You did it! You escaped your small hometown full of homophobes and straight people who married their high school sweetheart right after graduation and had 2.5 kids within five years! Maybe you hightailed it out of there as soon as you could after high school. Maybe it took you some time to fall in love with a city girl you met online before you worked up the courage to get out of that one-horse town. Whatever your story—you did it. In all your wonderfully queer glory, you escaped. And you promised yourself you’d never go back.
But wait, there’s one little problem. Your family still lives there, and you love them. The holidays are approaching. And it might be Grandma’s last Thanksgiving (which you’re pretty sure your mom has been saying for the last decade, but whatever…). All of this can mean only one thing: It’s time to do the unimaginable and go back home for the holidays.
A few years ago, a conversation I had with a straight work friend went something like this:
“Oh my god, aren’t you so excited to go home for Thanksgiving and see all of your high school friends?”
I must’ve blinked a thousand times and swallowed the bile rising up into my mouth before I could answer diplomatically. I mumbled something about being excited to see my family, but the rest… I wasn’t too thrilled about.
What I wanted to say was, “Look, Stacey. Going home to catch up with your old ‘high school friends’ and do the turkey crawl through all your hometown’s watering holes may sound like the time of your life to you. But to a lesbian like me, who was tormented by all those nasty people who’ll show up at the local bars around the holidays, it’s my worst nightmare.”
Fortunately, after years of visiting my hometown full of homophobes who aren’t so lovely, in order to see my family members who are lovely, I’ve come up with some coping mechanisms. So I have tips for those of you who have to trek back to your old stomping grounds, sleep in your twin-sized bed in your childhood bedroom, and possibly run into former bullies.
Here are some strategies to survive the holidays when your queer ass is back in your homophobic hometown.
Stay connected to your queer friends.
This probably goes without saying, but it’s important to keep a lifeline open between you and your beloved queer friends—the people who get you without having to ask ridiculous questions about how you have sex. “How do you have sex with your girlfriend without a penis?” (Yes, I’ve been asked that by someone from my hometown.)
Whether it’s through texting, social media, or phone calls, make sure you keep in touch with your queer friends who don’t make you feel bad about your queerness. Share silly gifs, ridiculous memes, or sob over the phone. Do whatever you need to do to get through it.
Chances are, you’re not the only queer who is spending the holidays back home where they’d rather not be, so you can serve as a sanity-saver/lifeline for each other, as needed.
Remember that you are not the same person you were when you lived there.
It’s easy to revert back to our 14-year-old selves when we’re back in the home we grew up in—with our parents asking where we’re going, with whom, and when we’ll be back. (Please tell me that it’s not just my mom who does this when I’m visiting!) But it’s important to remember that you are absolutely not the same person you were when you left. So you don’t need to act like that person, either.
You’re strong. You’re resilient. And you got out. Be proud of that and lean hard on your inner strength. Now’s a time when you’ll need it.
It’s OK to set limits for yourself and others during the holidays, even if you now live 1,400 miles away and feel bad about not seeing everyone. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Too much of what we do with our families during the holidays is about obligation. While some obligation is acceptable, it’s not OK to risk your own mental health for it.
If you feel more comfortable staying in a nearby hotel rather than your family’s home, stay in the hotel. If you don’t want to get together for a “girls’ night” with all of your old straight high school friends, then don’t! They don’t realize that every night is girls’ night for you, do they? You don’t need to sit around and listen to them whine about their husbands unless you truly want to. And if you have gone out to see someone when you’d rather not, or you feel triggered, it’s perfectly fine to step back and remove yourself from that person or situation.
Be kind to yourself.
The holidays are an emotional time for everyone, especially us queers who may not have supportive families or have to go back to a place we’d rather forget. If you’re leaving your beautifully gay bubble to visit family, that’s an act of love. And you know what? You deserve an act of love, too. So be kind to yourself—whatever that looks like to you. Book a massage session for when you get back home (something to look forward to!) Go for a solo walk through the woods to clear your mind and get all Thoreau-like and write angst-filled poetry as you did in your teens. Shop online and buy yourself that faux-leather jacket you’ve been eyeing for weeks. Go for a drive to get away from chatty Aunt Susan for a bit, if you need to.
And remember… this too shall pass.
Always keep in mind that you’re not moving back there for good. You’re only there for a visit. So hold your head up high wherever you go—whether you’re visiting the local sandwich place that everyone raves about (which is actually not as good as you remember because you’ve tasted food outside of this town), or wandering the aisles of the nearest Walmart to kill time. Be proud of yourself for having the courage to go back to where it all started. And if you do run into an old bully, either glare at them maliciously or pretend you don’t even recognize them when they try to stare at you and your proudly queer self. The latter is very satisfying, I promise.