As many queer people can attest, the holidays can be difficult because you are reminded of the flaws in those you cherish most — flaws that are often brought into stark relief as a direct result of their disapproval of one integral facet of you: Your queerness.
Although I love my family dearly, with every visit I am reminded that although we are sold the idea that love is unconditional, unconditional love can, in fact, come with an asterisk. In my family, this realization comes as a result of my mother (whom I adore), but whose religious values are her reason for the asterisk in our relationship.
That's one reasons why, as much as I rep my hometown of Houston (the place that gave the world the gift that is Beyoncé; you’re very welcome), I typically only visit once a year. There are just so many times that I have wanted to shout at family members — who have previously expressed the view that I am inherently immoral for my innate attraction to men — over acts of theirs which the Bible they thump so hard also proscribes.
And then there are the myriad times that I have pleaded with someone who says they love me — including my mom — to understand that there is nothing wrong with me, no matter what they think their Bible tells them. I have even offered, time and again, to talk through it, but Biblical literalists-of-convenience are not interested in dialogue; they simply want you to fall in line with the status quo and suppress yourself accordingly.
That has led me to question, again and again, why I should even bother going home at all. Why not give up already and consider new holiday plans and traditions, to spare myself of this weird feeling each and every year?
I know the answers, which is why I go home anyway. The fragility of life pushes me to cherish the time I do have with my family, in spite of the disagreement, because you never know what could happen. In recent years, I have seen dear friends abruptly lose their parents and siblings, and one friend in particular has stressed to me that I need to be present with my mother now as much as possible. I don’t know when I will have to face that abyss of permanent absence; I do feel that prior rifts are not enough reason to waste a single second before such a time arrives.
Yes, my mother does seem to wish I would reconsider vaginal sex, unassisted procreation and regular Mass attendance, while I remain committed to secularism and sodomy — but she isn’t getting any younger, and I’m a Black man living in Trump’s America. Tomorrow isn’t promised to either of us, so I believe that it’s important to go.
Plus (as my older sister has told me repeatedly), when I was a baby in the 1980s, I would cry when Anita Baker would go off the radio and I wouldn’t stop until she came back on. My mother had the patience and love to keep driving until she did. I feel like I can try to exercise similar patience with her now; in my twisted, rhythm-and-blues obsessive way, that’s what love is: The patience to continue driving until Anita Baker can heal us both, no matter how long we have to drive together and cry.
Mostly, though, it is a lingering hope that one day my family members will get it — and, by extension, get me.
It's not a hope based entirely in fantasy: While my parents don’t ask me who I’m dating, if it’s serious, whether I plan to get married, or any of the other pestering questions taken for granted by straight people (or queer people with accepting family members), last Christmas, I did get cornered by a beloved auntie.
She found me standing alone by a yellow cake with chocolate icing — a personal favorite — and asked if I was seeing anyone. I told her no, and she told me it was a shame because I was “too handsome” for that.
It took 32 years for me to get that kind of question from an elder family member, and I cherished every uncomfortable second of it; if nothing else, it gave me something to build on.
Of course, there is no magical formula on how queer people should deal with any of this. Everyone’s family situation is different, and we’re all trying to do the best we can. It’s not easy to feel like an ongoing experiment through which family members must figure out if they can reconcile that which they were taught to believe about queer identity with the allegedly beloved queer person standing before them.
Nobody should subject themselves to that if they truly don’t want to; I understand why some queer people will not bother this year or any other. We shouldn’t have to wait on people to catch up on loving us because of something that is nothing to be ashamed of.
However, if you — like me — still want to try a little longer, I encourage you to, so long as you don’t have to make yourself smaller to go unnoticed or perform in any way that feels different from the person you are in your everyday life. Difficult as it is, sometimes it pays to meet people where they are, as you are, and let them learn to find their way to you.
And if it doesn’t work out, so be it. I can go off and create those aforementioned new traditions. I can be more generous with my swipes on Tinder and hope that one might lead to Christmases with a progressive family who waits for us with open arms (and, hopefully, well-seasoned food). There is still time for that.
In the meanwhile, I can at least say that I am trying. If you find yourself in my position, you can take some comfort in that effort, too. Maybe the asterisk on unconditional love really is that such love isn't immediate, or easy.