Every year you expect it — the dreaded family gatherings. Everyone knows you’re as queer as a three dollar bill and some of your precious family members always have something to say about it.

The holidays are a stressful time for everyone, but for LGBT people our concerns and holiday stresses are compounded even further. For some of us, going back to visit the family is like heading back into the closet.

There are ways to keep your cool and stay sane, while upholding your own dignity and self-esteem, too.

1. Don’t allow your family to make you choose between them and your partner. Like your mother, father, siblings, aunts and uncles, your partner is family, too. If your loved one isn’t welcome, then neither are you. Go to your partner’s family or spend those special and romantic times alone during the time the both of you have off work.

2. If you go to holiday family gatherings and you always find it uncomfortable, just skip out early. No one ever said you had to stay the entire time, and mostly no one will care if you have to leave for “other obligations.”

3. Plan your own gathering. When you’re on your home ground, the rules are different. You and your partner get to decide who is invited and who isn’t — you don’t have to invite your anti-gay cousin over, but if you do they probably wouldn’t come any way.

4. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into the “victim’s corner.” Walk into your family gathering tall and proud. Surely, you won’t be the only odd one there. Plenty of other relatives will be feeling awkward and uncomfortable for their own reasons. Perhaps a closeted cousin, nephew or niece will be able to find comfort in your confidence.

5. If you’re already out, don’t hide from yourself if someone asks and takes a genuine interest in your life. But, if the overall topic of sexual orientation is one you know is going to cause a stir, focus on other parts of your life that will make your family proud, like your progress at work, your recent move to a new home or life in your city or neighborhood.

6. As hyped up as everyone will be from all the shopping, caffeine, lack of sleep and candy, perhaps the holidays don’t top the list of the best times to come out. If you’re still in the closet, just try to sweat it out a bit longer and relieve your secret at a slightly better, calmer time of the year.

7. Perhaps many — maybe all — of your relatives don’t like the fact that you are LGBT. While you should expect and request politeness, kindness and love, you can’t always ask for complete acceptance. Respect family members’ differences as long as they respect yours.

Remember that the holidays are a time for family and friends. If your family isn’t an option, perhaps a chosen family and circle of close, supportive friends will be able to see you through the season with cheer and joy. Above all else, remember, Happy Holidays!

Photo courtesy, timlovesbrian, via Flickr