For some queer people, going home for the holidays is not as simple as packing up the car and hitting the road. Family can bring up complex and painful feelings for so many of us. We often have to take additional considerations for our well-being and potentially our safety when we’re involved with our non-chosen families. Whether you’re newly out or bringing your partner home for the first time, these seven conversation prompts will help you sort out your holiday plan.
Check in with yourself
Check in with yourself and establish what your needs are before you set out. What are your boundaries? What’s non-negotiable for you in order for you to feel safe? Do you actually want to go to whatever gathering you’re thinking about going to? It’s okay if the answer is no. Honoring your boundaries may take the form of declining a party invitation, leaving after the gathering rather than spending the night, or refusing to gratify rude or invasive questions with a response. It could also take the form of limiting alcohol consumption or choosing only to attend events and gatherings with people who make you feel valued and appreciated (even if it means choosing different people than who you’ve celebrated holidays with in the past).
Recognize your level of comfort with COVID precautions
If you plan to fly or take other public transportation, check the testing, vaccination and mask requirements for your travel method. You’ll still want to check the requirements for your destination if you’re driving, and be prepared to follow local masking and distancing mandates. For whatever family event you’re to attend, ask yourself if you are comfortable with the group’s decisions regarding vaccine status and with the number of people who will be in attendance. Will you be masking indoors, or do you feel comfortable without a mask when inside? Would you feel more comfortable at a gathering (or meal) that takes place outside, or would leaving windows open for ventilation be enough for you and your crew? Do you plan to get tested after returning from your destination?
Establish how you’ll refer to your partner
If you’re traveling with companions, what pronouns will you use, especially if someone uses more than one or is questioning their gender? Will you use gendered language to describe your relationship? If you’re polyamorous, will you use the same language to describe everyone in the relationship, or are different terms preferred? Should your language reflect hierarchy, if it’s present? Double-check how your partner(s) want to be spoken of, and don’t worry if that answer changes over time. Someone who typically uses pronouns could prefer none for the particular event, instead asking you to use their name. For referring to them in ways you’re not used to, practice scripting sentences with the pronoun or name by yourself or with a different person (this can help with getting the hang of new pronouns or names for anyone!) Getting this one right is especially important—the language partners use sets a precedent with everyone else at the gathering.
Figure out how you’ll de-escalate microaggressive comments
Developing scripts to field hurtful or unwanted conversations may be helpful if you know there’s a certain family member who always has a rude comment to share. Adhering to your boundaries can mean declining an invitation or prioritizing celebrating holidays with people who make you feel respected; if you know someone who will be there always has an offensive comment, you don’t have to force yourself to go (even if your family or partner(s) wants you to).
Decide what you’ll do when the gathering ends
If you’re staying for the evening or beyond, sticking to a clear departure time or date can prevent anyone from overstaying their welcome. If you’re traveling a long distance, do you plan to stay at your non-chosen family’s home or would your privacy needs be better served elsewhere, like a hotel or Airbnb? If you plan to head home after the gathering, you can confirm that a ride is available, agree beforehand on who’s going to drive, or refrain from consuming alcohol/marijuana so that you can drive later. Leaving early is perfectly acceptable, too—it’s fine to plan to leave before people start drinking or get drunk, and don’t force yourself to stay if the party goes south and the discomfort outweighs any reasons to remain.
Clarify how you need support: before, during and after gatherings
Heading into the gathering, are you comfortable with the boundaries and plan your group has come up with? Do you have any allies for support? In instances where someone says something ridiculous or vaguely offensive, sometimes making exasperated eye contact with your younger queer cousin or partners, then letting it go, can be healthier for you than expending the energy on a dialogue that might not be equal in emotional labor. Find support during a party by having someone available to text for distraction, by knowing where to find a quiet space if you’re overwhelmed, or by having the people you’ve come with consciously work hard to include you in conversation. Will you be emotionally available to talk together about anything that happened at the gathering, or do you process some other way? Support after an event could look like taking time to recharge (alone or together), showing your partner love however they most appreciate, or joking about the uninformed, wild thing an uncle said.
Going home for the holidays doesn’t have to be an arduous task. If the benefits of going home outweigh the drawbacks, “planning the work and working the plan” can be reassuring, but by all means the most important point is to do what works for you, or for you and your group. Stick to your boundaries and honor your needs, and you’ll be on track for a happier holiday at home.