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How to deal with intolerant relatives over the holidays

“I just do not understand why all you gays need to rub it in our faces all of the time!”

I heard that statement yet again this weekend. Interestingly, I have yet to hear it without bitch slapping the person who said it — in my mind. Not a punch or kick, a bitch slap! Can you relate? I am sure many of you can, and I’m sure you understand that a healthy response is imperative in these situations if there is any hope that others will challenge their beliefs.

Last week I talked about gearing up for the holidays. I believe I said, “don’t try to please everyone because you can’t.” I stand by that, and in addition to the stress of entertaining and juggling schedules to please everyone; many of us will have to deal with going to functions with our significant others and dealing with folks who might at best tolerate us.

I was having a conversation about this with a client recently and he was torn in regards to how to act when he and his partner went home for Thanksgiving. “How do you act when you are at a dinner party with your friends,” I asked. “Normal” he said. “And normal is?” I inquired. He went on to tell me that they might hold hands, or stand arm in arm. Other times they mingle apart with other guests. It all depended on the night or atmosphere.

I asked about who was going to be at this particular holiday gathering. He replied, “My cousins who are all cool, and my gram who likes Tom more than me. Then there is my one uncle who just tolerates us. He likes to give these disapproving looks, but he never says anything rude. It’s my sister and her Holy Roller husband who work my last nerve! We kissed once and she covered her daughter’s eyes for Christ sake!”

Some of you have probably experienced these kinds of situations. There was a time when I would have said to try to blend in and not draw attention to you, but I was wrong! That is not to say that I think it is OK to do things just to make others uncomfortable, nor do I think we all don’t have to make concessions in social situations. What I am trying to say is that we need to be who we are. Standing arm in arm is not offensive. Perhaps making out in a corner would be! My advice is to be yourself and be respectful, while understanding that others need to deal with their own issues.

A professor that I had in grad school did a lot of research on people’s perceptions and frame of reference, and none of us expand our frame of reference unless we have experiences that challenge them. My contention with the LGBT community is that quite often, we don’t give people the chance to challenge their belief systems if we are closeted and afraid. We need to be who we are, and allow people to see our value and contribution to society because we so often are exceptional individuals.

So as you go into the social frenzy that is the holidays,

Be true to yourself.
Respect those around you.
Let others be who they are, and know you might be the catalyst for change in their beliefs.

(Warren Matson writes about life and self-improvement issues. To read the original story or to visit Chicago Phoenix, a content partner with SDGLN, click HERE.)