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Chosen Family

Cultivating chosen family can be one of the best things about polyamory - in my informal, ask all my friends about it, 2020-was-wild-so-no-one-wanted-to-write-but-they-talked-to-me survey, it was the most repeated answer. “Chosen Family,” if you’re not familiar with the idea, is when your family of birth, through physical distance, emotional distance, estrangement, rejection, some combination of the above, or being of a culture and personality that makes you believe the above are extremely likely if you are your honest self to them, are unavailable to you, so you build a family and support network of non-biologically-related dear ones. This is a concept especially well-known to the queer community, who often have had to build chosen families after rocky coming out periods or total rejections with bio-families.

However, this notion of building groups by interests, by love, by shared care and community, is as old as humanity. As much as we’ve shortened the aphorism enough that people use it in guilt trips meaning the opposite, the saying is that “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” - our interests and commitments to causes (in the literal saying, the Christian church) are more important than the families we were born into. Some of us are lucky enough to have both families of birth who (even if not perfectly understanding) are loving and supportive of us and chosen families composed of close friends, polycules, and extended constellations that between them support and understand our interests.

I was reminded of this idea and my intention to write a post about it (because it’s been a title on a page without anything under it for ages) when me and my sister sat down this week to watch “Happiest Season,” or, as you may have heard of it “That Hulu Hallmark Movie with Kristen Stewart.” At one point, one of her friends yells at her over the phone that when he came out, his parents kicked him right out and he hasn’t had a holiday that wasn’t with chosen family since then. He’s trying to defend her girlfriend’s reticence to come out to her family, or at least explain why it’s complicated sometimes to decide chosen family is as important as bio-family, even if bio-family doesn’t really understand. (For the record, I’d give the movie as a whole about a C, and he needed to be there to see why she was so frustrating.)

The bigger point I’m making, I guess, is that regardless of the various other circumstances that may set us up to need families of choice, polyamory often hands them to us. 2020 has been isolating not just because of seeing or not seeing partners; but because many of us don’t live - can’t afford to live even if we wanted to - with our entire families of choice, we’ve been extra isolated and needed to figure out workarounds for an even greater number of people dear to us. I’ve missed the in-person versions of those things - potlucks and coffees and hang-outs. I know everyone has missed that with their people, but when you lean on them as your major emotional support network it’s an extra layer. It makes wishful hunting for the right plot of land and prefab tiny houses into a hobby during a pandemic. It makes looking up mansions that used to be convents or priests' homes into a hobby. It's part of managing this time and grieving the times we don't get the people we want to have.

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