These are the shadows of things that have been- that they are what they are, do not blame me ~Ghost of Christmas Past, The Muppets’ Christmas Carol
What is a bad Christmas gift on the kink scene? A marabou trimmed red mankini? A latex corset six sizes too big?
Unfortunately there can be far worse gifts. In fact, I have spent this week trying to think how to compose this post in a way that won’t have you all crying into your Christmas pudding and reaching for the tissues in all the wrong ways. It’s been challenging.
There is a general social notion that the ideal (and expected) Christmas is something like a Marks and Spencer’s ad for mince pies. The happy couple in their new fair-trade Xmas jumpers smile, white-toothed, as their adorable old uni friends and work colleagues pile around their tastefully decorated house with gifts and wine and an a fervent desire to rekindle their Pictionary skills for an endless stream of Christmas parties that, miraculously, their funds seem to stretch to.
Life isn’t always like that. The kink and swing scene can be hard places to call your home at this time of year. Are there sexy Mrs Santa’s to frolic with at parties? Sure. Can you festively wax play with a Christmas candle? Of course. All of that is fun and wonderful, and just as it should be, but there is a darker side too.
Christmas is not just a time of love and giving. It is a time when boundaries become depressingly apparent. While you might spend the rest of the year in a happy vague cloud of mischief and friendship, partaking in all the intimate conversations and perhaps sexual frolics that you would with a conventional partner, it’s now different. You suddenly look around and realise that none of them are coming home with you on Christmas Day.
The scene couples get coupley and withdraw for ‘us time’, politely drawing a line in the sand. Until Valentine’s Day at least, when the sudden heaviness of the holiday will send commitment-phobes running for their Durex multipack again. People travel off to see family, live the vanilla life and forget about you for a while. You face the strange position of wondering who on Earth you are, and are not, expected to buy Christmas presents for. For the dabblers, tourists and part-timers, the division is clear. For the full lifestyler singles, less so.
It’s time to go home and see Granny, still mystified as to why you haven’t found yourself a nice partner; to hide the full extent of your proclivities, and perhaps identity, from the people who are supposed to be closest to you. If they knew the whole, real you, what would happen? Is their love really that unconditional?
As the darkness draws in and the sun seems to teeter on the brink of extinction, people get depressed. They struggle. They look at how things are ‘supposed to be’ and they deem themselves failures and alone. The sun will rise again, as it always does, yet sometimes the best you can do is just to survive the holidays and call that a win. A lot of people don’t.
Trying to navigate through the sudden boundary-making of Christmas is to have to face that which can otherwise be avoided all year: Wearing your heart on your sleeve, offering validation to others, and risking rejection. All usually so easily avoided in a world without conventional social rules and roles. Sometimes, you’ll offer up this gift and it will be slapped away. Sometimes, it will be accepted, with nothing given back. Sometimes you’ll be too hesitant to address the issue at all, and then we can all sit lonely wondering why nobody thought to include us in their little seasonal validation party.
Yet any response is a gift. It might not be the one we want, but if we take it the first time, it is endlessly valuable. It is the gift of knowing that you don’t need to ever offer anything more to them. The gift of freedom from trying harder. No amount of cheery, polite vagueness can ever be worth so much, though it’s certainly a tastier treat to swallow.
A few years ago at Christmas I was in church (full of surprises, aren’t I? And apparently didn’t burst into flames) and the priest made a rather wonderfully secular sermon. I paraphrase poorly, but it went something like this:
Christmas is about gifts. The lesson of Christmas is that life is a gift. A gift; if you choose to receive it.
So, let’s look at some unwanted gifts:
The gift of knowing that someone doesn’t value you:
This is an immense gift. It will enable you to far better spend your time and resources all year long in future. It is the gift of clarity.
The gift of learning that someone despises you with irrational passion:
If this is a choice they have made, it is because they really do need to believe a version of events that is easier for them to accept than the truth. There’s really no point trying to convince them otherwise. A great timesaver all year long, and be happy in the knowledge that you are serving a supportive function for someone, without ever having to invest further energy into it.
The gift of endlessly receiving, without giving back:
This person is telling you that you have given them enough, and that next time they come to you, when they are weak, they want you to tell them no. A great time-saving gift, all round.
The gift of rejection:
This person knows that the situation you propose will not work, because they know something about themselves that they haven’t shown you. This gift is like a lifeboat, thrown to you as you board their ship. Best used immediately.
The gift of pain:
Without pain, art would be banal and pointless. Grab hold of your pain and use it to create, fervently, just as soon as you can wield it safely. This gift is a rocket of energy like no other. Just direct it all where it needs to go. Never back at the giver. What a waste that would be!
The gift of cutting you loose:
Like climbers on a cliff, when one falls and cannot recover, they may choose to make the ultimate sacrifice rather than drag you down too. This may not be clear to them at the time, but always rest assured that it was the correct decision. It is the gift of freedom from their dead weight.
The gift of hesitation:
This person is giving you the gift of rejection, with what they imagine is really nice wrapping, but it actually just sheds glitter everywhere. Best unwrapped immediately and used appropriately
The gift of a harsh truth:
Setting fire to your Christmas tree may seem an unforgivable act, yet exposing its skeleton is sometimes the gift of insight, wrapped in courage
The gift of blame:
This person is telling you that you are very powerful and they think that you are capable of perfection, omniscience and immaculate judgement. A very highly-praising sort of gift, which should bolster the lowest of self-esteems
The gift of disappointment:
Usually comes as part of an ‘also bought’ Amazon bundle recommendation, with one of the other gifts. Optional extra. I suggest you return for a refund and spend it better.
The gift of non-acceptance:
Ahh, see now, this is a tricky one to spin-doctor for you. Usually, we don’t care. Unless it’s someone whose opinion of us we value, and place a great deal of our objective self-image in. There’s no point in merrily saying ‘ahh, bollocks to your parents (or whoever)’ because that just divides us up inside.
It can seem that the balance of knowing and accepting us for who we are is sharply contrasted by just how deeply we are allowed to enter people’s ‘regular’ lives. Lest we break out in embarrassing sexual flamboyance, perhaps? Accidentally carve the turkey with a spiky pinwheel? So some hide, and pretend. Some wear themselves proudly and cast aside disapproval. Some teeter finely on the edge, hoping to ever have the best of both worlds.
Christmas, of all times, is the pressure to conform to conventional attitudes. And thereby lies the biggest boundary. It’s a time when you fight with yourself over whether to be yourself.
If you find a good answer to this one, do let me know.
One thing is sure with all these Christmas gifts: if you don’t accept them now, they will almost certainly be regifted to you next year by the same person. Better just to take them the first time. Like annual cheese regifting- just gets stronger and smells worse.
Christmas is a time for gifts.
Gifts of clarity.
Happy Christmas my darlings. Or not. But soon the sun will be rising again; the warmth of sunlight will fall on your beautiful face. The dysfunctional dogma of December will be hauled out with the defoliated Christmas-tree carcass, and we will all look forward to how much better next year is going to be.
See you on the other side of Saturnalia.