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Dec 16, 2021

The secret to happy holidays when you're queer

Tradition is the watchword at this time of year. But if your relationship doesn't fit the mould, here's how to stay merry

By Abby Moss

Let’s face it, the holidays can be a time when heteronormativity and traditional relationship styles take the limelight. Whether that’s Christmas ads featuring traditional family meals or movies with cosy couples opening their presents under the tree, it can feel like an alienating time for people who don’t fit the heterosexual or monogamous mould.

The holidays can also put a lot of pressure on LGBTQA+ and poly folks to decide where and how to celebrate and with whom. For people who aren’t out about their sexuality or their relationship dynamic to their families, there’s the difficult decision about whether to do this during the holiday season or whether to keep it quiet, which in turn can mean feeling like you’re being forced to choose either your family or your partner(s).

Not only that, for polyamorous people like myself, the holidays are a logistical nightmare. When you’re more than two people in a relationship, choosing how to spend the holidays involves an even greater degree of complication and compromise. Who is going to host? If you’re lucky enough to have a family who accept your relationship, do you invite everyone (and end up hosting a potentially very large party) or do you pick one family to invite or visit… and in that case, who? And how do you deal with family members who get upset because they’ve been left out of your plans? The whole thing makes me tempted to lock the door and drink eggnog alone in my pyjamas all day.

But before you turn into the Grinch, don’t panic. We’ve got some advice on how to survive the holidays and how to navigate any potentially tricky conversations or situations that might arise.

How to set and maintain boundaries during the holidays

It can be tempting to let your usual boundaries slide during the holidays, or to agree to things that you usually wouldn’t want to do (attending your cousin’s kid’s school nativity play anyone?). Nobody wants to be blamed for ‘ruining the holidays’, and the pressure to have a good time and to be filled with seasonal cheer can easily lead to us doing or saying things just to keep the peace or keep family members happy.

And while this might be ok up to a point, it’s important to remember that your personal boundaries are always valid and deserve to be respected.

A problem that LGBTQA+ and poly people often encounter is invasive questions about our sex lives – because we don’t fit into what some people think of as the ‘norm’, people often feel it’s appropriate to ask questions that they would never ask a heterosexual or monogamous person. Throw a bit of holiday booze into the mix and you’re likely to get a lot more of these awkward interrogations. It’s very possible to deflect these questions if you’re not comfortable answering them. Try some of these:

‘I don’t like to talk about that part of my relationship.’
‘I like to keep my sex life to myself.’
‘I don’t feel very comfortable talking about that.’
‘My partner(s) and I prefer to keep that side of our relationship private.’

You might also find yourself in a conversation with someone who, perhaps in a very well-meaning way, just wants to understand your sexuality, identity or dynamic. Even if their questions are coming from a good place, you don’t have to feel obliged to answer. You might just not feel like educating somebody right now and that’s fine (it’s the holidays after all and anyway you’re not the whole world’s free sex educator). In that situation, here are some handy responses:

‘It’s quite a big topic and I don’t really think we can get into it properly now. If you like I can recommend some books/websites/TV programmes/articles that might answer some of your questions.’

‘It’s quite emotionally demanding for me to explain that and now isn’t a good time for me to go into it.’ (You might want to add: ‘Would you mind if we chatted about this another time?’).

‘I appreciate your curiosity and open-mindedness, but there are lots of people who are better at explaining these issues than me. If you go online you can find lots of great stuff on this topic.’

How to deal with your bigoted uncle

So far, we’ve been talking about navigating the holidays with fairly open-minded friends and relatives but sadly this time of year can sometimes force us into contact with people we’d really rather avoid altogether. How can we deal with people who are actively bigoted, hateful and prejudiced?

In this case, I’d say the answer is pretty simple: don’t feel obliged to put up with these people at all. State your objections to other family members, explain that this person makes you feel uncomfortable or upset and explain that you are not willing to spend time around them.

Being around people who are prejudiced can be especially harmful to our mental health and wellbeing during the holidays because we can feel pressure to ‘get along’ or to not ‘spoil things’, which can make us feel silenced and add to feelings of oppression that we might already be struggling with. But keeping quiet in the face of hatred and bigotry perpetuates harmful beliefs and can leave us feeling belittled, guilty or ashamed – why should you be expected to feel this way, just so that your homophobic relative can enjoy their mince pies and turkey without feeling awkward? It can be tough to do this, but try to use the holiday period as a time to advocate for yourself – by raising this during the holidays, you can hopefully help others to see exactly how harmful prejudiced views can be.

Embrace queer Christmas

It’s time for a shoutout for queer Christmas movies. Happiest Season is Kristen Stewart’s film about a woman who brings her girlfriend home for the holidays, then there’s Carol, featuring Cate Blanchett, which is set in the 1950s and tells the story of a Yuletide romance between a woman going through a divorce and a young shop girl. If full-on-cheesy Hallmark movies are your thing, check out The Christmas House, which features a gay couple struggling to adopt.

This year, there have been some surprisingly good new Christmas movies on Netflix too, such as Love Hard, which whilst not strictly about queer experiences, does challenge a lot of the patriarchal assumptions that Christmas brings to the fore (come for the small-town feel-good plot; stay for the consent-positive re-writing of Baby, It’s Cold Outside).

And if you haven’t already seen it, definitely check out the super heartwarming ad that Norway’s postal service released this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Norway (yes, it has a gay Santa).

This can be a great way to remind yourself that the holiday season isn’t all heteronormative monogamy and nuclear families. And while the examples above clearly aren’t the norm and society still has a long way to go in terms of creating genuine equality for LGBTQA+ and poly folks, it’s nice to be reminded at Christmas that progress is happening, little by little, year by year.

Host Friend-mas

Some of my most fun Christmases have been spent with friends. The holidays can be a great time to get together with chosen family and to show your friends and the people in your community what they mean to you.

I often host what I like to call ‘straggler Christmas’ – essentially I put out a call on WhatsApp to see who doesn’t have plans for the holidays in my extended friendship group. It’s a great way to bring friends together who might not have met before and to bring your group closer together. Everyone brings a dish, a bottle or a board game, or whatever they can.

Although it can seem intimidating to break from tradition (or from what others might expect of you) at this time of year, doing your own thing during the holidays can be a great way to learn about the importance of chosen family.  

Another great alternative to the traditional family Christmas (and one even your most conservative grandparent is going to have a hard time taking issue with) is volunteering. There are loads of organisations, from homeless shelters to food delivery initiatives for older people who need more help during the holiday season. Google volunteering opportunities in your local area or search the websites of some of the big UK charities such as Shelter to find out how you can help.

Ultimately, the holidays can throw a lot of things up in the air for LGBTQA+ and poly people, but they can also be a time of great positivity and self-realisation. Choosing to do what’s right for you during a time redolent with so much social pressure to conform to tradition can be really liberating.

Happy queer holidays everyone!

Abby Moss is a freelance journalist specialising in sex, relationships, and feminism. She lives in London with her partners and their growing animal menagerie, and can be found on Instagram @abbyrmoss


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