Holly Hammond reflects on the challenges and opportunities of an activist Xmas.
What does this time of year mean to you?
For many people this time year involves a break from work, exchanging gifts and spending time with family.
The emphasis on happy families can be really hard on people who don’t have one – either a family, or a happy family. What if the family home was not a safe place, if festive traditions fell apart when parents separated, if the loss or separation of family members is felt keenly at this time, or if coming out as queer or trans resulted in rejection and exclusion?
This time of year can rub salt in old wounds and emphasise dissonance, the distance between our lives and what is considered the ideal. Of course, if you have a non-Christian faith outsider status is constantly reinforced.
And what does all this mean for activists? There’s no experience that can be generalised but I don’t think it would be unusual for some of us to experience a sense of dissonance or even alienation at this time of year. Like the trickiness of explaining your work to family members with vastly different politics. Or choosing gender nonconformist presents for the kids in your life. Or feeling overwhelmed by all the commercialism and trying to do a ‘buy nothing’ Christmas when others in your family have an expectation of certain expenditure on gifts.
It might just be noticing how starkly different your life is from many of the people in your family, and that who you are jars with some of their hopes and expectations. We all want people to ‘get’ us, and sometimes they just don’t.
To focus your life on addressing injustice, building community, and transforming the world is to swim against the stream. There are many rewards in doing this – but it can get tiring too.
One way I’ve seen activists attempt to minimise this pressure and disconnect is to insulate themselves from people living non-activist lives. I don’t think this is the answer! Connecting across difference is important – for creating social change but also for having happy lives.
There is significant misinformation about activists, unhelpful stereotypes, an under-valuing of our choices and a concerted marginalisation of our perspectives. History tends to be retold to leave out the contribution of people like us – who have done the hard work to make the world a better place. It’s no surprise that people in our lives can end up with some of that baggage.
How do we counter this?
- Come out! Be honest about your life. Demystify what being an activist is like. Show how much you care about what you do, and what motivates you to do it.
- Pick your battles. Just like how as a queer person I assess situations for safety to decide how out I want to be, I decide how much I want to get into political rumbles with family and friends. (Of course this is passing privilege, not all people are in the position to choose whether they are exposed to prejudice and oppressive mistreatment).
- Affirm each other. We’ll be more resilient to other people’s cluelessness or bad attitudes if we have a strong base of people who have our back. Think of the activists you know. What do you appreciate about them? Tell them!
- Affirm yourself. Take some time to review the last year. What have you achieved? How have you grown? What are you proudest of? Here’s a worksheet to get you started.
- Celebrate activists! Give gifts that educate and enlighten, like biographies of amazing people, or support where it counts. Replace the annual viewing of Love Actually with Pride, everyone will thank you.
Here’s some more great tips from Feministing for surviving the holidays.
What’s this time of year like for you? What makes it go well for you?