I was born just before sunrise on the day after Thanksgiving in 1980. The story goes that I was two weeks late making my grand entrance into this world and my parents went to Thanksgiving dinner as planned at my dad’s parent’s house. Later that evening, after they returned home, my mom thought she had a bad case of indigestion that wasn’t actually indigestion. Who knew turkey could induce labor?!
My parents hopped in the car to head to Massachusetts, where my mom was living when she got pregnant, because her obgyn was still there. My parents made the 30 minute drive from Derry, NH to Lowell General Hospital, where I was born just before 6:30am the next morning.
My birthday is sometimes on Thanksgiving, but I think this story is what really cements my connection to the holiday. Regardless of how accurate it is or how many details fluctuate — sometimes, it was snowing on the drive down and other times the weather isn’t mentioned as a factor at all — the way Thanksgiving dinner is woven into the story of my birth has always been a point of joy for me.
** side bar: can we also talk about how THANK GOD I was two weeks late? I mean, I would have been a SCORPIO had I been on time!!**
Even with the joy I feel around my birth story, for as far back as I can remember I’ve had a love/hate relationship with having my birthday in close proximity to Thanksgiving. Trying to have birthday parties on a holiday weekend, at the end of November, in New Hampshire was, at times, an exercise in futility. If my friends were even in town, there were also early season nor’easters to contend with. When there’s a foot of snow coming down, who wants to drive to an eight year old’s birthday party?
I’ve had amazing birthdays too, more than I can count. I’ve had at least three surprise parties thrown for me in my life. In my 20’s there were entire weeks in November where there was a different party with a different group of friends every night. Not only did I have a Dirty Thirty party, but when I turned 31 I had a Dirty Thirty Do Over party (which is where I smoked my last cigarette, btw).
I’ve danced, drank, made-out with strangers (and friends), and made all sorts of bad decisions with the intention of making a spectacle of my birthday over the years. What this all comes down to is a struggle to feel seen. When you’re born between Thanksgiving and the new year in the United States, it’s easy to feel like you blend into the surroundings. Like your birthday is draped in holiday themed camouflage. Birthday celebrations often get lumped into holiday parties – every single one of us has gotten the dreaded “combined gift” at least once during our childhood. And when we’re older, trying to get people together to celebrate your birthday during one of the most stressful, family oriented, times of the year is a feat unto itself.
Before you start drifting away from what I’m saying here: No. This isn’t an entire blog post dedicated to having a pity party about my birthday (but, if it was, how many of you would be into that?) This is about how to survive my birthday, aka: a major national holiday where most people spend time with extended family that they don’t see or talk to on a regular basis.
A recurring theme of my birthday is a feeling of not being seen, but you don’t need a holiday season birthday to feel invisible – particularly if you’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community or questioning your sexuality/gender. Family holidays for queer folks can mean going back in the closet, having to be dead named and/or misgendered. It can mean being subject to homophobic or transphobic microaggressions and overt hostility. It can mean no one acknowledging your partner or your sexuality in a way that makes your identity feel erased and minimized.
And now, with Halloween being the official launch point for the holiday season, that means there’s an entire extra month of dreadful anticipation for us all. There’s no wonder that the day before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year, all of this shit is scary and stressful.
But, we can get through it – sober – with a little planning and support. If you find yourself feeling invisible, anxious, or angry about the events of the day, here are a few things you can do that will help you survive my birthday:
- Leave the room. You know when it feels like the air has been sucked out of the room and every single noise sounds amplified 100 times in your head? It happens to me in situations where I start feeling anxious: crowds, work events, church, and rooms full of family where the conversation veers toward a topic that I feel strongly about. Will your uncles not shut up about the new brewery in town? Is the conversation skewing heavily toward heteronormativity? Are you sick of being asked: “Why did you cut your hair so short? You’re such a pretty girl.” or “Why are you wearing nail polish? That’s for girls.” or “When are you going to get a boyfriend/girlfriend?” When this happens, when anything happens that makes you feel like screaming or crying or like a black hole has opened up where your heart used to be, remember: You can always leave the room. Even in the middle of a conversation. Even in the middle of dinner. All it takes is an “excuse me” and an exit. Go take a few minutes for yourself, text a friend, take a breath or a walk or a nap or meditate. You don’t need to apologize, you don’t need to feel bad, you just need to take care of yourself.
- Only stay for part of the day. If you’re local and have the ability, consider stopping by just for dessert or leaving after the main course. It may feel strange, only being around for party of the festivities, but no matter what kind of shit anyone gives you, it’s okay to show up late or leave early. I let people know ahead of time if that’s what I’m dong, but it’s not required that you do. Being with family can be stressful, but staying for only an hour or two instead of an entire day can alleviate almost all of that stress.
- Skip it all together. I actually decided last year, after five holiday seasons on the west coast, that I don’t need to do holidays with family just because I live in New England again. So I skip them. It’s amazing to take time for myself or to make plans with friends. Go on a hike or to the beach, binge a show or have your very on movie marathon. Whatever you do, don’t even think about feeling guilty for doing what’s right for you.
- Pick your battles ahead of time. If you know that your family is going to have things to say about the gays or trans folks, if you know that they’re going to be racist or xenophobic or any other thing that goes against who you are and what you believe in, decide how you’re going to react ahead of time. Are there areas you’re willing to let slide? Are there topics that you will speak up about no matter what? Make your decisions ahead of time; we can’t fight every battle, it would be madness to try.
- Remember you’re only responsible for yourself. Listen, as much as we want to be able to make other people happy or convince them to love us the way we are, that’s just not something we can control. We have zero control over other people’s feelings. Let me repeat that: we have zero control over other people’s feelings. All we have control over are our own thoughts and reactions to situations. Take care of yourself first and don’t worry about making other people uncomfortable with your truth. That’s their shit to work on.
When it comes down to it, holidays are just like any other day, one where you’re allowed to prioritize yourself — however that looks.
And. If you want to get me something for my birthday, I’d love for you to not do one single thing out of obligation this holiday season.
And that’s a combo birthday/Christmas gift I can get behind.