BY DANIEL TIRABASSI
Anxieties about coming home are heightened for transgender people during the holiday season — but so are the benefits in having a supportive community.
The holidays are when people enjoy social gatherings with friends, family and acquaintances. Many feel this time is joyful and enjoyable. Though it is supposed to be a time of acceptance, many transgender people struggle immensely during this time.
There are several reasons this season is problematic for transgender people. The most prominent and understood problems are issues when it comes to family. If a person has recently come out to close members of their family, they’re not always sure how to present to the extended members that they may be seeing for the first time in their newly-announced identity. Many are afraid of the reactions they will get from the people that they admire and care for the most.
To add to the discomfort of the situation, worries about the gifts they will receive from these people also weigh on their minds, especially the minds of younger people. Grandparents are infamous for giving gifts based on the gender of a grandchild. If a grandparent is unaware of a person’s new identity, or if they don’t accept their new identity, the gifts that are given to a transgender child could add to the dysphoria that they are already experiencing. This could also make a family gathering uncomfortable, not only for the transgender person, but for the members of the family that know and/or accept the newly announced gender identity.
There are also people that come home during this part of the year after a prolonged absence, like going away for school or moving to a new place. Often, transgender people use the distance from their family to live full time, or at least most of the time, in their true gender. When going home for the holidays, these people are left with a choice. The choice is to mask their new identity from the family while they are home or use this opportunity to announce this major change to them. Either one of these options can cause immense stress on the person.
When a person masks their true identity from their family, they spend the entire trip hiding a major part of their life from people they care about. The person is generally forced to withhold stories and information that they want to share, because it would lead to questions about their gender identity. To top it off, they have to deal with being referred to by a name that they may not have used for a long time. This act alone could cause dysphoria so bad that it can lead to an intense depression. This is added to by having to dress in a manner that makes them uncomfortable and disconnected from themself.
When a person chooses to return home in their true identity, they risk their entire world collapsing during a time that is meant to be joyful. They could instantly be rejected by their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many more people. This could leave them without a place to stay while they are home — or worse. Some risk violence from others for merely being true to who they are. Though this is a daily struggle for a lot of the LGBTQ+ community, during the holidays, the fear of these actions actually occurring is heightened.
This brings us to the ever-present holiday parties. Granted, a lot a people get nervous when it comes to holiday parties, but transgender people are gravely anxious about functions like this. For newly-announced gender-variant people, these parties are often one of the first times that they choose to present at a large function as their true selves. They are often being introduced to others by someone who is still misgendering them or using their birth name. Though the person making the introduction might correct themself in the midst of the interaction, it creates a situation to which the transgender person then has to come out to a person without being prepared to do so. This is stressful with one person, but the stress gets amplified with every introduction made
throughout the span of the party.
These situations are also stressful for transgender people who have been living as their true self for a long time. People who may not have seen the person in a long time could end up at one of these parties. I personally experienced a situation like this a few years ago. A great-aunt of mine was at an event and I had not seen her in a number of years. While she was speaking with my father, brother and me, she asked my father where I was, referring to my birth name. My father then had to explain that I was who she was asking to see and what it all meant. For a person who has been able to pass on a daily basis for years, having to explain it again to someone is nerve-wracking.
However, even with all the negativity that could surround the holidays, there are many opportunities for the positivity of the season to shine. This is a great time for a transgender person to learn that their family accepts and values their true identity. Many of my transgender friends have told me stories about going home for the holidays to presents that embrace their true identity. One friend told me years ago that they got a toy from their parents that they asked for every year when they were a child. Since the toy was meant for a gender different than the one they were born in, their parents never thought the toy was appropriate for them. The first holiday after they came out, their parents hunted down the exact model of the toy that they wanted as a kid and left it under the tree as the last present my friend would open. This small gesture proved to my friend that their parents understood who they are and embraced it wholeheartedly.
The holidays also bring like-minded people together. Community centers, bars and businesses hold holiday events that are aimed at bringing in people who feel rejected or lost. These events have been known to lead to traditions being born and a new family being built. These new families are supportive, caring and understanding of each other making the holidays a more enjoyable and comfortable time for everyone. Even if someone experiences any of the aforementioned trials, they are able to find people that can help them get through it or even become stronger because of it.
The holidays tend to focus on biological family, but in our community, family is often built. Remember to embrace this new definition of family. If nothing else, be there for the transgender people in your life in case others in their life are not. After all, the holiday season is about love, peace and joy. Be the person who gifts that aspect of the holidays to someone else.
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