9 Non-Binary, Gender Fluid, & Transgender Folks On Dealing With Toxic Family Over The Holidays

by Natalia Lusinski
Javier Pardina/Stocksy

You or someone you know may not look forward to going home for the holidays. After all, not everyone’s family resembles a picture-perfect one that you may see on TV or in movies: Your family may not approve of your career, lifestyle choices, your partner, you name it. And if you are non-binary, transgender, or gender fluid, you may have a more conservative family who does not understand you. For instance, they may accuse you of going through a phase when who you are is who you are. So, when it comes to the holidays, toxic family members probably don’t help make make the season merry and bright.

First, you may be wondering what the definition of a non-binary, transgender, or gender fluid person is. “Typical genders are either male or female, making genders binary because there are only two choices,” Kryss Shane, LGBT expert and sex and relationship expert, tells Bustle. She says that a non-binary person identifies their gender neither male nor female. “They see gender as a spectrum and they’re somewhere on that spectrum,” she says.

A transgender person, on the other hand, is typically someone who is assigned one gender at birth, but identifies as the other standard gender, Shane says. “In these cases, gender is still binary when a person appears male and identifies as female, or vice-versa, since the person is identifying as one of the two gender binaries.” So, if a person is assigned one gender at birth and identifies as a different gender — but not one of the two standard genders — they would be considered non-binary, she says.

As for someone who identifies as gender fluid, they have a gender identity that is not fixed as one set gender throughout their entire life, Shane says. “Instead, a gender fluid person’s gender identity can fall in between two binary genders — or, the person may identify their gender on an ever-changing spectrum.” She adds that gender fluid means the gender identity changes, so sometimes the person identifies as male, sometimes as female, sometimes non-binary — this is something ever-changing just as you may be used to seasons or moods changing.

So, when it comes to going home for the holidays, what’s the best way to deal with family members who aren't supportive? Shane says that in some situations, drawing clear boundaries can help to maintain familial relationships, and that it also helps to consider how each family member impacts your life. “In some cases, using stress relievers, bringing friends as buffers, and limiting the amount of time being spent with relatives is necessary,” she says.

But if things are really bad, Shane says there may not be a need for you to continue the relationship with a toxic family member. “In other cases, the family member is so toxic that the best option is to end the relationship,” she says. She adds that even though this is not something often talked about in the media, many recognize that the best way to care for one’s self and the best way to lead a happy and productive life is to remove toxic people, including family members. “No person has a right to be cruel or hurtful and someone being related does not make this behavior acceptable,” she says.

Of course, only you can decide if it’s time to say goodbye to a toxic family member altogether … or should you try one more holiday get-together first? Below, non-binary, transgender, and gender fluid people share what it's like dealing with toxic family members.


Anonymous, 24

“I identify as non-binary, and the last time I saw my family was at last year’s Christmas gathering. When I walked in, they were discussing transgender bathroom bills and how ‘weird and messed up’ transgender people are; they had Fox News on during the time presents were being opened. Though I brought gifts for everyone, there were no gifts from me. Someone said it was because they were waiting to buy me gifts until I figured out who I was. So this wasn’t about them forgetting, this wasn’t about them not knowing what to get — it was their way of trying to force me to choose a gender. I didn’t choose a gender; I chose not to associate with people who treated me badly.”


Danielle, 35ish

“I had to cut my family out years ago, after they refused to accept me as a transgender woman. My name was Daniel, now it is Danielle. I even told them they could call me ‘Danny/Dani’ to make it easier for them and for things to not be so weird. They told me to go away, so I did. Every so often, I’ll get an email from someone inviting me to visit or to call, but they always call me Daniel. I used to email back something nice and sign it ‘Danielle,’ but then I wouldn’t hear from them again for months. It’s like they think this is some phase I’ll get over if they just ignore me. It’s like they think this is a temper tantrum for a toddler — just ignore the behavior and it’ll stop. No matter how many times I tell them, they don’t listen: This isn’t a phase, this isn’t a behavior, this is who I am.”


Anonymous, 43

“After coming out as non-binary a few Christmases back, my family doesn’t invite me to spend the holidays with them anymore. I spent the first Christmas without them in tears, but now I spend the day volunteering. When I volunteer, no one asks me which gender I am and no one says I’ll never give them grandkids — they’re just happy I’m there. It’s funny, my family sort of looks down on poor people. But these people accept me and look me in the eye. I’d rather be poor and decent than be wealthy and denying my own child.”


Anonymous, 19

“I decided it was better to stay at college than to deal with my family’s bigotry during the holidays over the fact that I’m gender fluid. I’d rather sit alone in my dorm room with a microwaved TV dinner than go somewhere I am not wanted and be with people who refuse to love the real me. Sometimes, I think about getting married or having friends who’ll invite me for holidays. I don’t want to think about spending every holiday alone for the rest of my life, but I’d rather do that than spend them surrounded by hate.”


Alex, 32

I identify as non-binary and learned that if I want to have a pleasant time with my family at the holidays, it’s best to just avoid any subject that could possibly lead to talk of my sexuality. My parents are pretty conservative and don’t get how I cannot identify as male or female. My mom’s a tad more understanding than my dad, but still. So as long as we avoid topics like my dating life, it’s OK, though some holiday meals have been bad and I’ve stormed out.”


Anonymous, 28

“I have learned to just not talk about who I am (a transgender man) when I’m with my family. I don’t talk about dating or kids or anything like that. It just starts fights. Nobody asks me anymore about dating or marriage or anything anymore either. We just don’t talk about it. It’s like my gender and my relationship status are just black holes of an abyss we all know not to bring up. I hate having to do this, but I guess it’s better than not having a family to spend the holidays with, right?”


Anonymous, 56

“I just stopped going. No one told me to stop, but no one asked me to come either. It’s obvious they don’t accept the fact that I’m non-binary. The last time I went to a family gathering, most of the talk was about what I was wearing, how no one knew what to call me (though I hadn’t changed my name), and was I an ‘it.’ So the next year, I didn’t initiate. I also didn’t email and offer to bring something or ask for people’s holiday wish lists. I waited for them to reach out. They didn’t. So I didn’t. It’s been 12 or 13 years now. Wow, it’s been so long I can’t even remember exactly how long it’s been.”


Anonymous, 31

“I’m gender fluid, which my family will NEVER understand. ‘You can’t be,’ my dad loves to day. What?! Sometimes, I skip the holidays; other times, I confront them if the dinner conversation steers toward my sexuality (which they love for it to do). With so many conversation topics out there, I don’t know why I have to be the focus of the conversation. I’ve even sent them online links from GLAAD and other organizations to help them better understand, but they probably don’t even read them.”


Anonymous, 37

“Everyone says that old people struggle with gender, but my grandmother was the only one in my family who accepted me (as non-binary) immediately and always. Three years ago, she died. The first holiday season without her was already tough, but being ignored by my entire family made it unbearable. I swore to myself that I would never tolerate spending another holiday alone. In the two years since, I have found places to volunteer. My family claims to be Catholic, yet them being so cruel during the time of Jesus’ birth certainly makes me question them.”

As you can see, the folks above all have different experiences in terms of dealing with their toxic family members over the holidays. However, only you can determine what is acceptable behavior from your family members. And, as Shane says, if drawing clear boundaries and implementing stress relievers — like bringing along a friend as a buffer — does not work, it may be best to remove toxic people from your life.