If we don't maintain our Christmas Eve tradition then we'll be forced to spend more time with our family and that's just not what Christmas is about.
- Grace from Will & Grace – “A Gay Olde Christmas
It became clear at an early age that the holidays were sacred to my blood relatives — what people commonly call their ‘family’. My earliest memories of my family’s traditions include visiting my mom’s father’s home in Mississippi—which I hated. Mom’s father doesn’t get the title of ‘grandpa’ because it turned out that he wasn’t my real grandpa. Dad’s father on the other hand (who is now deceased) – he was my grandpa and I loved that man. That’s that. We’d be at mom’s father’s house on Christmas Eve, then we’d wake up on Christmas Day to a huge breakfast. My mom turned typical stocking stuffers into its own event—the stockings were incredible.
As I got older and came out of the closet about my sexuality, my extended relatives slowly and almost methodically disappeared. Since announcing back in 2012 that I was living with HIV, I haven’t spoken to anyone except my immediate family, my real family. Nothing from alleged grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins. I’m not complaining, though. It just made me appreciate my real family so much.
I also love my queer ‘family’—all of you. Sure, we have some in our little family who are extra unique, some hotties, some daddies, and some that I don’t quite understand, but that’s expected. We even at times fight like a ‘real family’. But we also can come together as one under one common cause to remember someone we lost and celebrate their lives and ours. It’s beautiful.
A year or two prior to my diagnosis, I experienced the queer/trans family coming together as a community to celebrate the life of Bianca Paige. I was newly out and volunteered to help at what was a very large event. The celebration was held in a hotel ballroom with Broadway-caliber décor. The lights were beautiful. My job was to make sure the drag queens knew when they were supposed to go onstage. They were cultural icons, but because I was so new to the scene, I had no idea who anyone was! I remember meeting the legendary Ron Sanford and his love, passion, and admiration of Bianca and her HIV activism inspired me. It still inspires me. And it’s magical how an event such as a memorial for someone I had never even met could prepare me for a life living with HIV a few years later.
It takes each & every one of us to run our interesting ‘family’, and the holidays are a time to re-evaluate if we are taking care of each other, and ourselves. And to take a chance on potentially meeting someone new—a friend, a date, or even a hookup. It’s the holidays! (Ho, ho, ho... right?)
For many of us in our family, we also get really anxious about returning to spend time with our actual family, and some of us aren’t even invited there. But sometimes a chronic health condition like HIV or an STI can make it pretty uncomfortable to return home during the holidays.
Taking care of yourself during the holidays may mean limiting your time you return home. There are no rules that you must be gone two weeks. Or even one week. Or even at all. Yes, it is OK to take a break from your (crazy) family. If you do go, it is more than okay to go have a cocktail somewhere (even a straight bar if required) to unwind from the joy you might be overcome with spending so much time back there. Just consider it therapy if you must—a mental health check vodka soda! Real therapy can be helpful, too.
And if you are taking PrEP or antiretroviral therapy or if you are living with HIV, don’t forget to take your medicine home with you. Pull out a few pills and stuff them in a plastic bag if you are worried about discretion—but maintain the proper adherence. It’s important.
Try to organize the best you can to be ready for physical stress of the holiday parties. If you have a lot going on during the holiday season, set alerts/calendar reminders on when to take your meds! Since you will be surrounded by multiple people during the holidays, it is very important to always protect your immune system. Bring hand sanitizer with you and wash your hands frequently.
Make sure to also keep an open eye for anyone who might be left alone on the holidays and those who need support.
And meet someone new this year! Take a chance and logon to your favorite site or DatingPositives.com and just see who else needs some good holiday memories.
Don’t allow this year to stress you out, regardless. Say no when you have reached your limit – physical, social and emotional.
Trust yourself and listen to your own voice: Focus on enjoying the holidays in the perfect way that makes you happy, comfortable, and healthy.
Ultimately remember, the holidays will end, and life will return to a more normal routine.
Josh Robbins is an award winning sexual health advocate, author of the site imstilljosh.com and spokesperson for DatingPositives.com. He was nominated for a GLAAD media award in 2017 and recently won the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s Excellence Award in the blogging category.
For more articles in this series, see:
Dating In ‘Real Life’