Firstly, if you’re not celebrating xmas for whatever reason, I hear you. If you are celebrating, I hope you have a lovely time.
I hope that my fellow queers reading this don’t think I’ve over-simplified things, and that everyone else gets a glimpse of why some people might need a bit more space.
Now for the blog.
Not everyone is happy at xmas. For queer people, all that family time may be stifling.
Sometimes not being out is exhausting. Sometimes being out is just as hard. Both are extra emotional labour, and can make it harder to enjoy family time without all the extra pressure of “the most wonderful time of the year” and the need to be jolly for three days straight.
Having to think before you speak every time you talk about your life, or your partner, or your identity makes a conversation much harder.
Let’s look at some scenarios
1. Cisgender, heterosexual. I do not have to decide to come out or not. Nor do I have to fear accidentally outing myself. I do not have to worry about what my family and friends might think of my gender identity or sexuality.
Emotional labour points: 0.
2. Cisgender, bi/homosexual. I have to decide to come out or not. Also I may then have to fear accidentally outing myself. I may worry about what my family and friends think about my sexuality, but not about my gender identity.
Emotional labour points: 2 – 3.
3. Trans, any sexuality. I have to decide whether or not to come out to family if I have not yet reached a point in my transition where it is obvious. If they do not know I may then have to fear accidentally outing myself. If they do know, I may still be misgendered. Or if they do know then I may or may not have to fear accidentally using the wrong pronouns or other gender identifying terms when speaking about my partner/crush and opening up another awkward or possibly abusive conversation. I may worry about what my family and friends think about my gender identity and/or sexuality.
Emotional labour points: up to 5.
This may not seem like a huge number of points – after all, five is not a huge number – but let’s look at some maths. Let’s assume three theoretical people all go to spend xmas with family. Their scores on my emotional labour points, for arguments sake, can be 0, 3 and 5. Let’s assume that over the course of the three days (xmas eve to boxing day) they each have around 20 conversations. Work it out with me.
0 ELP: 0 x 20 = 0
3 ELP: 3 x 20 = 60
5 ELP: 5 x 20 = 100
Suddenly that seems like quite a big difference. Especially if, like many cisgender, heterosexual people, you have never thought about it like that.
“As an aspiring ally”, I hear you cry, “how can I help”?
Firstly, and to my mind most importantly, be the kind of person who shows with your words and actions that you’re an ally. This means that the person might be able to speak with you about their emotional labour (by which I mean they might come out to you) and boom, suddenly you’re a 0 even if Great Aunt Maud is still a 5.
Next, you can challenge other family members if they’re being inappropriate. Maybe that takes conversations had with you nearby down a point or two. They now know that you’ll tell Uncle Fred he’s being a bigot so that they don’t have to say something, or worse, have to sit quietly and not be able to.
Lastly, and also most importantly (I know, it doesn’t work that way, but you can give me this one for xmas), respect their decision to opt out. Maybe they’ll come to a part of it, or have a video call with the family at lunchtime, maybe they need to just opt out entirely. The kindest thing that you can do is to say “hey [name], I love you, hope you have a good day and let’s catch up soon,” or words to that effect. They might just hear what they need to be able to make that vid call after all, and if they don’t, they know that you care enough to not pressure them into a space they don’t feel comfortable in. Is acceptance not the greatest gift of all?
Xmas or not, I wish you all a happy, low-number, and above all safe, few days. Be merry if you want to, bah-humbug if you prefer, and remember that whichever side of the fence you sit, everyone has the right to sit where they want or need to.