Transgender survival guide for the holidays: Tips to remember when you reunite with family

Transgender survival guide for the holidays: Tips to remember when you reunite with family

Celebrating the holiday season with relatives is stressful for many. But for transgender people, it often means facing an onslaught of invasive questioning and transphobic remarks. 

The holiday season may be the first time relatives will see a trans person living their authentic self. Even when family members are aware of a relative's transgender identity, it doesn't mean they're knowledgable about trans issues. You'll invariably run into that one cousin — we all have one — whose only reference point for what it means to be transgender is Caitlyn Jenner. Add in way too much food and alcohol, and the whole experience can start to go downhill very quickly. 

Regardless of the situation, an effective way for trans people to manage their holiday experience is to set realistic expectations and prioritize their wellbeing. Here are some tips to help you push through the holidays while navigating transphobic B.S. 

Be confident and happy with who you are.

Being transgender isn't easy, but it's also pretty freakin' awesome to come into your own and embrace your truth. If family members can see with their own eyes that you're confident, healthy and thriving, it may help them realize that there is no shame in being trans.  

"It's important to know that you're living your life authentically, and not everyone is brave enough to do that," said Vanessa Tashinga, a 23-year-old trans woman from Orange County, California. "You should feel proud of yourself for having the courage to step in front of your family as your true self. And if your family doesn't accept you, know that it's not your fault. Be patient, people will start to understand, but it takes time."

Be ready to correct people — a lot.

It's never acceptable to misgender a trans person, but you can't expect that everyone will get everything right the first time. The first Christmas dinner after starting my transition, everyone kept referring to me by my old name. It was helpful for me to remember that these slip ups typically stemmed from habit rather than malice. Remember that transitioning is an adjustment for everyone who knows you. 

Prepare a list of talking points in case someone refers to you by the incorrect name or pronouns. Explain what it means to be transgender, share the importance of being identified properly and reiterate the impact that family support can have on the livelihood of a trans individual. After all, the holidays might be the perfect time for your loved ones to learn more about a community that they had little awareness of before. For some trans people, however, the option of presenting as their true selves in front of family members simply doesn't exist.

"More than being nervous, it's always a really uncomfortable situation during the holiday season because I simply can't be myself around my relatives," Andie Gómez, a 22-year-old trans woman from Mexico City, said in an interview. "I can't wear the clothes I'd like to wear, nor am I able to talk about the guy I'm in love with. But the worst part is that they don't address me by the name and pronouns I identify with." 

Take care of your mental health.

For many transgender people, the thought of having others simply witness our trans bodies can cause us to panic. That's why its imperative for us to find ways to alleviate our discomfort when interacting with family members. 

Tashinga recalls the anxiety she felt when seeing her loved ones for the first time at Christmas after beginning her transition.

"I had been on hormone therapy for almost a year, and my breasts were growing," she said. "I also began wearing hair extensions and I was so afraid to interact with my family because they hadn't seen me as a woman before. My body was noticeably different. It was very nerve-racking because you don't know how certain people will take it."

The key to making it through a holiday gathering will be to find healthy, self-soothing ways to manage your anxiety. Whenever you find yourself feeling voiceless and overwhelmed, it's important to keep allies by your side. Find supportive relatives or friends you can stick with. Let them know you're feeling nervous and ask for support. You're not weak just because you need someone to lean on.

Have an exit plan.

Being patient with family who may be ignorant of transgender issues doesn't mean they get a free pass for being abusive or disrespectful. If that's the case, you have every right to leave. 

Come up with some strategies ahead of time just in case you need to get yourself out of a threatening situation. Maybe you can bring a book with you that you can read in another room if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. If you're absolutely forced to be in the same room as a transphobic relative, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to interact with them. But if tensions escalate, prioritize your safety and leave.

"My parents were supportive of my transition, but my cousins and uncle would always harass me and threaten to beat me up," Bryan Calderan, a 27-year-old trans man from Arizona, said in an interview with Mic. "I'd rather spend the holidays absolutely alone at a hotel than subject myself to that."

Spend the holiday with your chosen family.

Every family has a unique dynamic and only you know what's truly best for your particular circumstances. Sometimes, being trans is about creating our own families by forging bonds with those who support and affirm us — even if they're not related by blood. Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether you're spending the holidays with loved ones or by yourself, you're never alone. Know that there are always plenty of resources available if you find yourself struggling: 

The Trevor Project's 24/7 Lifeline can be reached at at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). 

Trevor Chat, the Trevor Project's online messaging service, is available 7 days a week (3:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. ET / 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. PT)

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at at 800-273-TALK (8255).

The Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860.