The holiday season is all about togetherness — but in 2021, there’s no limit to what “family” can look like. New traditions are just as important as old ones, and that’s why Refinery29 is proud to partner with Hallmark to celebrate the ways our concepts of “holiday tradition” are expanding by the day.
When my partner Sam and I broke the lease on our Florida rental property last year for a 270-square-foot RV, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
We’d been living in a proper multi-bedroom mid-century home in our sleepy, sunny home state — but we were ready for a change. So we’d planned a road trip that would loop around the country and end in Boston, a place we hoped would push us outside our comfort zones. It’s not that there was anything particularly special about Boston. Rather, it was that we’d long dreamed of any big-ish city far from home — a new adventure.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Sam had asked. “We get a little cold?”
We were indeed cold. In fact, not 24 hours after arrival, pulling a second sweater over my head, I realized I could see my breath. And immediately, I thought to myself, This is nothing like where I’m from.
Later that day, once I’d finally layered on a sufficient number of sweaters, I picked up my cell phone, realizing I’d missed four calls from an unknown number. I called back and the voice on the other end said that this was Boe, a member of the lesbian motorcycle crew, Moving Violations. She’d heard we were in town from a fellow motorcycle crew member — our dear friend Robin, who had, on more than one occasion, opened up her small Florida farm home to me and Sam when we needed a place to stay or just wanted some company. “If you’re a friend of Robin’s,” Boe said, “that means we’re family. Let us show you a good time.” I agreed, giddy while trying to keep my cool, and we made plans to meet at a gay bar.
In my experience, when you’re queer, the very concept of family can sometimes feel disenfranchising. Even if you feel incredibly close to your family of origin, without role models or confidantes who understand your personal experience, family time can make you feel somewhat at sea. And for me, the hardest part of engaging in family traditions without queer allies has always been the distinct lack of queer elders around me.
While I watched my peers turn to warm uncles or wise grandfathers or cool older cousins for life advice, in my family, there was no queer figure to guide me — or even just see me. In my head, the quintessential “queer elder” was someone wise — someone older, with more life experience than me. Someone with stories to share about the queer community: ex-lovers, protests, iconic gay bars that closed down before my time. And most importantly, someone who could show me firsthand that, despite the odds, queer folks can — and do — live beautiful, rich lives.
The first true elders I encountered, I met through the lesbian literary and arts journal Sinister Wisdom — which is also where I met my partner, Sam. Not long after, Sam met two elder married lesbians through the journal and the four of us really hit it off. Soon, we were getting dinner, having coffee, and fishing with not just that married couple, but also their wider community of friends. And I came to realize that, even as I’d gotten older, even as I’d found love and friendship outside of my family tree, my desire for an extended lesbian family unit never left me. And here it was: This group of women who made me feel at home. It was through these new friendships that I first encountered a common aphorism in the queer community that comes to mind often during the holidays: We’re all family here.
And by “family,” we mean a community signifier for anyone who identifies as gay, queer, lesbian, trans, or other. “Family” as a support system, built of people who feel disenfranchised. A place to feel seen for anyone who knows what it’s like to feel othered — a circle formed not by blood, but by choice. And this type of family is the kind of thing that can make any place, no matter how strange, feel like home.
The next day in Boston, we met Boe, Marjorie, and Loocie — all Moving Violation members, sporting leather vests and jackets with a purple labrys erupting in flames. We asked questions, laughed, and begged to hear stories about their travels, origins, and girlfriends. I was sitting at a table with truckers-turned-judges, acupuncturists, and motorcyclists. Anything feels possible, I remember thinking. When we parted ways, Sam swore she’d get her motorcycle license for the crew. We were invigorated. We felt alive.
This year, Sam and I didn’t just make new family traditions, we redefined the notion of a “family tradition” altogether. For us, the holidays are not about dinners or distant cousins or neatly wrapped presents. Instead, our traditions are about sharing stories. About making an archive of memories and finding a sense of home in any number of strange places. About opening our home and having others open theirs to us. About keeping in touch, with letters and greeting cards, while in faraway places. About learning how exactly a group of women in 1985 formed a motorcycle crew — or how they’ve made their love for one another last in such admirable, beautiful ways.
Now, it’s November and we’re on our way back to Florida for the holidays. But this year, it feels different. Florida is no longer my only home — it’s one of my many homes, spread across the country. And my relatives are not my only family, either. Spending time with my family of origin no longer makes me feel at sea, because I also feel sustained and enriched by my broader family — the queer elders who have helped me find my footing along the way.
Before leaving, we learned a new phrase from Boe, Marjorie, and Loocie: “Take it slow, keep it tight.” It was the Moving Violations motto, but for me, it’s about family and tradition, too. It’s about taking your time, finding your footing, seeking community where you need it — and then holding tight to that community. As long as I can do that — take it slow, keep it tight — every trip feels like going homeward.
Editor's Note: Whether you, like Sara, have biological and chosen family spread throughout the country, or your ride-or-dies are settled closer to home, greetings cards are the beloved tradition that makes communicating throughout during the holidays feel special. Shop today at Hallmark, and let your people know how much they mean to you— or even opt for a video greeting card like the below.