“Chosen family” and “queer family” were both terms that I heard a lot growing up as a gay youth but never really connected with. I always saw my biological family as loving and caring, so I never thought I needed to seek out some substitute for the people that I had right at home. It wasn’t until recently that I found my own chosen family and understood what so many people had been talking about.
I moved around a lot as a child but mainly grew up in the suburbs outside of Detroit. My high school class was very small and severely lacked diversity. And as is the story for most small-town gays, I was bullied for my feminine qualities. The teasing ultimately pushed me to suppress my sexuality: I had girlfriends, made up stories of celebrity crushes, and did pretty much anything I could to cover up who I was.
At home, I was raised in a strict Christian household where God was a very present entity, so there was no way of me finding an outlet for my frustrations there either. I was constantly being told what was for girls and what was for boys, while also hearing about the sins of homosexuality every Sunday. It got so bad that I would lay awake at night recounting stories like Sodom and Gomorrah where God rained hellfire down on its citizens for their crimes against him, how all gays had nothing but darkness and emptiness awaiting them after death.
And although no one understood me the way my family did, growing up I was never able to fully open up to them because of this. Every time we spoke there was an entire part of myself that I couldn’t bring to the conversation. It was like I was putting on a performance, playing a part that became so natural that I almost convinced even myself that this was the way things were meant to be.
It wasn’t until I reached the end of high school that I really started to come to terms with my identity and found the courage to come out as gay. My friends were all so supportive; I couldn’t have asked them to be more understanding even if I wanted to…but they were also all women. At the time I didn’t really see an issue with this, I mean, I had friends and family who loved me – wasn’t that all that mattered?
I stayed in Michigan for college and the day I arrived for move-in I was met with more gay men than I’m pretty sure were in my entire high school class. It was also around this time that I was introduced to the world of Grindr and Jack’d…needless to say I went a little boy crazy. All throughout high school, I heard stories from my friends about all their adventures with boys and I was actually going to be able to feel what that was like. I became nervous and excited at the same time, I felt like I was behind in life for so many years and I was finally ready to play catch-up.
I was always trying to drag my straight friends to gay bars with me so I could hunt for my next love story, but, of course, they weren’t too keen on going since there was nothing in it for them. Even the times that I did manage to drag them into the local gay bar, most of the clientele were skinny blonde twinks, only interested in the same. Again, I accepted it as the way things were meant to be. I had already dealt with comprises in life by being black, understanding that because of my race I would have to work harder at things, be better at things, and fight harder to be treated the same as my white friends and co-workers. I just thought that this was another part of life that I was realizing and I’d have to accept one way or another.
It was in my senior year of college that I finally met the people who really understood me, and all of me. I moved to a new building and was on a floor with a few other gay guys. They all came from different backgrounds including a few who were black or Latino. I got along with everyone, but the connection with the other QPOC was almost immediate. It was like rekindling the relationship of someone whom I hadn’t spoken to since childhood. Getting to know each other was like catching up on what we’d been up to since our estrangement. Talking about family almost felt as if we were distantly related somehow. Talking about boys was the kind of late-night gossip that I’d had with my girlfriends but somehow more real.
It was the first time I was ever talking to people who knew what it was like to walk into a gay bar and see no one who looked like you, while also understanding the feeling of standing in a straight bar and feeling like you’ve just made the worst mistake of your life. It seemed so weird at the time but when it came down to it, someone simply being able to say “yeah, I get that” and actually understand me was revitalizing.
In the years that followed these friendships followed me and played a crucial part in my life and my mental health. It was my QPOC relationships that I turned to the days after election day, it was my QPOC friends that I turned to after my first break up, and it was my queer family that I confided in with struggles that I faced simply navigating the world being gay and black. It wasn’t until then that the words “queer family” triggered real memories for me and brought real faces into my mind. I was finally able to see what I had been missing for so long, that the way I had been living wasn’t the way that things had to be.
Today, my queer family is larger than I could’ve ever imagined, stretching from coast to coast and even internationally. Everywhere I go I look to add new faces to my family tree and try my hardest to be one of those faces for someone else. I eagerly listen to the words of people who came before me and act as a support system for people who still have time before they walk into who they want to be. I went from barely associating myself with the word to not being able to live without it. They help me to live my most authentic life while pushing me to grow in so many ways.
Now, my queer family is one of the most beautiful things in my life, and I truly don’t know who I would be without them.