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Guide to surviving the holidays for bi or LGBT

Christmas can be the best of times or the worst of times
Family Christmas Tree photo by Thai Huynh

"Please pass the turkey, and by the way, I'm bisexual!" may not be the best way to start off your Christmas dinner, unless you want everyone to choke on their stuffing. Here's some tips for surviving the holidays, with or without your relatives.

Christmas is a holiday when families gather to dysfunctionally spend time together, exchange presents and share a big meal. Even straight people can get exasperated by being in close quarters with family members who criticise, judge, guilt trip, make them regress back 10-30 years of emotional development, then ask why they're not married yet, or if they are, why they haven't had children yet or if they have, why they aren't potty trained by the age of one.

If you are bi, or some other flavor of queer, this annual ritual may be fraught with even more landmines. All together in one room are the relatives that know, the relatives that don't know, the relatives who have whispered it to other relatives then ordered them not to say anything about it to you, the relatives who figured it out when you were 12 but are politely waiting for you to say something first and the relatives who know but are either avoiding you or avoiding the topic, because they don't want to deal with it.

If you haven't come out to your family yet, Christmas might not be the best time to start--especially if you have travelled a long way and can't go home if things get too uncomfortable. On the other hand, if it's the only time you get to see your family, or if you just can't deal with another Don't Ask Don't Tell family holiday: let it fly, but have a backup plan, in case things go south. If you are visiting out of town relatives, make sure you have a sister, a friend or a motel nearby where you can go, in case staying where you planned is not an option.

If there is a relative who knows and supports you, call them ahead of time and let them know you'd like them to have your back if things get rough at Christmas. Depending on whether you're planning to be out and proud, or trying to fly under the radar to keep the peace, your backup should be someone you can count on to defend you should you need it, or change the subject if you're trying to keep things low key and someone is starting to pry. Sit together so you can give a nudge or a look if you need help, or work out a signal in advance.

If you'd rather fight your own battles, but need a hug afterwards, make sure your backup person is on standby.

Some people have issues with brothers or sisters who don't want them to mention their bisexuality in front of the kids because they're afraid it is catching or think the subject is too adult. But what do you do when the kids ask, "Uncle Ray, are you gay?" Kids these days aren't as sheltered as they used to be. Gay and bisexual characters populate TV and movie screens all the time. In my opinion, if the kid asks, they deserve an answer. Especially if they are in junior high, high school or older. But the answer should be age appropriate, simple and PG.

If there's no one you can count on who will be in attendance, have a friend on speed dial who has been alerted you may need to call for support or who will call to check up on you and see how you're doing. Since lots of people ignore their phone during family reunions or leave their cell in their purse or jacket in another room, give your friend a heads up before the big day so they make sure to keep their phone in reach.

If you're bringing your same-sex girlfriend, boyfriend or partner for the first time, be prepared for questions or being ignored. Your family has known you for a long time and it may take them a while to get used to something new they weren't expecting. On the other hand, some families are completely comfortable right away. Bringing a dish, a hostess gift, gifts for the kids or gifts for everyone from both of you can help people accept the new person more readily and give people something to talk about besides the elephant in the room.

If your family has disinvited you for Christmas, first of all, my heart goes out to you and I hope that by next year, you will be invited again. Sometimes parents just need to get over the shock. But here are some other options. If you have a special someone you're dating, spend Christmas together or visit their family. If you have a friend in the same boat as you, cook dinner together or go out to a restaurant or diner for dinner, or a Chinese restaurant, which are usually open since it is not a Chinese holiday. You can visit your local LGBT bar or restaurant where other Christmas refugees are congregated. Some people use the time off from work to take a trip or to meditate or go to a movie. You could volunteer at a soup kitchen, Gods Love We Deliver or a Meals on Wheels type program for seniors or the sick. You could organize a Christmas potluck for friends who are also Christmas orphans (and your Jewish & Buddhist friends) on actual Christmas or the day after. Or you could have a drinks & dessert party for New Year's. Just ask all your guests to bring a dessert and something they'd like to drink, whether it's wine, juice, soda or a liqueur.

If you are the parent and have recently come out to your grown kids, whether they are taking it in stride or freaking out, they need reassurance that you are still the same parent you always were, and sharing Christmas family traditions may be reassuring to them. They need to know that although some things about you are changing, your relationship with them will always remain the same.

In my family, my bisexuality was never a cause of contention at holidays, but we managed to fight anyway, then make up and enjoy each other's company, along with good food. Now that my parents have died, my brother has told me several times, just how tired he is of hearing about all things bisexual. He is all for LGBT rights and has come into town for Bi Lines, my big bi arts event of the year, twice--and plans to come again this year. He just gets tired of hearing me talk about anything to do with the "B" word. So around him, I try to tone it down. And I now know that if I ever mention that any particular famous person we are discussing was bisexual, he will say, "I dont care!" So, as much as I love him, I always have a friend on speed dial I can call after one of his visits. However, he is in another state and is not coming down for Christmas this year, it's just me and my son, who has grown up and moved out. Christmas will be a great time for us to reconnect, catch up and just spend some time together.

This year, I'll be making Christmas brunch, then we'll open our presents by the light of the Christmas tree and have a good, long conversation. Since he'll be coming to my place, we will be in my bi environment with things that make me feel comfortable: all my bisexual books, bi flag, photos of "bicons" and queer kitchen magnets. Plus my Hanukah menorahs (my family was Jewish but we celebrated Christmas too.) After that, we'll be meeting his girlfriend to see the Christmas windows or a movie.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, or at least get through it with your sanity.

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