By David Ortmann, LCSW
The Holiday Dilemma. There are many things about the holidays that I don’t like, but talking about them is not the point of this article. What I do appreciate most about this season is that, at its essence, it’s a season of love. What are the most important gifts you can give to yourself, your partner, partners, your family, and close friends at this time of year? The gifts that last, that mean the most, are often not material possessions festively wrapped at Saks (though I do love Saks…), but gifts of the heart, moments of intimacy, secrets shared, fears expressed, wishes articulated, and moments intentionally planned for, embraced, and shared.
This brings me to my favorite holiday story of love, which you haven’t heard yet, because it just happened. It’s about my 11-year old cousin, Sarah. Sarah sat her middle-aged parents down in their Lenox Hill kitchen about two weeks ago, and informed them that she identified as “gender-fluid” (neither “he” nor “she”), and bisexual (being open to romantic and erotic experiences with her peers of any gender). Sarah told her folks that she’d given this a great deal of reflection, had read articles about gender online, and would prefer being referred to by the pronoun “they,” rather than she, from now on.
Their (I am also honoring Sarah’s request) parents called me. I get a lot of calls like this from family, friends, and friends of friends. I love these calls, because I get a chance to give back, free of charge. It’s one of the benefits of having a psychotherapist and sex therapist in the family.
What was unique about this phone call was that their parents, rather than fix, change, or reject, wanted to understand and support their child. I’m grateful I had the resources to help them do that. Unfortunately, this is not how all parents respond to a child’s coming out, and those tragedies alone could fill a book, but this is a happy article—so I’m moving on.
Sarah gave their parents the gift of a brave, honest, and intimate connection this holiday season, and their parents returned that gift with their own unconditional love and support. How sadly rare that is. Perhaps this is why we see a spike in suicidal behavior around the holidays. People feel there is no room for their authentic expression amid all the “merriment” and “joy.”
Where are we not being authentic? Where are we conforming when we could be forging our own path? Where are we hiding when we could be expressing ourselves more freely? Where are we missing the opportunity to give the real gift, that of ourselves, to those we love?
The New Year is right around the corner. Isn’t it time to find out?
Till next time!
David M. Ortmann, LCSW
Psychotherapist and Sex Therapist