The Lone Queer’s Survival Guide to Awkward Family Time

Photo Credit GLAAD

Family gatherings can mean a lot of different things to different people. They can be heartwarming, relaxing and joyful. They can also be stressful, overwhelming, and chaotic. And for a queer identity individual, family reunions are often a combination of all of the above.

While gathering with loved ones from near and far usually means a full heart, if you’re queer it can leave you full of anxiety, especially if your family struggles to understand or embrace your queer lifestyle. And if you are queer and Latinx, that anxiety can be even more amplified.  

Latinx Are More Likely To Identify as LGBTQ Than Any Other Ethnicity

Many more Latinx millennials will be dealing with the stress and awkward balancing act of spending time with family who may or may not accept them. According to a recent NBC News article, Latinx millennials are more likely than any other ethnicity to identify as LGBTQ. The GenForward Survey project out of the University of Chicago published a report “Millennial Attitudes on LGBT Issues: Race, Identity, and Experience,” which found that “22 percent of Latino millennials identify as LGBTQ, compared to 14 percent of African-Americans, 13 percent of whites and 9 percent of Asian-Americans.”

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These Latinx millennials — the generation between the ages of 18 and 34 — are more likely to identify as queer, and they are also more likely to be dealing with family members who might not accept who they are. The same survey also found that 61 percent of Latino participants say there is a lot of discrimination against lesbians and gays in their racial community. That number is much higher compared to only 27 percent of whites.

Part of the issue might have to do with more conservative views and rigid social structures within the Latinx community, especially among older generations. But it’s important to push back and stay true to who you are. It’s important to be open with your family, to be gentle and soft and authentic.

Be True To Who You Are and Be True To Your Family

According to Gabby Rivera, a self-proclaimed queer, chubby Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx, allowing yourself to be soft and vulnerable is essential. During a recent TED talk about her latest project, writing Marvel’s solo series for their first-ever Latina lesbian superhero, America Chavez, Rivera explains the importance of being soft, of discovering yourself and of leaning on your family for support and strength. “When you lose yourself, dig deep into your ancestry, because you will find the pieces there,” she says. Connecting with your family, especially if you are queer kid of color trying to find yourself, is crucial. The idea that you have to go through life alone and be tough through tough times “doesn’t serve us” she explains. We need compassion and we need family.

But sometimes, family gatherings can be stressful if you are queer. And family rejection can do a lot of damage.

According to a 2016 study published in LGBT Health, “family rejection increases the odds of substance misuse and suicide attempts in transgender and gender non-conforming people.” And more than that, families that are supportive of queer relatives are 50 percent less likely to harm themselves compared to those whose families are not accepting. So while family reunions can stress out anyone (we’re only human), they can do a long more damage to members of the queer community who aren’t accepted at home.

Family Time is Important For Emotional Health

While family time can be difficult, let’s be clear: family time is important. Social support from loved ones is connected to reduced risk of anxiety and depression, and higher levels of social support from family and friends has also been linked to less chance of death from chronic illness or other health complications, according to Psychology Today. In addition, having positive family relationships and interactions are essential for emotional-physical health and growth. And while we know that not all family time or family relationships can feel positive — especially if you are queer, Latinx and your family struggles to accept you — that family time is still important.

Family Identity BeLatina

The answer is not to avoid all family interactions, but to have a survival guide with life hacks and tricks in place to keep you sane and help you make it through, relatively unscathed. Here are some tips to help guide you through your awkward family time if you’re a queer Latinx and you’re mentally preparing for those potentially traumatizing interactions.

Be Prepared To Discuss Your Life…Within Reason

We can almost guarantee your family members will want to discuss what’s going on in your life, from your relationships to your career to your new lifestyle and pastimes. It’s not just because you’re queer, though it may feel like an interrogation because you are different and living in a way that doesn’t fit into their neatly packaged boxes of straight identities. Your family may have questions and will be curious to know what you are up to, and you should be prepared to talk to them about who you are. But do not feel pressured to share everything or spend your entire family time fielding their intrusive questions. While it’s important to be open and honest, and more importantly, proud of who you are, it’s by no means your job you discuss everything. You’re not on display or on trial and you owe them no explanations, but as a member of the family, you should feel prepared to talk.

