Going home can mean returning to your comfort zone. Going home can mean freedom of expression or safety from the storm. Some people have many homes; the homes they come from, the homes they created on their own. And some people still cannot call anywhere a home, in both the physical and emotional sense.
As someone who grew up in an often unsafe and unaffirming home, the ability to control and feel safe in my space is very important to me. The home I am in now is my favorite so far. It is a cozy place where I cook dinner, read books, and play fetch with my cat, Alfie. I share the space with my partner, who is loving and affirming. It is a safe place for us and those we love. There are no judgments — we can just be ourselves.
Less than 40% of LGBTQ youth identified their home as an LGBTQ affirming space; I know for many LGBTQ people who did not grow up in affirming homes, the ability to create safe havens for themselves can be essential for healing. And this holiday season, many LGBTQ young people may be leaving their safe havens and returning to painful places.
For some, what is supposed to be a joyful and memorable celebration at the end of the year becomes a difficult experience: having to deal with a relative who doesn’t respect your pronouns, or being asked to defend your identity at the dinner table. It could look like unwelcoming yard signs and flags in your neighborhood, or a lack of gender neutral public restrooms. It could also look like outright rejection and abuse — something absolutely no one deserves to experience.
If you are dreading being around family this holiday season, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and your mental health. First, please remember you are never alone. If you are in need of support or are feeling unsafe at home, you can reach out to The Trevor Project counselors who are available for support day and night, all year and during the holidays. You can also consider joining TrevorSpace, where you can build community and find support from other LGBTQ young people. We also have a lot of resources available to help you through tough moments and questions around mental health, gender and sexuality, and more. These resources are also available to help educate those who may mean well but not be well-versed in LGBTQ topics.
If you can, make time to connect with trusted friends and loved ones who are affirming. Maybe plan a safe gathering or online hangout dedicated to an end-of-year celebration. A tradition I hold dear is an annual “Friendsgiving” I plan with my closest pals, a needed refuge for many of us who get stressed out around the holidays.
If you can’t connect with loved ones outside of your family, try taking some time to have a celebration for yourself. This could look like planning a self-care day with activities that nourish your soul or doing simple exercises like positive affirmations and journaling. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or triggered around the holidays, I usually make an effort to escape for at least a couple of hours to relax and distract my mind with a book.
It is also helpful to try and identify people in your family who you can connect with. For me, it has made a world of a difference to have my cousins around me, who understand my gender identity, always use my preferred name and pronouns, correct folks around me, and provide opportunities for escape and distraction. And though it can be difficult, asking for what you need from people — whether that’s affirmation, advocacy on your behalf, shelter, and other forms of support — is absolutely allowed. You have the right to feel safe at home.
If you are an adult or a friend who knows an LGBTQ person who may feel unsafe at home, it is your responsibility to advocate for their safety. You have the power to make a difference for someone in a way that really matters. Ask them what they need from you and do the absolute most to make that happen, whether it’s correcting folks on pronouns, keeping their gender or sexual identity private, and more.
These are simple but potentially lifesaving actions: LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide in the past year at less than half the rate of those who did not. All LGBTQ young people deserve to grow up in safe affirming homes — it is tragic that so many do not and continue to return to painful places. But when we make an effort to understand LGBTQ young people, to include them, to protect them, to respect their individuality: that is how we build a more inclusive world, one family at a time.
Sue Cardenas-Soto is a Copywriter at The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and mental health organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people.