How to navigate the holidays when you have homophobic family members without losing your mind

Going home for the holidays usually brings an overwhelming sense of joy, but for some, seeing family and friends comes with an extra serving of uncomfortable conversations fueled by homophobia. As we get older, we start forming our own ideas and stances on issues in the world around us. And more often than not, those ideas and stances will gravely differ from at least a few of the people you hold dearest (or are least obligated to spend time with a few times a year). Navigating the holidays with homophobic family members can be tricky, but there are ways to do so and still enjoy your holiday festivities.

According to Psychology Today, “the term homophobia was first described in 1972 by George Weinberg, and defined as an irrational fear, hatred, and intolerance of being in close quarters with homosexual men and women.” And it’s not always so blatant — homophobia can manifest in many different forms. Your family member could be the really loud, overt homophobic, all-gays-are-going-to-hell type, or they could be a bit more subtle with their disdain, only peppering conversation with the occasional off-handed comment.

We know there are very few families are totally free of members who fall into one or even both of these categories. But either way, if handled incorrectly, you may end up ruining your time home, and even if that would never be your fault, that might be last thing you want.

We also know it can be difficult when you become aware that a family member isn’t actually supportive, especially when the LGBTQ community faces so many challenges on a daily basis, and there have been so many attacks against the community this year alone.

The first thing you need to do (we know, this should not be your responsibility, but we like to think of it as self-preservation for the sake of enjoying your holidays), is remind yourself that homophobia usually stems from a lack of knowledge on the subject, and that your relatives may only be repeating stereotypes and opinions they have been exposed to in their environment. Or they could just be assholes. Maybe both. Probably both.

Take a breath before you proceed. Then try using one of these four ways to navigate conversations with your homophobic family members this festive season.

1Point out their behavior for what it is.

Whenever you hear a family member (or anyone) making a homophobic comment, it’s important to not brush it off or just offer an awkward smile to avoid confrontation. Try bringing the offensive comment to their attention. Hopefully, this will spark a conversation that will allow you the opportunity to drop a bit of knowledge.

2Find your support system.

Use the time that you’re home for the holidays to spend time with loving, open-minded family members during your celebrations. It’s unlikely that your entire family is homophobic (and if they are, we’re truly sorry), so maybe you can seek refuge in the company of cousins or siblings or aunties that accept you just as you are. Maybe even start your own mini family traditions of doing just that.

If you’re unable to find a safe space among your family members, Christina Miller, a current student in the Master of Public Health program at the University at Albany, says it’s smart to plan ahead for these overwhelming situations by finding your outside support system ahead of time. “Identify a self-care buddy. This is someone you can text, Facebook message, etc. when you are feeling overwhelmed, isolated or unsupported over the holidays,” she says.

“Along with reaching out to this person during more challenging moments, you can also exchange silly Snapchats [and] pictures or play Words With Friends in a way that makes you feel supported or cared for.

3Stand up for what you believe in.

In some instances, simply pointing out the hateful comment might be enough to quiet a homophobic family member or lead them to evaluate the way they think. Other times, there might be confrontations, and you should never be afraid to stand up for yourself during these moments. To deal with this, Anne-Sophia Reinhardt, self-love expert and blogger says, “Speak up for yourself. Don’t let people walk all over you.” Also, use logic, statistics, and facts when defending LGBTQ rights. If you believe it, defend it!

4Don’t be afraid to step away.

While we’re huge advocates of standing up for your beliefs, please remember your sanity comes first. Miller says, if speaking up is too much for you, “Allow yourself to ‘tap out’ from conversations that are too challenging or too triggering. Sometimes we may feel the constant need to justify ourselves, our communities and/or our values to our families. That being said, you by no means must continue within conversations that feel unsafe or too draining. Sometimes self-preservation is the most effective form of rebellion.”

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. So, do yourself a favorite and try to have a great time regardless of the negativity you may be facing. Also worth noting: There is absolutely no shame is deciding to stay home this year and chilling with your chosen family instead.

Keep in mind that the most important thing you can do for yourself is to live your life freely while staying true to who you are.

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