Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: A Queer Student’s Guide to Spending Winter Break at Home

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“By the way, your grandparents don’t really need to know, do they?” That was one of the many things my parents said when I came out to them. So when I spend the holidays with my extended family over break, I’ll be keeping my sexuality on the DL. I’m not alone in this. Going home for break is tough for many queer students whose families may not know or approve of their sexual orientation/gender identity/etc, and going home also means being separated from support networks like school, friends, the Davis Center, and the Queer Student Union. Here to help are some tips and insights on how to survive spending winter break with the fam.

1. Don’t feel pressured to come out if it’s not what’s right in your situation. One hears a lot of stories about going home from college and immediately coming out (I mean, that’s what I did, so I get that), and that’s perfectly fine for some people, but it might not work out for others, depending on the views of your family members and a whole bunch of other factors. If you firmly believe that it’s the right place and time to come out, then more power to you, but don’t jeopardize your relationship with your family or your personal safety just because you’ve heard that coming out when you go home is just what you’re supposed to do. Also, holidays aren’t always the best times to come out, because it could attach negative feelings to that holiday if it doesn’t go well.

2. Keep in touch with your support network. This is a big one—if your family members don’t know of or support your identity/orientation, it’s important to have someone to talk to when Uncle Joe drops a homophobic slur at the dinner table, people keep misgendering you, or your coming-out (should you choose to have one) doesn’t go well. This is especially important if you aren’t out to your family, since the closet is an awful lot less lonely when you have people to talk to, or if your family expects you to perform an identity that isn’t your own for the sake of “not upsetting grandma.” It’s always a good thing to be able to talk to people who know, understand, and support you, and for some people, family doesn’t always fulfill those requirements.

3. Make a game plan. How will you be spending time with your family? Plan accordingly. If you’re not a fan of the after-dinner grown-up talks that you’re now considered old enough to participate in, volunteer for dish duty so you’re busy then, and if you’d rather not spend all afternoon baking cookies with your conservative grandma, take your cousins outside to play in the snow. Do you have any relatives who might ask awkward questions or say hurtful things, either with or without meaning to? If you can think of things that could come up in conversation and get some responses put together ahead of time, the big family dinner will be that much less stressful. Have a queer relative? Plan to hang out with them and join forces against your grandma’s obsession with your nonexistent heterosexual dating life and your conservative uncle’s insensitive comments. The more control you can have over your holiday experience, the better.

4. If you’re out and your family isn’t supportive, try to keep the door open. Be the bigger person, especially in the case of a grandparent or other elderly relative, and don’t shut anyone out or burn any bridges unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your relatives may come around, or they may not, but resolving disconnects like these is a two-way street. Often it’s a matter of relatives lacking an understanding of what it means for you to be queer, and resources like and books like K. Jennings’ “Always my Child” or C. Griffin and M. Wirth’s “Beyond Acceptance” can be invaluable when it comes to helping relatives understand and accept you for who you are. Educating people isn’t your responsibility, but it really does help, if both parties are willing.

5. If you’re out and your family doesn’t really want to talk about it, don’t push the issue unless you need to. This is the case with me and my parents. They don’t really want to discuss my sexuality with me, and I’m not too keen on rehashing that awkward conversation again either. As long as your family is treating you normally and isn’t disrespecting your identity or your partner, it may not be necessary to bring it up all the time. But if your relatives say something out of line, it’s definitely okay to set them right.

6. If your relatives really can’t accept you for who you are, it may be time to think about what family means to you. Family doesn’t always have to mean the people who are related to you by blood. Family can be a group of close friends who love you unconditionally and share your values. If visiting your relatives for the holidays is really damaging or harmful to you, it might be a better course of action not to do it at all, and to spend your break with the people who love you for who you are.

7. Always remember who you are. You are fabulous. You are flawless. You are your own person. If people have a hard time seeing all that, they’re the ones who need to change their outlook. Have a fantastic winter break, and I’ll see you all in 2016!