For many students, the holiday season is an exciting time. I was thrilled to go home and leave my Thurston Hall quintuple behind for a few days. But, for many students, the holidays can also be a time of pain, tension and familial strife. For queer students like myself, returning home for the holidays can mean going back into the closet, or at the very least having to tone your identity down while surrounded by family.
The stress of the holiday season was further intensified this Thanksgiving because it was the first time I – or anyone in my family – brought a same-sex partner home for the holidays, and I will be meeting my partner’s family for the first time soon. For both of us, arriving to Thanksgiving dinner was not the thrill it used to be. When I would usually be dreaming of the hearty plate I was about to pack down on the way over, this year I spent the time thinking about how I could deflect awkward questions and which relatives I should avoid. A family party that was once just fun had become a social minefield.
I want to emphasize that my family is beyond loving, accepting and welcoming. For me, coming out was comparatively painless. I was embraced and accepted by my immediate family, which is a blessing given that 58 percent of LGBTQ youth still report feeling unwelcome at school. Despite being out to my immediate family, my sexual orientation had always been an unacknowledged fact among my extended family. I was the official and yet unofficial gay cousin. While on some level they likely knew I was queer, they never heard the words from my own lips. Bringing home a same-sex partner for the holiday was the confirmation of sexuality that my family had been seeking for so long.
But returning home after such intense personal growth that I experienced in the first few months of college was jarring. I was suddenly forced to reconcile competing images of myself: one that I had developed while at school and one that rested in the memories of people who knew me before. I stopped wearing makeup. I swapped my dangling earrings for small silver studs. My “partner from Chicago” became my “friend who was in town for the week.” While my quiet Connecticut suburb has not changed much in the three months I have been gone – I have. Being away from home untethered me from the anchors of my past, and I was allowed to grow in ways not possible in Glastonbury, Conn.
Even in such a loving and open community, I remained paranoid. After all, it only takes one misplaced comment or one overly invasive question to ruin an evening.
Having a Cuban-Mexican partner in a family of WASPs – white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants – certainly didn’t make the situation easier. Add on the fact that I am genderqueer, meaning I don’t act or present myself in a way that is consistent with masculinity or femininity, and you have a recipe for a disastrously painful Thanksgiving holiday. Luckily, things went off without a hitch, but I cannot help but remain preoccupied by the “what ifs” of the day and the “what ifs” to come as I prepare to meet my partner’s family.
The reality for many queer folks is not nearly as rosy as my own. Yes, I was paranoid and stressed, and yes, the two-hour dinner felt like an eternity. But for many, there isn’t a home to return to.
Millennials are the queerest generation in history, yet the outlook for many remains grim. Stigma and ignorance in the health care system keeps many from receiving the care they need. D.C.’s LGBTQ community remains gripped by an HIV crisis. Due to an ever increasingly hostile sociopolitical environment, LGBTQ individuals deal with suicidal thoughts three times more frequently than straight peers. For transgender people specifically, the rate is even higher. Nearly half of young transgender men will attempt suicide in their lifetime.
I find it important to think about these statistics to remind myself of just how lucky I am. Anxiety and stress during dinner is a far cry from full familial rejection. Changing the way I talk about my partner for a few days pales in comparison to being fully uninvited from the family dinner because of who my partner is.
Jack Murphy, a freshman majoring in philosophy, is a Hatchet columnist.