Monday, June 20, 2011

Chosen Family

I feel like I should explain why I decided to propose. And there's a specific reason that it felt right. 

The scariest thing about Bug was how easy it was to fall in love with her. After a month, I was done for.

But it takes more than love to make a marriage work. So I started asking myself the bigger questions. Do our career goals line up? Do we have similar views on finances? Will she love me even though I’m an intolerable control freak? Can she tolerate my extensive collection of cover songs? Or the way I charge after my goals like a deranged bull?

And every time, the answer was yes. She stayed up late with me at night so that I had company when I was finishing my work. She vacuums when I ask, and doesn’t get mad when I vacuum again right after her. She sings along to songs when I play them on repeat for months at a time. She moves every year so I can be closer to school or work.

No matter what she did, I still didn’t believe that we could actually last long term. And that’s because there’s one big question left on those “life partner” checklists: Do you want to make this person part of your family?

And I didn’t. Families are not supposed to break. Divorce happens, but the general rules of polite society say parents are supposed to pull it together, “for the kids.” Mine didn’t.  The people who were supposed to be there for me, no matter what, hurt me worse than I ever imagined possible –and they did it repeatedly. I ended up angry, jaded, and fiercely independent.  

When I was in high school, I met an amazing group of people. The group started out pretty small, but it kept growing. By the time we were getting ready to leave for college, there were seventeen of us. And there was something about that group of people, and about the fierceness of adolescent friendship, that makes you feel like people really understand and love you for the first time in your life. Some of us had shaky home lives, but most of us really didn’t. A lot of my friends from high school have amazing parents, who were supportive and were only marginally annoyed to have a large group of teenagers in their basements until 4 am, three nights in a row. We’re in our twenties now, and we still do that. And they still don’t get mad. (Thank you, and also, I’m sorry for any strained relationships you may now have with your neighbors).

So the night that I realized I was in love with Bug, I kicked her out of my dorm room and ran straight to the computer. I found a friend online, and I told her I was in love. And then I freaked out. This was not a tender admission, it was not a sweet and adoring gushfest. I panicked. When I finished telling my friend the ways in which this was terrifying and overall the worst thing that could possibly happen, she paused. “Marabear. This actually sounds like a really good thing.”

There’s a tradition in the gay community of developing a “chosen family.” There was a time when very few gay kids could tell their parents that they were gay, and still expect their love and support. For too many kids, that’s still the case. So gay teens and young adults moved away to big cities. When they got there, they found people who were like them, and people who accepted them, and supported them unconditionally. They developed such strong friendships that they realized they had basically remade their family structure. These lifelong friends became their chosen family.

My family certainly didn’t kick me out for being gay. But it was shaky enough that I did start to supplement it with people that I chose to love – and people that loved me. I could make my family look like I wanted it to – use the really good parts that I had, like brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles – and then add new people as I went. Friends from high school and college, teachers, students – they’re all part of my family now.

Forty-five of the Fifty states in the U.S. won’t recognize Bug and I as being legally married. But I can still ask her to be a part of what I’ve made with the rest of my family, whether they’re blood or chosen. I’m also asking her to start a new family with me. So if she’ll take me, along with all the people I’ve gathered up in the past twenty-two years, I’d like to marry her. 

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