My life has been a gradual escalation of realizing how little I fit in with the people around me. I grew up in Texas, and spent school seasons with my first-generation Guatemalan immigrant mom and her family in Houston, home-schooled with a bevy of very conservative, very white, very Christian kids. During the summers I escaped to an even whiter atmosphere in East Texas, where my dad's side of the family lived in the sort of backwoods setting you'd expect of the descendants of Confederate royalty.
I learned pretty young that I was never going to be white enough for complete acceptance with my dad's family. Little things like suggestions that I start mowing lawns to make money or that I'd prefer tacos to my grandmother's chicken n' dumplings eventually turned to slurs. And suggestions that the small town nearby became crime ridden only when certain elements moved in came with pointed glances in my direction. Over time, the number of relatives on that side I could trust with the details of my life shrank as more and more my visits were filled with fending off rumors that had spread about me, all years before I even admitted to myself my queer identity.
On the other side, I inherited all sorts of internalized racism. What little Spanish I speak now is disjointed and conversational, a casualty of my mother's efforts to make sure my brother and I could access social circles off limits to her. I hated my curly hair, an obvious marker as “not white” even at my palest. What's more, the rest of my family on that side don't even seem to like other PoC, all of them ardent conservatives who I have by now mostly cut contact with for varying degrees of racist comments directed at anyone darker than them.
When my older cousin came out as gay, well into his thirties, it caused an incredible stir with my mom's family, and I realized why he had chosen to move so far across the country. A few more relatives were whittled out of my life by their responses.
Not white enough, not Brown enough, certainly not conservative enough for almost anyone in my life, I found myself drawn to other outsiders, maybe even subconsciously. When my first romantic relationship ended by becoming a deeply platonic friendship, I told my former partner, “Do you know you're gay?” They in turn provided a safe space for me to come out as non-binary and trans some time later. I like to think even as fifteen year old kids it was queerness that we saw but couldn't identify when we first met, and we were drawn toward that quality in each other.
Like any Millennial kid with a dollop of gender confusion, mental illness, and no money I turned to the internet for most of my friendships, and it was through a feminist blogger (who has also since come out as queer) that I met my wife (who has also since come out as queer). Along with my highschool friend's polycule and a handful of sex work comrades, we've formed a tight-knit band of unapologetic queers; my chosen family. Almost all of us have been homeless and had to lean on this family for a couch, a room, or a good word with a landlord. We've celebrated major milestones together, including two weddings exclusively attended and officiated by members of our family. We've made art together, had adventures together, consoled each other, even formed our own new traditions and holidays.
In fact at time of writing I'm sitting here thinking about the “Danksgiving” we just had, and planning the “Danksmas” in a few weeks, with a group of folks who have never made me feel inadequate or out of place. Instead of uncomfortably sitting in front of a football game, avoiding topics actually important to me with people who don't respect my humanity, this year there'll be lots of babyqueer topics like coming out to parents, dating struggles, and trans clothes shopping woes.
Family is the people you know you can rely on, the people who love and support and celebrate you. For some, that network comes from the people you're given by default. For some, those people are the ones you choose, the people you bond with over shared interests and shared traumas. We've seen each other struggle through poverty, heartbreak, homelessness, abuse, racism, violence, mental illness, but we've also seen each other grow, fall in love, take risks, and flourish. Family means the people who accept you as is.
Took a while, but I finally found mine and I love them all dearly.
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