyn-based drag performer who hails from small-town North Carolina, says in the past she made the effort to “tone down” her gender expression when returning home for the holidays by minimally changing things about her appearance, like removing her acrylic nails prior to her visit. For the first time this year, however, she won’t be making these efforts prior to her holiday trip.
“My confidence in my queerness continues to strengthen each day and I see no need to change myself just because of my destination or where I visit,” Penny says. “It has taken me a bit to get to this point, but I have lived in New York for almost five years now. Living in New York has also taught me that conservative people exist all over and not just in North Carolina or other southern states. In many ways, queer people always have to be on guard wherever they are, so constantly trying to change or mold one to fit an area can be tiring.”
“Give situations time, but also do not lose track of you or your gender expression and personality while waiting for family to ‘come around,’” Penny says. “Let things be on your own time and sometimes getting older, at least in my case, helps parents and families realize that one is not changing and this is not a ‘phase.’”
Are you an LGBTQ youth and having a tough time this holiday season? There are resources to help! Call The Trevor Project at 1866-488-7386 or Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.