Chosen Family Builds Queer Resilience
by Mona Williams
The dictionary has two definitions for the word resilience:
the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.
the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
I love both definitions. Both are accurate and complement each other. On the one hand, resilience means to be tough. To be sturdy. Strong. But it also means to be elastic. As tough as you are, you will be stretched thin sometimes. If you are truly resilient, you will get through situations that seem like the toughest you have ever faced in your life and still be able to find a way to bounce back to your true form. And here is the kicker: you will realize that it had a lot to do with the type of people you let into your life, the boundaries you make for yourself, and the kinds of vibes you surround yourself with.
It has been nearly five years since I was forced to leave my parent’s home for being queer and for not believing in their religion anymore. Some days, it feels like it was such a long time ago. And then there are days when it seems like it was just yesterday because something has caused the wound to reopen and the pain is bitterly stinging again. I miss my family and mourn for the relationship we used to have. There is no pain quite like being rejected by your own family. It cuts you. It dehumanizes you. It clouds all early childhood memories. It illustrates the grimmest depiction of conditional love. To cast your own child aside simply because they choose not to follow your way of life. Because they choose to be their authentic self.
Because they choose to love who they love without concern for arbitrary traditional standards.
I will never forget the moment when I moved out of The Bronx and into a Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment with three dudes. It was my first time living outside of my parent’s house and while they were nice enough, I was petrified. That day my cousin and a friend of his had helped me move all my stuff in a U-Haul (surprisingly for a queer, the only U-Haul I have ever made use of), and when we had situated the last of my furniture, a moment of true panic set inside of my soul. A panic I suppose most folks experience once they realize they really are on their own now and must fend for themselves. Was I going to make it or was I going to run back home with my tail between my legs?
Surprisingly, I did very well for the first couple of months. Sure, it was strange living with so many cis-men in a tiny apartment where I was paying $900 for a room with no closet (y’know, just another day for your average NYC livin’)...but I had a full time job, I was paying all my bills on time, and I was only having a few panic attacks a month, so things seemed to be going pretty swell. Of course, the very girlfriend who prompted my exit from my parent’s home dumped me about two months after I moved out because...of course. But like any young queer soon realizes, not every person you date is going to be the love of your life and the one you are going to marry. Some get lucky, but not I at that point in time.
There is then the initial moment where you think, well crap, I put my whole life on the line and left my family for a girl who decided to break my heart in response. That is the irrational part of your brain, of course, because once you stop sobbing into your Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream you realize that you came out because you were going to one day anyway and that heartbreaker just happened to be the catalyst. And also, people break up with people all the time, dude: on to the next!
(Also, if you really want to follow queer stereotypes, you later become good friends or at the very least very cordial with that heartbreaker ex of yours and are able to chat amiably with each other at queer functions--back when it was safe to do functions).
After a wild mixed cocktail of my traumatic post-move out breakup, getting a bad case of the flu and being unable to work for a month, and a sudden mouse problem which resulted in my immediately adopting a tabby cat named Olivia Benson, I realized that it was time to leave my Greenpoint apartment. This is where I started to realize that I was slowly accumulating my own chosen family and community, and that I was not alone even if sometimes it felt that way because of the loss I was dealing with.
Through connections and friendships that somehow all tie back to a little bar on the corner of West 12th and West 4th street named Cubbyhole, I was able to find an apartment in Bay Ridge that would eventually become my new “home.” I have since ironically dubbed this little home of mine the Cubbyhouse because everyone who lives here was introduced at Cubby at some point or another. Thus, it is almost as if I have formed my own little coven. Ironically enough, it is not just those that I live with that can be tied back to the community, but pretty much my entire chosen family. It is the kind of connection and phenomenon that needs to be discussed in more depth at a later date, but all I can say is that special corner bar brings people together from all walks of life. The community of Cubbyhole is up there on the list of reasons I have not completely lost all my marbles.
Because of that chosen family I have formed over the past five years, even during this absurd year plagued with a pandemic and political chaos, somehow, I have managed to remain resilient.
Up until recently, I still could visit my blood family every so often, and even during the pandemic we were finding ways to socialize virtually. It almost seemed as if we were on our way to repairing the relationship that was mostly severed five years ago.
