Have you ever had to hide yourself from others to avoid judgment, bigotry and shattered expectations? Have you ever had to keep the real you inconspicuous as a means of survival? Nothing stings more than having family that doesn’t want you — especially during the holiday season.
Every year between October and January, many people in the LGBTQ+ community face tension, anxiety and depression with families that do not accept them for the person they are because of deeply rooted bigotry and ignorance. Many in our community either put up a front for their families in order to be accepted — or face intolerance, abuse or even homelessness.
We have so much pride throughout the year and make so many strides toward bringing LGBTQ+ awareness to the forefront, but the same painful lack of acceptance still lingers as the pine tree goes up and the family table is set.
I know of a young, wayward girl who struggled with identity and self-love in adolescence, having to put on a face for people who had known her since infancy. Why would she feel the need to resort to such a tactic when it’s her very own family — the same family that loves her and knows all there is to know about her? But then, did they really know her like they thought they had all of these years?
Have you ever felt like an imposter amongst those closest to you — in this case, family? We may not even realize we’re masked until we are away from family and then finally feel as though we can exhale. This, my dear reader, is called anxiety. And for those in the LGBTQ+ community who also happen to be people of color coming from a Catholic family background, this mask is worn more often than you might think.
This mask is a heterosexual mask — a defense mechanism to avoid the pain associated with judgment, bigotry and lack of acceptance from family.
I know of this mask, because I am that young, wayward girl who struggled with identity and self-love in adolescence. I am that little girl who simply wanted to love and be loved, but because of restrictive values, I became an imposter in my own family. I haven’t been as real as I’ve wanted to be, and I struggled to find where the façade ended and I began.
Holiday anxiety for us in the LGBTQ+ and POC community is very much real and alive, and it affects us all. We face discomfort. We cope by putting our egos at the forefront. Sometimes we avoid judgmental family altogether.
I am here to tell you that I understand your anxiety and depression and the abuse that you have faced, just for wanting to drop the mask and be yourself. I see you, I hear you and I want you to know that you are not alone anymore.
Holidays, whether or not you celebrate, are ultimately about family bonding. And family bonding does not include judging or singling out a family member simply because they don’t fit the rigid norms in place. Expectations — especially familial expectations that are often projected out of fear — are what drive people away and make them feel less than human if they didn’t live up to family standards. These familial expectations can turn into generational curses if left to run rampant.
This holiday season, I have a challenge for our families of origin. Families of LGBTQ+ people, and people of color especially, I invite you to let go of the expectation that your loved ones conform to your notion of who you want them to be and start accepting them simply for who they are. We’re no less human and no less family to you. We’re the same people we were before we came out to you.
I invite you to slowly strip back the layers of fear within yourself, to strip back the fear you hold for your family members who are LGBTQ+. Provide a safe, meditative space for your loved ones. Be inclusive and remember that love is the real reason for the season.
Sage Freeman is an aspiring writer whose subject is the real world around her, both internal and external, entwining passion and pain. Follow her on Instagram at @thesfeffect.