My family is non-traditional to say the least. I’ve never felt self-conscious about it, though I’ve rarely felt self-conscious about much of anything. That however is a story for another time.
This weekend I ended up seeing the YTP production of James and the Giant Peach which ended with a moral about how you can create your own family. That family may be a family of giant bugs and a child living in a peach pit, but as long as everyone is kind they can be family. It was a message I appreciated. My family is big and loud and fast and loose with labels.
People however find my family fascinating. No matter how great the interviewer often questions about my family come up. My dad joked after the Hogtown Talks interview that I had misidentified him as straight and it’s true. I also didn’t go into the trans* parent thing in that interview. I joke that it starts to sound as if my family is made up. Which I suppose it kind of is.
I have four parents three of whom are queer. Which means I have a biological brother and a child who is not really my sibling, but who is also very clearly family. He is my Stanley and I am his Morgan that is good enough for us. We often wish it were good enough for other people.
I am often identified as his mother on public transit which is always interesting since he doesn’t have a mother and I am nobody’s mother. I often have to explain my relationship to my extra parents to other people, something that gets old fast. I often have to explain that yes the six foot two black man in that picture is actually my uncle and yes he is my dads brother, and no he is not married into the family. People always have questions when they realize you have listed three sets of grandparents.
Holiday dinners are regularly close to twenty people. The turkey is carved by an old family friend who I have only ever called Scouter Ian. The table is a sea of adoptions, various stages of marriage, remarriage and separation. The word step is never ever used.
It means three sets of grandparents. It means though I had a grandmother die, when my grandfather remarried Janet became Granet*. It means family all over in terms of sexuality and race and marriage and blood relation.
We are loving and loud and more than a little nosy. We are most of a family.
I think that the normal you grow up with is always by default your normal. When I was little I asked j (one of my extra parents) what his real name was. Mum’s real name was Beth and Dad’s real name was Keith so what was j’s. I am also pretty sure I though everyone had a j.
These days I have two houses, like many kids of divorced parents, just without the divorce. I share my grades with both sets and my worries about university. I have lots of keys on my keychain.
The thing about non-traditional families is that as normal as you think your family might be, it’s probably only your normal. Many families have family friends who are now just family. Many families have adoptions and “step” parents or siblings. As they said in James and the Giant Peach above all else, family is kind.
But my non-traditional family is pretty boring. We lovingly argue over who will walk the dog or who will let the cat in depending on the house. No one likes to do dishes. Lightbulbs need replacing. Sometimes toilets and dishwashers break, usually when everyone but me is away. People get sick, and groceries need to get bought, meals need to get cooked. There is excitement when Bear comes back from a trip. Both houses play lots of “has the cheque come today?” On Fridays, there is Shabbos dinner at j and Bear’s and on holidays there is giant traditional made for TV movie style dinner’s at my Grandmama’s. I am very attached to traditions. I adore aging the china and silverware out.
My family loves me. That is what makes them my family. That is how you should define your own family.
Though I will say that if you are thinking about having four parents remember that means four people to ask about grades. Four people to quiz you about your love life.(Also four people to love you and help you solve problems but be aware of the aforementioned.)
There was universal curiosity about my family during the election, I felt the need to always be explaining as I have done my whole life. Someone said to me recently “maybe it’s none of their business” and you know what maybe it isn’t. Maybe I don’t always have to explain my family. Maybe I don’t need to dumb it down for the rest of the world.
The closest I get these days to feeling weird about my family is when there is a queer teen death, happens. I always wish I could gift even piece of my loving accepting family. I am a straight, cis, white girl living in a big city in a big queer activist and most of all loving family, That makes me incredibly privileged, and I know that I could have survived a much less loving and welcoming family and there are youth all of this world who cannot and do not. I strive to do my best to play interpreter to the straight cis world, to educate so queer people don’t have to, to share as much love and welcoming I can with young people I encounter. It isn’t enough, but right now almost nothing would be so we take it step by step. One day maybe family won’t be such a rigid concept and queer young people can find family that loves them no matter what.
So feel okay with your family no matter how it came to be. If they love you and are kind to you they are your family. Don’t worry about labels or what you are to each other. It is what it is, and what it is, is family. If anyone asks you can always say that they are yours and leave it at that. And make sure you channel Ester Grace and tell them you love them, no matter how weird you feel about saying those words out loud.
* A combination of Grandma and Janet. I also have a Grandmama and Grandma and have a deceased GrandD, Nana, Nan and Grandmama (I told you it was complicated)