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Hulu's 'Happiest Season' Shows the Importance of Found Family

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Family gatherings around Christmas are often touted as a hallmark of the season, leaving some to reunite with family for better or worse. However, some people don’t have the luxury of spending the holidays with their families. Perhaps their loved ones have cut them out of their lives or made these individuals feel unwanted because of their identity, leaving them to form their own “found families.”

The idea of a found or chosen family, known as kinship, is one treasured by the LGBTQ community as many do not relate to their other family members because of their identity.

A Pew Research Center survey of LGBTQ Americans found that four in every 10 individuals were rejected by at least one family member because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, with 30% of that number having been physically assaulted by friends or family. Because they are at such a risk for violence and discrimination, many LGBTQ individuals experience mental illnesses and homelessness, putting them at further risk for illnesses, suicide, etc.

“Happiest Season,” the recently released Hulu film directed by Clea DuVall, is the first full length feature film to cast a light on the importance of LGBTQ “found family” during the holidays. It follows the Christmas hijinks of a lesbian couple, Harper and Abby, spending the holidays at Harper’s parents’ home.

Harper invites Abby to come home with her while on a date looking at Christmas lights.

Abby, played by Kristen Stewart, lost both of her parents years ago and has since not celebrated the holiday, while her girlfriend Harper’s family goes all out for the holidays, particularly since her dad is running for mayor in their small town.

“I wanna wake up with you on Christmas morning, and if that doesn’t convince you to come home for Christmas, I don’t know what will,” she says.

At first, Abby is reticent, unsure of how she feels at the thought of being surrounded by individuals she’s never met before, but decides to join her girlfriend anyway.

Before the two leave, Abby picks up an engagement ring from the jewelry store with her “not-so-heterosexual” best friend John. After hearing Abby’s proposal plans, John is taken aback, but Abby is certain this is something she really wants.

“It’s about making a life with her. She’s my person, and I want everyone to know that,” Abby says.

While driving home, Harper confesses that she lied about coming out to her parents earlier that year, explaining that the words wouldn’t come and since her dad was running for mayor, it didn’t seem like the right time.

Suddenly, Abby is confronted with the reality that she will have to “act straight” for the holidays, unable to celebrate the season amongst individuals that see her and Harper for who they are.

She decides to move forward with plans regardless saying, “It’s five days. How bad can it be?”

Abby follows Harper’s family along to various events where her father takes center stage as a mayoral candidate, surrounded by family and perceivably perfect in every way. The perception is that Harper’s family is focused less on quality time with their family and more on projecting the message to their voter base that they are to be trusted as the idyllic, successful American family.

At some point, Abby gets tired of playing straight in front of Harper’s family and decides to go for a walk downtown, where she meets Harper’s first girlfriend Riley. The two grab a beer together at the gay club in town where they’re serenaded by drag queens.

When Abby learns more about the former relationship between Harper and Riley, she’s confronted with Harper’s pattern of lying about her identity in order to preserve her “perfect daughter” status within her family. Riley explains how Harper denied their relationship at school, choosing instead to out Riley, subjecting her to the cruelty of their peers.

“So, what I’m saying is the things that I can relate to is being in love with somebody that is too afraid to show the world who they are. But that was a long time ago,” Riley says.

More family-centric events continue to derail, to the point that Abby’s friend John shows up to spring her out. Abby determines that she can no longer tolerate Harper’s pattern of lying and breaks up with her, midway through the party.

Harper tearfully begs Abby not to leave saying, “Our entire life we have been expected to be these perfect golden children. I mean, love in our house wasn’t something we just got for free. It’s something we competed for, and if we veered off their course, we lost it. I know it’s messed up OK, I get it. But they’re my parents, and I’m afraid that if I really tell them who I am, I’ll lose them. And I know if I don’t tell them, I will lose you. I don’t want to lose you.”

Chaos erupts when Harper’s sister sees the two kiss, after which even more family secrets tumble out among various family members during the party. Once again, Harper is given the opportunity to come out but again denies her identity in front of all of the partygoers, including Abby.

While Abby and John go for a walk, Abby explains how she expected this Christmas to be different since she’s not celebrated the holidays since her parents’ deaths. Holding back tears, she says she thinks that Harper may not love her as much as she thought she did.

John confronts the root of the situation.

John: “Harper not coming out to her parents has nothing to do with you.”

Abby: “How could it not?”

John: “Remind me, what did your parents say when you told them you were gay?”

Abby: “That they loved and supported me.”

John: “That’s amazing. My dad kicked me out of the house and didn’t talk to me for 13 years after I told him. Everybody’s story is different. There’s your version and my version and everything in between.”

He goes on to explain that coming out as an LGBTQ individual is far from easy, but once you claim your identity you can never go back on that. Acknowledging the fear and meaning behind the words, John says that he believes Harper loves Abby but just isn’t ready to admit her identity and take that important step.

When the two return from their walk, Harper comes out to her family, and at first it appears that her family doesn’t take it well. Harper stands in the silence of her revelation and looks to Abby with desperation but Abby says that it’s too late, takes the rest of her things from the basement and leaves with John.

As the two are pulled over at a gas station, Harper makes a surprise appearance in her car, attempting to salvage her relationship with Abby.

“You are my family. You are the love of my life. I was terrible and I wish that I could undo everything, but I promise you I will make it up to you. I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you. And I won’t hurt you like this again. But please, give me another chance. I want to build a life with you. Please,” Harper says.

“But what about your parents?” Abby asks.

“I don’t care what they think, I only care about you. If I have you, that’s all I need. Be with me,” Harper begs, grabbing Abby’s face.

The two make up, and we soon see the rest of the family coming together for the rest of Christmas to celebrate family togetherness, this time with no secrets.

While this film is a bit of a roller coaster for any viewer regardless of their identity, it’s clear that Abby has finally found herself a new family, built of individuals who love and support her and her girlfriend regardless of their identities.

We even see during the credit roll that the family attends a Pride event together to support Harper and Abby who are shown finally engaged and in a happy, healthy relationship.

Whether you’re an LGBTQ individual or someone who’s isolated this holiday season from family and friends, remember that it’s never too late to build your own family and start your own holiday traditions. Sometimes it’s the family you build around you that ends up being the ones to shelter you during the storms of life.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from a lesbian who’s made his own family this holiday season.

Originally published: December 22, 2020
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