No Sanctuary – Issues with Safe Spaces for LGBTQA+ Communities

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A few weeks ago I had seen a post on Facebook from a Mississauga based page that simply asked, “What do you think about Mississauga hosting more Pride and LGBTQA+ events?” Without a second thought I decided to comment on the post that yes, Mississauga should have more events for people who live in Mississauga and maybe, for whatever reason(s), cannot travel all the way to Toronto to attend events. In less than a few second, my comment had gotten replies and at first, I was hoping to see some agreements and positive responses but as far as the Internet goes, it was anything but. Reply after reply of, “we don’t want gays here,” “we need to be spending money on security and not stupid Pride events,” and, “the gays have Toronto, leave Mississauga alone”. Was I shocked? Somewhat. Was I angered and frustrated and sad? Of course I was. All of the negative responses on that post made me further think about the lack of safe spaces for those of the LGBTQA+ community, especially in cities that are basically, anywhere but downtown Toronto. So, the answer to why we need more safe spaces was answered by a couple of negative and nasty replies left by uneducated, unsupportive, and homophobic adults on a Facebook post.

A lot of the ‘safe spaces’ that are available now to LGBTQA+ people are usually set in bars or clubs and are, if not always, takes place in the evening and/or night. Even when I was away at University, Pride meetings were held at night on campus and most of the events and outings that the Pride group would host for its members took place in the evening/night. With that being said, there’s still a lot more to say about where the event is hosted and why it’s usually hosted at such late hours. These places are usually stigmatized as spaces that project the idea of hooking up, a gateway for dating, oversexualization of LGBTQA+ people (which can be found in any aspect of societies portrayal of the LGBTQA+ community), and the possibility of intoxication and intoxicated people.

Sure, these are great places for people who enjoy going to bars and clubs at night, great for people who are looking to date or hookup, and overall great for those who can drink and feel comfortable around other people who are drinking as well. Keeping in mind however the part of the population that are underage LGBTQA+ people, these sort of ‘safe spaces’ are unreachable, unappealing and may not pose as the safest place to meet and feel comfortable as a part of the community.

Teens who are LGBTQA+ have a lot of cons for such spaces to host these events. They may have curfews, late classes, part-time jobs that could be evenings and nights, teens that aren’t of legal age that can go to bars/clubs/can drink. They may not have transportation back and forth to such places and if they need an adult to drive them, they may not feel safe with that adult to let them know where they want to go (they may not be out to that parent/guardian/friend/adult figure in their life). They might have a disability in which it’s not as easy for them to get around, they’re on medication or, they may have a mental illness that makes it hard for them to go out and enjoy themselves in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.

Just as much as teens are affected from all of these things, this also affects some adults as well. The same reasons can apply for adults as it does for teens who don’t feel comfortable at such places. Adults may not be interested in dating/hookups/sexual relationships (they may identify as Asexual or are simply uninterested) and may feel uncomfortable in places that promote and push the desire of sex. Perhaps these adults (and teens as well) are simply looking for platonic, mutual friendships over relationships (in the romantic sense). These adults may possibly have a past of alcohol/drug/sexual/emotional/physical/mental abuse or stigmatization and might not feel safe in such places where it’s easy for this possibility to become a reality. Lastly, they might only feel comfortable or have the availability to only attend events during the day instead of in the evenings and late at night.

While age, sexual identity, gender identity, race, and religion pose as important reasons for such safe spaces to be created for those who cannot attend late night events, the issue of location is what sparked the original train of thought on this issue. Cities like Toronto may host events all the time (not always held late in the day), promote inclusiveness and have a clean, reputable history of safety and security; neighboring cities barely have such resources. Allowing cities like Mississauga to have more Pride/LGBTQA+ events will help those who may be having issues with support, transportation, acceptance, and their city not hosting events at all.

