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The Holiday Season brings undue stress and dysphoria to many

By: Nicole Collins*/Trans Headlines

For those fortunate enough to have family with whom they can spend the Holiday Season, this time of year ushers in that annual, almost non stop barrage of small talk, meet-and-greets and survey-like reflections on what you’ve done the past year.

That may be heartwarming and enjoyable (though maybe at times a bit uncomfortable) for cis, straight people—and some trans people too, myself sort of included, as thankfully my family is pretty supportive. However, tons of the LGBTQ community dreads this time of year for its close proximity to family who may or may not accept them or their identities.

A recent Pantene ad shed some light on issues LGBTQ people face when returning home for the Holidays. The clip, which features the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (fitting, given the song was originally conceived by straight white men), sheds light on some of the difficulties faced this time of year.

“137 million Americans will travel home this Holiday Season,” the ad says. “44% of LGBTQ people feel they can’t come home as their true selves.”

It’s not much—Pantene doesn’t really go beyond this to explain why the time of year is difficult—but it’s a good message for cis people to mull over.

But there’s more to it than that. This time of year isn’t difficult only because LGBTQ people feel like they’re putting on an “act”—there are deeper anxieties and fears that accompany the Holidays that, arguably, cis acceptingness can’t mitigate.

This all happens for a host of reasons.

On a base level, there’s something saddening and ultimately depressing about the abundance of gifts and giving during family gatherings. And that may not be the case for everybody—but for myself, and others I know who live with anxiety, spending money on gifts and taking time to do things for other people is acutely stress-inducing. It conjures up a feeling of indebtedness and guilt only really otherwise felt around birthdays.

But beyond the usual complaints of the Holiday Season being one big corporate advertisement (The Guardian did a really good piece on that in 20132013 in response to the right-wing “War on Christmas” campaign) and the nauseating quality of new-new-new everything, spending time around family is particularly stressful and grating for much of the LGBTQ community. It’s depressingly defeatist. You know disrespectful comments are going to come, it’s just a question of when. When family members greet you and inevitably use your deadname? When people, in the quieter moments of the family gatherings, ask insultingly intrusive identity-related questions? It sometimes feels like there should be some kind of trans-disclaimer at the beginning of these gatherings. But that shouldn’t be necessary. There should be a base level of understanding that should hint to cis family members that it’s a topic of conversation that should be avoided unless brought up by the trans folks themselves.

It’s a lose-lose situation, regardless. Even if there aren’t any disrespectful comments, even if family has expressed their support as much as they can, being in such predominantly cis, straight environments effectively places one in front of a mirror, scrutinizing one’s appearance in comparison with all the “normal-looking,” “blending” (or “passing”) members of the family. It’s jealousy in its purest form, which unfortunately often leads to anger, self-loathing and dysphoria usually managed well when not put under the spotlight during Holiday gatherings. This usually—especially for me—exacerbates and is amplified by a very persistent, already-present depression.

As glaring and upsetting as this discomfort may seem, there’s unfortunately not much that can be done from a cis point of view to mitigate these annual difficulties. But that shouldn’t be read as an excuse not to do anything. It’s immensely, monumentally important for the cis community to be as accepting and accommodating to the trans community as possible, even if that doesn’t necessarily alleviate all the symptoms of dysphoria and anxiety. It helps, albeit slowly, to normalize transness in cis communities, in many of the same ways as workplace inclusion and media representation do outside the Holiday Season.

So, please for the sake of the trans folks in your family, don’t ask intrusive questions. Try to respect boundaries. Keep your thoughts to yourself. We already feel insecure enough; scrutinizing our appearance and experiences isn’t going to make us feel any better or alleviate our dysphoria. You’ll live if you don’t ask that nosy question. Try not to add to that 44% of LGBTQ Americans who feel like they can’t come home and live authentically.

The Holiday Season is one of, if not universally the hardest times of year for the LGBQ and trans communities. Even the smallest bit of cis help is appreciated in making this not necessarily the best time of year—that’d be a bit optimistic—but perhaps taking it off our list of annual anxieties.

*Nicole Malte Collins is a sophomore at Carleton College pursuing an English degree. Contact her at nicolecollinswrites@gmail.com.