By: Sassafrass Lowrey
One of the traditions my partner and I have is going to see whatever new Disney/Pixar movie is in the theaters on Thanksgiving weekend so this year we saw “Coco.” The movie was an amazing, beautifu, and important but there were some challenging aspects regarding what happens to those of us who don’t have birth families to remember us after we die. At one point the film briefly showed an afterlife village of people without families who were living together.
Because chosen family is really important to me and my work, I really wanted a whole film to take place there amongst those characters who were building family together in absence of biological family, but unfortunately that wasn’t this movie. “Coco’“s ending seemed to present the idea that without a family (by which they clearly meant biological) you ultimately just disappear from the afterlife, becoming nothing. As a runaway despite how beautiful the movie was that moral was unnerving at best.
I could actually relate much more to “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” the short that ran before screenings of “Coco.” The premise was about “Frozen”’s Anna and Elsa not having any family traditions, and their snowman friend, Olaf, trying to help them by exploring different kinds of family traditions amidst the citizens of their kingdom, Arendelle. By the end (spoiler!), Elsa realizes they have made their own traditions together with Olaf, and that the act of creating these traditions together was actually their family tradition. It was just like my family. I was crying by the end.
When I was 17 years old, I ran away from home. For a few months, I stayed with adult friends who’d allowed it on the basis that I was “over the gay thing.” A couple of months later they kicked me out of their house after reading my journal and realizing I was (still) queer.
Within weeks of being kicked out I found a queer youth drop-in program. One of the first lessons that I learned from other homeless queer youth (as well as from the staff and adult mentors) was that we as queer folks were the only people who were going to be there for each other, and that a key way we could do that was to create new families together.
For the first few years after running away, I found the whole holiday season really triggering, less because I didn’t have a relationship with the people who had raised me, but more-so because as a kid, Christmas had been one of the times each year where the chaos and violence in my home was most acute.
In the 13 years since my partner and I met and began building our own magical queer home and family, my perspective about the holiday has shifted in a really big way. Now, Christmas and all of its child-like wonder and magic have become a centerpiece of our queer year. Building our own traditions, like visiting the zoo on Christmas Eve to wish the animals a Merry Christmas, writing letters to Santa that my partner always finds a way to get Santa to answer, and baking gingerbread unicorns and dinosaurs are rituals of the season that have shifted a lifetime of discomfort with the holiday into joy and pleasure.
I’m a big believer that we don’t owe our families of origin anything, and especially not our presence in their lives. Yet I know a lot of LGBTQ people feel guilty about making a choice to prioritize their emotional safety by choosing not to spend time with homophobic/transphobic families over the holidays.
I’m a big believer that we don’t owe our families of origin anything, and especially not our presence in their lives.
I get it: There is so much cultural pressure telling us that we’re supposed to endure Uncle Joe’s transphobic jokes, or Grandma pretending that someday you’ll meet the nice person of the opposite gender and stop living with your “roommate.” But I want us to build a world where LGBTQ people feel supported if instead you chose spend time with friends or chosen families, the people who matter most to you.
Have a great relationship with your family of origin but want to be in solidarity with your disowned/runaway/kicked out LGBTQ community members? Please stop asking people if they we are going “home for the holidays.” My home isn’t the house I grew up in. My family isn’t the people who raised me. I live at home. My home is the one that I have built with my partner, and my family is the one that I have created, most intimately with my partner, our three cats, and three dogs. My extended queer family includes: my Dyke Moms who adopted me when I was a homeless queer teen, my leather Uncle, my Goddaughter, a blue border collie (and her human mom), my big brother who was the first runaway I met, and my fairy godmothers who were once staff at that youth center where I grew up.
In the spirit of the “Frozen” holiday movie, I started thinking about the rainbow of ways that queer folks have built holiday traditions with their chosen families, and how seeing representations of different queer family traditions could inspire others to create their own. I deeply believe that one of the most important things we can do as queer folks is to create our own families, talk about our created families, and queerly normalize within the community what our chosen/queer/gay/leather families mean to us, and how for many of us they are the only families we have, and to celebrate the ways that we create new holiday traditions together.
I put an ask out on social media for LGBTQ people to share their reclaimed/queered holiday traditions with their chosen families. Here are some of the responses I received.
