Thanksgiving is supposed to be a joyful, relaxing, family-filled holiday, but when you’re in the closet, it can be the exact opposite. Sitting down to enjoy some turkey and cranberry sauce is anything but simple when you’re also simultaneously hiding your true lesbian self. But you can get through this!
The first thing to remember is that you’re not alone. There are a lot of reasons that people aren’t “out” as gay to their entire families. Some families are outwardly hostile toward lesbian and gay people, while others may simply lack the understanding to be properly supportive.
Maybe you’re only out to certain members of your family and not others. Maybe you’re out to your work colleagues and your friends, but not your family. Maybe you’re a young baby dyke, or maybe you’re in your late 30s.
Whatever your situation, you have your reasons for not coming out completely, and they are valid — only you will know when it’s the right time. Still, that doesn’t make it easy to spend hours at a time around your entire extended family, enduring questions like “So, are you seeing anyone?” and watching everyone bring their romantic partners to dinner except you.
To survive this ordeal with as little emotional damage as possible, you’ll need a plan.
Find your center.
Family time is hard for anyone. It often makes you lose sight of your true self, because you revert back to Teenage You and become lost once again in your family’s years-old dynamics. When you’re in the closet, you may also lose yourself in difficult emotions like guilt, alienation, fear, and loneliness.
One way to find your center again is to practice grounding yourself in the present moment. Wear a piece of jewelry to use as a touchstone, come up with a reassuring mantra, or practice a grounding exercise. A popular grounding exercise is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. After some deep calming breaths, count five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
You may need to spend some time solo to truly ground yourself when you get overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to escape for a few moments of solace in the bathroom if you need to.
Keep your support system on deck.
You’re going to need someone to shout all of your woes to, from the annoying stuff (“LOL MY GRANDMA CRITICIZED MY PIERCINGS AGAIN”) to the heavy stuff (“OMG WOULD MY MOM STILL LOVE ME IF SHE KNEW I WAS GAY?”). Venting can be healthy, and while you can totally vent privately into a journal, it helps to receive some feedback and validation from others who understand. You especially need spaces to be your authentic self when you’re dealing with the stress of being in the closet. Your support system may include a therapist, a romantic partner, and/or your friends. Group chats really come in handy during Thanksgiving! Rather than suddenly dumping three paragraphs of ~processing~ onto your friends though, it’ll serve everyone better if you plan ahead. Pick a supportive friend or two and ask them if you can lean on them for a little extra support this Thanksgiving.
If you’re not out to any of your friends either, you can always turn to the internet. Reddit is full of super supportive threads for queer folks, and there is also a free online therapy service called 7 Cups. Plus, never underestimate the power of Twitter mutuals to cheer you up in a hard time.
Lastly, if there are any supportive members of your family who you are out to, spend as much time with them as possible.
Know your limits.
Do you have the type of family who would try to guilt you into staying home for 3000 full weeks for Thanksgiving if they could? Contrary to what they may make you feel, you don’t actually owe your family endless amounts of your time and energy.
What would be the ideal amount of time that you’d spend with your family — the amount of time that you can spend in peace before things start to feel icky and unhealthy. One day? Two days? A week? However long it is, stick to it. If you must, make up an excuse about having to work or go back to school early.
Also, enforce boundaries with regard to space. If you have the resources, consider staying at a hotel or an Airbnb instead of your family’s house. This may involve some difficult conversations, but it can really help save your sanity if sleeping in your childhood room and being around your homophobic loved ones 24/7 is too triggering.
Avoid triggering topics.
Between mothers, brothers, Grandmas, and aunties, there’s bound to be someone in your family who brings up something that you don’t want to discuss. It might be dating, marriage, kids, clothing, friendships, or some other personal topic. You may be in the closet, but you don’t owe your family an explanation of your dating life or personal style, nor do you have to feel obligated to lie to make them feel comfortable. Instead, you may be able to steer them away from these topics in a calm, direct way, by using phrases like, “I don’t want to talk about that right now” or “I’d rather not discuss that.” Then change the subject to something else.
Other triggering topics might involve politics or homosexuality in general. If it’s safe, you may want to try educating them or pointing out the bias in their statements. If not, though, don’t be afraid to calmly excuse yourself to the bathroom, take some space, and find your center again. Your relatives’ homophobia truly sucks, but it’s not your problem to fix.
Consider skipping out.
Guess what? You don’t actually have to go home for Thanksgiving AT ALL if it’s just going to be a harmful experience. If you opt not to go home for the holiday, find a friend to spend the day with instead — or just enjoy the day off at home in your PJs while indulging in your favorite treats and online shopping.
Even if you don’t think you give a crap about Thanksgiving, it can still be lonely to spend it alone. So whatever you decide to do, it’s important to ramp up the self-care and give yourself space to process those emotions.
Be gentle with yourself.
Most importantly, treat yourself with as much gentleness as you can muster. You are unconditionally worthy of love and care, and the fact that your family isn’t equipped to properly support you is NOT your fault. Moreover, there’s no shame in staying in the closet to protect yourself. Closeted or not, you are one brave and beautiful lesbian!