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BY PRESTON MITCHUM
Preston Mitchum – a Washington, D.C.-based essayist, activist and policy nerd – wrote this piece for The Root online. He has written for The Atlantic, Ebony.com, Huffington Post, ThinkProgress, Hello Beautiful and The Grio.
Each December, I get excited about the idea of the upcoming holiday season–from Christmas music to baked goods to buying presents for loved ones; it is an enjoyable time for many people. This year has been no different.
But it also does not escape me that the holiday season can be a difficult time for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living at the intersection of race, gender and poverty. Many people are rejected and removed from their homes just for being bold enough to be who we are.
Try as we might, the holiday season does not change the very real fact that a vast majority of LGBT people are mistreated inside the homes by the same people gathering around the dinner table during the holiday season who are expecting those acts to be forgotten. For many LGBT people, we are made to feel bad about intentionally distancing ourselves from hostile family members because we have been force-fed that “blood is thicker than water.”
Living that lie becomes our truth.
This past Saturday, as I was heading to a friend’s birthday party, I had an interesting conversation with an Uber driver about sexuality, family and the holiday season. The driver asked about my upcoming holiday plans, and my response was simply, “I’ll likely stay here and do some writing.”
He then inquired into whether I was from the area. “No, I’m not,” I quickly replied.
The driver looked confused, as if I should naturally want to go home because of family–a black family.
“Well, you should want to be around your family at this time,” he said.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my family–we are loud, vibrant and full of life. Like most families, however, we also uplift the good while ignoring the bad. And like most families, it seems many of us believe that we must remain close because that is tradition even when it hurts.
Asserting that LGBT people must go home for the holidays could, in fact, push us into environments where many LGBT people feel unsafe, unwanted and unloved. It’s triggering to be forced into remembering a childhood where homophobia and transphobia, even unintentional antagonisms, were the standard just because another holiday has rolled around. It’s violent, even.
Rarely do these holiday well-wishers think about the fact that, for some families, it’s not “blood is thicker than water” but, rather, a violent environment where familiar strangers smell blood in the water. So many of us couldn’t wait until we got older because the levels of toxicity in that blood were so high that we could never just be ourselves. The blood meant to sustain us was the poison running through our veins.
When we are experiencing that from inside our own families, we have to make a tough decision: stay around for the sake of family or leave and put ourselves first. As I shared with my Uber driver that night, I chose the latter because choosing to spend the holidays away from family can be an act of love.
Let me be clear: Violence both within and outside the LGBT community is a reality that many of us can’t access the privilege to escape. Most days, being LGBT is more difficult than even an excellently written op-ed can describe.
Sometimes we decide whether to leave or stay in emotionally and psychologically dangerous environments; sometimes our so-called families make that decision for us. And though emotional and psychological violence inside the home may no longer be a factor, being removed from a somewhat stable environment can expose us to more toxicity on the streets. So much so that “courageous” is a word often used to describe us just for being audacious enough to exist in a world that is out to harm us. This is not mere hyperbole.
So we’re forced to discover new ways of safety, usually in the form of like-minded people to whom we don’t have to explain our identities. This means that we build home–a safe, more secure, loving home–right where we are with the families we choose.
Family is not a performance that we pay for with our well-being. Being free from unhealthy relationships is critical, and LGBT people have to give ourselves permission–permission to create our normals and our traditions. We must surround ourselves with love and support, even if these individuals are not part of our blood lineage.
Freedom is the most powerful gift.