Erin Ekins recounts her experience of being queer at Christmas
There are a lot of words you could use to describe Christmas: festive; jolly; joyful; and triumphant, but I think the word that best sums up Christmas is – interesting.
How could it not be interesting? Family members, many of whom haven’t been in the same room as one another since the same time last year, gathered together for a whole day in the spirit of festivity and celebration, sitting at the same dinner table and smiling weakly as they unwrap their ﬁ fteenth pair of reindeer socks. In such circumstances, drama, and a certain degree of awkwardness, are adept at digging in their claws and settling in for the duration.
However, if you are LGBT+ or queer (a label that I use for myself, but which I know others do not like), this can add another helping of difﬁ culty to an admittedly already fraught season. With many LGBT+ youth still in the closet, and some out but faced with familial disapproval, large family gatherings, especially at Christmas, can bring pain, loneliness, or the suffocating reality of hiding.
I don’t pretend to have a universal truth about being LGBT+ at Christmas: all I have is my own experience; and that experience is both awkward, at times painful, and at other times painfully funny.
Christmas was, before I came out to my grandparents and other extended family members, a time of great confusion for me. Every time I kissed someone on the cheek or shook their hand or put up with another ‘My, hasn’t she grown’, I was subconsciously and frantically ticking them off my mental list: am I out to you?; how would you take it if I came out to you?; do I have to be super-careful around you? I was out to my parents and my little brother at the time, as well as a few select others, so the road of conversation was bumpy and, as a result, I often made mistakes. The issue was particularly prescient around the main focus of most Christmases: my grandparents. I love my grandparents on my mother’s side very dearly, and yet, for several Christmases after I came out to my immediate family, I was still locked ﬁrmly in the closet; Christmas was therefore guaranteed to be a tightrope of awkwardness.
If there is one thing non-LGBT+ people struggle to realise, it is just how often you allude to your own sexuality or gender identity with every sentence you say – it is not a case of merely glossing over who you’ve had/would like to have sex with.
Crushes, favourite actors/actresses, social groups, how you spend your time, hobbies, music, ﬁlms, literature – one or other of these is bound to come up in a conversation sooner or later, and, as an awful liar, I recall many bungled attempts at diverting attention away from my (probably rather obvious) queerness.
I still remember vividly my nan asking to take a look at my boxset of Tipping the Velvet and asking why those two women in corsets were sitting so closely to one another. Or that time when, while watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special, I automatically remarked on how I would very much like to have Katherine Jenkins as my very own, only to stutteringly add ‘as my duet partner’ as my mother frantically ﬂapped her hands and my little brother guffawed mightily in the corner.
Last year was my very ﬁrst Christmas after coming out to them. It was a relief, a freedom-filled joy, to be able to honestly answer ‘So, what have you been up to?’ with the truth rather than dodging the question, to be able to speak without fear of something incriminating falling out of my mouth. They may not have been one hundred percent okay with the whole situation, but I wasn’t lying any more – and it’s the lying that carries the weight.[pullquote]I recall many bundled attempts at diverting attention away from my queerness.[/pullquote]
However, just when we feel that the closet doors have swung open for me and my family, never to close again – a new twist to this Christmas tale: not long ago, my mother took me and my little brother out for coffee – and told us that she is gay.
So, as my family’s queerness apparently grows, we are faced with a Christmas more interesting than perhaps any other faced before. My parents will, due to their living arrangements, be celebrating Christmas together yet separated; while my grandparents know about the separation, they do not know about my mother’s coming out; and then there’s me, their out and openly bisexual granddaughter, who is no longer hiding behind my own closet door but helping my mother to come to terms with hers.
I hope that, while this Christmas is bound to throw up some difficulties, I’ll be able to help her road be a little less bumpy than my own was. I know that we’ll be okay in the end; not to draw upon cliché (okay, maybe a little bit) but as the great poet Gloria Gaynor once said: ‘I will survive’.
Because it will be an interesting time for us all, but, hey, it is Christmas.