Don we now our gay apparel
With one holiday now behind us and the hazardous rite of passage known as Black Friday also in the rear view mirror, it’s time to plan ahead. The big money holidays are looming and we’re marching toward them with all of our baggage, be it designer or emotional, bound to the tops of our SUVs or suppressed just deeply enough to survive the first three martinis of the family gathering. I’m not quite as cynical as my friend who thinks all holidays are creations of the candy and greeting card companies. I’m a realist and I recognize the fact that the true purveyors of this season are the pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. These companies are responsible for more successful holidays than the Butterball Turkey Hotline.
In the gay community, the trip home - whether across town or transcontinental - can be a perpetual mine field from the very first phone call. Many of us have had to navigate the endless interrogations about why we’re not married yet or why we’re older than 30 and still need a roommate, we don’t even have to think before we answer. Being married to a career is a much simpler response than being the person who brings the holiday celebration to a catastrophic standstill by swinging open the closet door and doing some serious damage to the family honor by being “one of them.”
Self-identity is often very challenging for LGBTQ people. Often after the long journey on our therapists’ couches into our happy places, we have to drag our families out of their comfort zones and into Camp Reality. If your family is like mine, you may want to use my approach and wait until all of them are dead. Conservatives do not covert well.
If you are in a relationship, the pressure is even higher. There are long discussions and strategy meetings involved in making the announcement. With my ex in California, it was doubly dangerous because we not only had to combine two different households, we had to combine two different religions. Enter the drama of one liberal Episcopalian and one occasionally Reformed Jew. Nothing was more joyful than the eight days of Hanukkah and the 12 days of Christmas in our household. The local liquor store liked to refer to this season as the 20 days of unadulterated profit. I would like to tell you that the in-laws eventually embraced me with open arms but those type of endings only take place on the Hallmark Channel. Let’s just say that by the fourth day of Hanukkah my matzo ball soup recipe included the traditional southern standard ingredient of bacon grease.
The family dynamic is inevitable for most of us. Most of us know where the landmines are buried and we can do our best to avoid them. Often this will involve walking with boundless endurance through the hallways of denial. The other side of the coin is that relative we encounter who may be slightly more eager to express an opinion and open up a discussion on hot button issues. This is the person we all want to sidestep. He or she is the human equivalent of fruitcake. That’s right! I’m taking back that term and applying it to the other side. Once engaged in a conversation, everyone listens to them, nods and then passes them off to the next unsuspecting relative.
Loren Olson is an author, psychiatrist and frequent contributor to the Huffington Post. He recognizes the perils of dealing with families from the perspective of the gay community. He suggests that we need to temper our responses to any remarks or criticisms that may be directed at us. While the initial inclination may be to become defensive and overreact, that will only set up a vicious cycle of interaction. Criticism is nothing new within families. It’s practically an acknowledged pastime. I think it’s probably the reason my grandmother always retired to the kitchen to add a little something extra to her cup of tea. As a good Methodist, she only did this for medicinal purposes. But in the midst of the stress, she seemed to be content to sit back and watch the generations trudge through their discourse without taking sides or even contributing an opinion.
I suppose the key point we need to remember is that we do not have to love everything about our families. Basically, they are good and decent people who at times may be guilty of doing some things that are not so good. If we establish a place for ourselves within the family and remain consistent about who we are, eventually someone else will become the new hot topic and we can relax. We can also be realistic about our expectations and set limits. If the atmosphere becomes too intense, have an exit strategy planned in advance. I personally recommend a spa day and a hotel room at a safe distance.
Finally, if you find yourself in a holiday nightmare and feel as if the situation is about to become unbearable, help is only a phone call away. The GLBT National Help Center has a hotline. You can reach the hotline at 888-843-4564. The organization provides excellent peer counseling and information on local resources. The hours are 4 p.m. until midnight Monday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Happy holidays and remember to spread your own personal brand of joy this season no matter where you go.
OUT & ABOUT
Thursday, Dec. 20 – The Rainbow House will host its 5th Annual Gay It Forward Fundraiser from 6–11 p.m. Dec. 20 to benefit special needs children who are in the care of Horry County DSS. The event includes an auction which begins at 6 p.m. From 7– 9 p.m., free food and drinks will be provided by the owner Micki Strickland. Guests may participate in one of three ways: bring an item to donate for the auction, choose a tag from the wall with a child’s gift wish on it, or donate $20 at the door. Auction items may be paid for by cash or check only. From 9– 11 p.m., area entertainers will take the stage and all tips will be donated to the DSS Special Kids of Horry County. Don’t miss this event. The auction is an excellent opportunity to finish your last minute shopping. Rainbow House is at 815 N Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach. If you have questions or wish to donate an auction item, call the Rainbow House at 626-7298.
Have a thought, comment or Out & About event? Send Drew Levy-Neal an e-mail to Drew.Levy.Neal@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @Drew_Levy_Neal.