Love, Life Stories

When you’re not straight, found family is sometimes your only family

There's this idea that blood ties create an obligation to care, something I only recently discovered is entirely untrue.

A memory: I’m in high school.

Two men in my family are watching Monday Night Football while I am upstairs doing homework on the family computer, an assignment I can no longer remember in detail. What I remember, instead, is the way one of the men in my family called players on the field homophobic slurs, yelling at the top of his lungs, until I felt so uncomfortable I feared I might burst.

I asked him to stop and he turned his anger on me. “Gay people go to hell, and if you or any of your friends think you’re gay, it’s because you’re too young to know better.”

I will never forget that moment or the way it made me feel: torn asunder and left to rot in the amalgam of my own confusion. At the time, I hadn’t fully realized my more-than-hypothetical attraction to women. I certainly hadn’t realized that biological family—especially when they hurt you—don’t necessarily deserve your love or loyalty.

There’s this idea that blood ties create an obligation to care, something I only recently discovered is entirely untrue.

For queer kids, found family is often our only saving grace.

Some members of my family fully accept who I am. My mom, for example, whose support has been unwavering as I’ve slowly come to grips with my identity. I’m luckier than many, especially as a white, cisgender woman living in the U.S. I’m grateful for that.

I’m grateful that members of my biological family accept me at all, although my desire for their approval is complicated. Sometimes, I feel nauseous with it, because I know that ultimately, there are members of my family who will never approve of my sexuality.

Choosing to cut those people out means choosing awkward silence with other family members; it also means acknowledging that the members of my family who support me will walk the middle of the road so as not to “cause controversy” with the members who don’t.

And that hurts.

It also infuriates me; some nights, my blood boils with anger so hot that even thinking of my family and their lack of willingness to confront each other’s bigotry makes fat, salty tears swell in my eyes.

For years, I lived in fear of coming out, of labeling myself, of being open in conversations with coworkers, family – even acquaintances about my orientation. Close friends knew — though it took me ages to tell them, too. I sought people who would not only accept me for being a lesbian but who would understand, which in my small town felt hard. This desire was made harder by my family’s overprotective tendencies, as well as their harsh judgment of anyone who didn’t seem “normal.”

I constantly worried that I would say the wrong thing when men in my family would teasingly tell me not to get a boyfriend, worried that they could see in my face that I wasn’t concerned about “finding a man.” Instead, I was beginning to realize that I wasn’t all that into cis-men at all.

If they knew, would I be the subject of homophobic slurs and hate speech?

Would my identity be undermined, my safety compromised, even by people who supposedly would go to the ends of the Earth for me because we’re family?

As I started meeting more people in the LGBTQ community and befriending them, my eyes opened to how important it is for us to have spaces that feel safe. “Safe” is a loaded term, especially in a community that suffers from its own issues with substance abuse and sexual assault.

I have plenty of first- and second-hand experience with toxic people who take advantage of the safety in LGBTQ spaces to commit harm.

However, the majority of people—in my inner and outer circle—whose identities are marginalized by the cis-hetero-patriarchy are wonderful.

Understanding. Kind-hearted. Good.

It wasn’t until I moved away from the majority of my family to go to college that I felt like I could participate in these spaces and breathe easy, and the freedom to explore my sexuality meant the world to me.

When the cis-hetero-patriarchy constantly forces you out of spaces, it becomes increasingly important to know that there are places to which you can retreat and people with whom you can share your anxieties.

Queer people are constantly being erased.

The current U.S. administration wiped any mention of us from its web page within hours of taking office. They tried to remove us from the 2020 Census. Even though nuclear families in the U.S. are declining (from 88 percent in 1960 to just 69 percent in 2016, according to the Census Bureau), two-parent couples who aren’t heterosexual—despite legalization for LGBTQ couples to adopt in all 50 states—have to jump through plenty of hoops.

Those are just non-violent examples.

According to Glaad, at least 26 transgender people of color were murdered in 2017, an absolutely sickening number that is likely higher due to lack of reporting or misgendering of victims. At least two parents were charged late last year with murdering their children for their assumed sexual orientations.

The pain of these headlines is real and lasting.

The only way I know how to process it is to turn to my found family, to the other LGBTQ people in my inner circle—whether it’s my partner, members of our coven, or other close friends—because the slow, burning knowledge that we are not wanted never quite goes away.

We are constantly reminded of it.

And loving each other, banding together, fighting for those who are less privileged than us—like the 40 percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ—are the only means we have of surviving.