<content warning: mention of slut shaming, COVID-19, ableist comments, violence against Indigenous people and LGBTQIA+ folx>
I was in my early teens when my uncle called me a slut at Thanksgiving dinner. He blamed it on my very in (at that time) blue eyeshadow. I’m sure you and I can agree that wasn’t the cause.
Throughout the past several weeks the phrase, “The winter is going to be hard because the holidays won’t be the same” has been repeated as often as Christmas music in December. First, given record screenings at airports leading up to the publication of this essay, I question how many people actually changed their Turkey Day plans. Secondly, blaming the challenges of this winter only on changes to holiday plans ignores the many other reasons it will be hard.
Because, this winter is going to be hard. Full stop.
With virus cases and deaths surging, seasonal depression setting in, unemployment, housing, and food insecurity at high levels, a lack of national leadership, competing approaches to public health, and generally being burnt out, there are, indeed, dark, grief-filled weeks ahead of us. That part is objective truth.
It’s the reasoning—that changes to the holidays are to blame—that I take issue with, and the privilege in assuming that everyone has family to gather with this time of year, nevermind fond memories of such gatherings. How this assumption erases the racist, genocidal origins of this holiday; the continued oppression of Indigenous folx; the lived experience of immigrants whose loved ones live elsewhere; and, the thousands of us for whom the holidays have often been a fraught, even dangerous, time.
Several years after the slut shaming, after I started selling sex toys in college, I stormed out of Thanksgiving thanks to that same uncle again calling me names, belittling my work, and bringing it up around my first generation, chill but not about sex Italian-American grandparents who only knew that I taught college health workshops—which, in a world without sexual shame is exactly what those workshops are. Besides the fact that my extended family isn’t that kind of close, nos and stops from myself and several other family members went ignored. Again, this was somehow my fault for choosing such work. Again, what BS.
My memories, while painful, are relatively benign. We had plenty of food, my mental health was only mildly impacted, and I was never truly unsafe. My immediate family always had my back. Not everyone can say the same. Some people don’t have family to visit or can’t go home. Some people don’t have enough food or shelter. Some people aren’t embraced by or safe around family, either at all or in the fullest expression of their gender, sexuality, and themselves. Some people have never taken joy in this holiday as they are forced to witness others celebrating violence against their ancestors, oppression that continues today.
Needless to say, I know I’m not alone in feeling relief, joy, and, yes, gratitude to have a reason not to celebrate in the usual way for Thanksgiving this year.
I won’t miss the body shaming comments under the guise of weight compliments and being “bad” for getting seconds. I won’t miss the ableist “jokes” about my dairy allergy, being excoriated for skipping the turkey, hearing the food I brought for myself because there isn’t much else to eat called “that gross vegan shit,” or balancing competing family meal times.
Instead, I’m excited for time off—a privilege in itself—with my partner, to celebrate the harvest in a way that aligns with our values, and, yes, to be able to eat everything on the menu. He mapped out a week’s worth of seasonal recipes based on what’s in season and available from our local farm box that’s supporting community fridges and other initiatives to support folx experiencing food insecurity. Some are family recipes, others are ones that simply come from our Irish and Italian heritages—both options honor our lineages. I’m excited, too, to Zoom with both our families throughout the day, technically because it’s a holiday but mostly to celebrate the end of chemotherapy, recovering from a separate cancer surgery, and my not needing surgery on my injured shoulder or knee. I’m looking forward to creating new traditions, watching Doctor Who and holiday rom coms, playing board games, and for the chance to actually rest.
While I’m looking forward to this time for rest and reflection, I know this winter will be hard. For some, it will be harder because they changed their holiday plans. That grief is real. But it’s not the only reality.
There’s a meme going around about how bringing disease to people is the most honest celebration of Thanksgiving—and, a good opportunity to discuss the holiday’s truth. If this feels shocking or hard to hear, or even makes you comfortable, I hope you’ll use it as a call to think beyond your own experience, to grow your nuance and empathy, and to use what privilege you have to shift power to supporting those who society has marginalized more than you.
Even in non-pandemic times, Thanksgiving holds a multitude of meanings and emotions. Whether you’re simply the outcast or this holiday carries more grief, pain, and fear than I can know; whether you feel ecstatic to skip the holiday this year or just plain exhausted; whether this is your first year struggling or the struggle is part of the legacy of the day for you—I hope you can be gentle with yourself this week and throughout the holiday season.