The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Dear Athena is Her Campus Oswego’s Advice Column. Click here to submit (it’s completely anonymous)!
“I did school online all last year. This semester, a lot has changed about me — my appearance, style, sexuality, and pronouns. I’m nervous going back to my family for Thanksgiving. They’ve never been outwardly homophobic or transphobic but they’re also more traditional. What should I do if they’re unaccepting?”
— New Thanksgiving New Me
Dear New Thanksgiving New Me,
First, I want to say congratulations on taking hold of your identity and deciding to show the world the wonderful, unique person you are. As Captain Raymond Holt from B99 once said “Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place.” You are actively making this world better just by being who you are, which is exactly who you’re supposed to be.
Second, I want to emphasize how much I understand the way you’re feeling.The uncertainty of knowing if others will accept you, especially two people so important to you, is an unimaginable level of stress. I know some people would say that you should just act like your former self until the break is over to avoid the conflict, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Being yourself is hard and brave, but your parents also deserve to see the person you are, as you should be able to live your truth 100% of the time.
I won’t lie to you that this question is hard, and so I feel honored in a way that you trusted my advice on it. My answer would vary depending on what level of “unaccepting” they are, which is to say, are they just pretending it isn’t happening versus kicking you out of the house and cutting you out? Since I won’t be there with you at Thanksgiving, I will instead try to give you some resources and cushions instead in the event it goes the way of you ending up with nowhere to go come Winter Break. First off, take time to relay your fears to your most supportive friends and family before Thanksgiving. Stress that you aren’t sure how it will go, but you are taking a big step in your life and may need support in the event that something goes horribly wrong. Make sure you have lines of communication to them at all times during break. Second, I would try to hook up with the Counseling Center before you go so that they give you on-campus resources as well as emotional support. They may have better advice than me about the best way to “prepare” your parents, if at all possible, about the person they’ll be meeting when you come back home. The Queer and Trans Outreach Center on campus is also a great place for resources from those who are in your shoes. If something happens and you need emergency housing or to stay on campus over Winter break, contact the Dean of Students at 315-312-5483. Trevor Project also has a lot of resources for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness.
I also want to bring up the possibility that it goes okay. I think it’s okay to be prepared for the worst, but at the same time, dwelling on that can make an already stressful situation even worse. While your parents may be more traditional, many traditional people begin to feel differently when it’s their own child. Though it could take time for them to come around and understand you fully, they could accept you and love you. I would be wary of going into the situation defensively and acting out in kind because it will only escalate any stress from both sides. Go in with an open mind, but prepared, and try to see if things could go better than you hoped.
“My parents have been divorced for a while, which always made the holidays hard for me. My roommate invited me to go to Thanksgiving with her parents back home, but before this she’s told me about a lot of different problems her family has. We’re really close so I’m thinking it’ll be okay, but I’m nervous they’ll rope me into family drama. Should I go?”
— Thanksgiving With the In-Roommates
Dear Thanksgiving With the In-Roommates,
I see two sides of this: your side, which is that you understand her family dynamics and drama and you’re worried you may inadvertently become involved in it, and her side, which is that she loves you so much and her family is open enough to offer you share in this intimate holiday. An invitation to a family’s Thanksgiving dinner, especially a family who hasn’t met you, is a huge honor in my opinion. I want you to consider for a moment that your friend likely thought a lot about this and then had to ask her family, who might have understandably been a little weary about a stranger staying in their home for an extended period of time. This is not to say you are some weirdo freak who shouldn’t be trusted (I’m sure you’re lovely), but that Thanksgiving is a big deal and her family doesn’t know you in the same way she does. In short, they’re taking a lot of risk to make their daughter (and you, to an extent!) feel comfortable and have a nice holiday.
One of the things you mention is that your parents have been divorced for a while and this has affected how you experience the holiday season. My own parents are currently divorcing, and I know firsthand how ugly it can get. Even if you were young, you probably absorbed some of that negative energy and continued to sit with it as you had to reconfigure your dynamic with your family in a way you saw other friends whose parents stayed together didn’t have to. It’s hard and painful, even if not all of us children of divorce are willing to admit it. All families, even the ones where the parents don’t divorce, have problems and drama. I think it’s worth it to consider if you may be projecting some of the fears and anxieties about your own family life onto her own and that’s what causing your fears about going with her to Thanksgiving.
I genuinely believe you should go to Thanksgiving with her. I imagine her family will be on their best behavior to try to make you comfortable as well impress you. This probably means a great deal to your roommate as well, and so going would also strengthen your already strong friendship. I used to stop by on Thanksgiving with a family who I grew up with, and though I knew their problems too, it was always enjoyable and they made an effort to make me feel like I belonged. If it goes wrong, you can always tell me “told you so” and not go next year.