Mama Bears is dedicated to supporting, educating and empowering moms of LGBTQ kids and the LGBTQ community. The organization offers a whole network of private Facebook groups, special projects, resources and websites.
Presently we have more than 7,500 moms of LGBTQ kids in the Mama Bear private Facebook groups.
Jaron Terry, one of the Mama Bears, shares some tips on how to turn our holiday jitters into holiday joy.
Jaron is a public relations professional, Mama Bear and VP of the board of PFLAG Columbus.
Click here for more info on the Mama Bears organization.
If you’re cringing at the thought of listening to Uncle Joe praise the election outcome while he carves the Thanksgiving turkey, or you’re already shaking with anger knowing in advance just what kind of homophobic jokes, racist slurs, and woman-bashing BS will mingle with the aroma of pine needles and cinnamon, then you might want to arm yourself with an iron-clad plan for surviving the upcoming holidays – especially if that carving knife is sharp.
Here are 8 tips to help ensure your gatherings with family and friends are infused with the musical strains of “Noel” instead of heated shouts of “Hell No!”
1. Just stay home. Determine whether or not to go: Do you really need to attend that family dinner, head to your hometown or show up at that church event? This might just be the year to gracefully bow out. If you, like me and some of my Mama Bear friends – mothers who love and affirm their LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning) children – woke up November 9 worried that your child’s civil rights, as well as their physical safety, mental wellness, and spiritual health, are in danger, perhaps you don’t need to be with people who are telling you you’re just overreacting or being melodramatic.
2. Go it alone. If you do decide to risk what you think might turn ugly, consider your child. If your LGBTQ offspring is an adult, allow them to make their own decision. Don’t “guilt” them into coming with you or show disappointment if they stay home. A holiday is just that: one day. Your queer teen should also be given the opportunity to choose. If their friend with an affirming family has invited them, think how much they will enjoy a warm, loving, accepting atmosphere. However, if your child is young, why would you risk their overhearing negative comments about Marriage Equality or dreadful discussions about where transgender people can pee? I encourage you to take another look at Tip #1.
3. Choose your method. Before you put together your famous cranberry mold (that nobody eats, anyway) or stick a single bow on a package, start thinking now about what you will or won’t say and do in response to an ugly situation. You know your family members better than anyone and should consider in advance whether there is an opportunity to educate, if it’s better to just change the subject, or if you should simply walk away.
4. Educate. Perhaps you’ve been blessed with an unusually calm demeanor and a polite family. Perhaps you family is open to hearing how your understanding of long-held, church-taught beliefs has changed through your direct personal experience and the opportunities you’ve had to be with people some consider “other.” That’s wonderful! Do some homework: read up on blogs like Serendipitydodah or Stuff That Needs to be Said. Attend your local PFLAG meeting or visit PFLAG.org. Keep current on the news, and be sure you’re quoting actual news outlets and not bogus sites. If your family loves the Bible, invite them to read Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee; God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines; or Changing Our Minds by David Gushee. You can find a whole list of helpful resources here. I’ve found that people who are willing to open their minds generally open their hearts, too.
5. Speak up. Just as every family has its own traditions, they generally have their own sense of what they call humor. Anticipate in advance what kind of comments you can expect to hear. Yes, it’s hard to make space in your head for ugly remarks like the ones we heard during and after the campaign. And, it’s even harder to consider the horrifying actions recently reported, demonstrating the level of vitriol some in our country feel toward persons of color, immigrants, women and LGBTQ people. However, doing so will not only toughen you against the sting, but more importantly, give you time to formulate your response. It may be as simple as, “I respectfully ask that we not discuss the election results, because we all know we don’t agree.” Or, when inappropriate things are said, “I prefer not to hear such comments, Uncle Joe, and ask that you not make them when I’m here.”
6. Fight Fire with Fire. Or, maybe you’re the kind that relishes the opportunity to “go there” and shout them down – slashing and burning with words that cut as sharp as the ones they throw at your child. Again, from my own experience of going that route with now former friends, you might first ask yourself how important keeping family relationships intact is to you. If the answer is “very,” then I refer you back to Tip #1 – perhaps it’s better to sit this year out. Send your excuses in a letter that is explicit about why you’re not coming (assuming you’ve already unfriended them on Facebook). If you or your child does not think its safe to be open with them, don’t hesitate to make up an excuse (the dog ate the tree!).
7. Have an Exit Plan. If you’ve decided to attend the festivities, make an exit plan before you head to the airport or pack the trunk of your car. One thing I don’t want you to do is to sit silent and “take it” as hateful words and messages swirl around you and your child. That’s not healthy for you and certainly not for your child – especially if they are not yet out. The level of self-harm, including suicide, is unacceptably high among children and teens who do not feel supported by their families. Your child needs to know that they are your first priority and that you can be counted on in any situation. Predetermine a “safe word” with your spouse or travelling companion. Be sure you both agree that the moment either of you – or your child – utters the word, an exit is made. It can be as simple as “gingerbread!” or a phrase such as “Did you turn the oven off?” Be prepared to just walk away.
8. Enjoy! If you’re among the increasing number of people whose extended family members completely accept – and affirm – your child’s sexual orientation and gender identity, that wonderful. In that case, I invite you to find every opportunity to make your views known, through speaking, writing and taking action by standing up against homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anything that seeks to “other” those who should be treated as a neighbor. Hug your child, hug yourself, and enjoy the holidays!
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