Jamie*, a friend of mine, dreads Christmas with her family.
She is a trans woman, but her family doesn’t fully support her, so she gets routinely called by her old name and misgendered, and is even told that she has to ‘tone it down’ if she wants to attend Christmas gatherings with them.
It means Jamie is essentially forced to decide whether to put up with that constant aggression and suppress who she is over the dinner table, or spend Christmas alone.
Unfortunately, Jamie’s reality is the same for too many trans people. Thankfully, I’m one of the lucky ones.
Almost every single year, I travel to my parents’ farm in Iceland to spend Christmas there. We bake, cook, decorate, watch movies and take care of the farm animals.
When I was considering coming out to my family as trans, I remember feeling terrified that it would ruin this time with them that I cherish every year.
At the time I came out – which was over 12 years ago when I was 17 – the landscape around trans issues was very different than it is today. In some ways, things weren’t as openly hostile, but at the same time, there wasn’t nearly as much information and support
I largely came out on my own, without any guidance or even the language that we have today to describe our experiences. I was still a teenager and decided that the best time to tell my family was during Christmas, so that I could start living as myself during the long break from school.
I struggled with how I was going to break it to them, and decided to write them a letter explaining how I was feeling. In it, I outlined what I was going through and my intentions of starting a transition – then declared I’d be starting to use a new name and pronouns.
Their reaction wasn’t nearly as intense as I had expected, and for the most part they were largely supportive, although they didn’t really have enough information or knowledge on what it meant to be trans.
To begin with, my parents struggled with pronouns and a new name, but my 10-year-old brother never made a mistake after I came out. While it was a transition for my whole family, I was incredibly lucky to have their full support.
As I entered adulthood and met more trans people, I realised just how unique I was to have the reaction I did when I came out.
But I’m one of the fortunate ones, and I feel especially so during Christmas.
So many trans people I know don’t get the opportunities to celebrate with their families, due to being rejected or stigmatised by their loved ones after they came out as trans.
Some trans people spend Christmas alone – as they don’t want to burden other people after their families have rejected them
For some, it’s a delicate situation where they have to deal with things such as hostile ideologies, microaggressions, misgendering and deadnaming.
Others are even forced to go back into the closet and pretend to be someone they are not, simply for the sake of placating their family and not ‘causing a fuss’.
They have to conform to certain stereotypes of gender in order to fit in by wearing ‘men’s’ or ‘women’s clothing’ (like a suit or a dress); they receive gifts based on people’s expectations of their gender, such as getting jewellery, perfumes, or aftershaves.
Obviously, none of these presents should inherently be tied to a gender, but people do sometimes give very gendered gifts based on unwritten rules about what’s considered appropriate for men and women.
Being forced to play along with those, in my experience, can be oppressive.
I can’t even imagine how crushing and soul-destroying it is to go back to something that causes you deep distress and anxiety.
Being able to be myself and being accepted by those around me gave me so much joy and euphoria, and I wish those who don’t accept their trans family members could understand that.
I doubt that if people understood what it’s like, they would put their own family members through hardship for the sake of feeling ‘uncomfortable’ about them being trans.
So if you have someone in your family who is trans, please put in the effort to make them feel welcome and prioritise their feelings over your own. Try to let go of all of your hang ups and understand what they are going through.
It might not always be easy, but I can guarantee you that you will have a better relationship with that family member if you do.
If you have any trans friends, check-in with them to see how they are doing. Some of them might be spending Christmas alone – as they don’t want to burden other people after their families have rejected them.
Being estranged from your family or experiencing a hostile environment can be incredibly taxing on your mental health, which contributes to trans people struggling even further.
On top of all the negative attention trans people are getting now – as well as the backlash against LGBTQ+ rights generally – it’s more important than ever that people support us.
Trans people need that downtime with family and friends where they can just be themselves, and not be questioned, berated or disrespected. They need to be reminded of the fact that relentless public debates about our rights don’t necessarily reflect the reality of the majority of people’s opinions about trans people.
There is a reason the LGBTQ+ community often talks about ‘chosen family’, because it’s often where they find unconditional acceptance and love among people who share their experiences and understand them. Those families often become the only family they have.
So if someone in your family is trans, make sure they can choose you too. Make sure you create that safe haven where they feel at ease.
Focus on the things that bring you together and accept that they are just a person trying their best to navigate the world in a way that makes them happy.
We all deserve to enjoy the holidays – trans or not. Make sure you aren’t the reason some people can’t.
Names have been changed.
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