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Bah, humbug! Pandemic exacerbates holiday blues

Take steps to reduce, even eliminate, seasonal stress

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holiday blues, gay news, Washington Blade
Idyllic scenes of the holidays may not pan out this year thanks to COVID. But with some planning, you can stay positive and help others less fortunate.

Feasting on turkey with your family. Hanukkah Harry. Santa. “A Christmas Carol.” Sugar Plum fairies. Lighting candles to celebrate Kwanzaa. Ringing in the New Year!

It’s the holidays! Happy! Happy!

Not so much. Especially during the pandemic, and if you’re queer.

There are always holiday naysayers who dread Thanksgiving, loathe “It’s a Wonderful Life” and shout, “Bah, humbug!”

Yet, in the pandemic, many of us have the “holiday blues” more acutely than we did in past holiday seasons, psychologists and LGBTQ advocates told the Blade in interviews.

The term “holiday blues” is bandied about often. Yet, its meaning isn’t always clear. The “holiday blues” isn’t a mental illness, said Elaine Rodino, a psychologist in private practice in State College, Pa.

“It’s not a diagnosable ailment. It’s a feeling of malaise,” she said, “of anxiety – of discomfort that occurs during the holidays.”

But just because the “holiday blues” isn’t pathological, doesn’t mean that feelings of anxiety, stress and sadness during the holidays aren’t painful.

Our holiday stress is nearly always related to our childhood experiences, Rodino said. “For example, if we grew up with an alcoholic parent, we’ll recall how that parent would ruin the holidays,” she said, “it would start out fine. But, by the end of the night, the parent would be drunk, hostile – angry.”

On the other hand, we may recall our childhood holidays as having been absolutely perfect. “You might remember that your Mom baked 300 cookies. They were the best in the world,” Rodino said. “You’ll feel guilty because your present doesn’t match up to your memories of past perfection.”

The pandemic with its restrictions, illness and financial losses adds an added layer of stress to the holidays, especially for the LGBTQ community and other vulnerable groups.

“One way to deal with holiday stress is to volunteer,” Rodino advised, “to soup kitchens. Include vulnerable people in your Zoom events.”

Don’t be intimidated by past holiday rituals. “Create your own traditions,” Rodino said. “If we did everything like people did in the past, we’d do things like they did in the Middle Ages.”

From Hallmark movies to endless holiday music playlists to ads showing families merrily gathering before the fire, we’re led to expect that the holidays will be filled with happiness and togetherness.

We experience the “holiday blues” when our holidays don’t live up to these cultural expectations, said Nicholas Grant, a clinical psychologist and president elect of GLMA (Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality).

In addition to this stress, many LGBTQ people experience overt or subtle homophobia or transphobia when they gather with their family of origin for the holidays, Grant, who is queer, said.

The pandemic has added layers to holiday loneliness and insecurity.

You can take steps to reduce, if not totally eliminate, holiday stress, Grant added. “Use technology like Zoom to see family and friends who you can’t see in person,” he said.

Be proactive about who you want to see over the holidays, Grant advised. If you feel that connecting with someone in your family would be stressful for you, limit your time with them. “My Dad and I have no relationship as of this year,” Grant said, “because of his behavior and politics. It’s brought up for me: how do I want to experience this holiday season?”

Doing something that’s enjoyable to you and in line with your values is a great way to cope with the holidays, he added, “whether it’s writing poetry, riding a bike, baking bread or volunteering.”

For information on coping with the “holiday blues” or finding a therapist, Grant recommends Psychology Today, psychologytoday.com.

Most cisgender, heterosexual people who go home for the holidays, even if they are of a different faith, are culturally similar to their family of origin, said psychologist Keely Kolmes. “That’s not true for all queer folks,” said Kolmes who identifies as nonbinary. “Their families often direct micro aggressions at them, leaving them feeling isolated.”

Sometimes, homophobia or transphobia can be physically unsafe. But, even subtle micro aggressions, such as a snide comment on a celeb coming out, can be hurtful, they added. (Kolmes uses the pronouns they/them.)

