Traditions that taste bad, being queer at the holiday table

by Vinny O’Hara

The holidays can really suck for some of us.

For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why I felt so different from my family. I had so much in common with these people—and I actually like them!—but I couldn’t shake my awkwardness and unease at holiday gatherings. I was labeled as “quiet” when really I was racking my brain trying to decide which comment would make me sound less queer. By the time I’d put together the perfectly straight sentence in my head, the conversation had already moved on.

I spent so much time avoiding throwing up red flags that I wasn’t able to actually engage with anyone. I became “the shy one” because I had silenced myself in service of group comfort.

My family are wonderful people, and we are much closer now than we were when I came out, but the holidays still bring up too many bad memories for me to enjoy this time of the year with them.

Nothing bad ever happened to me when I came out. I wasn’t kicked out or shunned. Even if they tiptoed around the issue, I was always still invited to every function. I just didn’t feel like one of them, and the holidays compounded that insecurity.

The year I turned 18, I didn’t come home for Thanksgiving (though I couldn’t find a way out of Christmas). College was the perfect excuse for finally giving myself a holiday break. I had exams coming up, and who can fault an 18 year old for “wanting more time to study?” The day everyone else left for their storybook homes and Instagramable dinners, I hopped in my car and went to the grocery. I bought ingredients for all the food I actually liked and nothing that I didn’t. Fuck traditions that taste bad, am I right? This was MY day, MY meal, and creating my own menu reclaimed my power over a dinner I usually spent moving soggy green beans around my plate while hoping I didn’t insult Grandma.

That was the first time I realized the people in cheesy Hallmark movies weren’t mythical happy creatures. For the first time, I actually was thankful. I was thankful I had chosen myself.

The next year, I was hosted both Thanksgiving and Christmas for a group of mostly queer friends, all stragglers avoiding their own family traumas. We spent the day screwing up every dish, but laughing a lot. Between the too small oven and lack of planning, we ended up with an unintentionally staggered dinner made with a ton of love and endless happiness (and a whole lot of butter—I mean who knew you could use so much butter in one meal?). For the first time, I understood what straight people must feel like gathered around a comfortable table. My hands unclenched, and I was wholly and freely myself.

I spent many years in the tight ball of trying to act “normal.” It’s stressful and tiring to pretend to be someone you’re not, especially when everyone else is enjoying themselves with ease. The holidays are not easy times for queer people, but they can be beautiful when you have the freedom to just be you.

Not all of us have the ability or dynamic to avoid the family functions that so easily cause pain. Some are stuck suffering through Grandma’s microagressions or forced to sit through a meal of bread and potatoes because no one took your diet into account when planning the meal. Know that this community—you in particular—are what I will be thankful for this year.

I’ve not gone home for the holidays for almost a decade. It was hard at first to spin new reasons why I just couldn’t make it for Aunt Karen’s 3pm dinner, but I made a pact with myself to not put myself through the pain I endured as a child the moment I had adult agency to just say no. For any of you out there not in a place to make that choice, know I am thinking of you. One day can cause so much hurt, but (to use the most cliche phrase in our community) it does get better. And next year, you are all more than welcome to come crash my queer as fuck potluck.

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