The holiday season is a time when many stressors intersect, and that’s true for GLBT youth as well as adults. Even the most high-functioning people can find themselves feeling a little blue this time of year. Adults aren’t the only ones feeling the pressure.
Family: Many GLBT youth are still struggling with their sexual and gender identity, and many carry it as a closely held secret as they reconcile their place in the world. Teenage years are hard enough, but when suspect that you are different, the anxiety is magnified. A GLBT youth who is not out has very limited, if any, sounding boards and an abundance of reminders that their secret will affect their loved ones. The fear of not knowing how others will react is palpable. What you do know at that age is that mainstream images of the “happy family” generally don’t reflect GLBT diversity, and that may translate into the fear of being responsible for ruining an otherwise model family enjoying a model celebration. Of course, very few families match the images conjured up in holiday songs, but most of us focus on our own differences and scale them up as shortcomings instead of realizing that the images are flawed. Coming Out is an ongoing process, and although you may have an advocate within your family, so many of us still have to carry the secret because we have heard, “It’s okay with me; I still love you, but let’s not tell dad (or grandma, or fill-in-the-blank),” or “You are welcome at our gathering, but your partner isn’t,” or “You can dress that way when it’s just us but not when family and friends are over.” You may be pressured by your boyfriend or girlfriend to introduce them to your family as a way of proving your feelings, even if you weren’t ready to come out.
One HATCH youth recently expressed what it was like:
Lost in darkness, I wear a mask and fool you. Must I pretend I’m someone I’m not for all time? Like a pond….. all you see is my reflection. The currents of heartache are consealed by this great put-together fake. Why must we all hide the highstake of how we feel? I’m done pretending. Time for my faint light to go shine… Give someone else’s darkness this sweet shimmer of fate.
Church: Many families come together for the holidays to observe religious traditions, and that includes attending services where just weeks ago or last month they may have been denouncing the so-called “homosexual lifestyle.” Many feel abandoned and betrayed by the faith they’ve grown up with, and for our youth, this may be the first time they experience their faith as hostile instead of comforting. Religious texts refer to you as “an abomination,” and you are referred to in the same sentence as criminals and deviants. If you aren’t able to talk to your friends or family, and you feel the church has rejected you, the season where all of these converge can be especially difficult.
School: Any time there is a break in the school schedule, GLBT youth experience a brief reprieve from the daily verbal and physical torment they receive while at school. Certainly with social networking sites and smart phones these days, it is not the same kind of sanctuary it once was, but it away from the hallways, stairwells and classrooms. You may feel isolated knowing that your classmates are spending their time at parties or shopping at the mall, but nobody has invited you to do anything. And then there’s the dread one feels when classes resume on January 3, which can parallel the anxiety felt when school starts in the fall — knowing that you have to go back to a place where you are constantly reminded that you are “less than” the others.
These experiences may not be unique to GLBT youth, or even GLBT adults, however given the national focus on the consequences of internalized homophobia in our youth, it is important to be aware of what they face. It doesn’t take much for us to remember what it was like when we were their age. Resources are available through the HATCH program for GLBT youth, or through Montrose Counseling Center and Gay & Lesbian Switchboard Houston. If you find yourself feeling depressed during the holidays, please don’t try to navigate it alone.