Set Boundaries and Learn to Say No

Just because you are going to spend some time with your family does not mean you need to spend all your time with your family. It’s important to set some boundaries in terms of how you spend your time and how much family time you can take. According to Molly Merson, a Berkeley, California based psychotherapist, when we reunite with family we can revert back to old habits, moody behavior and psychological defenses, and the trick to avoiding conflict is setting boundaries. “Everyone has a limit to how much time they can spend with family, and it’s important to know your boundary. You can’t say yes to every family request and expect to survive,” she says in an article for NBC News.

Know when to say no, give yourself a break from the awkward family interactions when you need it, and if things get rough or combative and you need a moment, politely excuse yourself and give yourself a chance to have some peace and quiet.

Find Common Ground

Whether you recently came out to your family, or you are transitioning to another gender, a new identity, a new name, a new look or you are in a new relationship, there will surely be a lot of topics that you and your family will not relate on. There will be new family dynamics and aspects of your life that they might not understand, and that’s okay. But sometimes the key is to focus on what you do share, whether it be memories from childhood, inside family jokes, shared values, shared favorite dishes or hobbies or even just mutual respect. Think about the common ground you have with your family and not what makes you different. While our differences make us who we are, in an awkward family setting it can be hard to connect if you don’t dedicate energy to celebrating what brings you together.

Be Present

From social media to text conversations to work emails and to-do lists, it’s easy to get distracted, especially when you are in an awkward situation or an unpleasant and borderline painful conversation with a relative. Take a deep breath, put your phone down, stop pondering your exit strategy and try to be present in the moment. Focus on what your grandmother is asking you, or what your distant cousin has to say about her most recent breakup. Focus when your mother asks how you are doing at work or if you’re dating anyone special. If your parents seem to be struggling with your new identity or new life, give them a hug. Being present for your loved ones will go a long way in not only avoiding awkward family interactions, but also creating positive connections for the future.

Prepare For The Worst

Some people suck. Even your relatives. Yes, there might be a homophobic family member who just doesn’t get it, or who doesn’t want to accept you for who you are. They might judge, they might insult, they could give disapproving looks and they might try to break you down. Don’t let them. They are not the family members who matter and they don’t define you. Never forget how amazing you are, and ignore the people who make you feel like anything less.

Remember That You Can’t Change People

While you can’t always control how people behave, and you certainly can’t control how people see you and treat you, you can control how you handle yourself. It’s hard to be surrounded by people who are supposed to love you unconditionally, but who may struggle to accept you. But try to have some compassion for them even if they don’t display compassion for you. Remember that they are who they are, and while you can’t change them, you can always take the high road, be yourself and try to have a good relationship with your family to the best of your ability. Consider that some of their perceptions of what it means to be queer may have been going on for generations, and they are trying (and slowly working) to adjust their attitudes. Consider they might be trying to accept you, and they are just struggling to find ways to express that. You’re not under any obligation to let them off the hook, but it will save your sanity and your integrity if you are compassionate with your relatives and yourself.  

Dedicate More Time To The Family Members Who Bring You Joy

If you are in an awkward family gathering with several relatives, both immediate family and more distantly related to you, then you have lots of options in terms of who to talk to and how to spend your time. Dedicate more attention to the family members who make you happy. That doesn’t mean you can totally ignore your disapproving grandfather or you should get into a war of words with your homophobic cousin. But it does mean you should focus more time and energy on catching up with the family members who are genuinely interested in your happiness and who love you for who you are.

Schedule Time For Yourself

In any situation self-care is essential for maintaining your sanity, clearing your head and making you feel your best mentally, emotionally and physically. But where family time is concerned, it’s even more important to take time to yourself. Step outside and get some fresh air. Go for a run or take a fitness class. Take a nap. Meditate. Take a bath. Do anything necessary to help you decompress, relax and focus on yourself, even if it’s only for a brief moment. Having a clear head and feeling more balanced will not only make you feel better, but will make you feel more equipped to handle anything your crazy family can throw your way.

Feel Your Feelings

Get emotional. Get angry. Be frustrated or disappointed or overwhelmed or sad. Whatever you are feeling before, during and after your family time, allow yourself to feel your feelings.

Schedule Time To Be With Your Chosen Family

Family time is important, and family connections matter. But so does time with your chosen family, the friends who are family and the people who are your people.

Friends Identity

Make sure you schedule time to be with them to help you decompress from what could be stressful family time. Remember that we all have family we are born with, but we also have family we choose to keep close to our hearts and who accept us not in spite of our sexuality or gender identity, but because of it. Find them and hold them tight.