As countless stand-up comedy routines attest, holidays can be tough for anyone.
Getting together with infrequently seen relatives can dredge up old emotional scars, rekindle resentments, and provoke new disagreements amongst generations with differing moral codes.
For gay people, holidays can be especially challenging, engendering in some a wistful sadness about how difficult it is to be gay. Indeed, many, perhaps even most, of us come from families that are not accepting of homosexuality in general and of our homosexuality in particular. (Though to be fair to our families, in some instances we have never given them the chance to deal with it; we have decided for them that our sexuality would be too difficult for them to handle and have chosen to be silent or evasive about this part of our lives.)
Our culture’s observance of Christmas, with its emphasis upon the family as the appropriate setting in which to spend the holiday, often serves to underscore our alienation from the traditional nuclear pattern. If we choose, we can use the occasion to experience our lives as sad, lonely, frustrated, and incomplete. Indeed, some of us yield to the temptation to do just that.
There are, fortunately, other ways to spend the season. In particular, we might view this as a time of celebration and affirmation as we consider the life and teachings of the person whose birth is ostensibly being commemorated.
Jesus is hardly a comforting model for those who would uphold the traditional nuclear family as the primary means to personal fulfillment.
As far as we know, he defied the conventions of his time by refusing to marry and sire children. Furthermore, he minimized the importance of blood ties when he announced that it was not his biological family, but rather those who renounced judgment and practiced love who were his true mother and his genuine brothers.
The disturbing spectacle of the institutional church attempting to appropriate Jesus as some sort of cardboard mascot to uphold and sanctify the middle-class North American family does not change the fact that Jesus, throughout his life, was cast in the role of outsider.
He challenged and confronted the traditional religious values of his time and repeatedly stood with the rejected and despised. His most scathing denunciations were reserved for those self-righteous legalists who attempted to judge, condemn, and punish those they considered their moral inferiors.
The example of Jesus can speak to us as gay people, and to all others the world deems undesirable. The message is simple: the real you is what is of value — not some pretend you play-acting a role dictated by fear of what others will think.
Self-righteous sexual moralists might attach great importance to the gender, colour, age, religious affiliation, or even the number of our sexual partners, but all such categories are trivial; what matters is love and compassion.
Realizing the importance of real, flesh-and-blood love — rather than conformity to hollow standards of “respectability” — can bring about a transformed, empowered, and redeemed life.
Indeed, many of us have experienced something akin to a religious experience when we decided to trust our own desire and embrace the homosexuality that the world, and most of our families, tried to get us to fear and despise.
Stonewall taught us the power that comes from challenging external oppression. And Christmas, stripped of its Walmart commercialism and perverted pieties, can teach us the power and freedom that comes from resisting another more potent form of oppression — the oppression that comes from within when we accept and internalize the world’s negative judgment about who we are.
From that experience, we can draw an even deeper lesson: shedding all judgment and condemnation of others, even those most despised and reviled, renders us more human.
Replacing fear with love is the beginning and end of all real liberation. That is why Christmas, the commemoration of a life lived in allegiance with those the world has spurned, is one holiday gay people might freely, openly, and truly celebrate.