This is the First Post in a series of posts that will run throughout the month of June. June has been Pride Month for many years. To honor that history, I will be talking about different aspects of why I am proud during Pride Month.
I have been unbelievably blessed in my life when it comes to the people who make up my family. I really do believe I won the family lottery that the universe put on before I was born. My immediate family includes my two parents and two younger brothers, but when I say “my family” I mean the extended family. The aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended familial relationships as well. For the most part, they all live within a day’s drive from where I live, we all get along really well, and we love each other. But this post is not about that family. My biological or blood family. They know I love them beyond words already anyways. This post is about the pride that I find in my chosen family.
You might be slightly confused by the phrase chosen family (partially because you more than likely do not have one) so allow me to explain. Some people in the LGBTQ community have a biological family and a chosen family. Sadly, there are many people in my community that only have a chosen family. There is not one academically agreed upon definition but in the most basic sense, a chosen family is a group of individuals who deliberately choose one another to play significant roles in each other’s lives. It is a group of people whom you are emotionally attached to that you love and consider ‘family’ even though you are not biologically or legally related to one another.
I am sure many of you have friends that you consider “they might as well be family.” Down here in the south we call them “Back Door Friends.” But Chosen families in the queer community are more than just your best friends or the friends you are closest to. They validate our very existence as a community. As individuals who want to be seen and heard and told they matter. In ancient Greece, there were many types of love; Eros would be love between people who are in a committed relationship and Agape would be an unconditional love from God. The reason chosen families are so important is that they combine two types of this love in philia, a friendship or fondness type of love, with storge, a familial love. Chosen families became a sense of strength within the LGBTQ community and they remain a pillar of pride in this community to this day.
Chosen families arose from the necessity of being part of the LGBTQ community. In our community’s past, many were told by their families, or churches, or schools, that they were no longer welcome. We became outcasts in our own blood families. Many LGBTQ kids were kicked out of their homes. It is why the queer community has a disproportionately large share of homelessness – especially within queer youth. Personally, I will never understand how a parent can cast out their child or a sibling can turn its back on a sibling; To me, that is an unforgivable sin that you will never be able to justify (but that is a story for a different blog). When these outcasts of society had nobody to turn to for love, guidance, and the sheer acknowledgment that they existed, they turned to themselves. They replaced biological mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers with their chosen alternatives. They cared for each other while they were sick. They loved each other when they hurt. They buried each other when they started to die from AIDS. They did everything that their blood family was supposed to do. That is how chosen families were born in a community forced to take care of one another when nobody else would.
The majority of the time the people in the chosen families we created were fellow members of the queer community (although they do not have to be – allies are always welcome). The shared loss of their blood families served as a common thread uniting people. Feelings of sadness and loss give way to strength and love. One of the things I love about the queer community is the resiliency of my brothers and sisters who are also part of it. A self-created family becomes a support system that allows people to continually go out into a world that continually puts them down. In some cases it allows people to do more than just go – it allows them to thrive and prove everyone who doubted them wrong.
Chosen families can be known, but more often than not they are unknown or known simply by the people who make up that family. Some of these chosen families have become famous or well-known throughout the world. In the Voguing and Ball Culture that developed in New York City, these families are known as houses and they were often named after famous fashion brands (House of St. Laurent, House of LeBeija, etc.). They would often have a “mother” and/or “father” who functioned as the parent of their “children.” These chosen families are especially close-knit and exclusive. They consider it an honor and a privilege to be asked to be part of their family. Other chosen families are more inclusive and not quite as bougie.
While pulling up next to a car the other day I had my windows down and sunroof up while B93.7 was playing while a Dua Lipa song was playing on the radio. A few seconds I hear “YES QUEEN!” come from the car next to me. I blushed and looked over embarrassed someone called me out on my dancing, but that feeling immediately disappeared. One shared look between me and the black man driving it I had never met told me he was part of the queer community and that was an exclamation of agreement and not ridicule. He turned up his volume as he pulled away. I smiled as I heard Dua Lipa fade off into the sunset. In a way, he is part of the extended larger chosen family that falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. If you have never seen us communicate with just a facial expression, it is hard to describe. With just a look we almost tell people, “I see you.” We see the authentic you. The fabulous you who loves jamming to bad ass diva songs.
I started building my chosen family in high school and it has never stopped growing. I don’t share blood with these people, but I don’t have to – we share something more powerful than that. Most people don’t understand, but it is easier to tell someone you consider an acquaintance than it is to tell your family. Most of it stems from the fear of rejection. It hurts less to be cast aside by someone you have known for a semester than it does by someone whose blood courses through your veins. The clip below is one of the most famous scenes from an episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Every episode ends with the 2 drag queens who did the worst having to lip synch and the bottom queen is eliminated. I left the lip synch in because it is one of the greatest in the herstory of the show, but the important part is what happens at the end. Watch and listen to what Rupaul says to Roxxy Andrews story.
I have been incredibly blessed in this life. I have never experienced the pain that Roxxy Andrews suffered. My family loves me unconditionally. Through the good and the bad. Growing up I always knew that they would never stop loving me, but for those of you who have never had to work through how to accept yourself in a society where you are not looked at as an equal, telling your family is the hardest part. My chosen family helped me work through feelings my blood family could not because my chosen family had already experienced what I was feeling. The very first time I went to the dinky LGBT club in my city I was a hot mess. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. I was so nervous I bumped into someone and made them spill their drink. A drag queen named Robin came to my rescue and diffused this situation. The instant addition to my chosen family always greeted me with a shot and a hug once I got there. She is passed on now, but I know we will meet again in the next life. It will be easy to find her there anyways – “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will be blaring from her cloud up in the great beyond.
We love to share our joys and triumphs with our families. I am lucky enough I get to do it twice. I have found many times when we hurt in this life we want to be with our family. I have found a subtle difference in the way the two families deal with hurt. Blood family wants to do something. They want to take the pain away somehow. They want to fix what is broken. This is both admirable and helpful sometimes; My real family has always been there for me when times are good or bad. But sometimes you need the love that your chosen family gives you when you are hurt. Sometimes chosen families try to do something, but more often than not I have found my chosen family won’t do anything but be there. Just simply showing up, acknowledging your hurt, and giving you permission to hurt however you want is the most cathartic and loving thing they do.
My blood family has given me more than I could ever ask or dream for. In a different way, my chosen family has as well. My chosen family has picked me up when I was utterly broken: working through break up with my first real love, losing my grandfather a couple of years ago, and episodes of self-doubt would have been impossible to deal with without them. They have also cheered, and yelled with me at some awesome high points: Witnessing my first pride parade, my first trip to San Francisco, and teaching me to vogue the house down will be experiences and memories that I will cherish for the rest of this life time and all of the next. They have changed my life simply because I have known them. I love them. And I chose them. But more importantly, they chose me. And for that, I am luckier than I ever possibly thought I could be.
Here’s to all the chosen families all across the world. This one is for you. Happy Pride!