6 min

Four LGBTQ2 people on surviving the holidays

How to get through the season with chosen family and friendly strangers (and maybe even a little weed)

From left to right: Jiaqing Wilson-Yang, Monica Garrido, Will Lavinia and Jeff Rock. Credit: Courtesy Jiaqing Wilson-Yang, Monica Garrido, Marquis Collins; Francesca Roh/Xtra, Xtra Video

Monica Garrido, performer and artist

For Monica Garrido, this is her first holiday season away from her home in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. She’s lived in Toronto for the last six years and decided to stay in the city to play a queer elf in a Christmas show. “I’m not out to my family in Mexico,” she says. “Part of me was like ‘oh, it’s great’ because I don’t need to go home and feel that stress of lying. But it’s this weird reversing because I feel so guilty that I’m not home for the first time in my life.”

When Garrido is in Mexico, she practises self-care by seeing her chosen family — childhood friends who are also queer — enjoying the warm weather and eating lots of good food.

This year, Garrido plans to have a Mexican Christmas celebration with her roommate, who is also from Mexico. “I also watch holiday and Christmas movies and rethink how the plot would be if it was queer. That gives me ideas about how I would create my own holiday narrative.”

When Garrido told some people that she’s not going home for the holidays, she was surprised to receive invitations to celebrations. “They’re like ‘you’re family, you’re home already,” she says.

Garrido’s best advice is to take time for yourself. “I know holidays can be hard, but [it’s always great] to know when to take your space but also when to reach out to have somebody else beside you.”

And even while she’s spending the holidays this year with her chosen family in Toronto, she’s thankful to have a connection back home. “Immigrant people don’t go back home because of different things — we find a family between each other, and I’m really grateful that I have a lot of Latinx people in my life that reminds me of the culture and how we celebrate Christmas.”

“It gives me a chance to recreate it. But in a queer, happy way.”

Jiaqing Wilson-Yang, sexual violence specialist

Credit: Courtesy Jiaqing Wilson-Yang

“I usually find the holiday season pretty hard,” says Jiaqing Wilson-Yang, a sexual violence specialist at Ryerson University. “The routine changes, the emphasis is on buying things and being with your family in a very particular way. It doesn’t really feel really nourishing.”

Wilson-Yang, who grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, says that living in a predominately white, Christian city came with certain expectations about the holidays. “There’s such a focus on this capitalist, heteronormative whiteness that I don’t fit into and most of my friends don’t really fit into,” she says.

Wilson-Yang gets through the holiday season by not placing to much of an emphasis on it. Instead, she and her partner cook and watch movies, but make the focus on togetherness rather than on the holidays.

Now that Wilson-Yang lives in Toronto, she’s able to find spaces that are open during Christmas. Back when she lived in Hamilton, and later, Guelph, businesses would shut down, leaving few options for people who don’t celebrate Christmas. “In Toronto there are so many folks who are also not celebrating Christmas, so I can go to places and pretend that it’s not happening.”

To combat holiday blues, Wilson-Yang says don’t be afraid to reach out to friends. “Use the holidays for what they’re actually meant for, which is to spend time with people that you care about.”

William Lavinia, performer and promoter

“I’m lucky enough to have supportive biological family, so going back home is only semi-stressful,” says William Lavinia. But even still, he says, when you spend much of your life in a queer bubble, “it can be hard to return to anything that’s not that bubble.”

His parents try their best to understand his identity, but it can sometimes lead to difficult conversations. “They understand the transness but I get misgendered when I go home. They don’t mean anything by it. They just are older and they’re still working on it,” he says.

Then there’s the also the fraught and sometimes polarizing conversations many people have at their family holiday tables when the talk turns to politics. “The nature of being queer, like super queer, also denotes certain political stances,” he says. “Returning home to white parents always involves at least one conversation where I have to add information or express a viewpoint that they’ve never heard before. It’s a lot of emotional labor to get through conversations sometimes.”

If going home to biological family, Lavinia says it’s important to prioritize your needs. “You’re never, ever under any obligation to go to anything. If it’s going to be more damaging than not going don’t subject yourself. And if you have to go, bring back up if you can. Bring a friend or bring weed.”

To take care of himself during the holidays, Lavinia spends time with his chosen family. “Events around the holiday time are very special. It becomes about the queers together in a bar who aren’t at home for the holidays, and it can create a very good vibe.”

Jeff Rock, senior pastor at MCC

Credit: Xtra Video

At the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto where Reverend Jeff Rock is the senior pastor, the holiday season is well-known as a difficult time for many congregants.

“It’s literally the darkest time of year,” he says. “The weather change and the dreary days are hard on people affected by seasonal affective disorder, or those who may have had a bereavement.”

MCC acknowledges these mixed emotions in its annual Blue Christmas service in early December. “It’s a way to help people let their feelings out and to give them some coping mechanisms for the season ahead.”

The church also holds a service on Christmas Eve and a Christmas day dinner, attended by around 300 people. “A lot of LGBTQ people have a dearth of family members, or they may have been rejected by their families,” he says. “And if you’re from a religious family or a tradition that has rejected you, you can’t really go home for Christmas.”

He advises people to not put too much emphasis on an “ideal” Christmas celebration. “If you look at the Christmas story, it’s not about perfect dinner parties and perfect presents and nicely-decorated houses. But rather it’s about a baby born in a barn to a refugee family and no one showed them any kindness or compassion,” he says. “It’s a kind of depressing holiday despite what people try to make it into.”

Rock says it’s important to reach out to friends and community — there is a surprising amount of strangers happy to host people at their table. “Don’t be afraid to invite yourself to a party, because the true meaning of Christmas is about building a bigger table and having light against the darkness and hope in the midst of heartbreak.”