Christmas is my favorite holiday by far. It’s more than a mere holiday or celebration. It’s about life, love, family, generosity, and—yes (I don’t care if it sounds cheesy) peace on earth and goodwill toward men. I’m an agnostic atheist; some might even call me an anti-theist, but I regard myself as culturally Christian. And to me, Christmas is sacred.
As a student at a private religious school, I grew up on Bible stories, and while I no longer believe in Christianity, I retain a deep love of many of the customs and traditions. I love Christmas carols, glowing manger scenes, roaring fireplaces, and big, beautiful Christmas trees. I even share the frustration of Christians who worry that the holiday is becoming too secular or consumerist. My wife and I collect ornaments from each destination we travel to, usually from local artisans, which serve as a reminder of our time there. Decorating the tree then takes on a whole other meaning, as we reminisce about the years we’ve spent together. Christmas is also a time for second chances, a miraculous space where resentments and bitter disagreements can be healed. Life is too short to hold grudges, and memories of quality time with friends and family are priceless.
Since I got married 12 years ago, I’ve mostly spent Christmas with my wife’s family. I make sure to also see my own parents around that time, but I haven’t done many proper Christmases with my three siblings lately (all of whom have families of their own). Recently, however, we organised a big family Christmas at a Northern California beach house. Despite my love of the holiday and my family, I was nervous. You see, my siblings are all more socially conservative than I am. Much more socially conservative.
I’m a bisexual, polyamorous guy married to a woman and with a long-term boyfriend—I suppose it’s not hard to be more socially conservative than that. My little brother, for example, is a fundamentalist Seventh-Day Adventist who studied theology at university. In his college days, he was slightly to the right of the Book of Revelation. Needless to say, he did not approve of my “lifestyle.” Even my comparatively more moderate older half-sister and half-brother didn’t understand why I would be upset about them voting for political candidates who actively oppose my human rights. So you can imagine my worries about a big family reunion. The last thing I wanted was for this beloved holiday to be ruined by uncomfortable social situations. What if my family said something homophobic or sexist? Minor disagreements are one thing, but basic principles like that are much harder to just set aside.
Fortunately, I came to find out that every single one of my family members—including my three conservative siblings—have grown more open-minded over the years. To my astonishment, my fundamentalist brother now supports same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose! His equally religious wife told me that their daughter “will receive a proper sex education, have access to contraception and know how to make it to the nearest Planned Parenthood.” The relief that washed over me upon hearing these things, coupled with a warm sense of pride toward my siblings for being so open to moral growth, made me love my family all the more. There was a time when I held my siblings at a distance. I now regret that. I missed out on so many opportunities to be with them. We could have been growing together instead of growing apart. I fear our polarised political environment is tearing too many families apart who could otherwise reconcile. If Christmas did nothing other than provide that chance, that alone would grant it a special status that goes far beyond a mere holiday or celebration.
Recounting that experience has me reflecting upon recent polls which show that support for previously progressive social positions has grown impressively since my childhood. When I was a closeted bi kid, support for LGBT rights was a minor, even fringe position (and I’m not that old!). Today, over 70% of people in the US support same-sex marriage and abortion rights—a supermajority. A plurality of Americans also oppose bills that target LGBT issues in schools, and a growing number of people are interested in exploring alternatives to monogamy. Yes, there are still those who continue to stubbornly oppose these liberties, and sometimes they manage to achieve regressive setbacks, but if even fundamentalist Christians are embracing LGBT and women’s rights, I believe we are on the right path as a society.
When I first started dating my boyfriend, I was afraid to introduce him to my parents or my wife’s family, let alone invite him to spend Christmas with them all. My wife, too, was initially reluctant to introduce her own other partner to our families. We feared how painful the rejection of our loved ones by our families might be. And sure enough, the first few Christmases were awkward. My boyfriend was explicitly not invited the first time we asked. It upset my wife so much that we almost skipped Christmas that year. Before long, though, my parents have come to love my boyfriend as a son (just as they love my wife as a daughter). These days, Christmas almost always includes one or both of our polyamorous partners. Picture it: me, my wife, my boyfriend, and her boyfriend sitting around in our pyjamas, drinking hot cocoa and candy cane martinis with everyone’s parents and some people’s siblings; exchanging meaningful gifts, enjoying one another’s home cooking, and laughing about the sorts of inside jokes that only the closest of friends and family can share. There’s something ineffably healing about that, like the magic of Christmas confers a solemn blessing upon our bi, poly family. Surrounded by music, mirth, twinkling lights and flickering candles; it feels like a sacrament.
The love my wife and I have for Christmas has rubbed off on our partners. Her boyfriend was an only child, so it warmed my heart last week when he said (while we were decorating the tree) that “I’ve never had a family like this before.” Well, he does now. My boyfriend was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and didn’t grow up with the Christmas traditions we enjoy. At first, he didn’t get it. Sure, he enjoyed the presents, food and great wine (my wife passed the sommelier exam and we have something of an impressive cellar). But over the years the glow of familial and friendly love has warmed his grinchy heart. Today, he loves Christmas just as much as the rest of us. Of course he does, because ultimately Christmas is about acceptance—and queer people know the value of that.
A common prejudice directed at polyamorous people is the myth that polyamory doesn’t work and that it cannot last. But that’s not fair. Most monogamous relationships don’t last forever either, but we don’t conclude from that that they are all doomed to end. My wife and I have been together for fifteen years and married for twelve. I’ve been with my boyfriend for a decade, and she’s been with hers for about the same amount of time. We recently hired a lawyer who specialises in poly families to help us achieve legal recognition of our relationships. Same-sex marriage is legal, but polyamorous marriage isn’t—yet. So we signed a co-parenting agreement, stipulating in advance that all of us, as a family, will be the legal parents to any children born to us. We’re creating a trust so that we can share property and other assets, and we’re naming one another as medical powers of attorney, heirs and beneficiaries of life insurance policies. Older same-sex couples are all too familiar with jumping through these hoops, as that’s what they had to do before same-sex marriage was legalised.
Some day, I hope the rights of polyamorous families like ours will receive the same recognition. If my family’s personal experience and recent opinion polls are any indicators, the future feels bright. I cannot help but feel that peace on earth and goodwill toward men is a real possibility if civilisation continues down this promising road. My New Year’s resolution is to do everything I can to lead by example and show that a poly family can be just as committed, loving, nurturing and responsible as any other.
This article appears here as part of our partnership with Queer Majority. For a more detailed look at their work, check out their website: https://www.queermajority.com/.
Rio Veradonir’s description of his sexually and religiously diverse yet mutually supportive polyamorous extended family reminds me a lot of moderate conservative political commentator David Brooks’ paean to traditional extended families in his article “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake” in the March 2020 issue of “The Atlantic.” Brooks argued that “recent signs suggest at least the possibility that a new family paradigm is emerging,” suggesting that in place of the “collapsed” nuclear family a revived “extended” family was emerging, with “multigenerational living arrangements” that stretched even “across kinship lines.” He had already started a project called “Weave” in 2017, in order to “support and draw attention to people and organizations around the country who are building community” and to “repair [America]’s social fabric, which is badly frayed by distrust, division and exclusion.”