Despite the promised tidings of comfort and joy, twinkling lights, and gifts exchanged, the holiday season can be a great source of pain and loneliness for those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community. The reality of what many queer people experience during the holidays seldom lives up to the sense of wonder and community we were taught to believe in as children. After the experience of coming out—naming our sexual orientation, who we really are, and where we find love—too many of us face rejection, isolation, and shame from the ones who had previously claimed they cherished us.
My work as a seminary chaplain and psychotherapist have afforded me numerous opportunities over the past few weeks to speak with queer-identified individuals who hold great hesitations about heading home this December. The questions and doubts sometimes begin months in advance: Can I be my true self in my childhood home? Am I free to talk genuinely about my interests, friendships, and romantic relationships? Will I encounter pain or backlash if I express my gender identity in a way that feels authentic for me? When these questions are answered negatively, the notion of celebrating Christmas with our family or community of origin could mean putting ourselves at risk for physical abuse or worse.
I was an adult when I came out to my family. I had finished graduate school, was living across the county, working in a church where my sexual orientation was known and celebrated. By the time I shared my whole truth with my family, I had spent years in therapy, worked through my theological uncertainties, and was blessed to have an amazing group of friends who affirmed daily that I was loved. Knowing this support network was just a call away empowered me to embrace the fullness of my life and believe that I could survive any potential rejection that the people who knew me since birth might offer.
My relationship with my family did get rocky. Going home that first Christmas I was cautious, but we were able to be together as one. It was not until I met the man who would become my husband when being gay and partnered made home feel more like a wish than a reality. Returning home with a male partner became too much truth to bear in my small religiously conservative community. My husband and I met in the fall of 2016. I have not been home for the holidays since then.
Living as your true self has a cost. This is not true just for queer people, but it is uniquely so. Each of us will be forced to make decisions, cut ties, or say no so that we can live life and blossom into the person and purpose that is uniquely ours. In my case, that meant losing the depth of connection once held and gaining a sense of separation from some of the people I love most. Like many of my queer siblings, I grieve the absence of loved ones during the holidays. But in this community I have found resilience and a family of choice who surround and support my husband and me, not only during the holidays, but all year long.
Around 15 years ago, before I was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor, I built a relationship with two younger people who were also navigating being out in homophobic religious community. I hoped to support them through the obstacles of being queer and a person of faith in the way queer and straight elders had supported me. Over time, our connection, understanding, and trust grew and they invited me into a prized position in their lives. They have named each other siblings, and they now call me dad. We are family.
Just days before Thanksgiving, when the terror of the Colorado Springs shooting occurred, rattling again the tenuous sense of security in the queer community, I reached out to my kids immediately. I wanted to remind them that regardless of the violence leveled against us, no matter what form hate might take, there is nothing that can separate us from the love we share. We belong to one another.
We have never spent Christmas together. We live in different time zones. Gratefully, they both have families of origin where they know they are welcomed, accepted, and loved. But whatever comes our way, we will always be family.
Just in time for Christmas, President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act which provides federal protection to same-sex and interracial marriages. This is outstanding news. It brings a degree of confidence that marriages like mine will remain legal and upheld by the government for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it does nothing to stop the rise in dangerous and deadly anti-queer and anti-transgender bills on state legislature ballots in increasing number across the country. It does nothing to prevent the violence and murder of transgender women of color or our gender non-confirming siblings. Nor does it ensure that queer youth will be protected at school, or receive the appropriate academic, social, mental, or medical health care they deserve without fear of discrimination.
This year, my husband and I will spend Christmas with his family. My in-laws have two beautifully joyful children under the age of five, and we are thrilled to experience the wonder of the season through their bright and sparkling eyes.
As for presents, personally there is nothing I need, but I do have a few wishes: This Christmas, I wish that each member of the queer community feel loved and cherished as many of us did as children. For each one to have a place around the tree, seat at the table, or wherever we find ourselves, and know that we are seen, known, and loved. I wish we all grow in confidence in the autonomy of our being—that we know our bodies are ours to love, manage, and enjoy.