“Do they know?” I muttered to my partner, Ash, as we take a brief pause in the threshold of their grandmother’s home, our hands held tight through thick mittens.
Three words, totally innocuous to most, but to me and so many queer people during this time of year, it is the first question on the flow chart of quandaries that define the way we are allowed to act while passing the mashed potatoes. How much of myself I am allowed to reveal? Am I required to be the roommate, a gal pal with a penchant for flannel, too many tattoos and a men’s hair cut, or allowed to be my true self?
In many ways, these are negotiations of privilege compared to some of our fellow queers who are ostracized by their families.
A dread-filled rumble settles into the collective queer chest in early November when staring down the docket of two months of family time, work parties, and festivities. While queer people have to negotiate the murky water of identity and safety all year, the holidays are a reminder for many of us that it’s not safe to be our true selves with those we share biology with.
My partner and I run a bed and breakfast, Thistle’s Summit, in Mount Vernon, Iowa that we affectionately call “Iowa’s Queerest Bed and Breakfast.” It is a place designed for queer people and their allies, run by queer people. Our breakfast conversations on any given morning range from dispelling the myth that Iowa is a solidly red state, to guests coming out over baked eggs. It was no surprise to us, that months in advance, our home was booked on Thanksgiving Day. Throughout the weekend we had queer couples coming to celebrate with their chosen families and bringing their whole selves.
As you tuck into your dinners or trim your tree, remember that you have the choice to be an ally. The holidays can be an opportunity for you to show your support and love for your queer relatives, even if you don’t think they need it. Use their correct pronouns and chosen name. If you are unsure of the pronouns that someone uses, ask them in private, don’t call them out over the pineapple ham. Be willing to listen and learn. You may be surprised at the profound connection that happens from just allowing people space to speak. Follow up with a thoughtful and loving text message after, but don’t stop there, reach out when queer issues take center stage in the political sphere to show your support.
All of my fellow queers who feel a lump in their throat about holiday plans: Holidays are holidays for you, not just a time to please your family. If it feels too hard to celebrate with your family, you are allowed to opt out. Create your own meaningful and beautifully queer traditions by yourself or with those you love. If you attend, you are absolutely allowed to correct your aunt when she calls your partner your “friend.” You are allowed to have an exit plan or a friend on speed dial to help you through tougher moments. You don’t have to shrink your queerness for the comfort of others, but you are absolutely allowed to keep parts of yourself private if you are not ready to show them off or if it isn’t safe for you.
Everyone is equally entitled to joy and I hope you find and foster so much this holiday season.
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Marti Payseur (she/her/hers) is the co-owner of Thistle’s Summit Bed & Breakfast located in Mount Vernon, Iowa. It is affectionately called “Iowa’s Queerest B&B.” She is a community activist, organizing around LGBTQ and feminist issues for One Iowa. She also makes a legendary sea salt chocolate chip cookie.