Queerly Beloved: When “No” is the Greatest Gift

By : Rev. Jakob Hero-Shaw
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It’s a painful reality that “the most wonderful time of the year” is often quite brutal. We get invited to events and parties and told to leave the essence of ourselves behind. Nothing says “happy holidays” like the reification of gender norms. Heteronormativity appears to be at the center of our holiday celebrations, whether of the religious or secular variety. Just because something is expected to be a certain way, does not mean it is right.

There is nothing sacred or holy that sets heterosexuality and gender normativity above queerness. We have been taught so many lies about ourselves, eventually we start to believe them. This is the time of year when self-doubt can run wild. Somewhere between the cheerful music and the shopping we can easily lose our resolve.

As we shovel one more spoonful of green bean casserole into our mouths, this is the time when many of us feel pressure to conform. We abandon ourselves for the image assigned to us by the people we came from. We might even do this to the peril of those who actually do love us unconditionally. Far too many among us are invited to the table with the stark reality of the conditions and self-sacrifice that will entail.

Why is it the people who speak most about “family values” are the same people who value their actual family members the least? If you cannot be fully yourself when you sit down at the family meal, I encourage you to find a different table. Is an invitation to a family gathering really an invitation if you are asked to bring anything other than your whole self? If you need to “tone it down” or if you cannot bring (or even speak of) the person you love, then you have not been invited to a family gathering at all.

If your parents told you that you can’t be loved for who you are, they are wrong. I am a dad and I am telling you that you are amazing and lovable. One of the things I have learned, as a parent, is that parents are often clueless and stumbling along, just trying to figure it out. Although I will definitely have to hide this issue of Watermark, so my teenagers don’t see me admit this: let me assure you that parents make mistakes. Parents and other family members might act from a place of fear and resort to exclusion. In this case, the only option is to set firm boundaries.

Sometimes the best gift you can give another person for the holidays is the word “no.” The person who invites you to a party and is scared you might be yourself when you arrive, gift them with a “no.” The elderly aunt who leaves you a voicemail to make sure you know you are welcome, “but this is for family, so don’t bring your special friend,” offer her the gift of a “no.” If your family invites you but won’t use your correct name or pronouns, offer them the loving gift of your absence; tell them “no.” If they invited you, but did not want the real you, then no, you do not have to attend.

I do realize that this might be an impractical suggestion for many in our community who have family events that they cannot skip. If attending and hiding your true self is your only option, I encourage you to hold fast to the essential qualities that make you exactly who you are. What do you need to feel whole? What do you need to feel seen? What reminds you of who you really area? Claim that for yourself and hold on to it – no one can take it away from you.

The queer community has a lot to teach our non-queer friends and family members. Most of us have spent a lifetime being told that our love is wrong, that our mannerisms are wrong, that our gender presentation is wrong, and other such nonsense. From this, we have learned that we are not the ones who are broken.

Many of us have redefined what “family” means. We have created our own families, based on something more important than genetics. No matter where this holiday season takes you (geographically or emotionally) remember that your queer family loves you exactly as you are. You don’t have to tone it down, you don’t have to hide or pretend. You are seen. You are whole. You will get through this.

If the holiday season truly is too much for you, please reach out for help. You can contact me directly, or find another LGBTQ-affirming faith leader. If you are in a crisis and in danger of harming yourself, please call 911 or the suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255. If you are a trans person in need of support, you can call the trans lifeline at 877-565-8860.

Lastly, if you just need a dad to tell you that you are okay, but your own dad cannot or will not, listen to me. I am a dad and although parents sometimes say the wrong thing, I can say this with authority: You are wonderful. You are loved. You are exactly who you are supposed to be. I am so proud of you!

Rev. Jakob Hero-Shaw is the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa, MCCTampa.com. He and his husband are the proud fathers of two wonderful children.

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