The 21st of December is the Winter Solstice: that’s the longest night of the year when light is at its scarcest. It is at this time of maximum axial tilt that those of us living in the northern hemispheres tend to celebrate any number of ceremonies and celebrations focused on this very darkness — and, more specifically, the return of light to the world as the days begin to lengthen and we move ever so slightly towards spring and summer.
Families and friends will gather once more, perhaps lighting a hanukkiah, a menorah, or even a kinara. Many others will celebrate this day alongside a fir tree, handing out gifts to each other to mark the day. Some may be at their church, celebrating a birth said to have occurred some 2000 or so years ago in a manger in Bethlehem. This is a time of celebration, family, warmth and togetherness.
Yet for many of us who are transgender, we are left outside in the cold, come the solstice. Coming out as transgender, even as we move into an era of greater visibility and acceptance, can lead to estrangement from family and long-time friends, leaving us without a familiar outlet to participate in the season’s festivities.
Beyond the estrangement one may feel from relations, those who came up in a religious background may find themselves suddenly outside of their places of worship.
For some, we may be told that the only way we’ll be allowed to be a part of such events is to present within our birth gender, a condition that for many is simply not acceptable. For many — myself included — such fakery would be far more painful than simply not attending.
I grew up in a fairly close family. While we weren’t especially religious, we still made a point to pile into the family car and head to whichever family member was hosting the family Christmas gathering. There, over the scent of overcooked bacon and pancake batter, we would share gifts and enjoy a time of family togetherness.
When I came out as transgender, my mother forbid me to share my transition with my family at large. This meant an end to family gatherings for me. While times have changed, the time for such gatherings has also moved on. Christmas morning will be spent with my wife and me alone. I should add, however, that I am fortunate to have her in my life, as many may have nowhere to turn to this holiday season.
This year, too, is a bit harder than most. We reach the first year under the Trump Administration and have seen the havoc such has caused. For those of us who are transgender, this has meant the on- and off again transgender military ban, the rollback of transgender protections throughout the administration, and even seeing the word “transgender” itself get barred from use within the Department of Health and Human Services. As our visibility grows, we face increasing threats to our very survival at all levels.
All of this can make this time of year a particularly grim one for those of us who exist in this world as transgender people: all these supposed tidings of comfort and joy could ring very hollow when one feels alone during celebrations centered on fellowship.
Yet the solstice may remind us that while things may be dark, the light is growing. We may be facing a dark time, but at the risk of sounding saccharine, these times are only here now, and will not remain as such.
As I mentioned, my own family may not do the big holiday get-together, but I have a partner who loves me to spend the holidays with. I also have a great many chosen family member, friends, and acquaintances I can reach out to for the season. I know that while some of the people I may have shared the holidays with no longer choose to associate with me, I have others in my life that gladly will. There are people out there who will be there for all of us, who will be more than happy to welcome you with open arms in camaraderie this holiday season: you are not alone out in the world.
By the same token, many others and myself are determined to push back against the ravages wreaked by the current political climate. The challenges are steep, but we are still standing and still willing to fight on behalf of us all.
If you feel you are in need, there are places to turn. If you can get online, you’ll find trans people the world over who will be willing to give you the support you may be lacking. There are also numbers you can call if you can’t get to a website — Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 or (877) 330-6366 in Canada — is one good place to reach out, but hardly the only one.
What’s more, if you have a local support group or even a queer community center of some sort, you may be able to find a welcoming face present. Assume that there are people that are willing and wish to help, no matter what.
That’s what I want to leave you with. Just like our days are getting ever so slightly longer, so too is our community growing — and growing in both numbers and in strength. We are here for each other in both large and small ways, and even when we may feel alone, and vulnerable, and threatened, we can be there for each other. Our light will return, stronger than ever.
Gwen Smith makes for a pretty bad zealot. You’ll find her at gwensmith.com.