The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous occasion, where you look forward to festive foods, whimsical decorations, and quality time spent with loved ones. However, this is not always the case for those of us who have had to cut off from toxic relatives and friends. Or even for those who don’t sever ties, going home to visit a broken family may be wrought with dysfunction and chaos. Instead, for people like us, the holidays may be a very difficult, lonely, and painful time.
I used to enjoy spending every Thanksgiving and Christmas with my maternal cousins. They would make a feast and we’d sit around talking, maybe playing board games or watching the specials on TV. Every Christmas, we’d stay up all night unwrapping gifts. It was our tradition to wrap the gifts as many times as possible so they’d take forever to open. I once wrapped a $50 eBay gift card so many times that it was the size of a microwave! It was a fun way of pranking each other and always got a ton of laughs.
But over the years, though I loved spending the holidays with them, it just became more and more challenging. I went off to college, and though I wasn’t far from home, it was difficult to take public transit back to my hometown. So if I was able to make the trip, I had to stay in town for a few days while the dorms were closed and sleepover with them.
They were always gracious by letting me stay, and I was grateful. But tension began filling the room if I ever mentioned how things were going for me. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about how much I loved UCLA because they always had complaints about the private schools they were attending. They always had unfortunate stories to share about uncooperative peers which caused me to feel that there wasn’t space for me to share my happiness and success.
But the real last straw was when I came out, in a very subtle way.
Going to UCLA opened many doors for me, and one of them was Gender Studies. After having a hard time with the English department, I switched my major to Gender Studies and was warmly welcomed! I studied Feminism, Ethnic Studies, Sociology, Psychology, and LGBTQ Studies. I started to learn the terminology necessary to articulate my life experiences, and I felt empowered because of it.
I realized that I wasn’t completely straight, and I had a really big crush on a girl when I studied in New York. So I was in the questioning phase of determining my sexuality, and I found it liberating.
I casually told my cousins that if a girl asked me out on a date, I wouldn’t say no. It was nonchalant and I didn’t think much of it. But my youngest cousin responded by telling her sister, “Should I punch Sky?".
I didn’t understand the desire to resort to violence, even if it was a joke, simply because I confessed to wanting to possibly give a girl a chance if the opportunity ever presented itself.
I left the topic alone after that and didn’t bring it up again.
But it became even more tense when I would visit over the holiday breaks, and they would make jokes about being with a woman, saying how “gross” it would be. They referred to oral sex between two women as “carpet munching” and would cringe and laugh at how disgusting they thought it was.
I was appalled by their remarks, finding them absolutely distasteful and unnecessary (if not deeply homophobic), and I didn’t know if they were making comments in front of me on purpose. Didn’t they realize I was exploring my own sexual identity? Were they making these crude jokes to be biphobic around me deliberately? (As a possible attempt to try and dissuade me from my interests in the same gender?)
Spending time around them became less and less desirable. It didn’t feel worth it anymore. They started having arguments with each other around me, about petty crap like having a list of too many recipes to make, or why one watched the latest episodes of Game of Thrones without the other, which really was a buzzkill, especially during the holidays. And I didn’t feel like I could be myself around them anymore. I felt like I had to hide all of the best parts of myself, the parts that I was newly discovering and most proud of.
And to be perfectly honest, it seemed like their food was getting less tasty each year anyway!
I remember one year, I hadn’t seen them in quite a while, and I went over for Christmas. I had requested they make their sweet potato casserole because it was my favorite dish of theirs. I had seen them briefly on Thanksgiving, but they said they didn’t have the time to make it then, so they promised they’d make it for me on Christmas instead.
Well, I showed up, excited to taste the heavenly golden goodness, and it turned out they didn’t bother to make it. Instead, they made a green bean casserole for their next-door neighbor, even though they hated that dish and thought it was nasty, they made it for him because it was his favorite. And here I was, their family, and they completely forgot about their promise to me. It made me realize they didn’t truly care about me or value my presence there. And I no longer enjoyed being in their presence and hearing them make insulting and derogatory jokes either.
See, my cousins and I had been through a lot together. We both grew up with very abusive parents, and we found refuge in each other. But my older cousin was able to adopt her sister, while I had to go into foster care.
I consider my experience in foster care a miracle, and I’m still very close with my foster mother. But me being an only child and placed into the system meant I had to take care of myself and go off to college, which made my cousins and I grow farther apart.
Both former foster youth and LGBTI young adults deal with tumultuous holidays filled with family strife, and this unfortunate phenomenon can be compounded if you belong to both groups.
I saw many of their actions as hurtful and toxic, so that was my very last Christmas with them. I haven’t seen or spoken to them since.
And I have found great closure with this choice. At first, I missed the holiday traditions with them, but I’ve made my own traditions. I created a Friendsgiving to always share good food and fun with my best friends, the ones I consider my true family. And I spend more time with my dad’s side of the family and my foster mother now, which has been really nice and a lot less stressful. Saying “bye” to them and their problematic ways just opened the doors for me to have new holidays with loved ones I can be myself around, which has really made it a season full of joy and newfound peace.
So Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to you and yours!