AI: How do you define family?


I had a recent discussion with a guy I'm close to about how to define our relationship. We've been friends for a long time, but in some ways closer than friends. "Best friend" doesn't work for us, and it's a label I have given to other important people in my life. We are metamores (he is dating my girlfriend) but our friendship pre-dates that situation by many years, and the word doesn't indicate the strength of our relationship without her in the picture. We are not lovers ourselves, but the relationship has a similar amount of emotional intimacy and trust.

He said to me something to the effect of "Really, I think of you as a brother. Can I call you that?"

Of course. That's what it is.

One of the common experiences of people with queer identities is more stress, strife, and estrangement from our families than heterosexual cisgendered folks have. Add to that our history of not having our romantic relationships legally recognized, and some queer folks have found really different ways of identifying who our family is. This friend is not the first person I have considered family to whom I have no legal or biological connection, and I doubt he will be the last.

Who do you consider family? How do you define family for yourself and your own life? Do you think that the ways in which queer people define our families will change with increasing legal recognition and improving family acceptance?

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  1. I like this question. =)
    I definitely consider my partner family. And my best friend is like a sister to me. My parents and brother are family, as are my maternal aunt and cousin and my grandparents.
    Outside of that, I have really close friends that I don't necessarily consider family like I do with the other people I mentioned. I think you're right that there's something with some relationships that moves them beyond the "best friend" and into the "family" category.

  2. Great question Benny!

    To be honest I’ve always had friends and close non-biological peeps that I consider family (I’m an only child), I kind of assumed this was what most people had. However, since coming out as trans, and therefore gay as well, this kind of relationship has taken on a completely different meaning. I grew up with two people I’ve always called my pseudo-siblings; even though we’re not related by blood, they are as close as family to me. I’ve since come out to one of them and I feel closer than ever to her.

    I guess these kind of friends are the family you really do get to choose for yourself.

  3. People I love and I care for, who are a big part of my life and will never vanish from it (doesn't mean they'll always be present).
    There are definetly some people who are nit related to me by blood, sex or marriage whom I consider family. My godson is family, so are his brothers and their parents.

  4. Years ago I saw a t-shirt that pretty much sums up my feelings: A Family is a Circle of Friends that Love You.  When I teach kinship in my intro to culutral anthropology class (waves to Will!) I talk about families of choice a bit.   I make students draw their own kinship chart and encourage them to include whoever they consider family (close friends, dogs, cats, ferrets, etc.).
    As an aside, this semester, for the first time, I covered the concepts of cisgender and transgender.  So, a big thanks to Queereka and Skepchick for introducing me to those concepts.

    • Hooray! A fellow anthropologist!! <3.
      We just started discussing kinship a little bit in my intro to anthro class this week, but we're diving into marriage and family in depth next week. It's always amazing to see people realize that there are all sorts of really different ways of organizing kinship and that it's not always in ways that privilege biological parentage. Great idea having them make kinship charts! I think we've moved away from this so much, but i makes for really interesting discussions with informants.
      I'm doing two guest lectures on sex, gender, and sexuality this Friday, and I love introducing students to these concepts. Most of them have no clue, so it's good to be able to open their eyes a bit. 😉

  5. My boyfriend's family is really more my family than most of my own family. Lots of the same word in that sentence. I don't speak to my own mother, and I only refer to her as such here to make contextual sense. I really don't like a lot of her family members either. 
    My dad is probably my favorite family member, discounting my boyfriend. His whole family is religious and Republican, but otherwise we get along. I only have one friend at this point who would be considered like a sister, but we've slept together. In any case, she's just the very best friend possible.
    Basically my family consists of my dad, his side, a select view from the maternal side, and my boyfriend's amazing family. His mom is fantastic.
    I think as the queer community moves forward and receives more recognition, we'll be forced to make our own families less and less. Not to say that we still won't–I'm sure people with healthy family lives still take on others as family–but we won't need to create a sense of belonging that we would already have.

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