I recently reunited with someone from my past who has been on a very different track over the last 6 years since we went separate ways. When we parted I was leaving the church, leaving my bible thumping high school days for world exploration, a lot of substance use and the gays. I had no idea how many times I would walk away, come out, start over and customize my support network to meet my current needs. This old friend has spent the last 6 years becoming more fundy and more entrenched in religious establishment. Now she's ready to walk away, and the thought is somewhat terrifying.
There is very slight memory of the fear that filled me when I thought that my coming out as a dyke would mean the end of my family. I came out in tears to my mother, over a focus on the family inspired article in the church newsletter about protecting family values. I was scared that my family would continue to chose the values that the church offered them. I was scared that living honestly would mean a life in which support systems are built on partners and friends, queer community centers and trained professionals. All of these things, I have found, are not so bad. In many situations having a "family" made up of people that one chooses to have in their life for specific purpose is very practical. I was also very fortunate that my parents chose to value family over "family values". I guess realizing that the last 20 years of raising kids was all to shit if you disown 2 adult queer children could have influenced that, but I think that my family has been a testament of valuing family and thinking with the heart. Every time that I have come out, as a dyke, as genderqueer, as trans, as queer, as gay, as a smoker, as a weed smoker, as a sober alcoholic, as kinky, my family has done anything they can to if not understand, support my choices and challenges.
Over these comings out and transitions I have also learned the value of chosen family. In times while I have been figuring things out, learning and growing, I have found mentors, teammates, brothers, sisters, and dear dear friends. I have lived and loved with my chosen family. We make dinner for each other, we drive each other to the airport. We cry and we cuddle. We will grow old together, we will raise each others children. Where we find each other, and how we become family is the part that may be harder to understand.
Coming from a church background it is very easy to understand community support. A group of people with shared values and motives gather in a shared space and support each other along the prescribed path. This is found in a building, classified by a denomination. Broken down into particulars and boxed accordingly. It's easy. Until you start thinking of a life outside those particulars. When your values stop mirroring those dictated by the establishment, that connection to community is fractured. Sometimes that's about being different, sometimes it's a recognition of in congruence, or a need to support loved ones who don't prescribe. But walking away from an easy access community is challenging. Especially when the practice of churches is to try and save those who stray and are lost into temptation. Taking a moment to think for one's self can be enough to get the church ladies praying for you and encouraging you to come back to the fold where decisions are pre-considered, values are clear cut.
Where do we find community? As queers we sometimes find our way to queer community centers and organizing groups. As activists we find our way to radical bookstores and communal houses. We find community in gender studies departments and dance parties. Quite often the spots that we center around are also centered on substance use (a separate post to come...). Quite often the places we find don't meet our spiritual needs (again, another post for another day...). But as they say in the church, you are never alone. Community support waits around the corner. It's safer to walk away than they will ever want you to know. I have been walking away, reformatting things and customizing my life, identity and support networks since leaving the first church (which I left to become more entrenched...) about 10 years ago. A community that expects' its components to compromise self or values for a pre-written code of accepted ways, will continue to find weakness in that compromise. The result is fundamentalism, staunch systems that become increasingly harsh and dictatorial in place of acknowledging diversity of self and experience. And that's what I love about my community, my chosen family, in recognition and celebration of our differences, we are allowed freedom.