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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 Nick Levine 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.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so as much as possible, I want to spend it in wonderful spaces. With this in mind, I’m paying a visit to Gay’s the Word, the London bookshop that’s been serving the LGBTQ+ community for more than 40 years. I’m in no rush, so I take the time to browse – quite luxuriously – its fantastic selection of queer bestsellers by the likes of Jeremy Atherton Lin, Bimini Bon Boulash and Shon Faye.

At the back of the shop I spot a fascinating display of pin badges. According to a note on the wall, they once belonged to Paud Hegarty, a queer activist who managed Gay’s the Word for many years in the ’80s and ’90s. After his death in 2000, they were found in an attic and preserved here as part of our history. Some are overtly political, others more playful – “How dare you presume I’m heterosexual?” – but one, in particular, catches my eye. Against a snowy white background, written in festive red and green letters arranged into a tree shape, it offers the message: “Have yourself a very gay Christmas.”

The holiday season can be gay in all senses – we’ve all heard the expression “camp as Christmas” and seen Mariah Carey hone it into an art form – but also stiflingly heteronormative. It’s a time when nearly everyone is expected to spend time with their extended family, which presents a unique set of challenges for LGBTQ+ people. Some of us will be misgendered by relatives. Some will have to step back into the closet for a few days. Others will be told to “leave your political opinions at the door” when they arrive at their parents’ house. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but also, sometimes, the most exhausting.

As the only queer person at a steady succession of festive events, I’ve often felt as though I’m performing a role instead of expressing myself freely

I can still recall, with a wince, when an old family friend decided that Christmas Eve drinks was the time to ask a nuanced question about queer sexuality. “So Nick,” he said cheerfully, “why exactly are gay men so promiscuous?” Thankfuly, I had a glass of Chardonnay in hand. I took a gulp, quickly gathered my thoughts, and tried to elegantly dismantle this stereotype while impressing on him that sex positivity is very much the way forward – whatever your gender or sexuality. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m pretty sure he left with a clearer understanding of the rich history of queer sexuality. Go, Nick!

Thankfully, this cringe conversation was a one-off. I’m lucky enough to have a fundamentally loving and accepting family, so the holiday season has never been genuinely unbearable for me. I’m happy to admit, though, that I’ve sometimes felt a little detached from its rituals. As the only queer person at a steady succession of festive events, I’ve often felt as though I’m performing a role instead of expressing myself freely. Be nice. Smile. Don’t say anything “controversial” about That Author whose books your cousin loves so much. This is where Paud Hegarty’s festive pin badge comes in. Over the years, I’ve come to realise that I need and deserve to have a very gay Christmas.

This year I’ve really gotten lucky. For various practical reasons too tedious to go into here, I’m having Christmas Day at home in London. My best friend and flatmate, who’s also queer, has very kindly volunteered to cook for me and five members of my immediate family. I’m no Nigella, so my job is to top up everyone’s glass, with our favourite Barefoot Wines, and play Hey Sis, It’s Christmas both before and after the Queen’s speech. It’s my not-so-subtle way of pointing out that royalty doesn’t look the same to everyone.

I’m excited to play host, but at the same time, I know by now that treating the holiday season as one long build-up to Christmas Day is a mistake. Once you stop expecting December 25 to be “special” – whatever that means – you’ll probably find it more relaxing and enjoyable. This is especially important, I think, if you’re a queer person spending late-December in what I’ll lovingly call “Het Central”. By focusing on the holiday season as a whole rather than those two or three highly pressurised days, it becomes much easier to have yourself a very gay Christmas.

For me, the holiday season is also about creating new traditions with my queer chosen family. I love going to pantos at my local LGBTQ+ venues the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and Above the Stag – who can resist a show called Dick Whittington: A New Dick in Town? I enjoy having more time to support London’s incredible drag performers, who are very much booked and busy in December. I also like catching up with that guy I had three slightly strained dates within summer 2019 but became good friends with anyway. It’s a time for goodwill to all men – even those who ghosted you. Maybe.

It’s all about being as comfortable as possible with the people you love and feel valued by.

That’s just me, though. There are so many ways to have yourself a very gay Christmas even if you don’t have access to physical LGBTQ+ spaces. You could watch Single All the Way on Netflix. Keep your fingers crossed that Lil Nas X drops another Christmas song. Have friends over to watch a classic Eurovision – my favourite is the 2016 contest from Stockholm. Read that book by a queer author that’s been sitting on your bedside table since August. Drink Barefoot wine and listen to Dusty Springfield or Whitney Houston or George Michael or whoever you stan. If you can afford it, make a small donation to LGBTQ+ charities that support gender-diverse people. Follow the Twitter account dedicated to Paud Hegarty’s pin badges.

But really, it’s all about being as comfortable as possible with the people you love and feel valued by. If you can’t get together IRL, do it over FaceTime. And if in doubt, look up that meme of Gemma Collins saying “I just wanna be me” and embrace it as a mantra. Just be you and the holiday season will feel more joyous than ever before.