Last week my partner, Jerame, and I announced our engagement on Facebook. We’re going to get hitched in October on our 16th anniversary.
We decided to skip the big elaborate wedding. Instead, we invited our mothers plus our daughter. After a decade and a half together, the ceremony itself isn’t that important; we’re making our love legal, but most people consider us married already. We’ll host a party for local friends that weekend to celebrate instead.
I even joked to Jerame that posting the news to Facebook would be the highlight of the lead up to the wedding. With so many fans and followers, all of the “likes” that would pour in would surely increase my Klout social media influencers score!
Even though I come from a large family, I'm not close to any of them. My father was physically abusive, mom was emotionally cold, and my seven half-brothers and sisters are ten to twenty years older than me and spread out across the country.
After I came out as a 16 year old, I moved out of mom’s house when it became a toxic environment. I got an apartment and finished high school living on my own. I learned self-sufficiency at a young age.
In fact, at my grandmother's funeral recently, my mother wanted a photo of herself and all of her children. It is the only photograph of me with all of my siblings. We’d never been in the same place at the same time before.
I told them after we took the picture that Jerame and I were getting married. No one offered congratulations. Mom declined her invitation to the wedding saying it was “too far to travel” even though we’d offered to pay for her transportation and hotel.
I was hurt, but I know we’re not a close-knit group. Still, I expected Mom would want to see her youngest child get married. Unexpectedly, the ceremony — and my lack of familial support — became slightly more important.
After Jerame told his mom and our daughter, we posted the engagement announcement on Facebook. As expected, the “likes” and kudos came flooding in — and then the negative comments started to show up in the thread as well.
Three people said, “Eww.” One declared the idea of two men marrying “rubbish” and one fine gentleman — who neither of us even knew — IOstarted posting Biblical verses condemning gay people and declaring that we were going to hell. Our friends quickly started to challenge Mr. Leviticus and the thread began to devolve into a flame war. I had to block the homophobic stranger and delete a dozen or so angry and hurtful comments that had turned our loving announcement into a contentious debate about our right to love each other and celebrate our longtime relationship.
Suddenly the wedding became more important. How dare these people pop into a stranger’s happy announcement just to crap all over their joy? Why would they do that? Didn’t their parents teach them that if you can’t say something nice, you don’t say anything at all? We were angry and wounded.
Then I noticed something that had escaped me before: not one single relative of mine — and I’m “friends” with brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews on Facebook — had “liked” my status. No one commented to leave congratulations. They said nothing at all — and their silence was deafening.
As America's understanding and acceptance of LGBT people has grown, it's easy to forget those who still struggle with unsupportive families. Marriage equality has brought a deeper understanding to many people that "love is love" but not everyone has gotten the memo. Some folks still struggle with their prejudices.
During the height of the AIDS crisis, when many gay men were denied by their families and were dying alone en masse, the term “family of choice” became the polite way of saying, “My family sucks, but my friends have become my loving family. I’m not just stuck with them, I picked them.” This comforted many who were rejected and ostracized. I held one friend as he died and I’ll never forget his gratefulness that he wasn’t dying alone; he had someone to share his emotional journey with.
My family of choice has rallied around my birth family’s lack of support. My best friend will stand in for my mom so that, as she said, “You have someone from your family standing with you.” They’ve come though for me just like the friends of those who were dying alone. This patchwork of people has made me realize how important the family of choice still is for many in our community.
Three days after the announcement was made and it had fallen out of most folk’s timelines, a distant cousin I haven’t seen or spoken with since I was 10 years old commented on the post. “Congrats Bil,” he said.
It made me feel slightly better, but in the end it wasn’t necessary. After all, my family of choice had already greeted the news with joy and had even come to our defense when a stranger started attacking our love. For all the lack of support from my relatives, my family had come through again — by their own choice.