I am exploring the concept of chosen family and its importance in queer communities. A chosen family is a group of individuals who deliberately choose one another to play significant roles in each other’s lives. One definition of chosen family is a group of people to whom you are emotionally close and consider ‘family’ even though you are not biologically or legally related. There are many reasons why this concept is of great importance in many queer communities. When most people think of a traditional family, they think of marriage and having children—both of which are exclusive towards or inaccessible to queer individuals. Many queers simply do not have access to these conventional methods of building families.
Historically, queer individuals have been excluded from the institution of marriage, thus making inaccessible the formation of a legal family. Currently, 33 states in the United States have laws prohibiting same sex marriage. Although many queers do not support marriage as an institution, it is an ongoing and deliberate exclusion has raised a necessity for queers to form chosen families.
The other conventional form of family building that is often inaccessible to queers is reproduction. For the obvious reasons of needing a biologically male and female to reproduce, queers cannot always start a family biologically as easily. Furthermore, it can be extremely costly (sometimes thousands of dollars) for queers to reproduce. Buying sperm, medical insemination procedures, fertility testing, and surrogacy are all quite expensive, making them only accessible to those with the financial means. I believe that these challenges in biological family formation create a high need for chosen family in queer communities.
Chosen families are also often born out of necessity. Many queer individuals do not rely on their biological families in ways that other individuals might be able to. Anywhere from being completely rejected by family, to experiencing extreme homophobia at home, to simply not feeling affirmed by a biological family are some realities that many queers face. This type of disconnect from the family one grew up in, stresses the importance of building a new, intentional, healthy family. Chosen can mean a group of individuals spending the holidays together, instead of going (to their childhood) home.
I see the importance of chosen families in my own queer community, but I also see these narratives appear in so many queer books, movies, television shows, and comics. Books like Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde, Valencia by Michelle Tea, and Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender by Nick Krieger all demonstrate the significance of chosen family in the queer characters’ lives. There have been a number of queer comics that exhibit the concept of chosen family so clearly. Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel and The Chosen Family by Noreen Stevens are both comics that center around a tight knit chosen family and the ebb and flow they go through over the years. Whether or not they use the term ‘chosen family’, it is apparent that that is what these people are to one another: family.
We carefully weave these families together in order to create a safe space for growth and love without limits. My chosen family has had a major impact on my life and development as a young adult by accepting, teaching, loving, and challenging me. When our biological families can’t love us in ways that we need, our chosen families pick up the slack. Chosen family means so many things. Sharing resources, whether that’s money or time or knowledge or a computer or a bike or music or coffee or a couch to sleep on. Trusting others to say no when they need to and yes when they want to. Traveling together, sometimes in silence. Helping each other move. Mutual respect, trust, and love.