But, for reasons that are theirs and theirs alone, they recently informed me that they would be limiting all contact with me if I had no desire to reshape my life back into what they thought was best.
There are zero reasons to turn your back on a child in my mind, but I also understand that for many, faith is even stronger than familial ties. I do not agree with it and I strongly believe that shunning in any form inflicts painful and severe emotional abuse. But my message is not to bash people for wanting to serve their God the best way they see fit.
I just wish the God they served left room for us to still be a family.
In the five years that I have adjusted to living on my own, there have been a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Naturally, when one is isolated from their family unwillingly, depression is bound to occur. I have always struggled with depression for a variety of reasons but being isolated from one’s own family does not help. I often go through a thought process that I have no doubt many other members of the queer community face: Is it worth all this? Is being myself worth losing a relationship with my family? Would I be happier if I had stayed in the closet?
My answer is not always easily yes, though it gets there. Sometimes I fantasize about a version of the world where I did stay the good little heterosexual Christian cis girl everyone expected of me. Would it have been easier if I had just found a nice young man in the church to marry, so that we could “serve the lord” together? I say this because the one thing I never want to do is invalidate those who choose to stay in the closet. The fact of the matter is, whether you are in the closet or not, you existing in itself is queer resilience. I could never lie to anyone and say that it has been easy to come out and live my life authentically and then lose pretty much all of my blood relatives in the process. I was lucky enough to live in New York City, possibly the greatest place in the world to be queer, and thus had the resources to find a new “chosen” family.
But not everyone gets that opportunity. Not everyone is that lucky. And for a lot of people, it’s simply just not safe. Those that stay in the safe zone, quietly being queer, are just as resilient as anyone else. We all come from different circumstances, privileges, ideologies, and principles. You being alive today, in your truth, in whatever that truth safely looks like for you, makes you resilient as hell.
For me, personally, staying trapped in a world where I had to conform to what others expected me to be would not have ended well. I may have a shitload of therapy to get through to get myself readjusted to a life without them, but I would rather that road than the alternative. So yes, I am incredibly happy that I was able to come out and live in my own truth. And I am learning what my truth is more and more every day.
There are parts of my life that my family knows nothing about and sadly probably never will. In many ways, they are more of a stranger to me than anyone or anything else at this point, and that sentiment is sad, but it is not anything I need to shed my own tears over anymore. How they have missed how their child has grown into their own and discovered more about themselves each and every day. They have missed my heartbreaks, my triumphs, my confusions and my euphoric conclusions.
March of 2021 will be the one-year anniversary of me coming out as non-binary—another part of myself that I had been warring with for quite some time before finally finding the right terminology. My blood family has missed getting to know how I have evolved and who I will continue to bloom into. But I was not alone through all of this. I truly could not have been as resilient as I have been if I did not have my chosen family. I have gained more queer moms, aunts, cousins, sisters, brothers, theydies, gentlethems and brethren than I could have ever imagined. We check up on each other weekly at bare minimum, we share each other’s heartbreaks and triumphs. During this year’s pandemic, we struggled together on Zoom calls and did what we could to maintain our bonds and hold each other accountable even when it seemed the outside world was crashing down on us. Whether it was video games, trivia nights, virtual happy hours, or Sunday brunches--it became clear to me that I had a family to hold on and get me through.
Luckily, I have even managed to find a loving, absolutely amazing partner who has opened their heart to me while we continue to walk through this wild journey of life. I am beyond excited to see where life takes us next.
All the people I have met along the way are now meeting this new version of me, this new vibrant human who is coming into their own, feeling confidence and cultivating resilience in a way that was never possible ten, even five years ago.
What can I say of those that are missing out on being a part of a pretty rad and joyous life?
That’s no one’s problem to solve but their own.
Mona Williams (they/them) started out life as a very sheltered little Afro-Latinx in The Bronx. Through lots of time, research, and exposure to the real world they discovered how to live life comfortably in their own skin. Now based in Brooklyn, Mona works in the non-profit world to help ensure that other queer folx can feel just as affirmed and safe throughout their journey in life. Feel free to follow them on Instagram @CaptainxMona and Twitter @TheCaptainMona.