Self-help

Holiday Survival Guide: For the LGBTQIA+ Person Whose Family Doesn’t Get It

The holiday season can create unique challenges for LGBTQIA+ folks as they navigate family gatherings where their family members just don’t *get* it. For example, they may not fully understand your gender expression or sexual identity. They may not embrace it or even flat-out disapprove, which can be extremely disheartening.  From subtle microaggressions to harsh […]

jocelyn moyet grow therapy By Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

x icon linked-in icon facebook icon instagram icon

The holiday season can create unique challenges for LGBTQIA+ folks as they navigate family gatherings where their family members just don’t *get* it. For example, they may not fully understand your gender expression or sexual identity. They may not embrace it or even flat-out disapprove, which can be extremely disheartening. 

From subtle microaggressions to harsh outright discrimination, many queer people find the idea of spending time with family members who might not be supportive of their queer identities incredibly daunting. Pronoun misuse, awkward conversations, and passive-aggressive digs can contribute to a sense of isolation and frustration during the holidays.

Here are six tips for LGBTQIA+ people this season: 

1. Remember, emotional labor is not your responsibility

Although we’d like to be able to get narrow-minded or judgemental people to act differently, this isn’t always possible. “Don’t feel like it’s your responsibility to teach them or get them to listen to your side of things or anything like that,” says Marti Moron, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy. 

You may ask yourself if family members trying to have discussions with you are coming from a genuine place of wanting to understand, and then, if you feel like you have the space and bandwidth, you can engage, Moron says. This emotional labor of educating others about LGBTQIA+ struggles, terminology, and experiences can be super draining, and again, it is not your responsibility to do this – although you may want to if you feel like your family members truly want to learn. 

However, unfortunately, the situation won’t always be this positive. “If you feel overwhelmed or feel like they’re just attacking you or saying ignorant things, don’t feel like you have to engage with them,” she adds.

If you feel overwhelmed or feel like they're just attacking you or saying ignorant things, don't feel like you have to engage with them.

- Marti Moron, LCSW

2. Have strong boundaries

Go into the family gatherings with a plan of boundaries, and remember that it’s important to stick to them. “Be very strong with your boundaries. If they start to bring up things that you’re uncomfortable talking about, shut it down,” Moron says. “Change the subject, walk away, or do whatever you have to do for yourself.” 

Moron suggests using these phrases to redirect the conversation:

3. Validate your emotions and have self-compassion

We can’t sugarcoat it: these situations of family conflict and judgment can suck. It can be really emotionally taxing and hurtful. Take a step back and notice your emotions. Are you feeling angry? Sad? Judged? It’s important to acknowledge and validate how you’re feeling.  

“It can feel so disappointing, overwhelming, and disheartening. Recognize that this is a completely valid way to feel,” Moron says. Once you’ve validated your emotions, it’s time to practice self-compassion, which means being kind to yourself. 

You may think of self-compassion as treating yourself and caring for yourself the way you would a loved one. Offer yourself grace and forgiveness, speaking to yourself with kindness. Self-compassion also involves the concept of “common humanity” over isolation. It can be all too easy to get swept up in emotion and feel like you’re the only person in the world dealing with this problem when that’s far from the truth. 

4. Identify a safe person and lean on them

Hopefully, in your family, there is at least one person who is fully understanding and accepting of you. Maybe it’s someone who is LGBTQIA+ themselves, or it could be someone who is a compassionate ally. Either way, identifying a “safe” person can help you feel better going into the family gathering. Pull that person aside for a chat when you feel triggered, sad, or angry. You can simply sit together in a separate room or walk around the block to feel more regulated.

If you don’t have a safe person physically present, you can identify a friend who you can call or text when tension is running high. You may want to tell them ahead of time to be “on call,” and then if you’re having a difficult time, you can text or FaceTime them to vent and feel seen and supported. 

5. Have a gathering with your chosen family

“Chosen family” has always been important in the LGBTQIA+ community. Sadly, many people in the queer community do not have supportive families who accept their sexual preferences and/or gender identities. A chosen family is made up of people who truly *get* you and love and accept you. In addition to your not-so-pleasant family holiday gathering, you can plan a holiday get-together with your chosen family. This will give you something to look forward to and get excited about. 

6. Be aware of crisis services

We know that these times can be extremely tough. If you feel like you’re reaching your breaking point and you’re having a mental health crisis, do not hesitate to get help. If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, this is an emergency. The Trevor Project is a great resource for LGBTQIA+ people in crisis. Call them at 1-866-488-7386 or text ‘START’ to 678-678. Alternatively, you can call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

For mental health support during the holidays, therapy is a great option. It can teach you the tools you need to navigate emotionally fraught situations such as this. Grow Therapy can help you find a therapist in your area who accepts your insurance and you can see virtually.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
jocelyn moyet grow therapy Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC

Jocelyn Moyet is a licensed mental health counselor with over 13 years of clinical experience. She specializes in mood disorders, coping skills, relationships, and self-esteem.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

x icon linked-in icon facebook icon instagram icon