OPINION: Home for the holidays, chosen family is real family

Despite the fact that the holiday season is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year, it can sometimes be one of the most stressful times. This year is even more stressful than previous years, since current pandemic restrictions are forcing many families to remain apart after almost nine months of being separated by lockdowns, travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. 

For the past few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I’ve been hearing the word “family” a lot, and rightfully so. Family, for many, is what the holiday season is all about. Many of us know the the ugly truth about the events that preceded the celebration of the first Thanksgiving in America, despite the history we have been taught. However, over the years, many American families have denounced those past atrocities while continuing to use this time to reconnect with each other, eat great food, and show love and support for one another — all of which is needed more now than ever. 

But, as much as we love the holidays, it would be remiss of us not to recognize that the holiday season can also highlight marginalization in the way we view family during this time. So many LGBTQ+ people find themselves in situations where they’re being asked questions like, “Are you going home to see your family for the holidays?”, never taking into account that “home” may be right where they are now, and that “family” just may be the group of friends they’re choosing to spend the holidays with. As late fashion designer and drag performer Dorian Corey stated in the acclaimed 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, “this is a new meaning of family.”

A house? A house — let’s see if we can put it down sharply — They’re families. You can say that. They’re families, for a lot of children who don’t have families. But, this is a new meaning of family. The hippies had families and no one thought nothing about it. It wasn’t a question of a man and a woman and children, which we grew up knowing as a family. It’s a question of a group of human beings in a mutual bond.

Dorian Corey, Paris Is burning

Chosen family is a reality for many queer people because many people in our community no longer have relationships with their biological families. This can be for a myriad of reasons; some are disowned by their biological families, some have chosen not to be around abusive or neglectful family members, some have deceased parents, and some haven’t come out to their biological families yet, and are unsure of how they will be received. 

There are some queer people who may still have relationships with their biological families, but also maintain a group of friends who they would rather spend time with on any given holiday because this is where they feel most safe and welcome. And there’s nothing wrong with this. 

Family is all about bonding. We bond with people who we feel comfortable with, and we feel comfortable with people who understand and respect us for who we are. As a society, we tend to sometimes view the word “family” very scientifically, but it goes beyond biology. A family isn’t a scientific class of people with whom you share genetics, but an actual feeling of belonging to a particular group. But that doesn’t stop many from using phrases such as “real family” when speaking to people with non-traditional family experiences.

For many queer people, holidays such as Thanksgiving are a time to reflect on the many ways that they’ve freed themselves from the toxic connections, trauma bonding, enmeshment and unhealthy coping mechanisms we have experienced as a result of trying, for so long, to repair broken bonds or shape non-existent ones. Choosing to protect their own space and respect their own needs by creating the family they desire, for many, is one of the perks of being a queer person. 

So, this Holiday Season, remember to leave space in your narratives of “holiday cheer” and “family bonding” for those in the queer community who have had to create a family for themselves; Think of those whose experiences with family are different. Instead of asking, “Are you going home for the Holidays?” simply ask “What are your plans for the Holidays?” And understand that chosen family is, indeed, real family.

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Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.