While demographically it may seem that everyone who identifies as LGBTQA+ only lives in the city of Toronto, Pride events/groups/communities/sponsors/political figures need to realize that neighboring cities and towns have populations who identify as well and are seeing little to no support in their own city/town. Mississauga had one event this year that I was aware of and it was part of this year’s Pride events. And while Mississauga is not that far from Toronto, it seems as if it’s a million miles away. The lack of support and understanding, the constant fear of sharing a city with those who are not heterosexual and those who demand to be seen, spoken and heard is startling when Toronto seems much more accepting, willing to put the time and effort to host events and have an inclusive attitude catered and centered for all, allies or identifiers. Safe spaces should be all inclusive, for anyone who has yet to find a safe space, in any city, in any part of the world, whether all citizens respect that decision or not. As far as nasty Facebook comments can go, my Pride for the city I live in will always overshadow the ones who decide to hate instead of educate, feel fear more than they feel pride and acceptance and support for those around them who need it the most.

Where’s My Rep? Lesbian Representation and Lack Thereof in Media

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As of late, I’ve been desperately trying to find and immerse myself in more Lesbian focused sources of media that encompasses Lesbians and Lesbianism on all fields of representation. I want to be able to relate to these women and these characters and even find out new and different outlooks of life and what it means to be a Lesbian for women all over the world. It hasn’t been easy to be honest; most of the media that is available has a lot of common issues and mistakes that are occurring over and over again. For some, this isn’t so bothersome if you identify within the cisgendered (ones sex assigned at birth), white, thin, and young (teen to early 30’s) “feminine” (or Lipstick) Lesbian woman “image” that the media loves to reuse for almost every Lesbian character.

This Lesbian character, much like her Lesbian love interest also happens to fit the same exact “image”. Nothing at all is that much different from these two characters (if they even choose to give the Lesbian character a love interest that is actually shown). With that being said, this character is rarely, if ever, the main character of the story. The Lesbian character can never be the main character; she can never be the center of attention for the viewers (aka society). She is always in the background posing as a “best friend” to a group or a couple of heterosexual women (and sometimes men). The Lesbian character also plays not only the role of the sidekick or the “gay” best friend but she is always, usually the one who is always open about her sexuality (in a real life setting, yeah right!) and always has these intense bursts of wisdom and common sense when the plot gets too intense for the heterosexual characters to deal with.

The viewer’s know who the Lesbian character is right away and never forget because of one common and recurring device: she is not written so that the viewers can relate to her or feel empathy for her but because she is always hyper-sexualized and her sexuality completely makes up her character. She is not allowed to have hobbies, common interests, education, friends (both gay and/or straight), a pet, or even day-to-day common struggles literally everyone has. The Lesbian character can only have her sexuality and the hyper-sexuality for her to be a redeemable and important character. Her sexuality is always often tested and usually makes jabs at women who identify as Bisexual, Pansexual, Transsexual and/or Asexual. Most importantly, the Lesbian character is not written for Lesbian/Bi/Pan/Trans/Ace viewers but for the heterosexual male gaze/fantasy.

So, what is the ending of this Lesbian character that only a very small portion of people can relate to? Usually, if not often, it ends in the death of that character, abuse; finding out her sexuality was only just a “phase” and she ends up happy and sure that she was heterosexual all along and now, in a relationship with a cisgendered, heterosexual white man.

So then, what would be the perfect way to represent Lesbians that encompasses and includes all? Trans, nonbinary and androgynous Lesbians. Lesbians of colour and of racial minority. Lesbians who are not considered “thin” by societies norms of the perfect body image (chubby, fat, obese women). Butch, masculine, Tom Boys, feminist lesbians and the lesbian who doesn’t fit or chooses not to fit/be labeled into a societal stereotype/image lesbian. Older lesbians who are not under thirty and have lived through change in laws, societal acceptance, riots, parades, issues, concerns, romances, heartaches and all that means to be a Lesbian. And of course, disabled Lesbians (mentally, physically, emotionally, and intellectually).

Of course Lesbian characters who are written as the main character and have different characteristics other than her sexuality. She is not created for the male gaze at all and she stands up or at least accepts other sexual identities. She can be sexualized and enjoy her sexuality but for her own pleasure, for her own self because she wants too (not to gain worth/value/devalue from the viewers).

Most importantly, how does this Lesbian’s ending go? She lives a long and fulfilling life and is not the end of a tragedy that makes the viewers/society believe that Lesbians will never be accepted, loved, respected, and be ultimately happy. We only want the best for her because we want the best for ourselves, the real world, real life lesbians who do not fit into this tiny, confined ideology. We want representation on the largest scale available. We want representation for all, no exclusion whatsoever.

