When you're a queer immigrant who can't go 'home', Christmas can be incredibly isolating

For the queer people who have endured traumatic rejections from their families and communities, the Christmas barrage only aggravates our feeling unwanted

Amrou Al-Kadhi
Sunday 24 December 2017 11:15
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If it really is a time for love and generosity, try to think about how you might better respect and incorporate migrant and queer identities feeling displaced around the country
If it really is a time for love and generosity, try to think about how you might better respect and incorporate migrant and queer identities feeling displaced around the country

I’ll probably be called a snowflake for writing this, but all this “dreaming of a white Christmas” leaves me feeling very low every December. As a queer Iraqi immigrant in Britain, Christmas is the time I most hotly feel my displacement.

The Christmas season is polluted with national notions of “home”. Every November and December, my social media channels are assaulted by Christmas promotions, such as a video with Owen Wilson for sofa company Sofolofy which boasted the caption: “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, coming home is the best feeling ever. #whenhomereallymatters.”

A cisgender white man reclining on an expensive sofa to tell me that going “home” is an irrefutable joy? Hardly a comfort.

Ostensibly – as many intersectional queer identities will tell you – I have no fixed notion of what home is. I’ve lived in London since I was 11 (though never in a fixed residence), but my family live in Dubai, where they will be for Christmas.

Due to my sexuality and drag career, it would be unsafe to spend Christmas there. In any case, my queer identity has resulted in an intensely strained relationship with family. So the Middle East doesn’t really count as “home” for me, being that it’s so hostile to such a dominant part of my identity.

Yet London feels an equally inhospitable place during the holidays. Aside from the fact that Oxford Street looks like a Christmas Cracker on psychedelics during the festive season, our city becomes saturated with images of nuclear families, with brands coyly reminding us to shower our relatives with love (where love equals moderately-priced fragrances).

For the queer people who have endured traumatic rejections from their families and communities, the Christmas barrage only aggravates our feeling unwanted. This is intensified by the national rhetoric that “December is not a time for work – it’s a time to switch off, and return to family”. It kind of feels like all of your friends and colleagues are returning to their muchly missed “real life”, with your existence momentarily muted while they do so.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stresses importance of care and compassion in Christmas video

Other queer immigrants share these sentiments. I speak to Dylan Beck, a social care worker in Glasgow, who talks to me about their difficulties during Christmas. They tell me that outside of December, “usually one of the first questions somebody would ask upon meeting me would be where I’m from. During Christmas time, this question would often be skipped to jump straight to ‘are you going home?’

“Being asked that is always a reminder that it does not matter how much of a life I have here; I will always need to fight to be perceived as anything but a temporary outsider.”

Christmas Day itself is, on a pragmatic level, a very isolating one. London becomes hollowed out as everyone retreats “home”, with so few people around to alleviate the loneliness. And with all transport on lockdown, Christmas can feel a bit imprisoning.

When I speak to Dylan, they share my experiences, claiming that, “during the Christmas time, many of those people would also not be around, and that can make me feel like a stranger in my own city as well. If you don’t have any plans, it can become very isolating and lonely”.

These experiences at Christmas are only symptomatic of broader social issues in the UK. The past two years in politics have seen an acute scapegoating of immigrants for Britain’s problems, and being a nomadic identity is feeling increasingly unsafe here. According to a research study held by migrant and refugee charity, The Forum, loneliness is the most prevalent issue facing migrant identities in the UK, with nearing 60 per cent suffering from it.

Such feelings were only deepened by the EU referendum, which signalled that a majority of the nation was resentful of our contribution and lives here in the UK. As isolationism increasingly plagues our politics, let’s be careful not replicate this in our social spaces.

If Christmas really is about love and generosity, try to spend the holidays thinking about how you might better respect and incorporate migrant and queer identities feeling displaced around the country. Perhaps then we might have a happier New Year.

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