by a. broad
It seems almost obligatory to post blogs about holidays, and this is a bit late but what the hell; I have so much to be thankful for, and not just on one specific day in November. We've nearly reached 2010, and consequently I've been thinking a lot about the past year and how much has changed, how my life keeps taking these twists and turns that I would never have expected but that somehow seem to be bringing me closer and closer to something so good I can't even put a name to it, can't even imagine it. A year ago, I was happy; today, I am ecstatic, and there is no end in sight.
Life is complicated, and difficult to sum up in a few short words, whether I'm doing it face-to-face or on a page. When I try--which I do, occasionally--the beauty evaporates and I'm left with something trite and inane, a soundbite version of the absolutely gorgeous cacophony that makes up my life. To really tell you why I am so happy I would have to take my time, to tell you about so many things and people and places and feelings and moments and images, that often I am simply not up to the task. My joy is too large for easy explanation. But here is something true: some days I'm so in love with the world and my place in it that it seems beyond anything I've even previously conceived of as happiness; it's a whole new thing, this feeling. I can't even explain it to myself. Instead I smile, and write or speak as best I can about what the most immediate source of my joy is, and it's never enough.
I spent Thanksgiving with my queer family, my chosen family. It's a term I take seriously. It's been a long time since I felt all that close to most of my immediate family, other than in a joking cordial sort of way, and I think that for a while I lost some of the sense of the intimacy and emotional support that family can and should entail; I had acquaintances and a few close friends, I had lovers, I had family, but they were all separate entities and I managed to keep them compartmentalized as such. But ever since I started on this part of my life that I've been writing so obsessively about for the past year and a half or so, allowing my connections with people to deepen and realize their full potential and to give myself over and open up to those I love, the lines have started to blur as they are so wont to do when you stop making an effort to keep them intact. My family is still my family, and I still have acquaintances and people that I count as my friends, but there is this whole new grey area of people that I love and who love me back, who let me be who I really am and appreciate me for that and reciprocate in kind, and they have become part of the bedrock of my newfound happiness. They are my recreated family, the ones who are in my life because we have things that we want to learn from each other and because we care enough to make that happen.
My chosen family is spread all over the country, from California to Texas to Alaska and beyond, but it started here in Chicago with my rediscovery of my infinitely queer self. There is a significant history of queer familial patternings--the House system described in Paris is Burning, a documentary about the vogueing scene in New York, is an easy example--in part because it makes sense to build solidarity and kinship bonds in the face of discrimination and in part because of the rather different ways that queer people are more likely to define their interpersonal relationships. Michael Warner, in The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, says this: "The impoverished vocabulary of straight culture tells us that people should either be husbands and wives or (nonsexual) friends." I'd rather pull a bit of a bell hooks and substitute something like "heteronormative patriarchal culture" for straight culture, but the idea stands. Queer culture, however, can become something like this (and I'm going to type the whole thing despite its length because oh, it's kind of perfect):
"There are almost as many kinds of relationship as there are people in combination. Where there are patterns, we learn them from other queers, not from our parents or schools or the state. Between tricks and lovers and exes and friends and fuckbuddies and bar friends and bar friends' tricks and tricks' bar friends and gal pals and companions "in the life," queers have an astonishing range of intimacies. Most have no labels. Most receive no public recognition. Many of these relations are difficult because the rules have to be invented as we go along... They can be complex and bewildering, in a way that arouses fear among many gay people, and tremendous resistance and resentment from many straight people. Who among us would give them up?"
I would not. I can't, for my own sake and the sake of my life. But given that, is it any wonder that my queer family is where I truly learned what chosen family could mean? When I arrived for our superqueer polymorphous family Thanksgiving potluck, in the midst of a full-on dance party, I was greeted by people cheering my name. My relationships with these people spanned the spectrum from friends to lovers to exes to exes' lovers to exes' lovers' lovers; at some point a while ago we made a chart like the one on The L Word and oh my god it was hilarious. That evening there were two different sets of polyamorous familial groups there, both situations where one person had two partners and all three involved parties were in attendance, dancing together and happy and perfectly fine. There is something to be said for being witness to the joyful playing-out of a connective scenario that many people would find problematic, if not impossible, and there are no words for the feeling I got from watching my genderqueer ex-boyfriend's two current girlfriends--all three of whom, at multiple points during the evening, declared their love for me, which I wholeheartedly reciprocated--doing interpretive dance together to Madonna's Like a Prayer. Seriously.
But that was just a reflection of the larger theme of the evening, which--at least for me--was undoubtedly and absolutely love. Here's the thing about love: it's not as scary as it sounds. In the context of relationships it seems like people tend to get all freaked out about it as a word--more so even than as a concept, I'd almost say--but really it means so many different things that I feel like seeing it only in that way is a rather shallow view of something complex and varied and personal. I love tons of people, and things, and places, and moments in time, and trees, and so on. I get all worked up about it, and it makes me feel like a twelve-year-old girl: "Eeeee! You are my BEST FRIEND EVER and I love you SO MUCH!" But I'm of the mind that I'd rather act like a pre-adolescent than lose my sense of love, my feeling that I have a deep connection with things outside myself, regardless of whether that affection is returned or not. (I mean, I prefer if people return it, but I don't ask that of places, etc. Or trees.) I doubt most people would deny that being in love is pretty amazing, but love itself, regardless of particular goals or aspirations, is one of the best things I've ever personally felt. I feel so lucky that, on a day when people around the country express thankfulness for whatever they feel has been given them, I was brought nearly to tears by the simple fact of my chosen family gathered around me, the love that was so palpable in the air that every single one of us were grinning like damn fools in the first blush of a new romance. I felt like I had reached a sort of home.35 36 37 38