The Importance of Having a Queer Family

Last night I experienced a major “New York moment” when I attended a reading by famed gay author Michael Cunningham. Hosted by Wilde Boys—a queer poetry salon—the event was held in the living room of a warm lavish apartment in Chelsea, creating a special intimate feel that I had yet to encounter at a reading before. In case you’re unfamiliar with his work, Cunningham is perhaps best well-known as the author of The Hours, which was later adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep. But to avid readers of his work, Cunningham is most respected for his accurate modern depictions of homosexuality. In particular, A Home At The End Of The World and his latest novel, By Nightfall, challenge the notion of a traditional family by blurring the lines of sexuality, focusing on the tight bonds of friendship and forming a new kind of tribe: The queer family.

Cunningham believed that the AIDS epidemic in the early ’80s played a big role in the creation of the queer family. With numerous families turning their backs on their sick children, gay men began to count on each other for support and care. They would watch over their dying friends and lovers knowing that they would also receive the same treatment if they were to ever get sick. AIDS claimed many lives in the ’80s, but, in many ways, it also forced gay men to unify themselves and work as a collective.

Three decades later, I can tell you that the notion of a queer family is still alive and well even in the absence of an AIDS terror. Hearing Cunningham speak, I was brought back to the moment when I realized I actually had a queer family. It was a discovery I had made while traveling through Europe with my best girlfriend—a period of two months I spent without any gay male friendships— and I had no idea their absence would affect me so deeply. Since moving to New York City in 2008, I, for the first time, began to develop close friendships with other gay males, relationships that weren’t based on jealousy, cattiness or hook-ups, but actual camaraderie and love. It was a powerful moment when I realized  how much I needed and cherished my queer family. As I’ve noted before, being gay is gay sometimes and it can be difficult to go through life as a gay man without having the bonds of other queer men to support you. At the end of the day, we’re all sisters in the queer struggle.

I don’t want this to come off as “us versus them” or “gays versus straights” or “biological families versus queer families.” I also don’t want to portray homosexuality as a bleak lifestyle because it’s not. Every relationship we have fills a piece of our puzzle. The bond you have with your biological family gives you things a queer family cannot and vice versa. It’s just that gay men face a unique set of pressures—pressures that mom can’t relate to or doesn’t want to hear about it—and sometimes all you want to do is go out with your big queer family to your big queer bar, talk about your big queer things and go out to your big queer brunch the next morning. TC mark

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Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • Karen

    Love this article but it feels unfinished. I want to read more, I guess. :)

  • Lee

    Nice article. Although please be aware not every gay guy needs gay friends. I'm a gay male, been out since high school and have not had a single gay friend. I do have boyfriends and have friendly relationships with other gay men but we're not friends. I am not a gay hater or in the closet, or even straight acting (lol) but I don't have the need to communicate my fears and pressures with other gay people. Maybe just with PEOPLE. You're drawing a huge distinction between gays and straights, and we're not really that different. Of course I wasn't alive for the huge AIDs epidemic in the 80's and I'm not really slutty but I just am writing this comment to make people aware, you don't need a 'queer family', just a 'family' (can be any group of individuals) as a gay people and be able to be happy and be yourself. Relying on others just like to understand your problems is still letting those problems control you by isolating you. It's kind of pathetic.

    • Lee

      damn so many typos…*as a gay people = that aren't gay people, *relying on others just like= relying on others just like you (i.e. gay), *isolating you= isolating other people that aren't the same as you but could help you.

      Sorry, I'm not an english major lol

    • NoahTourjee

      You've missed the boat. The “need” for a queer family is incredibly important in most queer people's lives. Of course people should be seen for what they are, and not their sexuality. But the bond you can forge with people who share such a core piece of reality with you, is medicinal and life saving. If you do not feel a need for a queer family, close gay friends, then good for you. But you are calling it pathetic to want a foundation of love from a community of people. Yes, the community in this case is largely centered around a common characteristic – being queer. But its not like pulling people out of a hat. It is difficult terrain, but I do truly believe there is a difference that counts when it comes to gays/straights. Not one that counts against either of them, just one that counts. I have a queer family, and I have a family. My queer family is within my family. If I didn't have queer friends, I would be back in highschool. There is nothing more liberating than sharing your struggle with people who have shared the same one. Straight people will never know what its like to grow up gay – and that is obviously Fine. People straight/gay all experience their own fucked up hardships. Every person wants to connect with a greater sense of community. The trouble can start when people do begin to make detrimental distinctions between gays and straights. Because, and I'm sure this is what your post is fueled by, once you make that seperation – you're singling yourself out. And your disconnecting the Universal Human Condition from two groups of people who are all under the same umbrella. BTW you're not going to find a bunch of gay ppl “just like you”, but you will find some that are meant to be in your life. And knowing that they may have a keen understanding of issues that you face and have faced your entire life, and being able to connect with them and share that bond – isn't pathetic, its beautiful.

      • Lee

        Yeah I understand and can agree somewhat with what your saying. I'm kind of disconnected with the gay community at large so it's not really fair of me to jude others who feel the need to connect with people “just like them”. I just don't really feel different from straight people (i mean everyone gets teased or ostracized at one point or another) but I guess I don't pick people to “connect” with based on their orientation so they could be def be gay at some point in time.

        I guess I was trying to say I wouldn't pick who to connect with based solely on their orientation, finding a genuine connection with anyone with similar or different issues to beautiful to me, rather than gravitating towards the same old shit. ::Shrug::

  • eric

    makes me sad i don't really have a queer family :(
    otherwise nice! :)

  • mister soy saucey

    i like brunch

  • Brett

    The absence of an AIDS terror? There are several million people who might want to disagree with you on that.

    • Allyson

      not to downplay the current HIV/AIDs crisis but it's a very different beast now. In the late 80's not only did it kill you in weeks or months but there was no treatments and early on, no firm answers about what it was and how it was spread. It was outright TERROR for the queer community, as people would watch lovers die and not know when or if they would be next.

  • shane

    camaraderie and love…

    sounds really nice

  • parker lee

    good stuff.

  • kk

    Part II, please!

  • Joy J.

    I'm a 20 year old straight girl and you just totally made me realize how much I want/need a queer family.

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