So now that the holiday season has officially descended upon us (I am one of the purists who won’t allow a chord of Christmas music in her home until after Thanksgiving ends), we’re in for a month or so of familial obligations. If you’re like me, and I wager you are, this month is going to be a mixed bag of both happy reunions and teeth-gnashing frustration.

Long ago, I sat down and drew up a way to distinguish between my family and my relatives. For me, the distinction is very simple: you can always choose your family; you never get to choose your relatives. Because I was brought up by parents who understood that sharing genetics does not a loving bond make, the line is easier for me to draw than it is for other people. But regardless of my view of that brand of familial taxonomy, it’s not going to help when I am forced to saddle up and visit my relatives.

I am not openly “out” to most of the people I’m related to. When I only see them once or twice a year, there is no good time for me to say, “Can you pass the gravy? I’m queer.” As soon as that word is on the table, I will have to spend the rest of the night explaining what that word means, and why I choose to use it, when all I really wanted to do was stuff myself with biscuits and cheesecake.

But before I developed much of a queer identity for myself, the reason I did not fling myself from the closet into the arms of my family was because I was scared. I was possessed by a huge dose of plain old, “But what if they hate meeee?” fear. And that reason is what’s keeping plenty of people hiding their identities. It’s what kept me from being who I was, up until I sat down and had myself a good thinking session.

There’s a word for people who don’t accept you for who you are; they’re called toxic people. And relatives can be just as toxic as non-relatives, so I sat down and asked myself why I was so wrapped up in the opinions of people whose names I could barely remember. And then I came to the stunning realization that what they thought of me didn’t matter at all! I don’t deserve to be brushed off or disregarded or disrespected by anybody, and neither do you.

Obviously, it’s okay to worry about your family’s opinion of you, and not everybody has the privilege I had of being able to shrug off their critics and go on living their usual life. But if you are stuck in a room full of toxic people, take a moment to remember the people who do love you and embrace you for who you are. But if you’re stuck in a room with That Relative and he’s spewing some hateful nonsense, don’t let him get you down. There are plenty of people who love you. Heck, I love you! And all year round, too. Not just because we have to spend Thanksgiving together.

Happy holidays, y’all.