Brace yourself — the holiday season is upon us. Returning home for the holidays can be complicated for us queer folk, as our families are often unprepared to behold the incandescent, gender-transcendent, anti-establishment beings we have become. Take my family for example: We love baseball (not me, I’m too gay for sports) and we LOVE the holidays. Our Thanksgiving menu consists of classic American holiday fare: turkey, cranberry sauce, yams with marshmallows, plus The Outlier: sticky rice with Chinese sausage, to remind us where we came from.
We are, dare I say it, very “diverse,” so our holiday dinners look like a Norman Rockwell painting, if Norman Rockwell had had a 90’s post-racial utopia phase. I even have some relatives who are queer… though we don’t really talk about that. My fam is stuck in a time machine set to “early 2000s liberalism,” so I find coming home queer for the holidays can be difficult. They’re not sure what to make of my constantly shifting gender presentation, much less my conflicting feelings about getting joy from a holiday I objectively know is about genocide. It gets awkward real fast.
If you feel similarly, here are some #lifehacks for being queer and home for the holidays!
1. Wear a name tag.
Maybe this is your first holiday season going by a new name. Maybe you look really different from last year. Maybe both! In any case, you deserve to be recognized for who you are. The first time I shaved my head, my dad walked me around a dim sum hall “introducing” me to relatives I’ve known my whole life, trying to justify my new look. “This is Jes, you remember, right? The flamboyant artist?” I thought to myself, “I’m not an ‘artist,’ DAD, I’m just queer.” (Since then I’ve realized I can actually be both.) Avoid this awkwardness with a handy dandy name tag! Now everybody knows you’re the baby cousin who took off your diaper and climbed into the cranberry sauce that one year, even though you’re grown up and have a giant septum ring now. Or, you have a new name and a giant septum ring, and nobody knows why you remind them so much of their baby cousin who took off their diaper and climbed into the cranberry sauce that one year. You’ll get to eat your siu mai, or mac ‘n’ cheese, or whatever, in peace.
2. Bring a decoy.
Okay, so maybe the name tag didn’t work, and people are still calling you by the wrong name. Tremendous bummer. Really puts a lump in your mashed potatoes. Divert that negative energy by carrying a decoy that bears your deadname during all your interactions with stubborn relatives. It can be a teddy bear, a Bratz doll, a small porcelain cherub, really anything you like. I prefer a sock puppet. Suddenly, it’s [Deadname] the Sock Puppet who has “grown into such a lovely young woman,” [Deadname] the Sock Puppet who “should really man up for once,” and [Deadname] the Sock Puppet who “used to be so beautiful, before they got all those Friday the 13th flash tattoos.” It’s not about you anymore. It’s about the sock puppet. And your sock puppet will love the compliments.
3. Make friends with animals.
Socializing with humans — especially humans you’re related to — can be extremely taxing. Instead, wander away from the party to make some animal friends. Animals don’t speak human languages, so they don’t have trash opinions about our current president (though it is highly speculated that all animals hate Trump), they won’t say your gender-neutral pronouns are “grammatically incorrect,” and they will never refer to your partner as your “roommate.” One of my most distinct memories from a childhood Thanksgiving is of the time I met my cousin’s pet hedgehog, Barbie. Barbie didn’t care that she was more of a chubby, spine-covered ball than a leggy blonde — she knew exactly who she was, and she was proud of it. I was so captivated by her that to this day, I can’t remember anything else from that night. Barbie was a true queer icon. You, too, can forge such meaningful bonds with whatever cat, dog, or bearded lizard you can get your hands on. And before you know it, you’ll feel just like a Disney Princex.
4. Use your queer powers for good.
There’s no doubt about it: queer people are powerful. Whether our experience with family is positive or negative, we have the power to heal, and the power to destroy. As a wise man in a gender-nonconforming, but culturally appropriative outfit once said, “use the force, Luke.” Unless your name isn’t Luke, in which case refer back to #1. Use your fashion influence — lez be real, you’re probably the most fashionable, or at least most self-actualized member of your family — to show your nieces and nephews that their “pilgrim hats” and “Indian headbands” aren’t a cute look (“so 1600s colonialism!” “so 20th century romanticism of genocide!”). Shadow your uncle in the kitchen so you can make a vegan version of his stuffing for your queer fam. Help Gramma pick out a new holiday sweater. Play video games with your burgeoning gender-nonconforming cousin. Who knows? Maybe you’ll help a family member find their truth, and then you won’t have to be the only Gay Cousin.
If all else fails, eat the food. That turkey (or vegan substitute) is calling your name, and yes, it’s the name you are meant to be called.