Family has been the theme of my month – blood-related, common-law and chosen. I’ve spent an unbelievable amount of quality time with them in the last few weeks and there’s a whole lot more in the cards as the holiday season draws near.
After six years with my partner, my mom finally met her parents for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Over dinner in the gaybourhood we discovered that, despite a great deal of nervousness leading up to the event, they get along swimmingly. Instead of it being the subdued affair I had imagined, full of polite inquiries and careful responses, the three of them got delightfully rowdy over a couple of bottles of wine, to the point where patrons at other tables started calling out rejoinders to their silliness.
At first I feared that we were being too disruptive for the somewhat fussy establishment, until I realized how much the other tables were enjoying our display of familial togetherness. Like our collective love of PFLAG parents, I think there’s something about seeing queers in the company of their loving families that warms the cockles of even the most bitter queen.
It’s easy to take family for granted, especially when they’ve always been there for you. Both my partner and I are at a point with our relatives where they are, for the most part, comfortable with our queerness and accepting of us as a couple. Sometimes I forget that it’s ever been an issue at all.
I forget, that is, until the subject of family comes up in queer company and I am reminded how many of my friends aren’t so fortunate.
My partner and I ran into a couple of fag friends on the street the other day and when we told them of our plans to spend the holidays with her sister in Winnipeg an uncomfortable look passed between them. They’re each going home to their respective families and, reading between the lines, it could be because they aren’t at a point yet with their families where they can bring each other home to meet the folks. (Or then again maybe they were just upset by the thought of Winnipeg at Christmas.)
Even worse are the queer orphans, the ones who aren’t welcome home at all because of their sexuality. I know there are times when I steer clear of all talk of family in front of ‘mos who I know to be estranged from their own. It’s an odd little act of solidarity, as though in failing to speak of my relationships with my family I am normalizing their experience of having none.
The trouble is that pretending to be a have-not when you aren’t one doesn’t actually improve the situation of those who really are. Sure, there are orphans who cringe at the sight of a happy family but, like steering clear of public displays of affection to avoid offending single folks who wish they were in a relationship, hiding your happiness doesn’t bring them any closer to accepting their lot. A much better solution is to adopt them so they can share in that happiness.
This coming holiday season take time out from your mad dash to the finish line and ask yourself what you can do to include a queer orphan in your celebrations. Make room in the often-forced holiday cheer to talk about how alienating the season can be. Make plans to share with friends activities that are normally reserved for family, like stringing popcorn or decorating the tree. Let your chosen family know how important they are to you. Don’t already have one? Adopt.
Set an extra place at dinner for a friend who would otherwise be home alone. Sit them next to your most crotchety relation and double your pleasure; with any luck your fussy old aunt will be on her best behaviour for your guest and she’ll have a new audience for the same stories she’s told every year since you’ve been born.