Nonbinary Life

How to Survive Holidays with Family as a Trans Person

Brace yourself. The misgendering is coming. But we can survive the holidays with our family as trans people.

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How to Survive Holidays with Family as a Trans Person

A shared trans experience

Although I am a nonbinary person, most people assume I am a woman, including family members and my community of origin. Visual cues don’t exactly help — I was wearing swim trunks one summer instead of the bikini I would have worn ten years prior and someone asked me if I was borrowing a boy’s bathing suit. It’s hard to override the gender someone has saved in their brain for you. And even harder to override the habits of an old name and pronouns with people who don’t see me often.

It helps me to know I’m not alone. When I hear family members using “she,” “her,” even my old name from 6 years ago to refer to me, it bites a little bit. A trans man once shared with me that his grandparent still calls him “she,” even though he has a full beard and most people read him as a man now. He thought the misgendering from his grandparent was funny, at this point. The grandparent appeared inflexible and wrong to the rest of the family.

Close up of person holding firecracker
Photo by Nur Andi Ravsanjani Gusma

It’s crucial to internalize that you are right about the language you use to describe yourself. If your family members don’t use respectful language for you, that is their problem, not yours.

I don’t want to correct or educate while I am attempting to spend some quality time with my family. I’d rather focus my energy on providing content for more people such as through my blog and videos.

An opportunity to educate, but, let someone else do the emotional labor

Questions about being trans can hit especially hard when it’s a family member asking you to defend your choices. This can be a great time to acknowledge their question, but point them to a third-party resource if they are truly interested in learning the answer. Don’t feel obligated to be an educator just because someone asks you a question.

I have some resources for commonly asked questions about they/them pronouns and being nonbinary:

Are Singular They Pronouns Confusing?

Why Use They Instead of He or She?

Nonbinary Gender Dysphoria

I’ve watched the documentary Disclosure on Netflix with my family. I highly recommend it – it shows the discrimination and offensive representation of trans people in well-known movies and TV shows. Because we were all watching the same documentary together, I didn’t feel I had to do the emotional labor of being an educator.

Especially if someone asks you a question about anatomy or medical procedures, it’s more than fine to tell them this is an uncomfortable, personal question.

Four people greeting each other with food on a table and holiday decorations
Photo by Nicole Michalou

Boymode / girlmode

Some trans people dress as their assigned gender at birth when visiting family. Anecdotally, this is fairly common. It may be a temporary accommodation for family who are transphobic. Even this I see as a small form of activism. If family can see that you are the same person, even though you are trans, perhaps, hopefully, they will become accustomed to the idea.

You can alternatively set a boundary that you will not visit your family unless you express your true gender during the visit. Relations with family are complicated and it may not be that easy for many people.

Person holding a menorah with all candles lit
Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev

Take care of yourself

Visiting with family can be hard for anyone, but it is especially hard if your family is transphobic and does not treat you with respect. If you anticipate a visit being hard for you, can you plan some support from others before, during, and after? This could look like scheduling a phone call with a friend to decompress after a family dinner, or posting online to the trans community sharing your difficult experience with people who get it.

I hope you find joy in something this holiday season, and if it’s not a visit with family, maybe it’s my favorite way to spend Christmas: Chinese takeout food and a movie alone at my own place.

If you need a great gender-neutral gift idea, check out my gift guide!

Gifts for Nonbinary Friends – Best Gender Neutral Presents

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