As we speak there are LGBTQ+ all over the world who will not be spending Christmas with their families this year, for many they are no longer welcome. They have been cursed at, cast out, rejected, made to feel like they don’t belong and even disowned.
Even for those that are returning home, sometimes it is not to an environment where they can be free to be fully themselves, avoiding outing yourself the family members that you haven’t come out to yet or navigating the minefield of sensitive conversations. Christmas can be a tricky time of year.
For me, Christmas is one of my favourite times of year. I love it all - the festive cheer, the colourful lights, the elegant (and often cheesy) window displays all give me reasons to be jolly. Coming from a family of 7, Christmas has always been a time surrounded by family. My family for the most is accepting but as most LGBTQ+ will know, there are minefields to navigate, conversations that get borderline homophobic and, in my case, coming from a very religious family, there were always aspects and topics that would be avoided.
Not ideal, but certainly not something that impacted me or detracted from the merriment. This is mild in comparison to the fact that many cannot return home at all or if they do they are subject to very uncomfortable situations and conversations, even blatant bigotry and homophobia. A recent study by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) has identified that there is a direct link between heterosexism, homophobia and suicidality.
“Most of my self-harming is related to the fact that my family are so disgusted with me for being gay and have shut me out constantly ever since I came out, asked me not to come home for Christmas, not ‘advertise’ my lesbian-ness, etc. I knew they were homophobic and that’s why I didn’t come out to them until I was 27, even though I’d been out to some of my friends since I was 14. While they haven’t rejected me completely, they make it very difficult for me to be around them and while they support all the heterosexual relationships of my siblings, they change the subject at any mention of my homosexual relationships. I most want to kill myself when I’m visiting them or after talking to them on the phone. Living away [from home] really helps (Lesbian, Female, 30, Survey Participant).”
For this reason and others there is tradition known as “Orphans Christmas” where those (not just LGBTQ+) that cannot return home to their families for Christmas gather. They gather to celebrate the season and create a festive family of their own. A family based on acceptance, where one is free to be their true authentic self.
This year might be a little different with us all moving in and out of lockdown but none the less even more important to surround yourself with those that support you and connect fully with yourself Let’s look at some of the things you can do to keep well and make the most of the holidays.
Combating Loneliness this Christmas Tips
1. Join a group
Look for local groups or societies that you might have interest in. Ever wanted to upskill or learn a new language? Now might be the time. Many sites such as www.meetup.com have LGBTQ+ friendly groups and activities local to your area that you might be able to participate in online or socially distanced.
Volunteering can also be a great way to meet new people and give you some festive joy knowing you are helping those in need. Check out the volunteering section on LGBT.ie, gayproject.ie or belongto.org for some of the ways to give, not just this season but all year round.
2. Talk to someone
They say a problem shared is a problem halved. Reach out and talk. Talk about your feelings, the weather, the Christmas ads, whatever it is, engaging is important and can work wonders for your mental health.
Suffering from mental health issues is hard enough without adding isolation to the mix. LGBT.ie offer a confidential helpline and online messaging service for anyone who might need an ear to listen.
3. Treat yourself
This was the first thing that most people said helped them feel a little Christmas cheer. We all have something that we do that gives us a little endorphin hit. What is it for you? Cinema, food, walking, dancing or visiting interesting places (where possible), a hot bath, a new album, baking a delicious cake or perfectly manicured nails.
Whatever your fancy, go the extra mile just for you. Make yourself feel like royalty and do it guilt free, go on you deserve it, it’s been a rough year, take a breath and treat yourself.
4. Find your family
Surround yourself with those that are supportive, caring and positive influences. They will be the wind to your seasonal sails. If you don’t have a family to go home to, friends and getting involved in activities are more important than ever this time of year. Get those dusty board games out, string up the lights and laugh until you cry, that’s the seasons true joy.
5. Let the light in
We all love duvet days with Netflix and if you are feeling low going outside might be the last thing that you want to do, but too much vegging out alone is never good for the soul.
Get out into the crisp winter air, breath it in and fill up your lungs. Take a walk in your local park or a quick stroll through the streets, just being outside in the sunshine can do wonders for your mental health. It refreshes the senses and helps to change your perspective. Be kind, to body and mind. If you unable to leave make sure you open the curtains and windows, let the air and the light in.
The most important thing to remember this season is happiness comes from within. Mindfulness and self-awareness can make this season much brighter for those that would otherwise struggle through.
If you know someone who might be alone this Christmas, reach out, acts of kindness can go a long way and might just be the best gift you give this Christmas.
The aim of BeProud is to build an inclusive and safe network that empowers self-belief and confidence, where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.
We do this through confidential personal and professional support, collaborating and developing strong relationships with other LGBTQ+ networks and actively driving conversations on crucial LGBTQ issues internally and on our digital platforms. For more information on BeProud visit our Diversity and Inclusion section.