Sitting at a table surrounded by loved ones, eating delicious food and having open (potentially wine-drunk) conversations sounds like a formula for a fun time, right? For those of us who are transgender, this isn’t always the case.
Right now, there are about 1.4 million transgender-identifying people in the United States. Each of those people has a unique background—and a family with a unique set of beliefs. Odds are, some of us will come across loved ones who aren’t so accepting; and odds are, we’ll have to sit with them anyway.
Whether you’ve just begun to identify as transgender, have recently come out or are finally your own version of complete, there are a few tried-and-true tips you can rely on to get through this holiday season. Find my unofficial guide to surviving the holidays as a transgender woman, below.
1. Can’t keep your poise? Ignore.
Maybe your family doesn’t know you’re transgender yet—or maybe they do. Either way, someone might say something hurtful or offensive. (And let’s be real—we all have family members who aren’t particularly interested in expanding their LGBTQ+ knowledge.)
When this happens, try not to let the remarks faze you. Repeat the age-old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” in your head—and try to focus on the delicious food in front of you (or something similarly positive).
2. Educate—don’t retaliate.
Kill. Them. With. Kindness.
While retaliating might feel great, it usually only fuels the fire—rather than diffusing it. Instead of getting angry with someone, try opening up an educational conversation.
I’ve found it’s best to plan ahead with stuff like this. Always be sure of what you’re saying, and never make a point you can’t back up. (Sometimes this means doing a little research on the front end, which never hurts. The more knowledge you have, the better, right?)
And if you know your family well and can predict some of the intrusive questions that’ll be hurled your way, try to plan some responses ahead of time. This will prevent you from being caught off-guard, which will help you keep your poise—even in the most unfortunate of circumstances.
3. Know yourself.
You might find that some of your relatives will try to “change your mind” about being transgender, or tell you “it’s just a phase.” The most effective way to have them hear you is to first listen (or, you know, pretend to), and then, to keep doing you.
Your continuing to live your best life should eventually show them this definitely isn’t “just a phase.” Even if it doesn’t, you can rest assured knowing you’re making yourself happy—which is really all that matters.
4. Take deep breaths.
I know, I know—it sounds cliché. But I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t helpful. Taking deep breaths can keep you calm during this season’s most frustrating moments, making it easy for you to rise above the immaturity.
You don’t need to take huge breaths—they can be subtle. Just breathe in deeply through your nose, count to five, and slowly exhale through your mouth while counting to five again. Repeat until you feel a little better, and turn to this exercise any time you could use a moment of peace (or two, or 10).
If you need a more extended “breather,” use the oldest trick in the book: Excuse yourself to the restroom. Don’t worry about what anyone is saying while you’re there—just focus on your breath and remind yourself it’ll all be over soon.
5. Make the most of it.
This might seem obvious, but the holidays are a time of giving thanks—and being grateful for what you do have. Sure, you might not have the most supportive family, but there are ways to look on the bright side and turn those situations into positive (or at least, semi-positive) experiences.
Each year, my family goes around the table and gives thanks for something we have. You might already do this, but if you don’t, it could make for a nice addition to your gathering. (It comes with the added bonus of diffusing tension—typically.) If they don’t go for it, do it on your own. Reflect on what you’re most grateful for, and think about all the amazing things you’ve accomplished this year.
You’re taking brave steps to living a life that makes you genuinely and authentically happy. That’s an incredible thing, and it’s worth feeling proud of.
6. Remember that how people behave is a reflection of them—not you.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to have the perfect holiday, and don’t expect people to change.
Remember that the ability to choose your family is real. Some of your blood relatives may not come around, but your life is filled with people who love you. (If things at home are bad, you can always spend the holidays with friends.)
No matter what, stay strong, know your worth and give thanks. These things will help you make the most of your holiday, even if it seems like everyone around you is holding you back.