The five and a half week period from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, under the best circumstances, is in fact the most stressful time of year. It has been proven in study after study and, for the transgender community it can also be a time when depression and dysphoria are heightened. Last year on Christmas Eve, my wife locked herself in the bathroom at her mother's house and would not come out. Family members we hadn't really seen since going full time were there and she just couldn't face them "looking so manly." Believe me, she did not look manly! Her hair and makeup were spot on, and she was wearing a fantastic little red sequin dress. I tried several times to get her to come out, then I sent my mother in law up there. She is after all, the beauty expert in my wife's eyes, and she was able to get her to come down. As I've said many times before, dysphoria is a bitch.
Heading home for the holidays is not always a joyous experience, and for some folks it can be mentally unhealthy. Listening to Uncle Bob misgender your partner and watching your sister’s boyfriend shoot strange looks at your other half from across the room is not my idea of a good time. It sounds like a happy merry nightmare to me. It is one that I like to avoid if possible. But, if you must go, making a self-care plan ahead of time will save you from extra visits to your therapist in the coming weeks. So here are my top five survival strategies to get through the holiday season without loosing your mind.
1- Surround yourself with positivity. Even an ally sometimes needs an ally. I am sure at one time or another we have all heard this disappointment in a friend or family member’s voice after you have said, "no I am not leaving my partner, I love them." Who needs that kind of negativity this time of year? Stick close to the people who support you and your partner on this journey. Make plans to see them and do something you all enjoy. If you get most of your support from an online forum, see if anyone lives in a close proximity to you and plan a meet up. If a meet up is not possible, check in with them on a daily basis and support each other a little more than you usually do.
2- Just say no thank you. If you are being invited to a gathering that has the potential for a negative outcome, just say no thanks we already have plans that day. Save yourself and your partner from having to listen to neighbor John's transphobic and bigoted views of the world. You will not hurt the host’s feelings by telling them that you already have a previous engagement. Trying to help your partner out of a dysphoria hole to me, just isn't worth it.
3- Set healthy boundaries. If you must make an appearance, set boundaries with the hostess ahead of time. Whether it is a family member or a friend, protect yourself and your partner from being triggered. Let them know that if either you or your partner is uncomfortable you will have no choice but to leave. There is a big difference between a person who is trying to use your partner’s proper pronouns to one who doesn't acknowledge that being transgender is not a choice. Ignorance of transgender issues is not a free pass to being disrespectful to you or your partner.
4- Throw your expectations out the window. There is nothing worse than having your expectations fall short, so get rid of them. If my wife's transition has taught me anything, it is to stop expecting things to happen the way I want them to, or the way that I thought they would. I cannot expect to get through a night with my in-laws misgendering my wife; it's just not going to happen. So instead I try to be positive and hope for the best. Without expectations, there can be no disappointment.
5- Plan some time for just the two of you. The holidays can be an extra stressful and busy time of the year so it is super important to stay connected to your partner. Even if it's only three hours on Saturday afternoon, it's important. Make a plan to get together and do something that you both enjoy doing. Whether it's a crisp walk in the park, a quiet night on the sofa to watch your favorite movie, or a quick lunch date. Staying connected and communicating with each other is paramount to having a loving and healthy relationship.
Make this holiday season what you want it to be. If your family is not accepting of you or your partner, then spend time with the family that you have made in the community. Indulge in festivities near you. Holiday concerts, parades, and community gatherings are a great way to get in a festive mood. Volunteering and giving back to local organizations can also put you in good spirits. Make time for the people who love and accept you, and forget the rest.