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Hayfaa Chalabi

Against the binary: For trans people of colour, the holidays are for making our own traditions

Our gender columnist Yas explores why Christmas and New Year's Eve can be a hard time for many trans people of colour.

24 Dec

Welcome back to gal-dem’s monthly gender column ‘Against the binary’, bringing you Yas Necati’s latest reflections on finding gentleness, home and joy as a trans person.

It feels really hard to write about this time of year. There are lots of things I love about it; making mulled apple juice and wrapping presents, singing along to cheesy Christmas music with loved ones and with strangers, making time to take on elaborate crafts projects (last year it was bath bomb making, this year will be wreaths). But as a trans person, returning to traditions can be difficult, when those traditions don’t grow and change with you.

Like many Muslim immigrants, my family has interpreted Christmas day in our own way. We still do the Christmas tree, pull crackers, have a big roast dinner. But we also make nut roast, my grandmother stuffs the turkey with rice and we usually have some kind of Turkish pastry for dessert, sütlü börek being my favourite. It’s milk, semolina and sugar cooked up into a thick custard and wrapped multiple times in paper-thin pastry. In classic Turkish dessert style, it is finished by ladling with syrup. Much tastier than Christmas pudding, in my opinion.

“Living openly as trans feels like the breaking of a tradition”

These traditions feel special, and as much my traditions as my family’s. But it can feel hard to return to some traditions as a trans person when they inadvertently or deliberately deny my transness. Last year on Christmas Day, I unwrapped, amongst other things, a pair of women’s socks. My family have been giving me women’s socks since before I came out to them as queer, as trans, as someone who shops in the men’s section. The gift is a disappointing reminder of how I have to closet myself to spend time with them. The socks stuck in my throat and I carried them there all day. Christmas can be really hard sometimes. My gender is a gift and I wish all of my loved ones would care to unwrap it.

I know that many trans people of colour will be having similar struggles this Christmas, either going home to unsupportive loved ones or being cut off from some members of our families entirely. Being misgendered, having who we are denied and being reminded of relationships lost because of transphobia can be especially hard during a season that is advertised as harmonious.

“It can feel hard to return to some traditions as a trans person when they inadvertently or deliberately deny my transness”

The new year can bring its own challenges. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with alcohol, but I’ve been especially struggling to be around it this year. I’ve been invited to a few parties but I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable going. With both major days of celebration looking quite complicated, I’ve been doing some reflection about what I actually want out of this season.

I’ve decided that the holidays this year will be different. I’m trying to find ways to hold on to the bits that I love and make them my own. I’m doing my best to take the emphasis off of Christmas Day, and instead, just see the festive period as a long stretch of time I can spend with loved ones. Like my grandparents did when they first came to the UK from Cyprus, I can choose which traditions I adopt, which I alter and which I leave behind.

There are some traditions that I want to hold onto. My friend is a warden at a Quaker meeting house just outside of London, and during pre-Covid-19 times, I would visit her there every year and make cards with the church. When the community celebrations were over, we would pack away the chairs and go upstairs and I would carry on making cards with her and my little nephew. Since the pandemic, we have continued the tradition, with just us this time, over Zoom. I’m looking forward to the card-making this year, and it feels like a really special tradition that we have built together.

My gender is a gift and I wish all of my loved ones would care to unwrap it.”

And then there are traditions I will start and keep growing over the years. A few months ago, I moved from London to a cottage in the Welsh countryside. I’ve moved in with a partner for the first time (aside from the time me and an ex moved in three weeks after we first met, but we don’t talk about that), and it’s all very cute and domestic. Last week, we decorated the house. I loved watching them make mini paper chains for our mini Christmas trees, while we watched The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls In Love and the cats tried to attack the paper.

On New Year’s Eve, I want to embrace, celebrate and become more grounded into this new place we call home. It is vastly different from the rooms I rented in London houseshares. We have a wood burner! I want to drink hot chocolate, sit by the fire, reflect on the year that has passed and what comes next. Just before midnight, I want to go for a walk in the hills and watch the sky as the new year arrives.

Living openly as trans feels like the breaking of a tradition. As we define and redefine what gender means to us, I hope we can dare to imagine with other parts of our lives too. I hope to adopt change as my new tradition. As I write this, one of my cat companions is making biscuits on my shoulder, the fire is warming my dungarees against my calves, my partner is cooking us dinner, I’m leaning into reimagining and I hope I continue to.