The most disturbing moment in a conversation with The Girl With Golden Hair came a while ago, now what with her being younger than me and a former Sociology student I do have these moments every so often but this one has really stuck with me. It went a little something like this:

TGWGH: Did you know that the term ‘family’ is used by the gay/alternative community to describe chosen family? Like as in friends and people within the community?

Me: Um…Yes?
My Thoughts: Why are you implying this is something new to you? Oh wow…you’ve never done that? Oh gods I’m so non-straight/old

My relationship with the word ‘family’ is a curious one I suppose, though this supposition is mainly based on that conversation with The Girl and a further one about facebook groups. Back when Princess Lex, FJ, The Jellicle and I formed our interesting little foursome (polycule?) I happily used the phrase ‘Nearest and Dearest’ as ‘Family’ didn’t seem quite right, however I don’t automatically use the term ‘family’ to mean my, well, family, it’s had a broader context than that for some time now.

‘Family’ was introduced to me as meaning the gay girls I was hanging out with way back in the days of my first coming out, when internet forums were my only contact with the few lesbians I knew. When I moved away from home and started really hanging out with a lot of queer guys as well as girls then it became the obvious term of choice to describe our little group – ‘family’ were the people who knew me, who accepted me and back then they mostly weren’t related.

When I started out on LiveJournal I divided people into groups, my ‘Family’ group on LJ consists of The Big Beardy Soap Opera, Lexie, FJ, M-i-L, the Jellicle etc.etc. These are my chosen family – of course they are, why wouldn’t they be?

Then there comes the facebook conversation. The notion that I have a poly family seems quite natural to me, what else would I describe myself, The Jellicle, Weasel and LL as? However when I sugested adding them on facebook as ‘My Poly Family’ my suggestion was met with disturbed looks and distinct peturbation which I suspect may be shared by certain of my readers.

The word has ceased, for me, to mean people I am related to, it simply means those who know me and thus has in recent years ceased to bare much relation to my blood-family at all – my family includes my sister, and on occaision various cousins but as a word has nothing to do with my mother, father, grandmother or any of them really.

“Did I know that the term ‘family’ is used by the gay/alternative community to describe chosen family? Like as in friends and people within the community?”

Yes…did it used to mean something else as well?

6 thoughts on “Family

  1. Family has pretty much always been about more than consanguinity, though it seems to consistently signify a certain commitment of shared responsibility, apart from those occasions when it is used in a rather hollow manner, or tongue in cheek. Did your poly family mention whether it was the the use of the term ‘family’, the need to add the ‘poly’ modifier, the issue of responsibility, or something else, that was the problem?

  2. I think family, for me, could be a reasonable shorthand for "people who would have to do something really unspeakable for me to want to lose contact with them". There are friends or acquaintances who have a fairly low threshold for me deciding they’re not worth my time. Family are those people whom I love enough or have enough shared history to fix things with, almost regardless of what has happened. To date, no-one I consider to be family has ever seriously tested that. And by instinct my relatives and in-laws get a much higher threshold than others.

  3. One further thought. It occurs to me that your notion is not a new one – most families had "Aunties" that were unrelated – it may be a throwback to the first half of the 20th Century, when war led to something of a gender imbalance.

  4. I’ve always thought of my closest friends as my chosen family. I had no idea this was attatched traditionally to gay people – I thought it was something everyone did.

  5. I first came across it done in a very deliberate manner by various members of the gay community – usually in response to having been thrown out of their blood family for being gay. However, my experience with most of my friends had led me to assume it was just a thing that people did. When GWGH mentioned having studied it in sociology I had a really bizarre emotional reaction to it.

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