Opinion | The not so festive season for the queers

I have this horrible memory of one December as a teen where I spent the entire festive season with just two friends. The reason for us sharing this time together was that, as young queers, we felt misunderstood by our families.

And, as I’ve grown older, I have had to build stronger relationships with friends who have become family during this time of year, because of the fragments in my familial relations. With this in mind, I find myself wondering about other young queers who are preparing themselves for the trauma and loneliness of this period.

For many of us, our families will not have the pleasure of knowing our true selves. They may claim to have accepted our identities, that they love us regardless of our difference, and embrace us, but they will probably never get to see us dance wildly to a Beyonce song on Christmas or twerk to a Nicki Minaj tune or event bop our heads to the latest Lady Gaga.

And this is not necessarily because we can’t do this, but if we do, we notice the disappointing looks, or the pursed lips or them getting up to suddenly go do something. And this is what informs our decision to not go home during the festive season and to rather spend time with friends.

During that horrible festive season spent with my childhood friends, I got to speak freely about crushes on boys, to wear very short shorts and to dance to Lebo Mathosa with reckless abandon. While not every queer person desires this kind of experience, there’s value in allowing queer youth to be free and to have familial love that’s void of conditions, such as being ‘respectable’ or toning down the flame or being ‘like other boys’. The demand for queer youth to fulfill gender expectations contributes to the trauma and the alienation of many LGBTI youth from their families.

With the violence of homophobia and transphobia often marking the daily life experiences of many queer youth, one wishes that our families would be our first safe space. We hope and pray that we could go home when the world is violent towards us, when we have been rejected by those whose affection we desire and when it all gets too much, but this is a rare occurrence for many.

We are in a time of growing knowledge and sensitivity around mental health, and we can’t ignore the contribution to mental health challenges caused by the trauma of unaccepting families.

How do we fill the void left by our families?

There’s the challenge of trans* identifying people having to act and perform gender in line with their assigned identity – a violent experience on its own. This has led many trans youth to avoid their families. There’re the questions about girlfriends to gay men and boyfriends to lesbian women – which are awkward at least and unpleasant at best. These experiences are enough to force one to make the hard decision to not be with family during the festive season.

The details vary but it all leads to a loneliness and a void that cannot be filled by our families. So we wander about, filling our lives instead with risky and unhealthy experiences. We spend days that we wish were with family with strangers, either having sex or drinking. We fill up venues, smiling and pretending to be happy to take gorgeous pics on Instagram only to frown after we post them. We fill the loneliness, which is amplified during the festive season, with items, experiences and people who also have voids to fill and we can’t be honest about what brings and keeps us together.

We break, yearning to hear our families say they love us, unconditionally, and that they are looking forward to having us over the holidays; but that call or text never comes. For many of us, the call instead is to ask if we are sending money for groceries for the festive season, and our presence is just part of the deal. And even if we are around our families during this time, we might end up sitting in a corner, on our phones, checking in on our friends and wishing we were elsewhere. Pretending to be happy, or faking familial love and rushing off back to the city on or before New Year’s Eve.

As another festive season approaches, I think of the many other young queers with fragmented familial relations, who will choose not to be with their families or relatives or might feel like burdens to them. I think of those who might end up being alone, peering through windows and nursing the loneliness that is the precise opposite of this festive time. I think of those who will fill restaurants and bars to meet strangers.

I wish I could find a way of saying, ‘let us be together’ but I too, though queer, am a stranger looking to fill my own void. I wish we could have prepared for this time much earlier, built a friendship of vagabonds to huddle together and build a new tradition of being together. In the absence of my own solution, I hope this festive season for us all is less violent on the mind, gentler on the heart, and healthier on the body.

Check out our list of 8 queer friendly things to do this festive season.

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