New York around Christmas is a pretty quiet place. In this city of fierce individualists, where millions come to seek their fortune precisely because it's not the small, shitty town they grew up in, the late December exodus can catch a newbie by surprise. You can practically bowl down Manhattan's avenues, get any table you want at the best restaurants, and suddenly, unexpectedly, you actually need to call ahead to see if places are open.
So it's funny to see all these Type-A New Yorkers who wouldn't be caught dead in their hometowns the rest of the year send back pics of shotgun-shell wreaths on Facebook and ironic food store signs on Twitter. The messages of peace, love, and family are both sweet and poignant for those of us who don't celebrate the holiday or can't afford to go "home."
But the absence of most of my friends from the city this past weekend belies another, more important story. Behind all the warm, fuzzy posts, cute photos of Christmas sweaters, and outrageously giant meals, there is a minor miracle: we can go home.
It wasn't long ago that gay men and lesbians fled their small, shitty towns to New York and San Francisco because they couldn't live there anymore. Not safely, not openly, not holistically, anyway. Just like the character in that Bronski Beat song that featured so prominently in my adolescence, they boarded a train, bus, plane, or car and headed to the big city, hoping to find people like them -- hoping to be themselves.
For many, the journey was understood to be one-way. Once we left, broke the bonds of small community, came out of the closet, made our lives and friends, and nested here in the big city, we could never go back. Not to the closed-minded parents or high school friends that wouldn't understand. Not to the old man to whom you delivered papers up the street, or to your school principal, or to your first crush from all those years ago. Seeing them, living their lives, having to explain everything, to relate -- well that's best left for Facebook.
Imagine coming back, with that boyfriend (or girlfriend) in tow, awkwardly negotiating sleeping arrangements with Mom and Dad. Fighting over politics, religion, freedom, and what is good for the country's morality. Eating entirely too unsophisticated food, feeling sickly full, and forced to watch a game, or parade, or -- worse yet -- join an old-time outing with your old man.
For millions of us, this remained an unthinkable reality, no matter how much we yearned for the (dis)comforts of home. We took that one-way ticket to the city, made a life there, never looked back. But things change. There are still too many young LGBT people who are estranged from their families, and many more who still don't feel comfortable. But quietly, confidently -- and in the most banal of ways -- a revolution is occuring.
This past weekend, millions negotiated the small awkwardness of family. Learning how two grown men can sleep on a twin bed -- in Star Wars sheets. That maybe Mom's casseroles won't be featured on the Cooking Channel, but your girlfriend likes them. And maybe that you can teach your dad how to use Skype and introduce your grandmother to your partner with ease, and meet your high-school sweetheart and his boyfriend for a drink at the local coffeehouse.
Things are changing in non-New-York America. It takes a provincial courage -- and the cumulative struggle of those before you -- to make this possible. And though the airport lines may have been hellish, the flights expensive, the family cloying, and there was still nothing to do, the weekend went by faster than you wanted it to. As you bask in the afterglow of that familiar, weird energy, remember those who still can't go home, and all those who never made it. Be grateful for your amazing, open-hearted family, and for your own personal strength, and let that warm you on the freezing cold flight home.
While I may not share your Christmas tradition and miss all my friends this holiday season, let me say from the bottom of my heart that I'm genuinely glad you're gone.
Follow Gabe Zichermann on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gzicherm