TW: Depression, familial rejection

I loved Christmas when I was young.

I remember decorating the tree, writing Christmas cards to everyone I could think of, leaving milk and mince pies by the fireplace, staying up late on Christmas Eve to try and catch a glimpse of Santa. I remember the wonder of finding my stocking full to the brim with little toys, sweets and chocolates when I'd left it hanging empty by my bed the previous night. I remember rushing downstairs to open presents with my brothers while our parents filmed us on the old video camera. I remember the three of us squeezing into Mum's bed to show off the gifts we'd been given, back when we were small enough to all fit.

Eventually, the magic of Santa Clause faded. Opening presents and spending time with family was still fun, but the rest was all make-believe. I was growing up.

It wasn't long before I didn't care about Christmas at all. This apathy grew to a distaste for the holiday season. When I became a teenager, I found myself sitting on a couch at my grandparents house, away from the hubbub, depressed and alone. The realisation that I wasn't straight was soon met by the fact that there would be no Christmas at my grandparents’ if I came out of the closet. I would be disowned.

I spent years like this, hiding who I was, pretending to be heterosexual and cisgender to keep up appearances. My immediate family were supportive, and so were my cousins, aunts and uncles. But my grandparents wouldn't be. Soon, I stopped going to visit them altogether. My father made me choose between going and respecting his parents, who would detest the real me, or staying home and seeing none of my family. I spent Christmas by myself, just me and my bed-bound mother.

I've never subscribed myself to the belief that family ends with blood. A family is simply a group of people who love you. Whether these people are related to you or not is of little importance. What is truly important is that they love and accept you for who you are.

Last year, I spent Christmas with my best friend - and now partner - and their family. We played games and ate a delicious meal together. It was the best Christmas I'd had in a long time. Their mum is also gay and understood what it was like to be rejected by your relatives simply for being different.

Now, I am part of an LGBT Choir. My first concert with them is going to be performing Christmas carols at a retirement village.

Even when our blood rejects us, there is always a home for us in this community. There are people who understand us, who connect to our stories and who deserve to be called “family”. I promise you will find yours.