In our community, we use the word family to mean someone who is like us. Who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, non-binary or questioning. Someone who claims one of the stripes on the rainbow flag. This is a means of identification and inclusion. This is the coded language of our own solidarity.
“Is she family” “I think he’s family”. “Don’t worry. They’re family”
In a community forced to the margins, this is how we create our own connection. This is how we build a home.
This is a letter to my family.
You. The exquisite gay men and the magnetic lesbians and the delicious queers and the defiantly breathtaking transgendered and the solidify bisexual and the definitively non-binary who fill in all the spaces in between. You, the questioning and closeted and fearful who have not yet figured out what it all means and where it will all land.
You. Who shattered the boxes and the binary and my limited notions of man and woman and gay and straight and danced me right into the liminal spaces where it’s all fluid and stunningly beautiful.
You. The family that welcomed me when saving myself meant losing everything I had.
You. Who held me until the world stopped spinning and placed me gently on that rainbow flag and told me I could rest now. That I belonged. That I was home.
You. Who taught me what it looked like to be comfortable in my own skin. Who showed me what love looks like made manifest and real when the world would rather ignore its existence.
You who taught me defiance. Who stood tall against legislation and regulation and complete lack of protection. You who refused silence and mobilized and raised voices and locked arms and demanded change.
You. Who gave me my history. Who sat me down gently and said once you know this, in your bones, you will be changed. This.. Stonewall, Matthew Shepherd, the devastation of entire glittering generation to AIDS, DOMA, Prop 8, unimaginable crimes of hate, god hates fags, don’t ask don’t tell, Leviticus, Harvey milk, Brandon Teena… This is now yours. And it will change you, but we will be here to hold you in the aftermath. Because we know. And then you must hold it in honor of all those who can no longer.
You who know what it is to hold hate in your being. Who have turned on the tv to see your love or your family or your job become a sound bite for some election debate or homophobic soliloquy in the name of someone else’s righteous God. Who know what it is to stand in the line at the grocery store and wonder which of the ordinary people around you just cast a vote against the worthiness of our soul.
You who have had insults hurled at you in the streets, or fists or weapons. You who have been sliced by the thin blade of hatred. You who understands what it is to scan a room before speaking, before kissing, before holding a hand or walking to the restroom. Because these things are not always safe. Because these things sometimes come with far too great a cost.
You, who do all those things anyway and you who are too afraid to even imagine you one day could.
You who lost your job or your home or your family or your safety or your religion or your community. You who were forced to exchange everything you had in order to be everything you are.
You who have dug deep enough to find the courage to come out. And then have come out again and again and again and again. In every new circumstance and at every new job and to every new person. Because that’s how that works, that risk that repeats itself anew every single time.
You the closeted. You the confused. You who know but cannot act. You who want that which you feel you can never have. Who live divided lives, who carry shame who do not know if they will ever find the courage to open that door. You who know it would never be safe to do so.
You who are grieving. You who were changed somewhere deep inside by this in ways you cannot articulate. You who cannot yet look away. You who are afraid to go to the places that always felt the safest.
You with the tears that will not cease carving paths down your cheeks. You who cannot move on from this. You who still speak their names and who read their stories and who honor their existence.
You the candle lighters. You who raise your voices in song. You who call legislators and who make signs and who gather in spite of your fear. You who don’t hear from a single member of your family of origin or from the friends who matter most.
You who are not okay and who won’t be okay, not for a very long time and you who have built a life from the rubble and who stand proudly on the beauty you’ve created by learning to celebrate yourself.
You incandescent queens, you deliciously undefinable androgynous souls, you sturdy bears, you chivalrous butches, you tomboy dykes, you drop dead yet still invisible femmes.
You with your flare, your flamboyance, your rugged individuality, your glorious diversity, your insistence on being seen, your quiet but steady presence in the places that matter the most.
You, the cliche and every unexpected exception. You, the world’s stereotypes brought to blazing life and everyone who smashes the boxes and changes the paradigms and refuses to be painted into place.
You, who knows that queer looks and speaks and sounds and moves through this world in a million different ways.
You the grieving. You the protesting. You the dancing. You the proud and the humble and the defiant and the free.
You are my family.
You taught me what it is to be proud. What is to stand tall in my reality. What it is to show up for the fight and to not back down and to never lose hope.
I could not have made it through this life without you. I would never want to make it without you. We are family. And together we will survive and thrive and live and love and lift and protect and build.
Because that’s what families do.
Words by @JeanetteLeblanc