I was asked to write a piece for work as part of our celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month. Various topics were thrown out as a brainstorm of possibilities and I found that the concept of Found Family resonated quite a lot. So here it is, for a wider audience:
When my nephew came out last year, I was delighted to be one of the first people he shared his truth with. It’s very easy to fall back on cliched responses in the moment when given news like that. There is the immediate pressure to make some glib but accepting statement, but instead I welcomed him to a life of discovering found family.
To some degree we all experience this phenomenon of meeting people who you click with and who are there for you through thick and thin over the years. It is, however, particularly resonant for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. As we discover and embrace who we are, we are often drawn away from familiar orbits and into unfamiliar places and experiences. Heteronormative society has a script for life that includes how dating should go, a relationship escalator through to marriage, making a new household, raising a family and so on. This script does not always chime with or serve people in the LGBTQ+ community well.
This unease can range from who is offered the bill at a restaurant to assumptions of who someone’s next of kin should be. It begins to feel better, however, as we meet other people who are on similar journeys. It isn’t a matter of whether someone’s biological family is accepting of who we are, but of the similarities of lived experience that we encounter and draw strength and confidence from. Shared experience leads to jokes and commiseration in equal part. The nuances of how we talk about things, or approach situations have an extra resonance that is hard to quantify at first, but it can and does develop into strong friendships that are only half-jokingly referred to as our found family.
We didn’t know we were missing the light and support of these people from our lives, but they come to be as important to us as those we were born alongside. The LGBTQ+ Community thrives on these unconventional connections for support and validation, in the same way that people might expect of their own families. There are just as many disagreements and discussions along the way – that’s just being human. The custom families that we build and cherish are a bulwark against a world and society that can often feel deeply divisive and hurtful towards the most vulnerable people among us.
My experience of this has led to meeting amazing people and feeling safe enough to relax in their presence within minutes – sometimes in the most unlikely of settings and contexts. My hope for my nephew is that alongside the support he gets from us, he also finds his own people and grows and flourishes. I hope he finds love and relationships in whatever configurations work for him. I hope he will find people who cherish and look after him in ways that may not mean anything to anyone else. I hope that we all may be so lucky.