queerly reclaiming the holidays

Credit for the inspiration behind this post goes to my friend and unofficial ‘Kicked Out’ fan club president Kelli Dunham who commented on my facebook this weekend suggesting I make a blog post about reclaiming holidays and saying “You are an expert on that. Beyond an expert. You’ve made it a damn art form.”  I don’t know about all that, but Kelli’s comment got my blogging gears in motion because I LOVE holidays and by all “logical” reasoning’s I shouldn’t.

Growing I had moments of enjoying various holidays but on the whole dreaded them. The holidays were filled with fighting (more than usual) drunken misbehavior, and usually violence. They were pretty consistently more stressful than joyous.  When I was kicked out as a teenager the holidays continued to be far from my favorite days of the year, and were (like they are for so many other homeless and formerly homeless queer folks)  pretty depressing. Everyone from the cashier at the drugstore to the commercials on the radio seemed hell bent on reminding me that unlike seemingly everyone else I didn’t have a family that loved me, and would not be “going home” for the holidays.

I spent a couple years on my own struggling through holidays before reaching the realization that I was not willing to let my biological family take one more thing from me, and goddamn it all I was going to find a way to take the holidays back, and I was going to make them my own and have a damn good time in the process.

Here are my five tips for reclaiming  holidays*

1. Caller ID– your cell phone likely has it built in, it’s there for a reason, use it. This is a little tip that in my experience can be applied to any day of the year but is especially useful on holidays of all kinds (birthdays absolutely included).  Know whose calling, and decide if speaking with them (even briefly) has a chance of ruining your day. If it does? Well, that’s what voice mail is for.  If you know your grandmother is going to call and lay on the guilt about how you are breaking her heart by not coming to spend thanksgiving with her and your abusive parents, don’t pick up the phone.  If you know your mother’s number showing up means she’s drunk, don’t pick up.  It’s your phone, your day, and you have the right to not subject yourself to abusive, or manipulative people or conversations.

2.  Go Traditional- I know this sounds a little funny especially coming from me, but stay with me.  One of the things I remember very clearly about growing up were these very classic things that my family was either too dysfunctional to do, or had no interest in.  As I began reclaiming the holidays something important to me was looking at these things that hadn’t been possible growing up and recognizing that now they could be.  For me as silly as it might sound this included things like sending holiday cards every winter, cooking a huge feast on Thanksgiving (although we do subvert this by making an unturkey and having everything be vegetarian), setting up and decorating a Christmas tree, nonstop Christmas music, baking and decorating cookies,  etc. etc. etc.

3.  Invent your own traditions– I think one of the best or most empowering things about being queer is having the freedom to disregard expectations and build a life the way that works best for you.  I think that this can be especially important around holidays which may be steeped in tradition and expectations that leave you feeling stifled, abused, or left out.  For example one tradition my partner and I have is most years we go to the zoo on Christmas Eve day.

4. Share – I’ve found that the holidays are a lot more fun when you spend them with people that you like, people that respect you, and don’t put you down. I encourage spending holidays only with people who will think that you look handsome or beautiful in your outfit of choice, and who don’t spend belittle you across the dinner table. Invite other orphans to dinner, make silly gifts, send letters. For me it’s all about finding ways to reach out to folks who I like/love/adore and sharing a little bit of the sparkly magic that this time of year brings.

5. Feed your inner child – I saved this one for last, but for me this is perhaps the most important aspect of reclaiming the holidays.  Don’t be afraid to let out your inner five year old.  Go to the library and check out a huge stack of holiday themed picture books, make ornaments (the more glitter and glue the better), create a paper chain to count down to Christmas, write a letter to Santa, decorate cookies, sing carols really loudly.  I think this can be especially fun and freeing for those of us who grew up quickly, or for whom childhood was at times traumatic. I know this has made all the difference for me with reclaiming the holidays.

For me, more than anything the holidays are about home, family, and community – all of those things chosen, built, created and not connected to family of origin.  They are about being unabashedly queer, about not apologizing for my life, how I dress, who I love, or what our life looks like. For me the holidays are a time of celebration, I spent 17 years in my mother’s home watching holidays be crime scenes, I spent another couple years with holidays being some of the most difficult days on the calendar and I flat out refuse to give my family of origin that kind of power anymore.

* I celebrate secular Christian holidays so my tips (some more than others) are based in those traditions. I know other folks are great experts at reclaiming holidays from other traditions and I would love to hear some of your suggestions in the comment section!