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Surviving the holidays as an LGBTQ+ teen
by TeenHelp November 4th 2017, 12:47 AM

Surviving the holidays as an LGBTQ+ teen
By Sammi (Orenda.)

The holidays are often regarded as a time of cheer and festivities with loved ones. However, for many LGBTQ+ individuals, this is not necessarily the case. Whether you're still in the closet and fending off questions about your love life, out and being misgendered by intolerant family members, or anything in between, even the most joyous of times can become difficult. While it can seem unbearable, it is possible to enjoy your holidays and those yearly interactions with extended family. Read on for some things you can try to alleviate the stress and discomfort that can come with spending the holidays with family.

Dodging questions
If you are still in the closet, the inevitable questioning from family members about areas of your life, such as your relationship status, can feel like a nightmare. Although you might not be able to get out of answering questions entirely, there are ways to twist your answers in a way that will more than likely satisfy the person asking without putting yourself in a position to out yourself. For example, if you're single and asked when you're going to meet a nice boy/girl, you could say "I just haven't met the right person yet.", eliminating gender entirely in a way that typically won't cause a second thought. If you are in a relationship and aren't comfortable sharing any details about it, you can use a similar response, but use the assumed gender that you would be dating, allowing you to dodge the question without directly lying to your family.

While some individuals are content with receiving simple answers to their questions and moving on to a different topic, others will continue to be persistent in finding out as much information as they possibly can. Finding ways to subtly provide answers without giving too much away can still work in these cases, but you may find that it becomes more difficult to come up with multiple evasive answers in one sitting. If you find yourself struggling, consider turning the conversation back to them. Depending on the person you're talking to, you can either pose a similar question such as asking a cousin if they've started dating someone new, or completely changing the subject such as asking your uncle how his new photography hobby is going. Giving someone else an opportunity to talk about themselves will not only take some of the heat off you, but may help to completely change the course of the conversation.

Ignoring the comments
As frustrating as it can be when family members make intolerant comments regarding the LGBTQ+ community, replying in a way that contradicts their beliefs may serve to escalate the situation, turning it from a topic of discussion or debate into an argument. Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to tell how receptive an individual will be to disagreement, so using your best judgment is key.

In these instances, redirecting the conversation as a whole can be an effective way to minimize the negative feelings that come with hearing their thoughts. For example, you can wait for a brief pause in the conversation to change the subject to another hot topic that might be safer for the entire family. Avoiding current controversial issues is also a perfectly acceptable route to go, especially if you have members of your family who are consistently looking for a debate. If this is the case, you may consider shifting to a lighter topic, such as a new movie that you think your family might be excited to see or the current standings of a favorite sports team among your relatives.

As effective as it can be, redirecting is not always successful. Some individuals have a habit of sticking to a topic once they start talking about it and it can be difficult to turn the conversation around. If you're facing this situation, it is still possible to excuse yourself from the conversation. If you're in a common area, such as the living room, take a few minutes to step into a different room or outside to get some fresh air. If you're at the dinner table, you can excuse yourself to go to the restroom for a moment or strike up a different conversation with another family member sitting near you. Giving yourself an opportunity to collect your thoughts can be extremely beneficial, even in the most uncomfortable of circumstances.

Making gentle corrections
If staying silent isn't something you want to do, there are ways to go about correcting or contradicting negative statements in a way that minimizes the risk of making a negative situation worse. While there are a few approaches that can be taken, keep in mind that you may need to alter them to fit your specific case.

While it isn't necessarily right, some older adults have a tendency to believe that younger adults or teens are always wrong, simply because they've had less time to experience life and learn about the world. If you're dealing with a relative like this, your best bet is to challenge them through educated statements or questions. For instance, you might consider asking them why they think the way they do and respond with your own opinions without openly disrespecting their position. If you have any facts that are useful, you can also cite them alongside your opinions, demonstrating that you've thought critically about your opinions. If you're out to your extended family and comfortable discussing your life with them, you could even tell your relative about any relevant life experiences that you've had regarding the issue. While it may not change their overall opinion, challenging their point of view may help them see that there are two sides to every coin and encourage them to think critically about the other side of the debate.

Perhaps the most difficult kind of comment to deal with are those that are personal attacks. If you're out and are faced with an intolerant family, it can cause a mixture of negative emotions on occasions where you have to interact with those relatives. While it can be tempting to lash out when your gender and/or sexual identities are disrespected, this is typically not an effective method of confrontation. Rather than starting an argument, make an effort to politely but firmly correct them. For example, if incorrect pronouns are used, you could say something along the lines of "I prefer he/she/they pronouns and I would appreciate it if you would use those when referring to me." If the intentional disregard for your identity continues, remind them as often as you feel comfortable. Whether they change their behavior or not is ultimately out of your control, but addressing things respectfully may give them that push to respect you in return.

Finding alternatives
Unfortunately, not all families can be easily managed with a few tweaks to the dynamic. If spending time around your family is more toxic than you feel you can handle, consider seeking alternative ways to spend your holidays. For instance, you could try reaching out to a close friend to see if they would be willing to open their home to you for the holidays. Before doing this, be sure that you're also comfortable spending time around their family, as you'll likely be sharing in celebrations with them. If you go this route, perhaps you could bring a small treat to share as a token of your appreciation.

Although spending the holidays with friends is nice, it isn't always an option. However, this doesn't mean you need to resign yourself to spending time with your family. Try seeking out a local shelter or soup kitchen to see if they have any open volunteer opportunities. Not only is giving back to your community and those who are less fortunate a fulfilling way to spend the holiday, it will also give you an excuse to leave family gatherings without much risk of backlash.

Maintaining your safety and comfort
The most important thing to remember through all of this is that your safety and comfort levels should be your top priority. If you don't feel comfortable speaking up about things or are afraid of outing yourself, it's perfectly fine not to say anything at all. If you're already out to your immediate family but not to your extended family, recognize that it's okay to go back in the closet for a day or two if it means you will be in a safer position overall. It may not be the easiest thing to see at times, but making sure that you aren't compromising your well-being is just another way of being true to yourself and your needs.
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holidays, lgbtq, surviving, teen

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