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Like a lot of people, the COVID lockdowns sent me down a path of self-discovery. Being isolated from friends and family for months at a time and taking long strolls through parks on my own gave me a lot of space to think about my identity. It gave me a break from routine, from my old life, from society and its – gendered – expectations.

To be honest, I had been questioning my sexuality before COVID wreaked havoc around the world, but only when all those changes to normal life came together, I figured it out.

I went into 2020, into the lockdown, identifying as cisgender, questioning my sexuality but labelling myself as straight. Almost three years later, I now use the labels asexual, genderqueer and trans. I don’t think I have yet reached the end of my journey of discovering who I am and my labels might change, but that’s fine. I’m young. People change. Identity is fluid.

I also now use they/them pronouns for myself and I have changed my name to Carden, at least socially. It was quite a big change for me and the people surrounding me, but I have been lucky enough that my parents and my close friends have accepted and embraced me for who I am.

I’ve been on a whole journey of self-discovery and learning to embrace being LGBTQ+. However, as tough as that is, the next part of my journey feels even more scary: Christmas.

The Christmas holidays have been on my mind for several months now. It means one thing that often fills queer people with fear: family gatherings.

During COVID, larger Christmas family gatherings just weren’t really possible, so this one will be the first time I’ll be seeing lots of extended family members – many who are totally unaware of the trans journey I’ve been on.

Usually, my German part of the family meets somewhere in a restaurant in the most rural Swabia, Southwest Germany, which is where a big part of my extended family lives.

I grew up almost two hours away, so I have never been very close to anyone in my extended family as we rarely saw each other. But family meetings have always been great because I get to see people my age and connect with them over dinner.

While I’m excited to finally see extended relatives again this Christmas, the approaching gathering is also giving me massive anxiety. Last time I saw them I wasn’t identifying as trans, I was still going by my deadname and I was still using she/her pronouns.

By now I have kind of accepted the fact that misgendering and using wrong pronouns is unavoidable due to language barriers. We speak German at those family gatherings and while it is quite easy to use gender-neutral language in English, German is a whole other problem with the language being very gendered. I haven’t figured out which pronouns I’d like to use because none seem to fit me, so I have grudgingly accepted this part.

I think my bigger problem is the fact that firstly, I don’t know who exactly knows about my new name. Some of them definitely know, but some are not in our family group chat and others won’t have seen things like my social media posts where I came out.

Coming out to close family is a struggle enough – even when you’re lucky enough to have accepting parents – so I am not looking forward to potentially having to do it several times in one night, face to face.

I’m also dreading hearing my deadname aloud. Similarly to coming out, it just causes me so much discomfort to correct people when they do that. And what if people start questioning me, or even challenging my identity? I always tell myself that it’s not my problem if people don’t accept who I am, but it still hurts if people do.

I know I am not the only LGBTQ+ person out there struggling in the lead up to Christmas holidays. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s so often a time for family gatherings and is supposed to feel celebratory, but it’s often just a time that LGBTQ+ people dread. Given that we face so much unacceptance as a community, it’s no wonder that LGBTQ+ young people are statistically half as likely to be ‘very close’ to their family.

This winter, some of us – like me – are anxiously anticipating coming out as trans and hearing our deadnames, others even fear violence or the dreaded return to school where anti-LGBTQ+ slurs and bullying remain far too common.

If that’s you, I want you to know that you’re not alone. It’s tough but we do have each other, there is support out there, and please know you won’t be the only person dealing with that anxiety leading up to the holidays. Our community can bring us strength and hope.

Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity, is working to raise awareness of the challenges LGBTQ+ young people are facing this winter and need your donations to help make schools a safe, supportive place where young people can be themselves.

Please donate if you can –