According to Merriam-Webster, families are children and their parents, or people with a common ancestor. But family is not always simply defined, especially in the LGBTQ community. Many members of our community did not have the best experiences growing up, discovering themselves or coming out in their family of origin. Whether impacted by religion, cultural ideologies or homophobia, some of us experienced traumatic episodes, abuse, physical aggression, emotional warfare, isolation or abandonment in our birth families. Coming out as a youth for some of us was met by parents disowning us, or with “friends” turning their backs on us. Members of our community may have experienced very lonely periods in their life, and it may have remained that way had we not discovered other people in the LGBTQ community, persons who were kind by nature or people whom related us.
So, over the years some of us have collected our family as our definition of family evolved and expanded. Sometimes it was a person we worked with, sometimes someone we met at a bar or met doing some type of recreational activity. Sometimes we are adopted into other people’s families who were lucky enough to be cohesive, strong, intact, and who recognized they had love to share. And sometimes, family comes in the form of a four-legged companion, those guys that steal our hearts without knowing, are always glad to see us and be near us, and who listen without judgement.
Maybe a part of it is that we get to choose our friends. And unlike our birth families, friends come into our lives without the emotional baggage that can accompany our siblings, parents or extended family members. According to Psychology Today, “we pick our friends and they pick us, that complement brings an affection that makes us feel secure and valued”. Sometimes those friendships grow to include a deep connection and an authentic, organic love. That is family.
And maybe that is why when we lose those close friends, or a relationship we thought would last, or our four-legged kids cross the rainbow bridge, it hurts. We may grieve more for any one of those chosen family than we would for a blood relation. And that is okay, it is real, and it is deserved. Family is what we choose for it to be. The love we choose to give is a choice, and the love we receive in return is a gift. There is no definition that sets parameters or establishes rules around it; it just is.