The Feeling of Feeling Nothing: Emotional Awareness of Anxiety and Depression (Gay Living Version)

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You  can find it here: The Feeling of Feeling Nothing

Usually anxiety is usually coded as this always overemotional state of being where you may feel as if your emotions are taking over your rational state of mind. It’s the idea that anxiety is nothing but overthinking, overreacting, and over feeling while most cases, if not often, these feeling that seem to be taking over such emotional boundaries only last a few seconds to a few minutes. What really lasts the longest when it comes to anxiety attacks and even depression is the feeling of having no emotion at all. You feel void inside, completely shut off from the world around you and all those emotions that felt a little bit too much to handle have now reduced to ultimately nothing. You don’t get a rise or an edge off of these feelings because you’re simply left feeling empty and most of the time, worse than before.

Anxiety is like this for me. I overfeel and overthink and then when it’s all said and done, this wave of nothing washes over me and I feel stranded. The anxiety hits like a baseball bat to the face and the depression follows with this big, void blanket that erases every feeling or sense in my body.

What is there for me to do about this? Wouldn’t I rather feel something rather than nothing? Most days, yes. Feeling something lets me know that I’m aware and in tune with my surroundings and both my mental and physical state. I can keep my moods in check, changing or not and still be able to deal with them if they get too out of hand. Feeling nothing however, it a lot harder to deal with. Who do I talk about this feeling with? Will they understand that you can feel nothing? Will they think it’s a way to spark attention when really, I need help?

I always try to turn to ‘vices’ that make me feeling something: a book, watching a TV show or movie, talking to people (if I can handle it with the social anxiety), engaging in hobby of mine, or just simply trying to be in tune with myself. A lot of the times these don’t work. Doing any sort of fulfilling task doesn’t leave me feeling fulfilled. It makes me seem like what I’m doing is pointless. The end result, whether it only benefits me or others is still inherently a pointless task and a pointless end. What do I have to show for myself if even I don’t feel a sense of fulfillment at the end?

This feeling of feeling nothing is normal. It’s hard to accept. It’s hard to address. It’s hard to talk about and bring to light from someone who suffers from anxiety and depression. It’s hard to find ways in making this emptiness into something that your emotions will react too. Being able to share this feeling helps via writing and having my words and experience reach a wide range of people who may or may not be dealing with the same things I am dealing with. It’s comforting to know that someone may benefit from this; someone may learn from this or inform someone of this. Keeping the feeling of nothing inside is worse than letting the feeling of nothing out. Letting nothing out allows me to bring something back in that will hopefully, remedy this strange and common feeling of feeling nothing.

Does the ‘Ideal Lesbian’ Truly Exist? (Gay Living Version)

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You can find it here: Does the ‘Ideal Lesbian’ Truly Exist?

Everyone knows that, “experience comes from doing” but as of late (and maybe even since I accepted my sexuality), I couldn’t help to think of why it can’t be; “experience comes from existing”? I’m left wondering if both of these statements relate to how you identify with your sexuality and if it really matters at the end of the day. If I experience my sexuality from engaging in it (being in a relationship, dating) or from existing (being alive, accepting my sexuality) does one automatically make me more ‘real’ in the sense of, fitting the ‘Ideal Lesbian’ Image? This issue has been something that’s been on my mind as of late and I’m sure I’m not the only person who has/is struggling with such an idea. Am I any less of a Lesbian because I’ve never really had a physical relationship with another woman? Am I any less of a Lesbian because I’ve only accepted my sexuality and have left that identity as nothing other than a statement, a title for myself? What am I and other LGBTQA+ individuals trying to create as this ideal and picture-perfect image of any sexuality we identify under? Is this image simply what society wants us to recreate and live with or, is it something we each, individually strive for in regards to our own happiness?

