Thanksgiving is a time of family gatherings. This can make the holiday a difficult time for many LGBTQ people.
I have been involved for the last four years with a peer support group for men who are gay, bisexual, questioning; and who are, or who were, married or involved with a woman. I know a number of men from this group who have moved out of their marriages in the last few years and face spending Thanksgiving alone or with a new group of people for the first time in many years. It can be a very stressful and difficult time.
Tomorrow I will be facilitating a discussion at this peer support group titled: Surviving the Holidays. I put together a list of topics for discussion
- What are the biggest challenges you face around the holidays?
- How do you make sure that you have plans for the holidays and do not end up alone?
- If you are spending the holidays with your wife or ex-wife and children, what kind of challenges will you face? What do you find most difficult about the experience?
- Are depression and loneliness a big issue for you around the holidays?
- Do you feel strong or fragile as you enter the holiday season?
- What can you do to make yourself emotionally stronger as you enter the holidays?
I think this will be a great discussion as men wrestle with the challenge of the holidays, irrespective of if they are still in their marriages or have left the marriage. I hope the discussion leaves all the men stronger.
When I was still in my marriage, Thanksgiving was always my wife’s big holiday. We would typically have about 22-28 people over, including her family, my family, and assorted friends. She would always make a large turkey, an exercise that would begin the night before with brining the turkey and then up before dawn on Thanksgiving day to stuff the bird and get it in the oven. Everyone would bring their favorite dishes and desserts and it would be a beautiful feast. Even after I left the marriage two and a half years ago this tradition continued, with my parents traveling down from Philadelphia for the day.
This year will be the first-year members of my family will not come to my former home for Thanksgiving. Given my father’s recent heart operation, my brothers and one of my sisters will be gathering with my parents in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving. My wife asked me if I would rather be with my parents and siblings for Thanksgiving, but I really want to be with my son, who will attend my wife’s Thanksgiving.
This will be the third Thanksgiving, since leaving my marriage, that I will be spending it with my wife and son, her parents and siblings, and some of her oldest friends. Each year it gets a little harder and a little stranger. For example, I have not spoken to my wife’s siblings since last Thanksgiving, which I know will make for some stress as we reconnect. I have been in touch with my wife’s parents throughout the year, and we still have an easy warm relationship. But two months ago I began to talk with my wife about divorce and I do not know how that will impact how her family treats me. Also attending will be a few close friends of my wife that I have known for over twenty-five years. They are always warm and gracious with me and that will make the event easier and more in the world.
But my world has changed a good deal since I left my marriage in the summer of 2013. Since January I have been dating a man in what is a wonderful relationship that continues to grow stronger. My boyfriend told me for that many years he held a Thanksgiving dinner in his home for his friends that did not have a place to go. Two of my friends attended his Thanksgiving dinner last year and their retelling of the evening was one of the ways I was introduced to my future boyfriend. So when I had a holiday party in December last year, I invited him as a ‘person of interest’. I thought he was really cute and I wanted an excuse to get to know him better. My party was followed by his invitation to the New Years’ party at his house. Our first date followed in early January 2015.
My boyfriend is having knee surgery the day before Thanksgiving so he will be spending Thanksgiving recovering. I feel bad that we will not be spending Thanksgiving together. It feels at this point that we should be together for this holiday. Even though I will not be alone for the holiday it has its own stresses. It is always emotionally difficult to walk back through the front door of the house I still own, but do not live in, to be with my wife and her family. And this year there is the added stress of not being with the man I care about on this family holiday. If it were not for my son, I would not be spending the holiday with my wife and her family.
But to answer my own questions for the peer support group, I do feel strong as I enter the holiday season. I feel good about who I am today; proud that I am fully out in my life; and happy about the new life I have created for myself. I also know it will strengthen my son for me to be with him for the holidays. To make myself emotionally stronger, I need to be crystal clear about all the good things in my life today and be grounded in those facts.
Happy gay Thanksgiving everyone.