“I advise clients when they go home for the holidays to have an escape plan with a friend or trusted family member,” Kolmes said, “for where they can go or what they can do if things go wrong.”

LGBTQ people seeking support (such as support groups or friendly religious events) during the holidays should contact LGBTQ centers and queer-friendly houses of worship in their communities, Kolmes advised.

We often hear this overwhelming, anti-LGBTQ religious voice, said Michael Vazquez, HRC Religion & Faith Program Director. “Yet, the intensity of that voice is disproportionate,” Vazquez added, “the overwhelming majority of American people of faith are welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people.”

“Going home – being with the family for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa – it’s important to remember,” he said, “it’s not antithetical to be both LGBTQ and a person of faith.” (For more information, visit hrc.org/resource/religion-faith.)

Many queer people (especially trans people) are struggling to survive during the pandemic, said Anneliese Singh, a counseling psychologist and chief diversity officer at Tulane University. “I think, too, with this election, during the holidays, many of us are going to have to set boundaries with those of our families who supported Trump,” Singh, who identifies as gender queer, said.

Sometimes Trump supporters separate their votes for Trump from their love for their queer loved ones, she added, “but, for us, a vote for Trump means a vote against ourselves.”

LGBTQ people should reclaim their religious traditions – from Kwanzaa rituals to Advent services, Singh said.

“Another way to move through the ‘holiday blues,’‘ she added, “is to have a daily set of gratitude boxes. Not cheesy gratitude. But gratitude that we’re queer and survived and thrived.”

Singh and her partner connected 10 years ago during the holidays.

“Christmas Eve is a special night for us,” she said, “it’s when we first got together. Every Christmas we think: How do we want to celebrate our relationship?”

Even before the pandemic, the holidays were difficult for queer and trans youth, said Adalphie Johnson, director of programs for SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders). “Some are homeless. Some are in unsafe spaces,” she said, “they’re not able to express themselves as far as clothing, etc.”

Youth are often unable to bring their partners to family holiday gatherings. “The pandemic with its social distancing adds to the social isolation,” Johnson said.

SMYAL is working to create safe virtual holiday events for youth, said Johnson, who is queer. “We’re sending out gift cards so they can order food and virtually eat together,” she added. “We ensure that the young people have all the fixings and trimmings.”

When young people get together with their families, SMYAL advises them to have one or two people they can call or text if they feel unsafe.

During her youth, “the most difficult thing during the holidays was that I didn’t know who in my family – like my aunts – would accept my girlfriend,” Johnson said.

(For more information and resources, visit: smyal.org, thetrevorproject.org, gsanetwork.org and glsen.org)

The holidays can be hard for everyone of every age, including LGBTQ elders. Older LGBTQ people are more likely to feel lonely during the holidays because they’re more likely to live alone, be single and not have children, said Bill Gross, assistant director of special programs for SAGE.

SAGE’s services for older LGBTQ people range from a friendly visitor program to a hotline run by volunteers trained in crisis counseling. The hotline, open 24/7, 365 days a year, including the holidays, provides free support in English and Spanish (with translation services in 180 languages). (For information, visit sageusa.org.)

Richard Daniels, a performer, is a member of SAGE’s New York City affiliate. Daniels was in “Help,” a play by poet and writer Claudia Rankine. The play shut down after two previews because of COVID. “The holidays will be no different. We’ll still be in quarantine,” Daniels said.

Daniels and his husband love Thanksgiving. “We’re Jewish. We don’t do much for Hanukkah or Christmas,” he said, “but Thanksgiving’s the one holiday where we love to get together with people — family, friends, out-of-town visitors — people with nowhere to go.”

“We still have much to be grateful for,” Daniels added, “we don’t drink. But we’d love to share a piece of pie on Zoom on Thanksgiving.”

‘With this election, during the holidays, many of us are going to have to set boundaries with those of our families who supported Trump,’ said Anneliese Singh, chief diversity officer at Tulane University.
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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