How to handle hateful households during holidays

The only thing that is consistent in life and especially around the holidays is our family’s constant crap. From the passive aggressive body shaming, to constant badgering about your dating life, and even just straight up political debates that then snowball into wars. No matter your race, creed, class, sexuality or political stance, everybody at some point is less than ecstatic to visit their relatives. 

But sadly almost always, you have no choice. Whether you’re being dragged along or it’s your house that’s hosting, you will have to see them, so here is an article written from years of experience that hopefully can help. 

Quick content warning. This article does describe self harm, food and eating disorders, body shaming and other sensitive topics. If you think any of these things might trigger, harm or upset you, please go read another article. 

The first thing I want to cover is food. Food, especially here in the Midwest, is how we show love. But sadly not everyone really feels that love when they go to holiday dinners. 

There always seems to be the uncle that makes a sly comment about how much you put on your plate, even though he’s on his third helping, or the aunt who has to push you to slap more onto your plate because of your “skin and bones frame” even though your pretty sure she could use a hair tie as a hula hoop. 

The point is no one is ever happy with how much YOU are eating even though it’s none of THEIR business, and this is where eating disorders spawn. Suddenly that uncle can’t say much because his words can only equate to the amount on your plate, and if there’s nothing there, his voice is silenced. 

Or the aunt who once shamed your thin frame now looks confused as you scarf down everything before excusing yourself after every meal. Food, which is not only a source of life but for many a source of comfort, soon becomes the enemy as you eat too much or not at all. 

Again your habits at family dinners are questioned but no longer because of a need for control in your life; now they are questioned because of how rapidly your body is withering. 

Sure you may have gained weight but fat doesn’t mean being fed. You have gained some because your body never knows when it will be able to digest it’s next meal, so it stores it up to keep you alive, or maybe you have so rapidly lost weight that nobody knows you are sick because every time you deny yourself a meal, you’re awarded another kiss from your grandmother who is just so proud to see you “finally taking care of yourself.” 

My advice here is simple. I know you can’t just ignore them and the hardest relationship to mend is one with yourself, but try to mend your relationship with food as best you can. If anyone makes a comment on your plate and it’s contents no matter what they are, do what you can to stand up for yourself. Tell them that this is how much you need at the moment. 

If it’s bigger, say you don’t feel like fighting others for the food later, or you don’t want your favorite things to run out so you just grabbed them all now. If it’s smaller, say you don’t feel like having everything at once and want to pace yourself throughout the night or that you had a big lunch of snacks while helping your relatives cook. 

Neither of these excuses are perfect and they won’t always diffuse people, but they can help a bit and will shut a few people up. Remember you don’t have to earn food and you only have to eat as much your body wants. No more no less.

Following that train of thought, the next problem with most holiday gatherings is diets. We all have that one sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, someone in the family who has a new diet every year, and if you don’t, surprise, it’s you. However it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s medical like allergies or heart problems or epilepsy, and other times it’s just a weird fad diet or a new personality thing, and that’s OK. 

The people who are experimenting with their diets aren’t the problem. The problem is the anti-dieters. Especially around here, the holidays aren’t exactly kind to vegetarians, vegans or people with celiacs. With bacon on all the veggies, stuffing in the turkey and family members who aren’t always excited to accommodate, it’s hard to be on any of these diets. 

Sure, if it’s just a choice, you can just bite the bullet, or, well, the turkey leg I guess, but if it’s for medical reasons like a heart condition causing you to cut out meat due to the salt content; well, you’re kinda screwed, so my only advice here is if you can’t bring your own food, use ultimatums. 

Put your foot down and stand your ground. Even if it’s not medically necessary, your choices should be respected and you should have options. Refuse to go; force yourself into conversations about the menu if it is a formally planned one. Make sure that in some way you will have something to eat. 

Moving away from food, the thing we all at one point dread is the constant barrage of questions about our personal lives from family members. Sure, sometimes they ask because they haven’t seen you in a while, but far too often are the questions being asked by people who have no business knowing the answer. 

One minute you’re answering your grandmother’s innocent if anything annoying questions about your dating life, and the next minute you’re being harassed by your mom’s second cousin about whether or not you have ever gotten to fifth base. Not really the conversation to have over eggnog if you catch my drift. 

But there is almost no way to avoid these scenarios because, sadly, we cannot control others and make them behave how we would like. 

But there are ways to disarm the situation, so my advice is whenever someone asks you a question about your personal life that could lead to a fight, or if it just makes you uncomfortable, use this tactic to get out of actually answering. 

For example: “Hey, so I noticed you still don’t have a boyfriend. Why is that?” Try answering with “I’ve been to busy with school. Besides isn’t *cousin* still single?” 

While it may seem backhanded and snarky, remember they probably aren’t asking about your love life for actual conversation. Short, quick remarks are the best way to shut these types of conversations down because they are usually looking for gossip, and if you don’t give them any, they will most likely leave you alone and gripe about your attitude to your mom, but, hey, that’s a lot better than them spreading your business. 

Next, the big one, the one everyone jokes about: Politics and current news. For most people, it’s just one uncle with a big mouth or a grandma who never changed with the times, even though she lived through them, but someone always has to say something that starts the political debate. 

No matter what side you take, politics almost always spoils dinner since almost no one can ever agree about anything, so my best advice in this situation is to get something loud. No seriously, go to Walmart or somewhere similar and get a megaphone with a siren and anytime someone tries to say something political, hit the switch. This also works for people misgendering/deadnaming you or family members. However, if a megaphone is a bit extreme, a spray bottle always does the trick. Because let’s face it, no one cares about uncle Gary’s political rant over pie. 

Lastly, I want to go over something for LGBTQIA+ people. The holidays are scary, and unlike other minority groups, our families are the most likely people to attack us at these times. 

If you’ve been in SAGA, you are already in the discord group, and if you are not, please come find or email Susan Langan for the link. It is a safe place with resources for getting out of a bad home, suicide hotlines, but the most important recourse is other queer folks. 

We, your community, are here for you, and we hope you’ll come to us if you need to but that isn’t much for advice, so here is my advice for the holidays. 

If you are out, be loud, be strong, don’t let them deadname you or misgender you “just cause they’re family.” Family should respect you. You should be allowed to bring your partner/s to dinner like anyone else in the family,  and you shouldn’t have to wear something you hate just to make others comfortable, and you shouldn’t have to change your wording about your partner just to avoid a lecture or a fight. 

Advocate for yourself, and stand up for your cousins and siblings who don’t feel comfortable standing up for themselves. Not all family members will fight you. Some will accept, so defense is not always necessary, but if you know something different about your family, be ready to protect those you know need love and support. 

And for those who are still closeted either for saftey, fear or you just aren’t ready, know that you are still valued, and no matter where you are in your journey, your identity is still valid. 

Therefore, my only advice for you is to be safe and know that you always have people at your disposal who know what it’s like. 

Remember, none of these should be followed if you know it will end in physical consequences. And although they can help, if you are in a dangerous situation, please contact the proper authorities or if you can, please see a therapist. 

Happy Holidays. Godspeed guys.

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