Snark and Smooth: Queer Tools for Getting Through the Holidays

12/14/2018

istock/Dirima

Ah, “the holidays.” The phrase that spans between Halloween and New Year’s Day dredges up so many images and feelings: changing leaves, dipping temperatures, fatty foods…and time with loved ones. Whether that’s your jam or you dread the thought of cramming into stuffy rooms with your Aunt Rosa… varies from person to person.

But there’s an extra layer of anxiety and feelings that often packs itself into our cute little weekend bags – what to do if someone brings up our queerness. Maybe you are out and proud. Maybe you’re still in the closet. Maybe you don’t have the energy to tackle your uncle’s vaguely homophobic tirade. Those are all valid responses!

But sometimes, especially if we’re not vociferous about our sexuality, we don’t have all the tools ready when we go home to light the candles or carve the turkey. It can be tough to be queer during the holidays – not within yourself, but navigating a space with people you love, whose positions on LGBTQIA issues don’t exactly align with your life. It can be a source of great stress that no amount of wine (or egg nog) can drown.

I gave this queer quandary some thought and wanted to offer options – and emotional outlets – so we can all have a season as festive and bright as our spirits. Then hopefully, you, too, can have these kinds of texts with your sister about the upcoming holidays:

 

If that (100% real) exchange didn’t make it clear, I was born and raised in a home of smartasses. Loveable smartasses, yes, but smartasses nonetheless.

With that in mind, here is how I’m going to offer my advice: Snark and Smooth. I’ll offer a scenario. Snark-Me will answer (because that’s my knee-jerk impulse). That way we can all get the petty delight of a witty comeback out of the way. (Or, hey, if you’re feeling brave, feel free to steal my wiseacre response). Then I’ll offer the Smooth-Me response – this is something more useful, whether it’s something to say in the situation at hand, or an option for an out. It’s kind of a Goofus and Gallant set-up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goofus_and_Gallant

Most of the Smooth reactions are interchangeable with the other scenarios, so if you prefer to swap out one for another, be my guest!

All right. Before we even get to the metaphorical front door, I recommend doing some mental prep before we go:

1) Curate a happy playlist of songs that make you feel good ready to go. Ditto for your Netflix queue of feel-good shows (Great British Bake Show, anyone?). That’s not to say I don’t advocate feeling all the feels, but sometimes we need a palate cleanser at the ready when we need to decompress. That goes triple for stressful family events. Pop culture comfort food does wonders when we need a pick-me-up from an anxious interlude with our hometown tribe. Sometimes they’re just as good for your soul as Bubbe’s latkes.

2) Have an honest conversation with yourself about what your boundaries are before hitting the road. You are an grown-ass adult who does not have to answer every invasive question just because there is tinsel on a tree. We all only have so much heart-space, especially during strained visits home, so know how much you can spare – and how you want to word refusals when someone is trespassing on your patience. We are all beautiful bi adults now, so with that comes the limits and respecting boundaries – both for your family and for yourself.

Bonus: Since you’re an adult, if someone keeps pushing, you can always excuse yourself to help someone with something in another room, or to play with the kids – they’re less prejudiced and are probably having a more fun time, anyway. You are not emotionally obligated to endure someone’s harmful remarks.

Sound good? Splendid. Let’s begin.

Before you even drop your bags, Mom comments on how you’ve come back home single again.

Snark: Not if you count the body in the trunk.

Smooth: I’m just getting pickier as I get older. I love my life, and if I bring someone into it, I want them to be awesome.

Dad starts interrogating you about when you’re bringing a (straight) person home.

Snark: As soon as they finish removing his scales.

Smooth: I’ll bring the right person home soon. If I feel like it. But if I do, we gotta get the good bed in the downstairs guest room. Time for an upgrade.

Your Uncle Bruce makes a vaguely homophobic joke.

Snark: *laughs hard, harder, louder, maniacally loud, then comes to an abrupt halt and stares at Bruce* Cool story, bro. Now where’s the wine?

Smooth: *shaking head calmly* We don’t do that here.

You come home with a same-sex partner, and your cousins start asking you all kinds of inappropriate questions.

Snark: Lucy and I will field all questions at the press conference this afternoon.

Smooth: While I get that you’re curious, I think it’s more important to make our guest feel welcome and comfortable. For her, that includes making me feel comfortable here. And these questions do not serve that purpose.

Grandma makes some derogatory comment about the LGBTQIA community/rights.

Snark: You are not being the person Mr. Rogers thought you could be right now.

Smooth: With 10% of the population identifying as non-straight, I guarantee what you are saying is showing to someone you love, who may not be out to you yet, that they cannot feel safe around you. (Then if they persist) Grams. You are not being the person Mr. Rogers thought you could be right now.

Your Aunt Jean continually calls your partner your “friend.”

 Snark: Damn, Jean, I didn’t know you get freaky with your special friends! Let’s talk about it at length.

