LGBTQ+ History Month – Found Family

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.

Reminiscence

We got lost a couple of times over the last few days in talking about the bad old days of Section 28 and the wasteland of the AIDS crisis and the effect that had on us as queer youngsters.

We had little to no representation that wasn’t couched in terms of scandal, death, and abandonment, and so the plethora of support and acceptance that so many people now receive can feel bewildering.

I think in part it’s been prompted by taking part in the event with the Surrey History Centre. It’s made me reevaluate elements of my earlier life and got us all comparing experiences. And that’s where the mix of jealousy and annoyance comes in when younger people don’t recognise their relative privilege compared to the landscape we came through.

We’re proud of how far things have come, but we’re also very aware of how fragile that progress is. Vitriol and attacks on people and rights bubble just under the surface still in far too many places.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, other than I suppose it highlights the need for LGBT+ History Month so we can celebrate how far we’ve come but remember just how far behind we have been

Doing My Bit

I took part today in a joint event organised between Surrey Libraries and the Surrey History Centre. It was called LGBT+ Stories and was a combination of readings from the archives, and the stories brought by those of us in attendance.

I hadn’t prepared anything, but as an awkward silence settled in when the call for a first story went out, I stepped up. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s weave a story out of nothing. And so I summarised my journey. I twined it with the theme of my own imposter syndrome and brought it back to talking about the importance of visibility.

And then I stopped before I rambled on and took over the whole show – but it did the trick, and broke the ice – and slowly more stories emerged between the excerpts.

So, there’s a thing I’m proud I did, and the transcripts and audio will go in to the archive to bemused future researchers.

Well, Not Technically Wrong

I was rather pleased with being able to get a simple but effective display up in one of my libraries marking LGBT+ History Month. I was even more pleased at the positive feedback from staff and public. Even more so that it has inspired at least one more colleague to start their own.

Today I was informed by a member of staff that we had received congratulations and thanks from a member of the public for our support of the NHS.

With a waved hand towards the display.

Not pictured, any NHS logo

My colleague resorted to the tried and tested nod and smile technique. We do indeed support the NHS. The multiple LGBT+ History Month signs and logos might as well have been invisible.

Life’s too short to be anything other than amused, but I may have quietly rolled my eyes at the confirmation that people just don’t read signs.

Decorating with Rainbows

February is LGBT+ History Month, so I’ve spent a portion of today decorating a library’s windows with flags and logos. As we’re largely closed to the public we can’t do our usual approach of book displays and historical posters, so I’ve improvised.

There are some nice packs of flags and bunting available on Amazon for reasonable prices so I grabbed one to provide the base elements for display.

The subject theme for this year is Mind, Body, and Spirit – a focus on mental health and support – so a raid on the shelves is imminent to build it properly.

Displays Everywhere

As it’s a new month, I’ve rotated round to another library in the area, and brought the buzzing excitement from reopening the previous one with me.

That’s manifested today in directing and encouraging staff to take ownership and control of two displays – one for Valentine’s Day, and the other for LGBT History Month.

Until I’d produced the various printed media created by other teams, the enthusiasm for this latter project was muted in some corners. Then they started to recognise books on the reading list as things we had on the shelves and before long I had people coming up to me with items for consideration.

I’m quietly proud of how they all came round, got invested, and pulled together.