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Barefoot believes that everyone deserves to be embraced and celebrated, no matter who they are or who they love. Our mission is to make the world a brighter place by celebrating our differences, after all, life would be pretty boring if we were all the same, and by bringing people together through wine. Barefoot is excited to work with GAY TIMES and Abi McIntosh this holiday season to bring their amazing holiday story to life. You can read more about Barefoot Wine’s history as an Ally of the LGBTQ+ community here.

Christmas time can be hard for everyone, but some LGBTQ+ people find it particularly difficult. Often having to spend it with family who aren’t accepting, or in places they hate which remind them of a time when they had to hide parts of themselves. But the festive season for me, is a time to reflect on how much I’ve grown more comfortable with my seuxality each year, and how doing so has allowed my friendships to blossom.

It’s my favourite time of the year, just slightly beaten by my birthday. Fairy lights, Barefoot Wine, mince pies, Christmas parties, open bars, an excuse to watch The Holiday every day for a month. I love the way despite the darker days and the cold, rainy nights, we all collectively agree to be in good spirits.

I have a group of friends that I’ve known since we were 11. When we wore school skirts, helped each other with maths homework, created dance routines to the latest funky house tunes and updated our Myspace Top 5’s. My friendship group means a lot to me and is a place I’ve learnt to understand what my identity means as a first-generation black British kid. Trying and failing at our parents’ recipes, blending English and Caribbean cultures to create our own traditions, and one of them I love the most is our annual Christmas dinner.

Every year, no matter how busy we all are, how little or how much we’ve seen of each other, we get together to catch up on the last 12 months. We each bring a dish, a very random Secret Santa and we play games that get a little too competitive, to a background of gospel Christmas songs blended with noughties R&B. Serving up a traditional English roast with a side of rice and peas and mac and cheese, sharing gossip and drinking wine, often the Barefoot brand. As someone who finds the expectations of Christmas day difficult to navigate, this dinner is something I look forward to every year because it has all my favourite bits of the festive period, alcohol and food, without the awkward family dynamics.

The word lesbian was still a word that terrified me. A word that challenged everything I thought I knew about who I was going to be, what my life would look like.

We started this tradition during my first year of university, the year that I’d finally come out to myself and arrived at my student accommodation determined never to spend another day in the closet.

My first three months at university were a whirlwind. I finally said I was a lesbian out loud, I snogged a lot of girls in inappropriate places, I got into my first of many love triangles and I really tested the boundaries of what ‘your first year doesn’t count’ actually means.

But while I was falling in love with my new queer life, I hadn’t really kept in contact with any of my friends while I was away. I was so wrapped up in all the new LGBTQ+ friends I’d made, how different life was, and all the fun I was having. I finally felt like I could truly be myself, miles away from home and free from carrying the weight of my sexuality, that I forgot to keep in touch.

My fear went beyond the fact that I was not good at replying to messages. Even though everyone knew I was gay, I had never officially come out to them, although they did come out on my behalf once.

When I was 15 at a sleepover with my friends, I came back from the toilet and opened the door to find the living room, normally filled with laughter, deathly silent. I immediately had the feeling I was being talked about. Before anyone said anything, I knew what was about to be asked. I felt my heartbeat quicken as I tried to take my place on the sofa, a spotlight following me across the room, it felt like I’d walked into a coming out intervention. They started talking and I looked around, not really following along with the conversation until I heard the words: “Abi, we think you are a lesbiain.”

It hadn’t come out of nowhere. Even though as the daughter of religious parents, I used to pride myself on being able to hide things, some things you can’t keep secret. Paired with my lack of interest in boys at an all-girls school, where all girls talk about is boys and ask whether you have a tampon, there were rumours going around about me and another girl at school. It really didn’t take much at all for gossip to spread around school, but there was some truth to this rumour.

The word lesbian was still a word that terrified me. A word that challenged everything I thought I knew about who I was going to be, what my life would look like. It was still a word thrown around by girls in my class as a slur and whatever it meant, I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to be.

Every year I have shown up to Christmas dinner bringing slightly more of myself, and every year I am amazed at how comfortable I am

Even though my friends reassured me they were fine with it, and told me to think about it, we never mentioned it again. I didn’t bring it up when I started kissing girls, going to Candy bar every Friday and Saturday. And no one questioned me when I and made jokes about ‘only being gay at the weekend’.

So when I shipped myself off to the other side of the country for university, I didn’t necessarily feel the need to open up to anyone about my sexuality. It was very much a case of out of sight, out of mind.

But then the semester began to come to an end, I realised that I would have to go home and face my friends and I genuinely started to panic. Would I have to keep this new life a secret? Would they ask me questions about my dating life? Would I have to lie about what I was really getting up to? These thoughts plagued my mind while I finished my last few lectures and said goodbye to my new friends.

So when I packed up my belongings and headed home for Christmas that first semester, I was full of apprehension. The thought of having to fill everyone in on my very eventful first three months at university and my newly found lesbianism filled me with dread on the long journey home.

I was 19 and finally comfortable with saying the word lesbian out loud. I didn’t want to put myself in any situations that might shake my new self-love. To this day, there are still so many people I no longer have in my life because I couldn’t work up the courage to tell them I was a lesbian, so I just stopped talking to them instead. Naively I thought that coming out was a one-time thing, you come out once and that’s it. I thought that because I’d decided to accept myself and I was no longer hiding it, the job was done. No conversations, no answering questions, I just wanted to be me.

I think back to that first Christmas. When I returned to London and realised so quickly that I had worked myself up over nothing at all. When I was a few drinks in, and slipped up on a pronoun when relaying one of many embarrassing dating stories, no one batted an eyelid. I went home that night and sighed with relief, and I’ve been letting out breaths ever since then.

Every year I have shown up to Christmas dinner bringing slightly more of myself, and every year I am amazed at how comfortable I am relaying the latest in my dating life. How I don’t sensor myself when I fill them in on the latest lesbian drama. When I held back tears one year after being dumped by the first girl I ever loved, and laughed the next about an ex-girlfriend who definitely was not right for me.

I’m more comfortable than I’ve ever been with my sexuality and as I spend Christmas with my girlfriend and her family for the first time

So now the festive season makes me think about a lot of things. It makes me think about the little baby gay who had knots in her stomach on the train back to London after that first semester. It makes me think of the year the queer community finally got to me and all my friends smiled along as I took my undercooked nut roast out of the oven while they all tucked into their roast chicken. It makes me think about shared conversations over Barefoot Wines and my favourite food.

So many things have changed in my life since that first Christmas dinner, things 19-year-old me wouldn’t believe. And the festive season serves as a perfect reminder to take stock of these changes where I’m at now. It reminds me that there are so many people in my life that I love, it reminds me that there are so many milestones in my life I haven’t yet hit. It makes me think about what my life will look like in 5, 10, 15 years. I think about how easy it is to open up now compared to back then and whether I will ever try and be vegetarian again, and if I will be able to make a good enough vegetarian Christmas dinner.

And so our annual Christmas dinner continues this year, as I’m more comfortable than I’ve ever been with my sexuality and as I spend Christmas with my girlfriend and her family for the first time, enjoying Barefoot. 19-year-old me wouldn’t believe it.