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Aoife Martin: 'It’s possible to be alone at Christmas and not be lonely'

In her first regular column for TheJournal.ie, Aoife Martin writes about how Christmas can be a tough time for the LGBTQ+ community as some are forced to hide their true selves.

Aoife Martin

I HAVE LIVED a solitary year. Like many people, I haven’t left my home since March – except to venture out for exercise or the weekly shop. I have avoided restaurants and pubs and, if I’m honest, it hasn’t been too taxing on my socially reclusive heart.

The vast majority of my human interactions have been with the cashiers in Lidl. There have been highlights here and there – meeting a friend for coffee or a walk when regulations allowed it, visiting another friend for a socially distanced swim in the sea, but by and large, I have spent 2020 on my own.

Yes, there have been Zoom calls and texts and Twitter DMs and arguing with people on social media but it’s not quite the same thing. You can’t hug a Zoom call.

Surviving, the achievement of 2020

So what did I do with all that time? Not a hell of a lot, actually. I didn’t make banana bread or stockpile toilet roll or take up knitting or write that novel I’ve always planned to write or cook amazing meals or take up yoga or do some jigsaws or learn a new language or learn to play a musical instrument or take up gardening or any one of a thousand other things I could have done in my spare time.

Hell, I didn’t even watch Tiger King.

No, I read a few books, watched some films, listened to some music and swam a little bit. I enjoyed taking part in online book and film clubs.

Ironically, I attended more book events this year than any other year, no longer being limited by geography.
But here’s the thing… the thing we don’t give ourselves enough credit for. I survived. I made it through 2020, mostly the same person I was when I started the year, maybe a little bit wiser and a little bit more bruised but otherwise intact.

2020 didn’t crush me or dampen my spirits or change my mind about human nature. Yes, it’s been tough – very tough at times – but I’m still here. We’re still here. If you’re reading this then take a moment to think about that.

As I write this the first person in the world has just received the Covid-19 vaccine, words I never thought I’d type in 2020. If all you did this year was make it to here, then you have done enough.

Christmas

As Christmas approaches, this year more than any other year, the natural inclination is towards family gatherings and seeing loved ones, perhaps for the first time in months, if not for the first time in 2020.

I’m not here to debate the merits or otherwise of this. Some people will travel home from abroad and some won’t.

Some people will spend Christmas alone, either by choice or because of their own personal circumstances.

There’s a tendency to feel sorry for those of us spending Christmas alone but, despite the messaging that Christmas is a time for family and friends it can often be a stressful time for many whose family dynamics don’t fit into what all those adverts are trying to sell us.
Being alone at Christmas, aside from anything else, can make you feel like a complete failure.

But here’s the thing. It’s possible to be alone at Christmas and not be lonely. It’s perfectly okay not to buy into the Christmas card ideal of what advertisers and everyone else are telling you Christmas should be.

In all likelihood, this will be my 4th Christmas by myself. Based on previous experience, I will sleep late and then spend the rest of the day lounging around in my PJs watching old movies and avoiding the Bounty bars in the tin of Celebrations – so, pretty much like the previous 10 months. I’ll cook myself something nice, have a glass of wine and I’ll be just fine, thank you very much.

For other LGBTQ+ people, it can be a difficult time of year. They might have to temporarily go back into the closet. They might have to hide their true selves from their families because perhaps they aren’t out yet, or maybe they are out and their families are not accepting. If they are trans or non-binary they might be misgendered or even dead-named.

Often they are students who have been fully out in college but, on returning home, have to go back into the closet, albeit temporarily. But, like everything else in this horror show of a year, this too shall pass.

Freedom will come

The time will come when you’re no longer willing to compromise, where your family will accept you for who you are – the wonderful son or daughter you’ve always been – or when you decide that you would rather spend Christmas by yourself, and as yourself, than have to hide that essential part of what makes you, you.

As I type this though, I have just come back from meeting close family members for the first time, not just in 2020, but since I transitioned four years ago. Circumstances might have forced our hands but, of all the curve balls that this cursed year has thrown my way, this was the least expected and also the most welcome.

Maybe I’ll write about it some other time but these things are delicate and the bonds being re-forged are gossamer tendrils that need time to strengthen. Like many people I’ll be glad to see the back of 2020 and hoping that 2021 will be better – it can’t be much worse, but let’s not tempt fate.

At the end of The Untouchables, a reporter asks Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) what he’s going to do when Prohibition is repealed. “I think I’ll have a drink,” says Ness.

So, let me ask, what will you do once everyone is vaccinated? Me? I’m going to hug my friends.

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I miss hugs.

Aoife Martin is a trans woman and activist. In her spare time she likes reading, going to the cinema and practicing card tricks.

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