Christmas - The survival game
Posted on 30 Nov 2018

I love Christmas. That time of year when dodgy tunes from decades past are unceremoniously regurgitated a nanosecond after bonfire night. When the shops go crazy for our attention and camp it up, and DFS feels the need to advertise once more - surprise surprise, a never-before, once-in-a-lifetime sale! It’s that cosy time of year when we rush out in our thousands to buy hundreds of presents that the recipients, in the main, will never use or really want, too polite to actually say so but discreetly making returns or hiding them away nevertheless. We stuff, we gorge and we over-indulge, no matter how earnestly we’ve promised to be good. There’s a new year just around the corner, after all, complete with the chance to make some life-enhancing resolutions.

Christmas is also camp. As camp as, well, Christmas. It’s nostalgia on speed, and I for one can’t get enough of it.

Yet Christmas can also be something of a mixed blessing. Christmas in the Spinks family household has always been a bit of an awkward affair. It’s an occasion when a fractured, complex family come together under one roof, and through  politeness and tradition are forced to be convivial. I love my family - my mum’s husband excluded - but over the years the need to return home to sit through Christmas Day has finally begun to take its toll. Now my sister, recently married, has her own house, so traditions have changed. We go to hers for Christmas Eve for a few hours of pleasantries and amazing party food, while on the big day itself, we all stay at our own places. It’s a deal that’s a suitable compromise for each of us, having all grown weary of the peacekeeping. I was the first to break the mould, as far back as 2000, when I didn’t come home from uni in London, opting instead to stay with my international housemates. We said ‘fuck you’ to tradition and cooked barbecued chicken and homemade chips, watched Titanic and drank enough to kill off our livers. Forgoing tradition worked for me then and works for me now, and I know I’m not alone.

Many of my LGBTQ mates find Christmas a real slog too. Going back to the family ranch always seems to be the hardest part, with many of us reluctantly boarding trains with a sense of stomach-churning dread. Yet despite this, we still submit to the family pressure to return home. It’s a three-line whip, and one we don’t ignore. But what do we return to? A distinctly heteronormative set up? We don’t want to be rude, ungrateful or unloving, yet we don’t always fit into this family norm. Our world has become so different to that of our straight relatives. Walking through the door of the childhood home can place your carefully crafted life of hard work, hard socialising, hard-won freedoms and recently discovered identity temporarily on pause. Going home can be like regressing back to your childhood self; to the imposed straight jacket which you fought for years to break out of. It is, after all, where so many of us first discovered we loved our same sex, a fact which we then kept hidden as we conformed, performed and struggled to breathe.
So how do we survive the festive period now? Asking my mates and trawling Google provided me with plenty of surprising suggestions, the best of which, for me, begins at the beginning...

Firstly, get your shit sorted. Prepare your mental state before setting off home. Give yourself time to re-plate your armour. Catch up with friends and plan when you’ll next meet up, get out for a walk to clear your head, taking a moment to pause. Mindfulness is a great way for slowing yourself down and finding perspective. Creating the time to arrive at the family home calm, in control and ready to face these challenges is the best set up you can give yourself. Once you’re feeling ready, plan your game. How long are you going to stay? A few hours, a couple of days, a week? Have your game planned out and stick to it. This gives you the control. You are the master of your own destiny, unlike your childhood self. Create opportunities throughout your stay to give yourself a break. Go for a walk, visit friends who’re returning to the neighbourhood, catch up with your childhood crush! Ultimately, when the duties are done and you’ve reached your limit, leave.

Duck, dive and be bold. Think about who will be there during your stay. Who are the trouble makers, the wise crackers, the piss takers? Every family has them.  There’s guaranteed to be an awkward moment when someone makes an inappropriate gay joke, or an innuendo that goes unchallenged. Sometimes it’s simply the silence of not talking about your life at all - the silence of reinforced shame - as your prodigal brother or sister passes your newborn niece or nephew to your parents like a victory trophy. One of my mates was talking about how often in these settings he feels disempowered. So last year he changed tack. He talked more openly about his life. He was assertive but not rude when his uncle was a dick. Surprisingly, it worked. His lesson: don’t be afraid to be yourself. Talk about your life, because you’ve fought hard to create it.

Don’t worry, dear, someone will want you! If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times from my mum and aunts, all of whom fail to understand that I’m quite happy with my Scruff habit thanks! Take a deep breath. They’ll never understand, nor do I need them to.

Failing that, you could do as my family now do. Create your own Christmas. Fuck tradition. Tradition is only tradition because someone started to do something and it hasn’t changed since. Every tradition had to begin with a change. We can’t choose our blood family, but many LGBTQ people have created a second family of their own choosing. It may be that staying at home with your mates over Christmas and having your own camped-up festive feast is the best a girl can have. Give yourself the gift of Christmas Future and start your own traditions.

Whatever and however you choose to do Christmas this year, have a bloody fantastic one. After all, you deserve it. ‘Merry Christmas, everyone!’


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