I want you to think back with me for a second. Did you have a friend growing up who meant the world to you? Did you have someone you could go to with everything? You knew they would not judge you and they always had your back. Some would call this their “ride or die” or “peanut butter to my jelly.”
If you didn’t have this, well I hope it comes. For the LGBT+ community, when your family does not support you, this “ride or die” is a big part of their life. This is known as your chosen family.
Your chosen family are the ones you put as your emergency contact when you fill out paperwork because you know your mom would flip. It’s the sister you always wanted, the brother who loves you as you are, or simply a close friend.
Chosen families are often formed because individuals are rejected by their actual family, experience homophobia at home, or may not feel supported by their family. Due to the fact that they do not have the love and support they hope for, they seek it elsewhere. Without individuals to support us in any journey of our life, we can begin to feel depressed or alone.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, I have close friends who I would consider the ‘sister I never had’. That’s my best friend. What’s the difference?” The difference is that your friend is an “extra” while for these individuals, it is all they have. This is so common that a documentary has been created called the “Chosen Family” to show how hard it is!
The Hard Truth
It hurts to think about, but unfortunately, of homeless individuals, sexual minorities rank amongst the highest homeless population. Think about that for a second. When I think of how many people are homeless, it brings me to the fact that so many are left or kicked out because of their sexual or gender identity. The feeling that you are not accepted for who you are can wreck havoc on your mental well being.
In June of 2016, a nightclub was targeted and 49 individuals were killed. Why were they targeted? Due to the stigmas and hatred surrounding LGBTQ community. There are many aspects of this that are hard and upsetting, but in regards to the chosen family, individuals who share no blood lost their family that night. People in the club lost their “chosen family.” This is also a time where chosen family can come in handy. Your biological family might feel very upset or angry if you were a target of a hate crime, but they do not know what it is like to be a target unless they are apart of the community.
It doesn’t start as a choice
This is part of the hard truth. Most individuals feel as though they do not have many options. Your family can begin as someone showing you how to ask someone out, pick your first dress, go on a date, and anything in between. They provide information and guidance that your biological family cannot. For some, their biological family members include LGBTQ+ members who can provide guidance, which is awesome. Even then, discrimination can take place. Discrimination can show in all sorts of ways, so it is important to be cautious of how we speak to one another. As a family member of LGBTQ+, it is important to also remember that it does not mean they do not love you. Their chosen family provides a strong bond that makes them feel secure. Family members should be happy that their family member has been able to find such close friends to disclose to.
What does a chosen family bring?
Your chosen family provides you individuals who can relate to you. They provide a safe space to talk about emotionally draining topics. Even if your family is completely supportive, you might have family members who don’t understand. Individuals within the community understand what transgender means. Like I said above, they can help guide you and provide information versus having to be taught all of the information.
For some sexual minorities, having children can be difficult. Children can also be expensive to reproduce. This could mean the cost of sperm, testing, and all medical procedures. Your family might not happen in this way. Adoption is a great choice, but even that is expensive. People have to make the decision all the time as to what will be best for their future family. There was once a time where they were also denied the right to marry, so someone could not be your partner by law, so they would be your chosen long term partner. Some individuals still decide to not get married. This would be part of your chosen family.
There also might be a bisexual 50-year-old who possibly meets a bisexual 20-year-old. They are very fond of each other, but have no romantic interest. Thus, they become friends. The 50-year-old woman was exiled from her family, but the 20-year-old is loved by her sister who knows and “in the closet” with the rest of her family. She needs guidance on dating and how to show she is flirting versus just being kind, so she asks the coworker. Eventually, they form a friendship. Then, the 20-year-old continues to reach out to the 50-year-old even after their jobs take them different ways. She now refers to her as “like a mother.” This would be her chosen mother. It does not mean she does not love her original mother, but she has found guidance, love, support, and parental advisory within an adult in her population. This would be an addition to her family.
Think of a time where you had to move and uproot your life. If you have not experienced this, imagine what it would be like if you had to right now. It’s scary, exhausting, thrilling, and everything in between. Depending on what stage of the coming out process you are in, you might want some places to go and people to meet. Having a chosen family can bring you community ties to find places in the area that are supportive and friendly to your community. Depending on where someone lives, this can be really difficult. This might just be John’s house on 9th street because his parents are open minded. It could be a bar for primarily gay people like we have in Columbia. With the growing community, it is important to know what is available to you. There could be support clubs at high schools, local business that celebrate PRIDE, PRIDEfest in your area, and so much more! By connecting with other members of the LGBTQ+ community and forming your own chosen family, you are opening doors you might not even know were there!
As I said above, it is nice to have people to talk to. Not only is it nice, but it is proven to support your mental health. Having a family who you can rely on, trust, and feel safe with provides a comfort like no other. By getting involved, you have the opportunity to form a bond with people who are experiencing something very similar or have experienced it before. With the high rates of homelessness and suicide, it is important to find people that you have these feelings with. Our team is always open to providing a safe space to explore who you are, but we would highly recommend forming healthy friendships and relationships with others.
If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and are in the final phase of coming out, then think of what you might be able to do for someone else. You might be the one that someone wants to come to. You might be the older person in our example above who finds themselves providing guidance to someone. Your role as a chosen family member can be larger than you think. Are you guiding them to seek help when necessary? Are you teaching them about safe hang out spots? Are they a part of other healthy friendships? Have they mentioned what their home life is like? We aren’t saying it is your responsibility, but you have the chance to possibly be a chosen family member that you did not have. Even better, you have the chance to be like the ones you do have!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MACHAELA RAUSCH- CLIENT LIAISON
Machaela is currently in her second year of the Master of Science in Clinical Counseling program at Central Methodist University (CMU). She is the client liaison for The Counseling Hub where she assists with getting individuals set up with a counselor. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Sociology and a minor in Multicultural Studies from the University of Missouri.
Machaela is currently receiving experience in the Counseling Center at MACC’s Columbia Campus, providing counseling services for students around the topics of identitiy crisis, school-related stressors, depression issues, coping with anxiety, and body image issues. Machaela has attended conferences regarding LGBTQ+ community and currently works for a non profit organization where she provides Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Implementing to individuals with developmental delays. Machaela has worked here for three years. Machaela is an active member of the American Counseling Association (ACA).
Machaela enjoys working with diverse populations and aims to always be open to new learning experiences. Machaela seeks to be a comforting and kind individual for the first contact with The Counseling Hub. Machaela understands the process of getting into therapy can be difficult and aims to provide people with a smooth process.