Given many LGBTI people experience family rejection and isolation, Christmas can be a tough time of the year. Dean Arcuri spoke with two members of the community championing an orphan Christmas over the holidays.
T’was the issue of Star Observer before Christmas,
And we don’t want you to forget,
That just because you can’t choose your family,
Doesn’t mean you don’t have your friends instead!
Many say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but that’s not the case for some in our communities.
Instead of Christmas cheer, the festive season can reignite the holiday blues, which not only stir up hidden emotions about the relationships we have with our biological families but also bring forth feelings of anxiety and depression.
Guess what: you aren’t alone. You really aren’t. We all feel this way or remember what it feels like, which is why so many in our communities spend Christmas with their chosen family; with people who get you, understand you, and welcome you as you come together for what’s often referred to as an orphan’s Christmas.
“There were some really tough Christmases when I was alone and had no plans,” he says.
“I would log onto Facebook seeing everyone else having a great time with family, and it was a kick in the guts just sitting at home alone.
“So I decided to do something about it.”
When he started putting the word out, Campbell soon realised there were a whole lot of other people in similar positions that didn’t like feeling alone over the holidays, and so he opened his house for a barbeque on Christmas day.
“Social isolation is a huge problem and I wanted to do something where I could welcome people feeling the same way,” he says.
“The first year 20 people showed up for lunch, and we were all still together at midnight. It was a great day.”
Each year his orphan Christmas has grown, with friends of friends joining him and bringing along others in their lives who often feel alone over the holidays.
Campbell says he swiftly realised the orphan Christmases weren’t just events he enjoyed, but were something vital in the community.
“No-one should ever be alone at Christmas and regardless of your connection with your family, nearly everyone has the day off, so you may as well spend it with people you want to be around who understand you,” he says.
Campbell opened up his orphan Christmas to anyone feeling isolated in Sydney thanks to The Institute of Many (TIM), a peer run social umbrella and advocacy platform for people living with HIV.
Now, the day feels even more special, filled with different walks of life and enabling queer people to make connections they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
“It’s not just people in their twenties anymore, but people all the way into their sixties, and we get to socialise with a broader demographic within our communities,” he says.
“It blew me away how people were willing to come to a complete strangers’ house for Christmas.
“Usually people would be a bit scared, but I guess being around people who get you means more on this day than many realise.”
Cameron from Melbourne is gearing to celebrate his seventh orphan Christmas this year, after realising he didn’t want to go home and spend the day with family who wouldn’t let him express his LGBTI identity, and who he would never see eye to eye.
“Spending Christmas with your chosen family is better, because you get to choose who is there,” he says.
“There’s not the awkward uncle still asking why I don’t have a girlfriend, and you make new friends and meet new people as you bring everyone together.
“It’s more special because you’re around people you want to be around, there is no obligation.
“And people don’t want a big Christmas extravaganza, they don’t care. They are coming for the sense of community and chosen family. It doesn’t need to be a giant hoo-hah as long as you have people there.”
Whether you’re estranged from your family, or you simply have no desire to relish a day in which you hear well-mannered jokes about your sexuality or gender, it is important to remember that you are not alone, and to make space for everyone to be able to be themselves this Christmas.
Thinking of having your chosen family round? Don’t wait for someone to tell you they have nowhere to go or nothing to do.
Be active in asking friends about what they are up do.
We all have our pride but many of us won’t say anything until we are actually asked.
The biggest Christmas gifts don’t need to be wrapped in paper; have those conversations with friends so they know that they are not alone this Christmas.
There are many other ways to reach out for support if you’re feeling alone. Give QLife a call on 1800 184 527 or webchat at qlife.org.au, or tune into JOY 94.9 on Christmas day and listen to the volunteers spending their festive season on the airwaves with you.