Smooth: Jean, we’ve gone over this multiple times. Please respect my wishes and call (name) my partner. I would take it as a sign of respect.

That one family friend starts quoting Leviticus.

Snark: Oh, Steve, I forgot to mention. I spoke with Jesus the other day. He told me you’re being a dick.

Smooth: Steve, I don’t think that’s the kindest thing to do right now. Perhaps we could agree on another Bible quote: “Love thy neighbor.”

Your old high school friend mentions during the post Turkey-Day beer-grab: “Oh, so did you secretly have a crush on me? I hope I didn’t turn you gay.”

Snark: *points a finger accusingly across the table*: J’ACCUSE!

Smooth: You do know bi is different from gay, right? And that being bi isn’t some bad thing to catch, like the clap? Here, let me pull out the flowchart…

Your neighbor confesses she experimented in college, too, and it was no big deal.

Snark: Rachel, are you familiar with the term “overshare?”

Smooth: You know, I haven’t seen Mr. Bigglesworth for a while. I think I’m gonna go make sure he didn’t wander outside into the cold.

I could go on with more comebacks, but I think it’s more important to offer other tools to survive this holiday season when things get to be too much at home.

Have a buddy system ready with your chosen family. Sometimes our family of blood doesn’t understand as much as the family that becomes our blood. Make sure to have a good friend or mentor ready for a few flurried texts – or an emergency FaceTime. Sometimes just knowing you have that option can help you get through another inane question about your sexuality.

Arrange a post-holiday get-together with people you love. This can be a hang while you’re in town after the big turkey day, or a decompression brunch once where everyone can go over how their family is the Worst – punctuated by mimosas, of course.

If possible, have an ally in-house to help redirect or deflect. Maybe you have a cousin who gets you. Or a brother who knows how vexing Bible quotes can get. Make sure they can keep an eye on you – and maybe you can use the buddy system for them, too, if they don’t want to talk about their job search.

Speaking of deflecting, changing the subject works wonders. People love to talk about themselves at any chance they can get. If you don’t feel like answering a particularly thorny question, usually a polite “Let me get back to you about that one. Can you believe how close the Dodgers got this year?” will work wonders. It can delicately move the conversation forward while you figure out a clean exit. Even when most people detect the ruse, they are either too polite to call you out on it, or they get distracted by their passion for the subject you brought up. Or both!

You are allowed to take breaks. Family is a lot, no question about that. Most of us have smartphones – they can be a godsend at the right moment, either with an urgent (fake) text or just a few minutes alone in the bathroom to watch cat videos in peace. Alone time is valid and does not need to be defended.

Go full middle school and journal it out. Oftentimes the physical act of writing dispels a lot of grief as well as gives us a moment to collect and distill our thoughts. And it’s often a good way to unwind after a stressful day. Plus writing sad poems comparing peanut brittle and the brittleness of your soul is so damn cathartic.

Beyond social media, there are online happy places. I really love Yourholidaymom.com for this purpose. Those letters leave me as warm as a toasty fire. Also, if you just need a hug or some friendly faces, you can go to the archived videos of The Nicest Place On the Internet and get hug after hug to soothing music. It’s good for the soul.

Nonviolent communication techniques dispel a lot of conflicts – if used properly. I’m a big believer in NVC if you find you just can’t let that comment by your uncle slide. Here’s a quick and dirty model  you can use (and stick to) if there’s a hill you want to die on. Remember – it takes practice, but the rewards are numerous – even if we don’t come to a common solution.

Let’s get physical! Yes, Olivia, you were on to something. Sometimes the best way to relieve some blood pressure is to get the body moving. Excuse yourself for a walk, lock yourself in a room and dance it out (I love doing this to Bob Marley’s “One Love”), or whatever it takes. The point is to get that blood flowing. It gives you permission to move away from a hostile situation and burn some calories (instead of, you know, your mother’s hair). Win-win!

Show that pillow who’s boss. Sometimes, we just have to scream it all out into some goose feathers. Hit that sham pillow with all your might. Talk to it like it was your uncle and it could not actually talk back for a hot minute.  I promise the feathers will stay mum.

Eyes on the prize. As Rilke said: “No feeling is final.” Neither is any family holiday. Sometimes we just have to pull up iCal and physically see a countdown of how many days until we can get back to our chosen lives. Take a deep breath for every day left. Meditate on the prospect if necessary. But trust me – there are millions of queer folx out there at the same moment also counting the minutes until they can jump on that plane home. You will join them again soon.

All that said… Leave if you have to. I will not argue for staying around toxic people because of familial obligation. Even if it’s a busy weekend, you could threaten to book a room at the Motel 6 down the street. And follow through. Do what you need to do for your own peace of mind.

All right, my lovelies. That’s what I’ve got for the holiday checklist. Make sure to pack extra underwear, your toothpaste, and your sense of self. We’ve got this – and the leftovers, too.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.