Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year. I love the festivities and excitement that comes with the build up to the festive season. Even the annoying Christmas jingles and countless obligatory anti-Christmas statuses on Facebook from people who loathe seeing anything festive make me smile. For me, Christmas is such a fun time and gives me that something extra to smile about, especially during times when it’s hard to find a reason to.
Growing up in a Muslim household, Christmas wasn’t really a big thing when it came around. In primary school, Christmas meant doing all the fun things that everybody got excited about doing. During the rest of the year, all the children kept to their own little groups during breaks and lunch, playing football or making daisy chains, while I was pretty much left out. I ran around the playground like a bird, flapping my coats sleeves as hard as I could in my silly attempt to take flight and escape the loneliness.
At Christmas, it didn’t matter if you hung out with the boys or giggled with the girls, everyone at school would come together to enjoy the festive period. It made me feel like I belonged. I was able to join in and have fun with my classmates, making Christmas cards, bringing in toys for the Christmas jumble sale, rehearsing for the Christmas play and my most favourite thing to do…the class Christmas dinner.
Every year, the class would be divided into groups and we had to put together a Christmas dinner that was delicious and spectacular. Of course, the teacher didn’t expect us to make a gourmet masterpiece. The Christmas dinner usually consisted of packs of Monster Munch in colourful bowls and an array of chocolate biscuits and jelly moulds. The teacher would always give out a prize to the best Christmas dinner, and everybody always wanted me to on their team as I brought the one thing that made the team win…a jumbo sized luxury chocolate yule log!
As I grew older and began my transition, that sense of fun and belonging disappeared and Christmas became a very lonely time for me. I was in Manchester living a solitary life that involved very little interaction with people outside of work. I still had that Christmas spirit in me from when I was young, but it seemed kind of pointless to celebrate by myself. I didn’t want to fall into a slump just because I was by myself. Just because I’m on my own, it doesn’t mean I can’t get into the Christmas mood and enjoy a time of the year that always made me smile.
I bought my first tree, put up lights and decorations, made myself a delicious telephone call to the Chinese takeaway across the street and put on my favourite Christmas movie, ‘While You Were Sleeping’. It’s a story about a young woman called Lucy, played by Sandra Bullock, who lives alone in an apartment and works for the CTA. Fate brings her together with a man she’s in love with who is pushed onto the railroad tracks. When she visits the comatose man at the hospital, she’s mistakenly identified as the his fiancé and wackiness ensues! It’s fantastic!
I loved sitting in my attic flat in Chorlton with my Christmas lights twinkling, eating some food and watching ‘While You Were Sleeping’. In some ways, I could relate to Lucy. She too was incredibly lonely and wanted to make a connection with someone. I looked at her and saw myself, but instead of feeling sad about my situation, it gave me a glimmer of hope. Lucy had no idea that just around the corner, a series of events were about to lead her to something special. She had absolutely no idea it was about to happen, but she saw it through and came out the other side full of happiness.
During the opening scene of the movie, Lucy says “Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned”. That line struck me like lightning. It woke me up and gave me the shock I needed to never let go of the possibility of something good waiting for me around the next corner. I was halfway through my transition, getting closer and closer to my goal of having gender reassignment surgery, and I had no idea what was waiting for me on the other side. It made me feel hopeful that I too could achieve something that would fill me with happiness, but only if I let go of the loneliness and lived my life with hope.
It’s hard to let go of loneliness when it’s been the only thing that’s embraced you every night when you go to sleep, but I didn’t want a relationship with something that dragged me into the dark. I wanted to embrace hope and start feeling positive. The years went by and my first Christmas after my gender reassignment surgery came around. I was living in Blackburn, still recovering from my operation, and I felt absolutely fantastic. I had made it through the lonely years and finally realised that life wasn’t being cruel to me, it was showing me that I was the special someone I so longed for. I sat in my bedroom, alone but not lonely. I was happy.
Since then, my life has taken so many turns and I’ve met so many amazing people along the way. When I moved back to Manchester, I began to really live life the way I always wanted to. I met some amazing people and made some incredible friends. It wasn’t easy putting myself out there, as I didn’t know how it would turn out. Nonetheless, I took a chance and adventured through new experiences. Because of that, every Christmas I’m surrounded by people I love so much. My friends are my family.
This year, the world has seen some of the most terrible tragedies and heartbreaks. It’s not easy to see past the pain when you feel as though you can barely keep your head above water. I’m sure most of us wish we could do so much to make the lives of the misfortunate better. We might not be able to do it all, but that doesn’t mean that the little things we put out to the world won’t make a big difference to someone.
I recently became terribly ill and was subsequently hospitalised. As a result, my life was turned upside down, causing me to fall into a chasm of despair, constantly worrying about how my life was going to be affected by my sickness. I like to think of myself as a strong woman, but I think everyone would agree that it’s not easy being strong 24/7. Sometimes, you just want to succumb to the despair; however, you must remember to pick yourself up again and carry on moving forward.
Because of my situation, Christmas seemed like a write-off this year. I didn’t want to think about it, let alone celebrate. But then, I looked around at the people in my life and saw how each and every one of us have something we’re trying to get through. Some of us are experiencing loneliness, some have lost loved ones and some are going through hardships that only hope and time can resolve. I realised that not only do I need to pick myself up and move forward, I also needed to show my love and support to the people in my life.
A very dear friend of mine recently suffered the loss of a beloved family member, and it made my heart break at the thought of someone so close to me feeling pain. Being that my illness has caused me to have difficulties with mobility, I hated the fact that I couldn’t do more for all my friends who were going through a tough time. For the last couple of years, my friend would host a lovely Christmas dinner party at his home where he would invite a bunch of us to join him for a celebration. It’s always so much fun enjoying good food, a few drinks and great company.
I decided this year to open my home up to my closest friends and throw the Christmas dinner party here instead, as I wanted my friends to know that no matter what happens in our lives, we all belong. We had such a wonderful time celebrating and it was just what I needed to lift my spirits. I love my friends like family and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Knowing that you have people in your life that care about you makes such a difference.
Since I was little, all I ever wanted was to be accepted for who I was. The only time I ever felt slightly involved with everyone else in primary school was at Christmas. I believe that my experiences as a child at Christmas is the very reason why I enjoy the festive season. I’m not a religious person, but let’s face it, there’s plenty of people who don’t necessarily follow religion that celebrate Christmas. For most of us, it’s about having something to smile about and sharing a little happiness with others.
To all of you that are lonely, going through hard times or feeling like you have no place to turn to…don’t give up. Life will never stop throwing you a curve ball, but you can’t let it defeat you. Embrace your emotions and work through the hard times, but make sure you come out the other side stronger. Remember that you are a beautiful person and don’t ever let anybody tell you different. We all have our ways of dealing with the darkness in our lives. Some get through it faster than others, but that doesn’t change the fact that no matter what you’re going through, you’re still here. You have a reason to stand up and feel good about yourself, embracing a new day with hope.
As 2015 comes to a close, I’m pretty certain that a lot of us need something to smile about before the year is out. I for one have found myself needing something to smile about at Christmas many times, especially when the year has not gone quite to plan. When I feel that way, I look out to the people in my life that need a little happiness and support and realise that if we all come together and help each other, we can make it through anything.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me. I’m forever grateful for your love. I’ve achieved some great things this year and I’ve met some great new people from as far as India who have found comfort and support in my words. I can’t tell you how touching it is to make new friends from across the globe. It’s awesome sauce! It’s never too late to make a difference for yourself and for others, however big or small, as long as it brings happiness to your life and the lives of others. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and I hope the New Year brings you new and exciting adventures.
Happy Holidays! xx