Boxed Wine, Family Feuds, and Grandma’s Questions–Three Things You Can Do To Avoid a Gay Family Meltdown This Thanksgiving

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which can be an extremely stressful event for some people.  I’m not talking about hours of cooking over a stove, either—for many individuals, the Thanksgiving dinner with extended family members and relatives can be just as daunting as jumping into a tank of sharks.  As if Aunt Lulu, who has drunk herself silly on boxed $9.99 wine, and her four screaming children at the kid’s table flinging spoonfuls of peas isn’t bad enough, many gay people find themselves dreading extended family interactions for one reason or another.  Maybe your “coming out” wasn’t terribly celebrated by your great Cousin Peter, twice removed, or you really don’t want to discuss how being gay isn’t a choice with your Grandma Patsy and that you really won’t find a girl one day which will magically convert you…the list goes on.

I’m extremely lucky that my family is not like that, but the fact is, I know many gay people who have to adequately prepare themselves before the holidays to deal with this type of stress, and, let’s face it—it takes away from the real point of the holiday, which is to reflect on our own states of gratitude for everything we do have.

Therefore, instead of drinking yourself under the table on the night before Turkey Day, here are a few hints and strategies that you can try to manage and enjoy your family interactions (or any stressful event, to be honest):

1.     Prepare and Practice a Mindful Meditation Before, During, and After Your Visit: I am a deep believer in the power of meditation, partially due to the transformative nature that it has had on my own mental health.  You don’t have to be some sort of guru or yogi, nor do you have to find a place to sit cross-legged and barefoot, to meditate.  Here’s my go-to practice: find a quiet place to sit or stand and close your eyes.  Take a deep breath in and think “Let,” take a deep breath out and think “Go,” and literally let go of whatever or whomever is in your mind that is causing your anxiety; it helps to picture the person or thing vaporizing from your own consciousness.  This is truly a simple and effective meditation that you can do almost anywhere.

2.     Keep Appropriate Boundaries: You do not have to tell every private detail of your life with your relatives, nor should feel obligated to answer every question that Grandpa Gary poses.  Change the subject.  Own the conversation—bring up your own work, school, or volunteer work.  Talk about what shows you watch on television.  Let me be clear: I’m not advocating lying or “closeting” yourself, but there is no reason why, during a holiday, you should have to discuss personal matters that might lead to heated or uncomfortable discourse with relatives that you barely see (and I’m not just talking about matters of sexuality, either—avoid conversations about contentious family relationships, situations, or history.  Why go there?).

3.     Bring an Activity or Game: By actually doing something before or after Thanksgiving dinner instead of sitting around and “talking,” you keep the evening active and moving.  Pack a favorite board game or holiday DVD, or bring along your iPad with a family-friendly app (my personal favorites include Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right).  Plot out your Black Friday shopping strategy.  The more you are actually doing, laughing, and playing, the more joy there is and the less chance for confrontation and idle conversation.

The fact is, the more you can empower yourself to actually, well, give thanks on Thanksgiving, the greater you’ll feel about yourself, your family, and your friends.  Now, about keeping Aunt Lulu from that boxed wine…

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