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.