Chosen Family at Xmas

Queer Cumbria learns about the importance of our chosen families across the festive period

The holiday season for most conjures up comforting thoughts of time spent with family, meals shared, gifts exchanged, memories made. It is a reminder of the connection many people share with their families. However, for many LGBTQ+ people this isn’t the case. These festivities can be a stark reminder for many of the rejection they have faced at the hands of their family due to their identity.

Cut off from family, isolated from loved ones, persecuted for their identity. This is the harsh reality of many people who have overcome the daunting task of coming out, only to be met with rejection.

Michael, 57, from the Northwest of England, spoke about his experience of his identity as a gay man causing a strained relationship with his parents and how he has found ways of coping during the holidays.

Coming out to his mother, amidst the height of the AIDS epidemic, was met with the response of “I won’t be paying for your funeral”. Michael lost his relationship with his father due to his identity as a gay, HIV positive man; a relationship that was only rekindled shortly before the passing of his father earlier this year.

Michael acknowledged that he had been hoping to hear his father’s words of acceptance.
“I waited 52 years to hear the words I’d been waiting to hear all my life,” he said.

Despite the strained relationship with his family, Michael has spent many years celebrating the holidays with his closest friends. Although sharing many happy memories of the holidays with his friends, he accepts that a feeling of loneliness is something he has learned to live alongside.

For many LGBTQ+ people this experience can seem all too familiar. However, Michael’s experience is a testament to the importance of surrounding yourself with like-minded, loving friends, especially during the holidays; a time that can bring about loneliness, sorrow, and pain for many. Whilst it is essential to allow yourself to feel and experience these emotions, it’s equally important to allow yourself to rejoice in the festivities and share these special moments.

There are many local support networks to bring people together, particularly around the festive period. Nobody need be alone during the holidays just because of who they are. We spoke to a few queer Cumbrians about their experience of chosen family –

Lauren, 23 from Whitehaven: “For the past 4 years I’ve spent Christmas with my friends and I feel so incredibly lucky that they rallied around and supported me at a time when my family wanted nothing to do with me, I’ve been lucky to never feel lonely at Christmas when I feel so much love from my friends.”

Tommy, 19 from Cleator Moor: “My family disowning me felt like something I could never recover from, but this year is the first year that I’m genuinely excited for Christmas. My best friend and his family have taken me in and treated me like one of their own, I truly feel like I have my own family again.”

Amber, 30 from Whitehaven: “I felt like I had to choose between being my true self and being accepted by my family, I couldn’t have been further from the truth. My family isn’t related by blood, they’re related by the love we hold for each other, and for that I’ll always be thankful.”

Kai, 18 from Maryport: “I still get tearful thinking of my first Christmas without my mum, but I’ve chosen to be happy with my friends this year rather than pretend to be somebody I’m not. I’m proud of who I am and my friends are proud of me, even if my mum isn’t.”

These are just a handful of accounts from people that share the same experience, and each one tells the same story, that a chosen family is just as important as your biological family. Michael is not alone in his experiences, he’s one of many that have built themselves an incredible support system from the ground up when their own family wasn’t there to support them. Nobody has to feel alone during the holidays. Nobody has to choose between who they are and who they love. Whilst not everybody may have the option of a chosen family, there are many support networks available during the holidays for anybody who just needs a listening ear.

After finding joy through chosen family, Michael has shared words of advice to others in his situation.

“Be brave. Be courageous. Be your authentic self.”

For anyone experiencing loneliness Queer Cumbria has a directory of resources on this website including national and local support, as well as LGBTQ+ safe spaces where you can find community.

Words Jakob Fullagher

Hands Photo Casey Orr

Xmas Image Ruben Lamb