On Chosen Families


On Chosen Families

by Amanda Neumann

My daughter is 17, and she came out as gay about 4 months ago. Soon after, she started hanging out with other kids in her school’s GSA. I don’t have a problem with these kids, but she spends EVERY MOMENT possible with them, and I feel her pulling away from her family. It all just feels so intense. Is this normal?
— Anonymous

Amanda Says:

First off, it’s great that your daughter was comfortable coming out to you! Being out in high school can be extremely hard, and having a supportive family can make a world of difference in helping your daughter feel safe and confident in her identity and environment.

Now to your question: yes, this is normal. It's important to remember that while this may feel sudden to you, your daughter has likely been working towards accepting her sexuality for some time, possibly for years. Finding a group of peers with similar experiences and identities probably feels affirming in an unparalleled way. Having friends who are the same age, from the same place, and who are experiencing the same pressures as her is important and specific. No matter how supportive and accepting her straight friends (and family) are, they can’t relate to these LGBTQ-specific experiences and feelings.

I’m sure this has been an intense process for your daughter, just like it has been for you. It’s wonderful that you are searching for help as opposed to instantly stopping her from associating with her new friends. Many teenagers aren’t so lucky. While you love and support your daughter, it’s unlikely that everyone in her GSA has the same experience.

For many people in the LGBTQ community, “chosen families” are vital sources of support and community, even when a person’s biological family is supportive. A chosen family is simply a group of people who intentionally choose one another to play significant emotional roles in each other's lives. A chosen family can be a group of teenagers who can support each other through coming out to their parents, their friends, their teachers, and their classmates. A chosen family can be a group of college students navigating the legal aspects of finding jobs as LGBTQ individuals. A chosen family can also be a group of adults supporting each other through the many aspects of parenting. Chosen families are specifically important in the LGBTQ community because of a couple very important factors.

First, there are laws that still prevent LGBTQ people from living fully equal lives. For instance, where I live in Indiana, I can be fired, denied employment, and denied housing because of my sexual identity. I encourage you to look into state laws and policies that affect the LGBTQ community to gain a better understanding of why your daughter, and other folks in her GSA, might feel the need to be spend so much time together.There is a lot of scary information going around, especially in these frustratingly uncertain political times, and being able to talk about it with people who are affected in the same way is extremely important.

Second, the LGBTQ community has a history of needing non-familial support. It’s wonderful that this is not the case for your daughter, as you not only support her but are working towards gaining a better understanding of LGBTQ issues by writing to us at My Kid Is Gay (which is awesome!). However, it’s no secret that many LGBTQ people in America, and throughout the world, are often treated unfairly and unlovingly by their biological families (from “conversion” therapy to disownment). Even when an LGBTQ individual comes from a queer-friendly household, there can be estrangement or an uncomfortable change in dynamic. Unlike most minority groups (such as race, religion, and ethnicity) the LGBTQ identity is not intrinsically shared by family members. This makes finding an outside community even more important to LGBTQ folks.

As your daughter continues to create her own chosen families and communities, I encourage you to learn more about the people she surrounds herself with. I doubt your daughter is actively distancing herself from you and the rest of her biological family; Rather, she’s just adding more support to her life. It’s likely that your love and understanding has also helped your daughter support other LGBTQ folks in her GSA, who might not have support from their parents (if they are out to them at all). I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk with your daughter. If you feel like she’s pulling away from you, start a conversation about it. I promise that she will appreciate that much more than being asked to distance herself from her new friends.

Learn more, talk more, and, most importantly, care as much as possible about your daughter and her community. Writing in to My Kid Is Gay was an amazing step and I hope that you continue to learn and grow with your daughter.

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Amanda lives in Indiana with her growing family of felines and books. She recently earned her BA in Women’s Studies and English and hopes to use her knowledge and skills to destroy the patriarchy, or at the very least create more spaces for communication and engaged activism. Amanda’s hobbies include infrequently blogging, working with nonprofit organizations, rereading Harry Potter, and caring about things. Follow on Twitter @amandandwords