Maybe it’s simply because of my social anxiety or my issues with forming relationships with people that I’ve wondered if I’ll ever get to experience what being a Lesbian entails. Interestingly enough, I have both dated women in long distance relationships and in physical relationships. I’ve split my engagement down the middle in regards to being both physically engaged in my sexuality and mentally engaged. Nonetheless, in both cases, my feelings for the other person were sincere and the fact if it was long distance or not didn’t change my feelings or mindset for that other person. But which one of these is more ideal in society’s sense? Obviously, the physical one. The one you can stop and stare at as they hold hands while walking down a sidewalk and not the one where it only exists in Skype video calls. To me however, both of them were ideal at the time they occurred because they both meant something gravely important to me: that I exist and my sexuality is valid.

Without a doubt, I engage physically in this Ideal Image in other ways that aren’t related to relationships. I dress a certain way and style my hair a certain way that would label me as a Queer individual. I have strong opinions about LGBTQA+ events, news, facts, and knowledge. I have my own story and my own experiences with coming out to people and accepting my sexuality for myself. I have my long list of female celebrity crushes and favorite Queer characters from books, TV, and movies. I encapsulate an image that maybe society would accept or reject as the Ideal Lesbian but without a doubt, an image of myself that I accept before I would reject.

My word of advice for anyone who catches themselves, with any negative feelings of doubt/sadness/regret/falsity with asking if they’re a ‘real’ or ‘fake’ individual within the LGBTQA+ spectrum, even those who are questioning their sexuality, would be that if you can accept or even acknowledge that you belong and identify as LGBTQA+, then you are the Ideal Image of you and what you identify as regardless of how society wants you to identify and represent, regardless of their set Ideal Image that can never be represented due to the individualistic and variant images that exist throughout the world.

Supporting the Unsupported AKA Your “Best Friend” (Gay Living Version)

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You can find it here: Supporting the Unsupported AKA Your “Best Friend”

Scenario: You have been friends with someone for almost ten years. Within those ten years, out of the four you have come out to that friend and told them that you identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum. You know your friend does not identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Within those four years you have noticed your friendship decaying, becoming weird and somewhat rocky. You both have not changed drastically; you still enjoy mostly the same things you did when you first became friends. So, what has changed to make you end a friendship that was entering ten years?

This is a real event that happened to me just as 2016 was ending. It was confusing and angering and overall, sad. It made me think less of myself and it also made me believe that with my mental health issues, that was to blame for this friendship ending. It wasn’t until I really sat down and collected my thoughts and put the pieces together to realize that being gay may have been the last straw. The terrible thing about this one isolated event is that it is fairly common among people who come out to their straight friends and to even their gay friends (internalized homophobia is also a huge issue). It takes guts and a hell of a long time to be comfortable about coming out to certain people as it is always a continuous ordeal that one will go through. You never just ‘come out’ once and then…POOF! like magic, the whole world knows you’re gay. Each person you meet, each interaction may or may not have to be a moment where you question, “Should I tell them I’m LGBTQ+?”

Knowing that this isn’t a common issue that many people are having when it comes to losing friendships and relationships, I’ve constructed a fairly simple and easy list of key red flags to be wary of if you suspect that your friend, partner, and/or family member is slowly pushing you away because of your sexuality.

  1. Outing or being forced to out yourself. Outing is very scary and happens a lot even if we don’t detect it right away. It’s a push to come out to people when you are not comfortable for doing so (under any reason). You may be tricked or forced and it may or may not be always by accident.
  2. Your friend/partner/family member acts unnatural or uncomfortable when it comes to showing platonic forms of affection. If hugging, holding hands or even complimenting becomes too difficult for them or they refuse to do it, there may be something more going on with how they view LGBTQ+ and the notion of over-sexualization.
  3. Changing the subject or only talking about LGBTQ+ issues/events/facts. It basically means that they have nothing they want to educate themselves on or, they feel as if your sexuality is what makes you who you are (and not all the wonderful traits, hobbies, interests that make you you!)
  4. I was speaking to a few of my Trans friends/acquaintances and they always bring up the common issue of being called by their dead name (usually their birth name before they began to transition) and being misgendered/ using the wrong pronouns. It is not that hard to call them by their desired name and their desired pronoun!
  5. Lastly and the most obvious, if your friend/partner/family member is being blatantly homophobic or transphobic around you.

