Why the hell do so many people dread being around family on the holidays?
Some people are queer and return to homophobic, transphobic families during the holidays. Others are liberal or progressive and return to judgemental, deeply conservative family spaces. Still, others are anarchist and communist in misunderstanding conservative, centrist and liberal family spaces.
Many people don’t practice or believe in the same religion as their parents, and returning home can mean shoving their own religion under the rug and validating a practice that doesn’t resonate with them.
Some people face racism, fatphobia, misogyny, and family members that undermine their mental illness and laugh at their lifestyle choices.
For some, going home on the holidays might even mean returning to a space of verbal or physical abuse.
So, how does one cope with a less-than-understanding family?
Have An Escape Route
Ask who will be at the event and figure out where you will be staying. Based on this, if you feel like things could go south at any point, then make sure to take your own car or to ride with someone willing to take you home and support you.
If you can’t find a reliable transportation source, in other words, if you think there is potential for a hostile situation and you aren’t able to leave at any moment, I would not attend.
Don’t Start the Conversation Around Non-Receptive People
I never start a conversation about politics, religion, identity, or even current events when I am around certain members of my family because I know that it will never end well. As a rule, I only take time to explain concepts to family members who are open to new ideas and who treat different ideologies and different people with respect, and I only start the conversation around receptive people.
If Necessary, Don’t Drink
If you know you might get loose lips when you’re tipsy, you might want to lay off for your sake and others. Drinking in a room full of conservatives who talk politics, for example, is my personal hell and a recipe for disaster.
I have broken possible negative interactions into four categories: misunderstandings, microaggressions, hate speech, and violence.
EX: “What does pansexual mean?”
This is a pure, innocent accident. Misunderstandings can occur when a family member says something incorrect or offensive without realizing it. This can also be when a family member directly asks you to explain your view on a topic with the actual intention of learning.
To Handle This:
Educate Them, If Possible
Some family members have genuinely good intentions, and simply need to be educated. If you find that educating them or facilitating discussion is too emotionally draining, then understand and explain that your job is not always to educate other people.
However, if you want to change this person’s perception and feel that you have an actual chance at doing so, come at them with documented facts and personal experiences, not with anger or frustration.
Ask to Change the Topic
While we can do our best to avoid annoying, triggering and otherwise problematic conversations, it does not mean that others will make the same effort.
As soon as a family member says or asks something uncomfortable, politely ask to change the topic. I have been able to de-escalate many situations with the simple phrase “I don’t want to talk about it.”
EX: “I still love my gay family, but being gay is still a sin like stealing or adultery.”
This is when something said is well-intentioned but rooted in problematic ideologies regarding a certain type of person.
To Handle This:
Abruptly Change the Subject
Maybe you don’t want to deal with your uncle’s problematic comment on a hot-button issue because you know it will only become a downward spiral. You can either directly say “I don’t want to talk about it” or you can just blurt out something to change the topic.
Call It Out
If you feel like it won’t result in an ambush because you know where other people in the room stand, call out the ignorant comment. This doesn’t have to be done in anger and is often done in frustration, depending on what was said. You can explain why it’s wrong or just tell them to stop.
Educate and Explain
This is very similar to calling someone out, but with a less harsh tone and can be done in a group or one-on-one. This might look like saying “I wish you wouldn’t say that because its really hurtful.”
EX: “White people are more intelligent than black people.”
This is when things said are outwardly and intentionally disrespectful, degrading and impossible to be around.
To Handle This:
Shut it Down
Unlike calling it out which opens a dialogue, this is when you, often angrily, immediately demand the behavior stop. If you feel that unspeakable lines have been crossed; if you feel like you just can’t live to see another day letting that comment slide, then approach the family member you are schooling with hard facts and a harsh tone. Sometimes people need to be made to feel uncomfortable in order to change.
This could be accomplished by saying “If you want to continue a relationship with me, then you have to change your behavior”. For a harsher tone, one might say “Don’t ever come at me with that behavior again”.
Always make sure you are prepared and empowered to leave any hostile or otherwise uncomfortable situation. You can follow all the previous steps, walk on eggshells, avoid controversial topics and still be faced with disrespect and lack of empathy. If this happens, you are under no obligation to be the subject of abuse, and should always have an exit strategy in place.
EX: a refusal to drop the subject or calm down, any threats or attempts at violence
This is when an altercation has escalated to the point of violent yelling or physical fighting. This is the blood-boiling type of rage where you don’t feel like yourself.
To Handle This:
Leave or Get Help
If leaving is not an option and you think you or others are in immediate physical danger, then the best option might be to call the cops. This is something I only suggest in the most extreme cases containing physical and sexual violence.
End the Relationship
If the relationship you are in with your family is abusive, then put yourself first and cut the ties.
If you are financially dependent on your family and can’t leave the abusive situation and especially if you’re a child or adolescent, the most important thing you can do is tell others. This can be friends, teachers, counselors and other trustworthy family members.
I wish you a holiday season full of joy, but in case things aren’t so cheery, be prepared to put yourself first.