Surviving the Holidays as a Transgender or Nonbinary Person

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Ryan Sallans

It is that time of year again: the holiday season. It is supposed to be a time of merriment and joining together of family, but for many it just winds up being a time of despair, dread, hangovers, fights, tears, and sadness.

For those of us who have transitioned or are nonbinary this can also include wondering how grandma will respond when she sees you either with a new haircut, masculine or feminine clothes, sporting some sweet sideburns, or binding/enhancing your chests. 

It can mean a time where you endure the odd and/or disapproving and confused looks from your parents every time a family picture is suggested or you take an outing into your community. It can mean listening to questions that are really more comments about your appearance, thoughts, and feelings. It can be a time, if you are in school, where you count down the days before hitting the books again. 

For those of us not in school, it can be a time where you count down the hours before you can go home, which preferably is several hours or more away from the scrutiny that is your family. 

For many, the holiday season has lost its magical appeal and now, just sucks. So with all that can suck around the holidays, how can one make it through and maybe even enjoy it a little (I said a little, not a ton). 

Just remember that you aren’t alone and there are people who get it. Here are some ideas for any of you out there reading this:

1. Check to see if your friends will be in town or around/available for some hang out time or an instant SOS. 

2. Make sure the Internet is working where ever you are staying and that there is a cell phone signal. (This last point may require wandering around the house with your arm up in the air or around outside to the furthest corner of your property, if you live in a small town like the one I grew up in.)

3. Align with a family member that you get along with and try to avoid rooms with the ones you can’t stand.

4. Offer to run errands for any item on the grocery list that was forgotten. 

5. Show up late and leave early.

6. If when you come and go is not an option, then sleep in and go to bed early.

For those of you out there who are trying to mend fences or find a peace with your family, instead of avoiding them or drowning your discomfort with spiked eggnog, then disregard the above list and consider the next few paragraphs as food for thought. 

Getting along and feeling accepted by family is one of the hardest things to do for many of us, which is ironic since family is supposed to be the one group of people where we should feel accepted and loved.

During the holiday season, ask yourself the following questions:

What type of relationship would I like with my family? 

In regard to acceptance, where is my family at, at this time?

How far do I think can I move them toward understanding this holiday season? 

And how much effort do I think it will take? 

One of the best ways to try and heal the wounds, and move everyone forward, is to sit in the discomfort, avoid going on the defensive, and honestly express how you are feeling and what you’d love to see happen with the family. 

If someone in your family starts going on the defensive then first take a step back; nothing can be resolved when there is yelling and the projection of uncomfortable feelings at you. Next, remind yourself that any hurtful words being said are not really words directed at you; they are the individual’s own fears, confusion, and anger that is just getting tossed at you. 

The only way we can start to heal relationships is by addressing the hard stuff. If we stick with avoidance, then that is what we get back (which is a good reason not to listen to my six suggestions above). Just like people who advocate for LGBTQ rights, we have to advocate for love in our family. If we stay silent or allow them to walk all over us, we’ll never be able to move forward (or it will be a more painful process to do so). 

Ryan Sallans is a public speaker, diversity trainer, consultant, and publisher and author of the book Second Son. Ryan specializes in healthcare, workplace, and college campus issues surrounding the LGBTQIA community, with a specialized focus on the transgender community. For the past fifteen years, he has worked with organizations and universities on LGBTQ social issues, creating transgender-inclusive environments, and media literacy related to eating disorders, body image and gender. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology, Masters of Art in English, and a Masters of Art in educational psychology. Learn more about Ryan’s work at his website: