Now that Cyber Week is over, I suppose I can finally say that I have officially survived my first Thanksgiving in the US.
Growing up in Asia, Thanksgiving is a quaint foreign holiday that many of us could nonetheless get behind. Sure, the whole turkey and stuffing thing is baffling, but it is about being thankful in general — so why not?
I moved from Singapore to San Francisco in January. Actually being here for Thanksgiving made me realise it is a much bigger deal than I thought, and that it is a time for family to come together.
It didn’t start out quite that way, of course. On Monday that week, at least twenty emails about online Black Friday sales landed in my inbox. I was confused — were the sales already live even though it was only Monday? Yes, they were. Wasn’t Cyber Monday supposed to be the online version? Nope, all the online stores were doing them one whole week earlier, and were calling them Black Friday Sale anyway.
And did I gleefully stock up on items I’ve been eyeing before the actual Black Friday, only to find out that many of the prices dropped further starting on Friday? Yes, of course I did, like the noob I was.
Did I venture outside of my apartment over the rainy long weekend? Nope.
Where would I go? I don’t have any family here. And having spent most of the year trying to deal with the fall out from my coming out to my family didn’t help in the friends-making department. I came out to my family right before I moved here. In the midst of all the logistics and paperwork, I didn’t realise initially why I had so little motivation in going out or trying to make friends. It took me months to realise that I still had not processed the hurt and anger I had felt at their rejection, and I had not yet learned how to be a person who doesn’t speak to her family.
So ‘friendsgiving’ was not an option either.
As my coworkers slowly streamed back into the office after the long weekend, I thought about how to tackle the inevitable ‘how was your weekend’ question. I prepared for it. I talked about shopping; the things I bought and loved, and those that I knew I shouldn’t have gotten but did anyway; I mentioned observations about consumerism, about how the online Thanksgiving sale is apparently a two-week thing. My co-workers told me sales at physical stores now commonly start on Thursday afternoon, the actual day of Thanksgiving.
They told me about celebrating the holiday with their families, of course. Some talked about how much they enjoyed catching up with their family; some talked about family drama or wishing for some time alone because it was too loud everywhere in their home; some wrote posts on social media and listed things that they were grateful for. There was always too much food.
I’m familiar with all that — the overall gist of it, if not the turkeys and pumpkin pies. Family-oriented holidays feel similar across the world. Among the Chinese, more or less the same thing happens over Chinese New Year, which usually falls around January or February. I had enjoyed them, even if there were always awkward meetings with people you haven’t seen in over a year.
As I listened to my coworkers talk about their family gatherings, I realised with a start that I don’t know if I’ll have another family gathering like the ones I had growing up again.
My parents had asked me not to tell any of my relatives that I am gay. When I eventually go back to visit, and knowing that there would be customary probings about my love life, I would have to lie and pretend that I’m straight. It is not uncommon for queer people to have to do this, but it would be my first time with my extended family. Many of them were people who had watched me grow up, and knowing that I would not be able to let my guard down again in family gatherings was a jarring thought.
It is yet another piece of my new normal that I had to adapt to. My coming out and the subsequent realisation of my parents’ homophobia was an experience that had rocked the foundations of my reality. It may sound dramatic, but what else do you call the realisation that you don’t have anyone who have your back no matter what, like family should? What else do you call it when you start questioning the concept of love, and if unconditional love ever existed? And what that means for the future you have always envisioned?
I had spent months thinking about those questions, and more. I have had to reexamine almost every single aspect of my life that I had always taken for granted.
For that, I am truly, immensely, thankful.
I am thankful for many things, I recognise how lucky I am. I had the opportunity to move to a city that is very queer-friendly. I have a good job that allowed me to indulge in Black Friday sales. I have great coworkers who allow me to be out and be myself.
But for this year in particular, I am thankful that I had to learn how to rebuild the foundations of my reality, and figure out what kind of values I want to hold, and what kind of person I want to be. Like many others, I grew up absorbing ideas and concepts from the society about how one should live. I could have gone on with my life without ever examining them.
Coming out has forced me to question all of that. It forced me to be deliberate and mindful about how I want to live my life.
I am far from done. I still don’t have answers to many of my questions. But I will look at the world with sharper and hopefully more empathetic eyes. And I know that when I find my chosen family down the line, I will never take them for granted.
So yes, I guess I survived my first Thanksgiving. It was strange and lonely and fun and exciting. And I am thankful.