In the western world, regardless of one’s religious background, beliefs and observance, Christmas is pervasive. Christians tend to say it is all about Jesus and family togetherness, while Hollywood suggests it is about fictional European royal families and sentimental marriage proposals. Christmas is often critiqued for promoting commercialism, but there are bigger problems than that.
The holidays are complicated for many people. There’s often increased contact with family, which can get tense. The holidays can leave people feeling lonely and excluded. They can exacerbate grief related to loss, as well as causing financial grief and putting pressure on people to show their love by spending money. It can be very challenging for those living with mental illness and triggering for those with disordered eating.
The holiday season can also be inordinately difficult for trans and gender diverse people. The misgendering and erasure that comes with the festive season isn’t as obvious as some other holidays, like Valentine’s Day, which is excessively heterosexual, and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, which revolve around the gender binary. But even though queer people are finally being treated to some representation in the holiday movie genre, and can turn to Mariah Carey’s blessed Christmas album for a pick-me-up, it still tends to be alienating, if not painful.
Here are some of the ways that the holiday season can be extra stressful for trans and gender diverse people, and suggestions on how to counter them:
Holidays tend to evoke memories of childhood, which may not be pleasant for everyone. Avoid infantilising your trans and gender diverse loved ones and treat them with respect, love and dignity. When you send out holiday gathering Zoom invites, avoid inviting queerphobic and transphobic extended family. If you’re having festivities, extend an invitation to trans and gender diverse loved ones as they may not be in touch with their families of origin and may not feel comfortable asking friends if they can join their celebrations.
Gifts around the holiday season are often unnecessarily gendered. One of my previous workplaces gave makeup to “the girls” and alcohol to “the boys.” Unless your trans and gender diverse loved ones asked for something like this in particular or enjoy ironic gifts, steer clear of gendered clothing and accessories. Instead, you could support trans and gender diverse authors and creators and buy their work as gifts!
Wrong pronouns and deadnames are often used at family gatherings (in person and over Zoom). If your trans and gender diverse loved ones haven’t spoken to you about their pronouns, either try to avoid using pronouns, generally, or have a gentle conversation if you think you can do so sensitively. Do some reading online beforehand so you have a good understanding of gender. Go in with an open mind and a willingness to be corrected.
Also, religion itself can be complex and triggering. Many LGBTQ+ folks have experienced discrimination, persecution, judgement, disrespect, trolling, doxing and rejection. Some have been subjected to harsh conversion practices. Keep this in mind when planning festive gatherings and catch ups with friends. Some trans and gender diverse people might prefer to not discuss the holiday season at all. Be gentle, self-aware and read the situation. Also, don’t forget that many people aren’t Christian and don’t observe Christmas, so try to be inclusive of their gender, sexuality and religious affiliation or lack thereof.
Finally, pop culture isn’t representative of everyone. While it might seem fun to talk about your love of Aubrey Plaza in Happiest Season, and praise streaming and content platforms for becoming more diverse, trans and gender diverse representation is still at least a decade behind gay, lesbian and bisexual representation. Ask your trans and gender diverse loved ones what they are streaming and listening to; you might also discover some great new films, shows, musicians and TikTok stars.
Saying ‘The festive season is a difficult time for many people’ won’t change anything. Neither will denial, or saying ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year!’ There are ways to make change. Rather than leaving it up to trans and gender diverse people to advocate for ourselves and deal with our stressors during the period, be the best ally you can be. Correct people who misgender us on Twitter, absolutely, and sign petitions and boycott JK Rowling, but there’s even more you can do. Community-care and support can be lifesaving. If you have a friend who is struggling, offer to deliver a meal to them. If you can do so safely, in terms of COVID-19 restrictions and your own mental health, offer to help out in whatever way they need. Make sure they know you are available when they need to talk or have company.
While systemic change is needed, ultimately, to provide better mental health care and social supports, and to address stigma and discrimination, we can all do our part to make life happier, more supportive and more festive for everyone. And if we work towards that, even amidst a global pandemic that has impacted on all of us, then it really might be the most wonderful time of the year.
LGBT National Hotline (USA): 888-843-4564
The Trevor Project (USA, LGBTI young people): 866-488-7386
LGBT crisis support in Canada
QLife (Australia, LGBTI peer support): 1800 184 527 or here for webchat