This is the holiday season, a time usually observed with holiday-specific traditions, religious commemorations, parties, and gift giving. This time is also usually associated with being with or at least thinking about the family members you know, love, and hold dear to your heart. Or at least those who share with you some sort of trait. When one thinks “family,” they usually associate the word with being bound by blood or marriage. That includes the parents who raised you from youth to adolescence and wished you good luck and good guidance as you ventured into adulthood; the siblings who grew with you and look up and to you for mutual support; and the cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents who provide their own versions of love, support, and encouragement.
Unfortunately, for some in the broad LGBT+ community, the term “family” doesn’t mean the natural definition of parents, siblings, etc. noted above. Many has been the case where someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or even simply questioning has been blackballed by their relatives. Not only is it heartbreaking to think that those who identify as LGBT+ can face such shunning, it should also make one reconsider the traditional definition of “family.”
I bring up all of this here because of thoughts about “family” that ran through my mind on Saturday. After doing some quick morning errands as Male Mode Me, I got dolled up as Allison and went shopping downtown. Two things made this excursion a thrill: For one, I went with a cis gender friend of mine who I’ve become acquainted with through the trans support group we both frequent. Secondly, no one at the craft/gift shop we went to batted an eye at me and thought, Ew, that’s a guy underneath that wig. Not the customers; not the bystanders that passed by while we were on the street; not even the clerks at the store, who treated us only as two people seeking help on what gift ideas would be perfect.
More than that shopping excursion, the thoughts of “family” really surfaced right after shopping, when we attended a regular meeting of our trans/CD support group. To ensure confidentiality, I won’t get into too much detail about who discussed what. However, I left the meeting with the realization… or, perhaps more precisely, the confirmation of lingering thoughts I always had, that the family you were raised with can sometimes be hard to please. They do worry about raising you the right way, but can also be demanding of you, wanting to raise you in the one way they see fit. And they can potentially be easily offended if you do not meet their ideals, up to and including declining to be there for their big holiday get-together. But that’s not necessarily a sign that you don’t care for them, rather it’s a sign that you are mature and live your own life. And if you cannot please them in they way they expect, than that’s their problem.
Just as with, perhaps, most of you reading this, I did not entirely become the ideal son/grandson/brother/nephew the rest of my family expected me to be. They are generally more strong-willed and conservative than I’ve turned out to be. Oh, and unless they have a sexual skeleton in their closet, they’re all cis-gender and heterosexual. It’s that night-and-day difference that usually doesn’t leave me as thrilled as most folks when a big family to-do comes on the schedule. Those differences are just simmering below the surface, waiting to boil over and potentially ruin what’s supposed to be a joyous occasion.
Still, though, I will more often than not fulfill my familial duty as a beloved son, brother, and uncle and attend our family’s holiday shindig. Next weekend will be no different, as I’ll be headed to my sister’s house next Saturday to take part in our annual ritual (and bring lettuce and sour cream for the Mexican-themed cuisine Sis will be cooking up). I know I’ll never be just like the rest of my family. I imagine my family recognizes that, though they (and I) won’t admit it. But I do cherish the fact that, despite our differences, they have been and will forever be part of my life. Oh, sure, I could’ve used those differences as an impenetrable wall between me and them, but it would have left me a lonely person, seeking out new friendships and relationships that wouldn’t have that same bond, nor would they be guaranteed of even taking place.
But that’s not to say that if I had put up that impenetrable wall between my blood family and myself, I would never find another “family” to fall back on. Heck, I think I do have a second family, and it’s the family who have followed me, gotten to know more about me, and even seen me in the flesh. They are the broad LGBT+ family, specifically the trans sisters, trans brothers, and supportive cis-gender people who either follow me online or know me through the in-person trans/CD support group I’m a part of. We all come from our own flesh-and-blood families, ones that may have strong bonds, frayed ends, or irrevocably severed knots. But we are all a family (note my non-use of quotes there) through our shared LGBT+ bonds (in particular the trans bonds I share with many of them). And though, for various reasons, not every member of our family can drop everything and be there for each other, it’s that shared sympathy we have for each other that builds our familial bonds. All it will take to connect is an e-mail, a call, or a post on social media or a blog that shares our thoughts and concerns about life, or our well wishes for each other’s very best fortunes.
So, yeah, I do have two families: The longtime family I’m bonded with through blood, marriage, and official relationships… and the extended family I’m part of through our sharing of the LGBT+ acronym in at least one way or another. I know not everyone can say they’re as fortunate as I am in this way, but I sincerely hope that in this time that’s supposed to be one of joy and comfort, you have your own family you can bond with.