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Hetero For The Holidays

Thanksgiving and Christmas aren't exactly "the most wonderful time of the year" when you still don't feel safe coming out to your family.

Taylor Knighting | November 21, 2018

As the holiday season arrives, many of us return to our roots by gathering with family and celebrating our togetherness. For students, the end of the fall semester brings an anticipation for homecoming; the long-awaited return to your hometown to recount the excitement of the previous four months at college. But for queer people, going home can mean something dreadful: the return to a closet you thought you’d left behind.

When I left for college, I was ecstatic about the fact that I would no longer have to hide myself from my family. I was free to express my sexuality without having to come up with a lie to conceal my queerness.

Not only had I acquired the freedom and independence I longed for while living under my parents roof, I was also free to express myself to others without fear of my sexuality getting back to my family. In a small town, word travels fast, and the truth spreads even faster with something as taboo as queerness.

I left for college three years ago, and I am still not out to my parents. Despite my hometown’s newfound progressiveness, being gay was a major factor in the social isolation I experienced in high school. While any out queer person may have been tolerated, it was really only acceptable if you didn’t talk about it aloud.

Since leaving for college, I dread the holiday trips back to my parents’ house. When it was the only thing I knew, I found comfort in its familiarity. However, the comfort it offered had an  isolating effect: in order to enjoy its comforts, I had to hide a huge part of my life. Now that I’ve found a place where I can be myself, it is definitely not my vision of home anymore.

Don’t misunderstand: my parents are loving, well-meaning people who are doing their best to understand the progress of society. But that doesn’t erase the memory of them telling me when I was 12 that they would have to disown me if I was a lesbian. It doesn’t change the fact that my sister still frequently uses derogatory slurs for queer people. My parents have made efforts to approach all walks of life with compassion, but their ability to accept a member of the family being queer is still uncertain.

And so, I am a full-fledged adult still scrambling to hide my queerness so I can keep my family integrated into my life.

Every year around the holidays, an existential dread sits in, apart from the usual anxieties of school and work. As I live my queer life and enter successfully into new endeavors, I always have to formulate the alternate storyline I will recite to them, so I can inform them of my accomplishments without revealing the elements of my sexuality that are inextricable from my life and work.

Most of my accomplishments are told in half truths. The paper I wrote on internalized misogyny within the queer community is watered down to the general topic of misogyny. My writing for GayRVA becomes an unspecified freelance editing opportunity. I never show them any of my articles.

When I’m doctoring my life for the sake of my parents’ comfort, I can’t help but feel inferior. Other family members receive praise for their life endeavors, but the praise I receive for the fictionalized version of my life feels false. At the back of my mind, I can’t help but ask myself; if I let my family in on the truth about my sexuality, will they still praise my efforts? Or will my “queer” accomplishments be merely tolerated, quietly regarded as indecent or inconsequential?

This uncertainty sabotages my holiday spirit. Most of my time at home is spent adjusting truths, diverting attention, and mustering up excuses for why I still don’t have a boyfriend. I can’t blame them, though;  they worry over what their daughter is making of herself. I know they see me as having overwhelming potential, they just aren’t aware that I’m already using it to find my queer voice. And I don’t feel like I can tell them.

The holidays are a greatly anticipated time of year, but for people who feel unsafe or misunderstood around their families, they can be tough. Take it from someone who understands how hard it is to get into the holiday spirit when much of it is encompassed by anxiety. One day, I hope I and others in my position will no longer have to be hetero for the holidays.

Image: Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Freedom From Want,” 1943