It has been a huge eye-opener for me in the ways that, I have to look out for myself and surround myself with loving, accepting, and positive people. Sure, ten years is a very long time to retain memories and time spent with someone but if that person can’t accept one little part of me then it was never really worth it. Regardless of your sexuality, there is always time to educate yourself on various issues and how to set yourself in a world where people feel these issues and misconceptions about themselves and people like themselves every single day. Relationships are important and so are understanding and accepting people. It doesn’t take a lot to get out of your bubble, endure being uncomfortable for a while as you learn and grow and then, be there for your friends and loved ones. If they had the guts to come out and tell you, you have the guts to be a bigger, better, and supportive person.

New Year, New Who? (Mental Illness and New Year’s Resolutions) (Gay Living Magazine Version)

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You can find it here: New Year, New Who?

I never could wrap my head around the phrase, ‘New Year, New Me’. For some reason, it just never made any sense and if anything, left me feeling more angry than optimistic. Then again, I usually do feel more angry that optimistic, even on ‘good’ mental health days. I can easily understand the ‘New Year’ aspect of the phrase; another twelve months of who knows what to deal with once again. Another twelve months of dealing with my mental illness every day, hoping that the days go by faster or longer and that depends entirely on my current mental state and state of mind. Twelve months is a long time to be mentally exhausted and the New Year promises another twelve months in store that leaves me without room to recover the previous twelve. New Year’s resolutions are already being talked about and are already taking effect on people who want some grand change to their life. To eat better, to look better, to be better. How can I make a New Year’s resolution to end my social anxiety? How can I tell myself that by looking better or by working out every day is going to change the chemical imbalances in my mind and make me one hundred percent A-Okay? I guess that’s why even growing up I never made a New Year’s resolution. What was there that I wanted to change about myself that wasn’t my state of mind? Sure, I could be less negative and cast out the toxic people in my life but that doesn’t solve the social anxiety that builds up every time I enter a social situation nor does it solve the never-ending feeling of dread I have every day.

And of course the ‘New Me’ portion of the phrase always made me the angriest. How could I become a new version of myself? How could I leave behind the person I worked so hard to become? For what? Someone who’s fake and pretends that their mental health is just as fake? Someone who doesn’t address the day-to-day struggles of living with a mental illness and for what benefit? To make other people more comfortable because they don’t have to listen to me talk or see me battling with something they may never understand? I want people to feel uncomfortable. I want people to listen without any way of backing out. I want to continue being the strong woman I had to become to deal with my mental illness. What’s the point of making a new me if I can just build on the person I am and always had been before the New Year comes around again?

I guess if anything, the New Year should be taken with a grain of salt in the sense that, change will only happen when you least expect it or, if you’ve been working towards it long and effectively enough. I want the New Year for myself to be more awareness of whom and what I am; the good and bad parts of who I am. I want to continue on the path of getting better no matter how strenuous it is or how hard it will continue to get. I want to continue putting myself in a positive frame of mind and maybe even, allow others to see me on both my ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days of dealing with my mental illness. I don’t want to erase myself at the comforts of others and I don’t want to explain myself and my reasoning as to why my mental illness does what it continues to do to me. The New Year is a time to be unapologetic, to grow for yourself and by yourself, and to let others know that you’re not afraid to put your foot down.

As always, making a New Year’s Resolution is never a bad thing. Striving to be good and better is one of the biggest accomplishments and ultimate keys to happiness. No one else will be there for you at the end of the day but yourself. Putting your own happiness first is always the main and true meaning behind what a New Year’s Resolution is all about. However, and not to downplay the importance of positive change, having a mental illness and making changes can either be extremely good or extremely bad. You have to know yourself and the lengths you are willing to go to in order to become a better, healthier person. You have to be willing to commit, to suffer, to expand, to let go, and to be yourself without apology. As you leave behind the old year and welcome the new, you must always remember that you are bringing both your current and past self along. You are here on this journey and you will get to the end. The end will never be the final end to your mental health but it may just start a newer, happier and easier beginning.

For me this year, I want to bring out more positivity in myself. I no longer want to second guess myself or make my social anxiety my ending point for wonderful opportunities. I also do not want to be apologetic for who I am and who I will continue to be. I want to keep friends close who understand me and support me when I have both ‘bad’ and ‘good’ mental health days; those friends who do not judge me for what I am struggling with. Those are my New Year’s Resolutions.

