Home for the Holidays
Do. Not. Prejudge. This has been a most difficult habit to control. As much as I think I know what to expect and what lies behind the curtains in peoples’ lives, it has been proven to me time and again that my expectations have little to do with reality. This statement is the prelude to this article about how my gay, lesbian, and transgender friends celebrate holidays with their families and friends.
The word went out to a number of my friends, asking for their personal stories of holiday celebrations. The invitation to share stories was this: “The article I am going to write will focus on how you have had to change your holiday celebrations due to being LGBT. Have you had any particularly good or incredibly bad holiday experiences with family or friends, recent or past?? How did you handle those situations? Have things changed at all since that experience? Are there any holiday traditions that you started for yourself because it brought healing to you?” Can you see the prejudging phrasing in my request?
Jeanine, a transfemale friend of mine, responded, “I am not replying simply because I don’t qualify, thanks to the loving and supportive family I was blessed to be born into.” My first reaction was “WOW!” How terrific for Jeanine that her transition brought such acceptance from her family that there was no fallout, especially over the holidays.
Diane and Annie share some wonderful aspects of their holiday celebrations over the years. They have been a couple for twenty-seven years. “Annie was always a bit self-conscious around her immediate and extended family, not going to family functions alone or with her previous partners. Diane took that issue head on, stroking and cultivating a one-on-one relationship with Annie’s parents. Annie called it, “playing Eddie Haskell.” Diane encouraged attending family functions as a couple. As the years passed, and Diane insisted they not skip the family holidays to which they were invited, Annie’s family relationships improved. Over time, she even re-kindled close relationships with a group of cousins, with whom she’d been very close as a child. It became tradition for Annie and Diane to take charge of desserts for what has become celebrations of close to thirty people, for each of the major holidays. The inclusion of Diane and Annie in these holiday celebrations expanded to [other holidays throughout the year].”
David shared this with me: “When my longtime, now-deceased partner and I became a couple 25 years ago, our families’ holiday traditions didn’t change except that there was now another place at the table for this new family member. It was so fortunate that holidays were not a dreaded or difficult time for either of us—quite the opposite. My partner loved to cook and entertain, and we sometimes hosted Christmas dinner. Sometimes we would include LGBT friends at our table who could not be with their ‘blood families’ or who were not welcome at ‘home.’ I’m so grateful that my holiday memories of those early years are positive ones.”
Of course, the holiday traditions and celebrations of all have not been seamless and worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. Sharon and Wendy tell their story in a way in which they created new holiday traditions. ”Over the years we have developed strong friendships with four couples and they really became our ‘family,’ especially in the early years when we were all ‘closeted.’ We still maintained our Christmas traditions with parents, children and siblings, but we always set aside time for the group, our ‘family’, to celebrate together, and in various ways, from birthday dinners to Thanksgiving meals, [now including] travel abroad, trips to New York and cooking classes. One tradition that has lasted over two decades is that at Christmastime, instead of searching for gifts for each other, we pooled our funds for donations to [local] needy causes. Our second family shares unequivocal love, support in the good and hard times, and just the best friends we girls could ever have!”
Love conquers all! This is no more poignant a statement than when you read the story of Lynne and Lisa, told in Lynne’s words. “Lisa and I have been incredibly lucky when it comes to family and the holidays. We have been together for just over 24 years and married for just over two years. In my family I had a gay uncle, a closeted lesbian aunt and a gay cousin, so the gay thing was not new to my family. For Lisa years ago, she never felt like she could include her former partners at the holidays. It was not spoken but just understood that each would be with their separate families. She might be able to sneak in a quick holiday visit but it was not part of the main holiday event. When our relationship was very new we realized this would be a challenge for us, not only where we would celebrate the holidays but with whom. Once I was together with Lisa we would spend Christmas with her family and Thanksgiving with mine. The first Thanksgiving was not well received by Lisa’s family, but eventually they came to understand that this was important to us as a couple and no different than any other married couple trying to share holiday time between families.
“The funniest thing that ever happened with all of us together was at Christmas eve dinner about 1993, was when our five year old niece said to me...”hey Lynne do you love Aunt Lisa?” I swear it was like you could hear a pin drop at our table it was so quiet and I said “well yes I do,” and she said “ok” and dinner went on as usual. So here we are, twenty-plus years later, and getting ready to celebrate the 2015 holidays. For the first time ever Lisa and I are hosting Thanksgiving in Rehoboth with my family...and this year we are mixing family and friends.”
Thanks to all my friends who shared their hearts and their lives for the sake of this article. As we all prepare for the holidays, may your lives be enriched with the love of your partner and fulfilled with the support and complete acceptance of your families. If, for some reason, you find yourself alone or alienated from family, there is always a “second family” out there waiting to be formed. Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! And Happy New Year! Let the celebrations begin.