This blog is the second in a two-part series, featuring strategies and tips for LGBTQ+ folx who are visiting unsupportive families of origin this holiday season. For all of us, being accepted and affirmed (or not) by our families plays a role in our well-being. This can be an even bigger issue any time an LGBTQ+ person heads “home” to spend time with their family of origin. These visits can be a time of celebration, traditions and togetherness, but they can also be stressful, difficult, and even traumatic if unsupportive family members are also attending. If you’ve made the decision to spend time with your family of origin for the holidays this year, we offer this blog featuring tips for your visit – to optimize joy, decrease stress, and create boundaries that can help you long after the holiday is over.
During the Visit…
- Reassure family members you’re still the same person they’ve always known.
- Especially if you’ve just come out recently, remember that your family may need a little time to acknowledge and accept that they have an LGBTQ+ family member. It likely took you time to come to terms with who you truly are; family may need some time, too.
- Don’t assume you know how someone will react to news of your sexual orientation or gender identity… they may surprise you.
- If you are transgender, it’s absolutely appropriate to be gentle but firm if people “slip” (unintentionally or intentionally) with pronouns, your name, etc. Let them know you love them and understand this journey may be uncomfortable for them, but also remind them each time it happens how difficult it is for you to hear.
- Journaling is a great way to express yourself, openly and honestly. Just be sure to stow your journal somewhere private if there’s a chance someone might peer into your things.
- On second thought… If you didn’t bring a locking suitcase, hide anything you don’t want to have a conversation about, even if your family isn’t prone to privacy violations. Medications, binders, condoms, journals, sex toys, etc. you may have brought along are no one’s business but yours.
- Take time for self-care, no matter what that looks like for you. Listen to music, read, catch up on that Netflix series, or enjoy a long bath. You can also de-stress with activities outside the house. Take the dog for a walk, find a local coffee shop & write in your journal, go to a park or library & read, window shop downtown, stop by a local restaurant or pub where locals gather, find a support group, etc.
- Take care of your body. Eat well. Do all you can to get enough sleep. Bring your medications and take them. The visit will be easier if your body is nourished and rested.
- If you have the opportunity to stay with a supportive local friend, consider taking advantage of that. Having a safe and accepting environment to sleep in and only having to visit with unsupportive family during the day hours might make the visit a little easier.
- Don’t give up. Sometimes families are unaccepting merely out of ignorance. During the visit, try to figure out how your family is feeling and whether there might be an opportunity for them to be supportive down the road.
- Don’t give in. You are not obligated to put up with bullying. You are not obligated to be out of the closet. You are not obligated to allow others to tell you that your sexuality or gender identity is less than, or isn’t real at all. You are not obligated to explain anything you don’t want to. Your safety is the first priority.
- You are also under no obligation to spend your entire holiday with an unsupportive family! Schedule the visit on your terms, and stick to them.
- If you need to use an exit strategy, do it. If things aren’t going well or you need a break, it’s absolutely appropriate to take care of yourself and leave early. If you didn’t drive yourself there, try to make arrangements to have someone who can be available to pick you up, and know what time the last train / bus leaves each day.
After the Visit…
If things went well, be sure to follow up with family members, to thank them for the visit, their love and support, and to ask if they have any questions. If things didn’t go as well as you had hoped, reconnect quickly with your local support system (close friends, chosen family, therapist etc.) to give yourself an opportunity to discuss and process the event.
Read Part One in this blog series: pre-trip planning strategies you can employ in advance of a visit. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the holidays or think you may have the holiday blues, please reach out to your therapist for support. IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues. For anyone needing affirming and validating support in their healing, please click here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.