“We have our family of affinity (or as Armistead Maupin calls it, his logical rather than biological family) and we have a giant Chanukah party. This year we have 60 people coming for my wife Bonnie’s matzo ball soup and latkes. Then for Christmas we do the stereotypical Chinese food and a movie with our family of friends, making sure we invite folks who have nowhere to go.” - Fay Jacobs
“Some of our artist friends have started holding a holiday trunk show and brunch. We also recently started having a special holiday story time at our house. The favorite so far is The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming.” - Wendy
“Since the only words my mother has said to me since coming out have been ‘old on, I’ll get your father,’ and my father has passed away, I’ve spent the last 20 plus Thanksgiving dinners with my first (now ex) girlfriend from 20 plus years ago, and her now 88-year-old mom. Whoever our new partners have been have also been invited to join us, and it’s been an incredible experience of family of choice.” - Diane Bruessow, Queens, NY
“We’d gather and go see movies on Christmas Day — as many as possible, our record being four—and/or we’d throw a Christmas for the Uninvited party for all of us who had nowhere to go.e’d do a white elephant game with Christmas ornaments, decorate the host’s tree, and then watch holiday movies or play board games. My chosen family is my family, and they saved me.” - Nathan Smith, Ottawa, Canada.
“I run the Pittsburgh Queer Munch, and during the ‘holiday’ months at the end of the year, I move the monthly gathering to the Wednesday closest to the holiday so that any local queers can have a bite and beverage at a local queer establishment with fellow queers in case they have nowhere to go or have a particularly hostile/anxiety and rage inducing place to go, at least they get to spend the holiday with us for a bit… As I always say about our happy little Munch: When you’re queer, you’re family!” - Doc Feigelstein
“My chosen family means people who accept all of me, that hold my trauma gently, and I theirs, and creating new meanings and memories. Because of birth family trauma for years I ignored Christmas. When I got together with my current partner they told me they LOVED Xmas. That Christmas they took me to a department store to choose a decoration for our small tree. I chose a tiny pink velvet lamb, they chose a glittery Elvis. Now every year we go and choose new tree decorations.” - Ashay, Australia
“I love how my chosen family can support each other without the traditional family drama making it a holiday anytime of year. For us, it’s the surprise holiday. Family is what you make it. So are the traditions a family decides to carry forward from their individual past and those they create together as they move forward.” - Lorianne Stratton
“We don’t necessarily have traditions together but I love my Leather family and I’m grateful for them every day! They are important to me because I know they’re always there for me, and I’m always there for them. We may not have traditions, but any one of them is always welcome at my house on a holiday, because it’s like family stopping by. They are people who have never let me down and I am blessed to have them.” -Miss Lola Sunshine
“When we’re in the same area, we get together and watch The Lion in Winter. Seriously, that’s it.” - Karen Taylor
“My chosen daughter and I get together to decorate for Christmas and cookie bake right after Thanksgiving.” - Asha Leong
“Despite the controversy of celebrating Thanksgiving, being that we recognize its problematic history, we still celebrate but call it Queersgiving because it’s the only time we’re able to get off work for a full weekend, and also it’s the time where there’s no big leather events happening so we can just spend that time together and have a big feast. It’s the only time in a family setting that I can be my true self. I can express my true thoughts during dinner discussions without being shamed, judged, or told I’m wrong for having them even if we do disagree.” -Bri
“Growing up and being kicked out at 15 years old, I didn’t have anyone to look after my queer self and I was isolated, so I do my best to look after my queer fam, and they look after me — and each other. None of us are ever left feeling alone. In essence, my New York chosen fam gives me people to love and rely on, who make me feel the same way. My partner and I just hosted our second annual Friendsgiving. Like us, some of our queer friends don’t have a home/family, or some do but aren’t accepted or supported, and some are students who leave for breaks. So my partner and I started the tradition of hosting a get-together about two weeks before the actual Thanksgiving holiday. We make a Facebook event about six weeks before and encourage our fam of queers to bring other queers who might need/want good food and good company. It’s a potluck style feast, with my partner and I preparing the main course (turkey, green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, fruit salad, and pumpkin pie). The TV is on for folks to watch and relax and enjoy and others will pull out board/card games. We all introduce ourselves by name and pronouns. People are welcome to leave, if sober enough to drive, anytime they need but are welcome and encouraged to stay for the night. The first year we had 16 plus me and my partner all crammed into out 700 square foot one-bedroom apartment with about half staying the night. This year we had about the same number of folks in attendance, but some faces had changed. Friendsgiving is definitely the day I look forward to the most each year now.” - Dylynn, Medford, Oregon
Images via Disney and Getty