Jesse's Journal: Families of Choice

As lesbian, gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans* people, many of us grow up alienated from our biological families. In the bad old days before PFLAG, many of us hid our sexual orientation or gender identity from our parents or grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts or cousins. Often, if our relatives knew, we were rejected by them for being who we are. Since marriage equality is a recent phenomenon, most of us lived our lives without the benefits that were given to legally-sanctioned, opposite-gender spouses. Instead, we in the LGBT community created new forms of relationships that did for us what biological families, heterosexual marriages, or parenting did for others. We call those relationships families of choice, as opposed to the biological families we grew up with that were foisted upon us at birth. LGBT authors and activists have written extensively about this topic, most notably Kath Weston in her still-relevant book Families We Choose (1991).

Today, marriage between two women or two men is legal in the United States and in many other countries. Other LGBT families of choice are not so favored. Even so, they serve many of the same functions as biological families or legally-sanctioned, straight or queer marriages. Relationships formed by two or more roommates, friends with benefits or platonic friends are in their own ways as valuable and as durable as any marriage. Levi/leather clubs, bear groups, athletic groups, community centers, business networks, bands or choruses, churches or synagogues also serve as families of choice for those who share the same interests.

A good example of LGBT families of choice - and there are many others - are the gay male nudist or naturist groups, including GNI (Gay Naturists International), IMEN (International Men Enjoying Naturism), CMEN (California Men Enjoying Naturism) or countless local clubs. In addition to sharing sexual interests, we who are gay or bisexual male nudists or naturists share a lifestyle that is still misunderstood by most people (including other gays) but which is a major part of our lives. To many gay or bisexual nudists, the social calendar revolves around our local club’s weekly or monthly functions or the annual GNI, IMEN or CMEN gatherings. Though, like other groups, gay nudist or naturist clubs are not without their share of cliques, elites or bigots, they are good places for men who are newly out, newly arrived or just visiting to meet other like-minded men. Many friendships and life partnerships began at a nudist gathering, or even at a pool party sponsored by a local club.

This does not mean that our biological families are not important; or that we should break our ties with our biological families when we connect with the LGBT community. Nor should we ignore families of choice created by common racial, ethnic, religious, political, economic or other interests that are not connected to our sexual orientation or gender identity. Any self-supportive group is worth keeping. However, it is good that those of us who feel alienated or alone because of our sexual orientation or our gender identity have alternatives to our often-hostile biological families or to the legally-sanctioned marriages that still do not apply to many of us. In an increasingly confused world, LGBT families of choice are our contribution to the Great American Family, and an inspiration to others.