As a child, I remember sleepless Christmas Eves spent tucked into bed, my eyes squeezed shut against the dancing Christmas lights nailed along the walls and banisters. I remember clamouring down the stairs to a stack of perfectly wrapped presents under the tree, my brother and sister, all of us wearing our matching pyjamas, running down after me. I remember my father would make breakfast those mornings: fried eggs and pancakes, crispy bacon and gooey cinnamon rolls.
I remember my mother watching, nervous, as we opened our gifts, silently praying that she’d given us a good Christmas.
As I got older and realised that I was gay, I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge, terrified of the Ghost of Christmas Future. Would I, a gay kid from a rural US community, ever feel comfortable bringing a boy home for Christmas? Would my religious parents, when they found out, even want me home for the holidays?
Too many queer kids struggle with these same thoughts and worries at the holidays. According to a 2022 report from The Trevor Project, approximately 28 percent of LGBTQ+ youth in the United States have reported experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity as a direct result of coming out of the closet or transitioning. A similar report published by Galop, an LGBTQ+ anti-abuse organisation in the UK, found that nearly three in ten LGBTQ+ people reported suffering abuse, be it mental, physical, or emotional, at the hands of a relative, with these numbers jumping to more than four in ten for trans and non-binary youth.
While we’ve made marked improvements when it comes to LGBTQ+ acceptance, a great deal of queer people still spend the holidays, a time when the importance of family is lauded above all else, without a safe space to turn to.
This is why the concept of found family is so important to so many LGBTQ+ individuals. Not only do found family act as a support system in the place of the too-often unsupportive biological families of LGBTQ+ people, but they reinforce the fact that a familial relationship, like any other, is a mutual agreement entered into by two parties. That it is an agreement that contains boundaries, rules, and requirements that must be met in order for that relationship to flourish and persist.
More and more we are seeing queer adults spending their holiday seasons with close friends and partners as opposed to biological family members. Of course, this is not the case for every queer person, as many of us are privileged to have accepting families.
Additionally, in an increasingly global civilisation, queer individuals are disproportionately more likely to move far away from their home towns in pursuit of a locale and climate that is more accepting of LGBTQ+ lifestyles.
According to 2022 research conducted by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law, LGBTQ+ students who pursue college-level education are four times more likely to attend a college further from home, at 21.5 percent, than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts at just 4.8 percent. Additional research findings showed that 32.6 percent of LGBTQ+ students made this decision specifically to remove themselves from challenging, dangerous, or unsupportive home environments, compared to just 14.1 percent of nonLGBTQ+ students.
While these statistics are uniquely American, the idea of spending the holidays with found family is more prevalent than ever in Ireland, where a great deal of immigrants and refugees will be spending Christmas this year removed from their families. Whether this is by choice or by force, the necessity for queer individuals to blaze their own path, develop their own holiday traditions, and celebrate in the company of those who love, support, and respect them is more important than ever before.
In a recent interview with Q News, RuPaul’s Drag Race alum and one-half of the team behind the wildly successful The Jinkx and Dela Holiday Special, drag queen extraordinaire, Ben DeLaCreme, admitted that, as a young adult, “going home for the holidays became something I just absolutely dreaded.”
Growing up with a family that was “not ready” for her queerness, DeLa added: “Bless my father, he’s a wonderful person and he tried very hard, and so I hate for him to hear this, but I created my first Christmas show specifically so I’d have a job so that I couldn’t go home for Christmas.”
Held in Seattle, DeLa hosted her first ever holiday gig on Christmas Eve, creating a new holiday tradition for queer folks who didn’t have anywhere else to celebrate the season. “About 40 people showed up and a lot of them were queer folks who did not have a place to go.”
My first two years of college I was living as an out gay man on campus, but I was still closeted with everyone in my hometown, including my family. This meant that holiday gatherings too often meant that I would be on the receiving end of comments about whether or not I had a girlfriend yet, or worse, probing inquiries about my virginity.
As a result, I made a habit of not returning home unless it was necessary. I’d cut holiday visits short, claiming that I had to study or work over the New Year’s holiday. I’d taken to skipping out on Thanksgiving celebrations altogether, claiming that the price of the bus ticket home wasn’t worth a short two-day visit.
When I had to return home, I spent my visits anxious that someone would find out that I was gay, like they’d be able to smell it off me. My extended family already resented me, that much I was sure of. I was the black sheep of the family, the only liberal, and the first to go to college. If their comments on my “woke” education were free game, how long would it take them to weaponise my gayness against me as well.
Thankfully, an LGBTQ+ student group on campus created a group for queer students in situations like these. If a student was feeling overwhelmed or unsafe during holiday trips home, they could message a discreet Facebook account and talk things over with a student liaison.
While this was far from a perfect solution for many students, it at least gave me some comfort to know that I wasn’t alone in the way that I was feeling.
Since coming out, I’m happy to report that my family have been nothing but supportive of me and my husband. As a result, Christmas is now one of my favourite times of the year and I genuinely look forward to seeing family on my visits back to the US.
I recognise, however, that this is not the case for many LGBTQ+ people this Christmas. It is in these situations that found family becomes the bedrock of the queer community. There is solidarity in queerness, not just in our mutual plight for social and legal equality, but in being there for one another when our biological family members have abandoned our true selves.
I’ve always hated the phrase “blood is thicker than water,” not because of its message, but because it has taken on a different meaning than originally intended. Derived from the 1815 novel Guy Mannering by Scottish novelist, Sir Walter Scott, the original phrasing reads: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” meaning that the relationships we forge in life, those we enter into willingly, are often stronger than those established by blood.
So for those who can’t find a welcome at home during the Christmas season, queer friends and allies are the true gift.