And with this, I hope that all of you reading this have an amazing New Year and that you are unapologetically you; mental illness or not.

 

Stop Being a Grinch! -LGBTQ+ Issues During the Holidays

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The holiday season never skips a beat to quickly approach and with it brings a ton of issues and anxieties. There’s tension between family and friends, how to spend time during the holidays and making memories that we can bring and also leave behind when the New Year approaches. So then, why might the holidays be more of an anxious feat for those who identify as LGBTQ+? From my own personal struggles and issues during the holidays, here are some of the common issues that can and do happen and some ideas and advice on how to tackle them.

  1. Dealing with homophobic family/friends

Right off the bat, calling friends/family members out on being homophobic towards you shows them that what they are saying/doing is hurtful to you and is wrong. Don’t skirt around being nice about it, let them right then and there that they are being homophobic (whether they realize it or not). If they have the right to say something homophobic, then you have the right to let them know you are uncomfortable, angry, disgusted with what they are saying. Secondly, try to switch the conversation away from the temptation of making homophobic remarks or, no longer take part in the conversation at all. That clearly tells them that you are uncomfortable and not willing to participate. However, if you don’t want to cause a scene/fight in front of everyone, take that person(s) aside and tell them that what they are saying/doing is wrong and hurtful. Lastly, if they have continued to act like this year after year, let them know you are no longer comfortable around them. Remind them that the holidays are about spending time with family and not putting one another down.

  1. Dealing with possibly coming out or being outed

Timing is everything and if you can, start with immediate friends/family (basically the people you are the closest to and trust the most), then, if you can, move onto extended family. Also be aware that questions and comments may arise and they might not necessarily be good or nice. Try to be as sincere, true to yourself, and educational in responses to these. Lastly, don’t feel forced to come out even if you have been/are being forced or outed. It all depends on how you feel the relationship between you and your friends/family, and timing. The holidays are filled with a lot of other anxieties of its own that come with the rush of the season. You do not need to rush coming out.

  1. Dealing with not being invited to parties/events/gatherings because you are no longer accepted by friends/family

Try to make plans with the friends/family who do accept you. These plans don’t need to be elaborate or expensive – being there for one another is the most important thing about the holidays. Also, trying not to feel guilty for not spending time with that friends/family who do not accept you. You have to put yourself first in situations like these (despite the circumstances of it being the holidays where pressures to spend time with family/friends exist). You deserve feeling welcome, safe, and respected regardless of making others feel angry or disappointed that you decided against spending time with them over the holidays.

  1. Mental Health

Although the holidays always leads to being around people almost all the time or for the vast majority of it, try and find some alone time if you can. We can easily become socially exhausted (and even quicker if we deal with a mental illness) although we crave and get into the spirit of wanting to be around people during the holidays. Finding something to do/talk about that is enjoyable for you and maybe something you do alone that eases your mental state. Including others to take part in these activities allows you to both do something you love while not excluding spending time with everyone else. Lastly, and most importantly, not being afraid to speak up/act on it if something sets off a mental relapse – let your friends/family know how you are feeling.

  1. Making the get together not about you/your relationship status/your sexuality

Similar to number 1, try to change the subject completely. Do not give them the satisfaction by responding because this will only allow them to think they can keep pestering you and not get the hint that you don’t want to talk about yourself the entire time. Also, reminding them again that there is a time and place for saying what they are and this is not the acceptable time and place for you to openly talk about yourself right now. Lastly, if you are simply fed up and one through five of this list still didn’t help and you are having a terrible holiday with terrible people all around, simply drop the F-bomb. I use it all the time and I highly recommend it.

With all that being said, the holidays will always bring upon a lot of pressures that aren’t usually dealt with throughout the rest of the year. Not only ourselves but we must remind and keep in mind what the holidays are actually about: spending time with those who are close to you, love you, and respect you (and not so much about yourself). Although, it’s never easy to escape the holiday commitment of being social and seeing friends and family that you may not be too excited to spend time with, hopefully these little pieces of advice will help when it comes to family and friends who may not understand that your sexuality is not the meaning of the holidays. When it doubt, lean towards those good family members and friends who have always and will forever continue to support you. They will always be the people you will enjoy spending time on, especially when it comes to moving into the New Year.