The holidays are meant to be a time of merriment and family, but so can it be disappointing, even depressing, for some.
This time of the year can be especially hard for immigrants who are separated from dear ones overseas. Many seek the company of compatriots to recreate festivities and meals that evoke their countries of origin. Most turn to their ethnic congregations for services consistent with their values and traditions.
Queer immigrants, like any other newcomer, can find the holidays tough. But it can also be doubly hard for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants, as they feel left out not only by the mainstream but by their own families and ethnic communities, which tend to be conservative and unwelcoming of openly LGBT individuals.
“My blood family and I had a contentious relationship due to my political involvement teemed with my sexuality and gender identity,” said K, who identifies as queer, transgender, and of Philippine descent.
“Due to this, I was kicked out, homeless, and estranged as a young person from my blood family. This has incited displacement, a painful sense of mobility, and an instability that show itself during holiday time.”
Tania, a community organizer at the Immigrant Youth Justice League and coordinator for the LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Project at the Association of Latino Men for Action, says her family has come around. They are more comfortable with her being out, and she is able to bring her partner home for the holidays.
She nonetheless feels a great loss at this time of the year.
Tania is undocumented. Her parents brought their family over from Mexico 18 years ago when she was only 10 years old.
It is important for her to describe herself as without papers. “That’s really an important part of my identity because it’s something that has been true for me for most of my life,” she said. “It’s something that has affected every aspect of how I live.”
“It’s really difficult to listen to people’s plans of traveling at this time to a country where I can’t go even if I wish I could,” she admitted.
She sorely misses her extended family and laments the fading ties.
“I’ve lost touch with my family in Mexico, my cousins, my grandparents,” she said. “When I talk about Christmas and New Years and Three Kings Day as being family time, it really has only been my immediate family, my mom, my sister, my dad, and myself, plus the few friends and chosen family that have also gathered around us, both from the LGBT community and the immigrant undocumented community.”
Many queer immigrants spend the holidays with “chosen families,” usually others who share their gender orientation and identity and their struggles in America.
David, a New York artist, plans on sharing a Christmas meal with other gay immigrants and their partners. Although David’s family has long embraced his being gay, it’s a matter of comfort.
Pia, a student and activist in San Francisco, celebrates the holidays with both her blood and chosen families. She admits, however, that while her extended family does not object to her bringing a partner, she still feels invisible.
“My blood family never talks about my identity and sexuality openly, but they’ve all welcomed my former partners,” she said.
“At the same time, conversations regarding relationships — living together, how the relationship is going, “are you happy?” check-ins, marriage, or in my case, domestic partnership — are never afforded to me the way they are so casually discussed with straight family members and their partners. While there is acceptance, there isn’t a genuine acknowledgement of my identity I feel like — even after they’ve seen me with a former partner for over three years and have considered that person a family member.”
Queer immigrants nonetheless do the best they can to commemorate the holidays.
K puts “great effort in being thankful for my shelter and home, having access to food, the people who love me and the communities who create joy with everyday social change. These activities are embraced with people who are my family in ways that have nothing to do with blood ties.”