I’m getting really nervous about heading back home for the holidays. I’ve realized this year that I’m gay and I’ve started to accept it for myself, but my family has no idea. I came out to a few friends this year at university and they’ve been really supportive, but they’re all so excited to go back for the holidays and I’m not. My mom is really anti-gay and while my dad isn’t obviously against it, he’s never said anything supportive either. I wish I could talk to my sister, but I don’t trust her not to tell my parents. I just don’t know how I’m going to manage. What can I do?
Thanks for sharing this question with us. A lot of people look forward to the holidays as a time of relaxation and joy, but for many people who have complicated relationships with their families, it can be a difficult time.
From your question, I get the sense that you expect to feel isolated and maybe a little triggered in your family home, and that you’re wary of coming out.
Coming out is something you need to do at your own pace, when you feel it’s the right time. I’m hearing that for you, that may not be right now. That’s completely alright! Perhaps it might be better during this time to focus on coping effectively for the next two weeks or so.
A good way to plan for your time at home might be to think about your expectations, your boundaries, and strategies for self-care.
Get a solid grip on what you expect to encounter at home and how it might impact on you.
What situations might be the most stressful?
Which ones might be fun?
Be realistic about what kind of behaviours you can expect from your family members and consider ways that you might cope with them.
For example, how would you like to respond to family members who make heterosexist or homophobic comments?
How can you more fully enjoy the good times?
Another good way to prepare for the holidays is to consider your boundaries. You could have a chat with your parents about carving out personal space and privacy during your time at home (which is totally reasonable for a college student returning home after living on their own). You might also think of other boundaries, like what you are and aren’t comfortable talking about with your family, or when to disengage from them if you need space.
Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, you can make a plan to care for yourself.
What can you do to prepare yourself for potential stressors?
What will nurture you through difficult situations?
How can you treat yourself with kindness afterwards?
Some ways to take care of your own needs during the holiday season might be to watch your favourite movie, go for a walk, or do something creative.
It’s also really important to reach out. You mentioned that you have supportive friends, maybe you could let them know that the holidays will be challenging for you and ask them if they can make some time to lend their support. If you’re separated by a lot of distance, Skype can be a cheap way to connect, and chatting with your friends after Christmas dinner could be a great way to decompress. If you’re returning to your hometown, perhaps you have friends there that you could lean on too.
If you’re feeling really distressed and don’t feel comfortable reaching out to friends, LGBT Youthline is open to everyone in Ontario and will be open during the holidays. You can give them a call at 1 800 268 9688.
Another important consideration is thinking about what strategies will be effective and which ones may not be. For example, alcohol is often abundant during the holidays, but as much as it can loosen you up to enjoy the holiday cheer, it can also leave you feeling vulnerable and isolated. Sometimes it creates more family drama than it numbs.
Lastly, it might not be a bad idea to think of an escape plan, even if the escape is only temporary.
If your family situation becomes really unbearable, do you have a safe space to go, like a friend’s house or a quiet cafe?
Do you have somewhere you can stay overnight if you need to?
In the end, it’s your call how you want to manage your time with your family and, thinking more in the long term, how you want to come out to them. If you are considering how you might come out to your family, I highly recommend this post.
Treat yourself with kindness, be true to your own process, and don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’d like to talk about this more, we’re open on Mondays, 3:30-6pm, Wednesdays from 6-9pm, and Fridays, from 1-3pm.
Please note that OUTline will be closed from December 24th-December 31st, but we’ll be back on the lines on Wednesday, January 2nd, from 6-9pm.