I lived in Brisbane when, every Christmas, an older group of gay men that I knew would gather in a pub. Most people know the joy of spending some time with friends and enjoying a few beers over the holidays. At the time I wasn’t aware of the ritual these men were performing each year. Now, it is obvious that they sought out and spent time with their chosen families on the day when escape from domesticity and family seemed impossible.
If Christmas rituals are compatible with a person’s belief system, it can bring great comfort. Many lesbians and gay Australians enjoy sharing gifts, enjoying festive meals and participating in traditional cultural rites. Some people find it difficult to avoid the seasonal consumerism that is so prominent.
It is clear that Christmas can cause complex stress for many members of the gay and lesbian population. If families are unwilling to accept or include lesbians and gay Australians in the celebrations, it may be difficult for them to spend Christmas with their family.
Others may feel the need to return home for holidays, bringing back memories and experiences of homophobia from childhood or adolescence. Some lesbians and gay Australians do not have a place to call home. This population is more likely to be homeless than the rest of Australia.
Simple As Christmas Carolling
Even something as simple as carolling in the local shopping centre can pose a problem for lesbians and gay Australians. The Salvation Army, a prolific performer, has a sad record on lesbians and gay issues. They even sent a submission against equality in marriage to the House of Representatives Inquiry into this topic in 2012.
While lesbians and gay Australians may not have been included in traditional Christmas traditions, this time of the year highlights how lesbians and gay Australians have made their own rituals and created support networks.
These are not only important during the holiday season, but all year. One example is the Brisbane Men group, but there are many others. The Australian Lesbian and Gay Life Stories oral story project offers more.
This project is part of my research and includes interviews with five generations of gay men in Australia. The social attitudes towards gay Australians and lesbians has changed remarkably over the past 60 years, a period that many of our participants have lived through.
Most of our male participants can recall a time when having sex with another person was illegal. Many lesbians recall the loneliness and invisibility that ruined significant parts of their lives.
Stories Of Discrimination
Our interviews capture stories of discrimination, prejudice, and loneliness. However, many lesbians and gay Australians responded by creating lives that were creative and inspiring. Many lesbian women, who had told children were not in their future, did raise children. Often, they did so with partners and sometimes with the help of gay male donors.
Some of our male respondents recall that they were told by their families to expect loneliness and unhappiness if they revealed their sexuality. During the dark years of HIV/AIDS, when so many lives were lost, gay men stood side-by-side with one another. These are some of the most touching accounts of friendship and support that have been record in Australia’s history.
Some members of Australia’s gay/lesbian population question the idea of a united community, and choose to ignore it. Others embrace it.
Australian Lesbian and Gay Life Stories includes stories from young people who can have their same-sex partner in family celebrations and rituals. They also expect their partners to be include in the celebrations with their friends and relatives.
One lesbian couple combines traditional and community experiences. They take their children to a Rainbow family barbecue as well as a traditional lunch with their grandparents during the holiday season.
Retired Gay Man Christmas
A week ago, I spoke with a retired gay man friend. Although his family is very important to him, he said that he was most looking forward to Christmas with his gay male friends. He was without his parents and he missed the time with his siblings, nieces, and nephews.
He turned to his peers for help during a recent crisis of health. It was these men who provided the support, both on an emotional and practical level.
Many lesbians and gay Australians have not been able to enjoy the domestic Christmas depicted in media. This is becoming a growing problem for heterosexual Australians. Increasing numbers of people live in single-person households.
Some people experience financial hardships or seasonal unemployment. People can become isolated during the holidays due to broken family relationships. Lifeline and other charities point out that many Australians can feel very unhappy during the festive season.
Many have resorted to the support of other members of this group due to Australia’s historical marginalization of lesbians and gays. Our oral history project talks a lot about “chosen family” and it is clear that support networks provide a valuable antidote for marginalization and exclusion.
It is evident, too, that gay and lesbian support rituals (and others from the wider LGBT community) can be a valuable model for individuals who might feel isolated in modern society.