Immigrant and Queer for the Holidays

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Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, I was invited to a queer holiday dinner, organized and funded by the University College and the Mark S. Bonham Center for Sexual Diversity Studies. Why a queer holiday dinner? It was for queer students who couldn’t go home, wouldn’t go home, who were not out to their families, and had no one to celebrate with.

I don’t know if they still offer this dinner, but every year around this time I think back to it and wonder what all of us are doing now. Now that we may no longer be in school, that we may have lost university connections, that we may have families of our own, and our relationships with the families we grew up in are still fraught.

Homophobia during the holidays doesn’t have to only mean being kicked out or being ostracized by the family you grew up in - it can be more subtle than that. Maybe it means your partner (or partners) not being invited for holiday dinner (while the family you grew up in may still want to see your kids!),  maybe it means comments here and there about still being with your partner or finding a nice girl/boy, or maybe it means completely ignoring a huge part of your life as it doesn’t even exist (which you accept, because it’s a huge improvement from being insulted and emotionally assaulted).

So many articles and blog posts out there focus on your chosen family - which is amazing! Chosen families can make a world of difference in our lives during the holidays (and the rest of the year). Forming loving and respectful connections outside the families we grew up in is imperative for us as is establishing boundaries with those who still hurt us. So do celebrate with your chosen family (whether it’s one person or 10) and do create new meaningful traditions. Don’t forget to take time to recharge and practice meaningful self care (I’m looking at myself for this one, since self care often means binge watching Grey’s Anatomy while crying on the couch - not ideal). But this season I want to address those of us for whom this doesn’t always work - immigrant queer folks.

Having immigrated to Canada, our relationship to the family we grow up in is already different. We often operate within a scarcity environment - a scarcity of us-ness, or people who look and speak like us, who act like us, who sing our holiday songs, and eat our food. This scarcity sometimes makes us closer to our families and makes our queerness even more queer - not only is it about not being straight (or cisgender, or monogamous, etc) but it’s seen as a rejection of that very scarce and very precious us-ness that our parents desperately try to hold on to. Our parents don’t understand, don’t want to understand, or cannot envision a world where they have a queer child and they keep a semblance of their culture and traditions.

This hurts us, queer immigrants, doubly as well - and please don’t think that I am implying that our hurt runs deeper than non-immigrant queer hurt. It doesn’t, but it does run differently. Sometimes, we too mourn the loss of that us-ness - unable to envision a world where we can be queer and fully part of the families we grew up in. Sometimes, the hurt stings deeper when we visit for the holidays - trying to ignore their behaviours and comments. Why do we do it? Sometimes, Canadian friends will ask us that - and it’s never easy to answer.

We do it because we love our families and that us-ness we cultivated our whole lives, even if we don’t quite fit in anymore. We do it because, often, our families still love us and that love can (for a very little moment) make us forget and make us feel at home. And we do it because our parents are alone, in a foreign country and they too, in a way, are queer.

For all of you feeling like this during the holidays, we see you and we understand you. We know that there are never easy fixes  - or even any fixes. We send you our love and hope that at some point during the holidays you feel free and loved and cherished, because you are wonderful.

Love,

Corina and the Spectrum Doula Team