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The Nuances of Family

“A family can be the bane of one’s existence. A family can also be most of the meaning of one’s existence. I don’t know whether my family is bane or meaning, but they have surely gone away and left a large hole in my heart.” 

-Keri Hulme, “The Bone People”

Regardless of your sexuality or identity, family is complicated. In a culture that values family above all else, especially in the South, divorce, generational trauma, addiction, and abuse permeate the family unit. Even if you haven’t been capital-T traumatized by your family, your parents may pressure you to be something you’re not, fail to express their pride, love, and affection openly, or just generally hurt you. On the flip side, your family may be the source of some of your closest relationships and deepest loves. Sometimes, they’re both at the same time.

Nobody recognizes the potential pain of family, and the importance of chosen family, more than queer people. In a society organized around the nuclear family, the relationships that exist beyond those boundaries often get overlooked — despite arguably being more common than families containing two straight, married parents and their children. The unfortunate truth about family, for queer people and otherwise, is that it can often be a source of pain and rejection instead of acceptance and love, and even if you find your chosen family to heal that pain, those wounds still exist — especially for the queer children who haven’t yet left the home they were born into, who haven’t had the chance to find their chosen families.

LGBTQ youth are vulnerable already, with legislative attacks being lodged against them at an unprecedented rate. Without a supportive family, that vulnerability only deepens. Our families are the first people we know, and unfortunately for many, they’re the first people to hurt us.

As a young person, coming out to your family can be the most difficult part of navigating your sexuality. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2023 LGBTQ Youth Report, a large majority of queer youth — 82.7 percent — are out to at least one member of their immediate family. However, only 26.4 percent are out to every member of their immediate family, and17.3 percent aren’t out to any of them.

These numbers are worse for trans youth. Only 67.4 percent are out to at least one member of their family and 32.5 percent are out to none of them. Less than a quarter of trans youth always express their gender identity at home. Three out of 10 reported that their family always uses their chosen names and one in seven, their correct pronouns.

In a world growing increasingly hostile toward the trans community — particularly youth — this is unsurprising. If your family does not respect your pronouns, for example, that can run the risk of increasing mental health issues trans kids already experience at higher rates. Fully 65.5 percent of transgender youth whose families never refer to them with correct pronouns screen positive for depression and 72.1 percent for anxiety, compared to 49.6 percent and61.9 percent, respectively, of trans youth whose families always do.

In this issue, we’re exploring the nuances of family: how generational trauma manifests and how to overcome it, how familial rejection leads to homelessness and how institutional parenting can be a solution, and how we can look beyond the pain of what family often means to LGBTQ people by showcasing what positive, supportive queer family looks like. Through this exploration, we hope to reveal the truth about family — that it’s more than the blood we share, it’s the unconditional love that binds us to one another — and imagine a future where “family” is only a positive word.