By: Alex Xourias
A 15-year old stands before her parents. She wears a vibrant linen dress, hanging loose from her shoulders in a way that nebulizes her body. This body that has been violently oppressed for years, a body that was forcefully injected with social norms and constructs; a body that has just now decided to reject the normative in favor of personal identity. She appears timid and fidgety externally, completely masking her internal sanguinity. In a cathartic moment, she blurts out to her biological family that she identifies as a transgender woman. At first—nothing but echoing silence, the words still hanging in the air. Her mother and father’s faces are creased with misunderstanding at first, and then rapidly become wracked with anger. Fifteen minutes later, the teenager is out on the street with a small, tattered suitcase in tow – an ending that is far too common for so many transgender teens. In many of these cases, biological families will excommunicate queer family members who have shared their identities with them. The effect is an increase in both the queer youth homeless population and what common discourse refers to as “chosen families.”
Chosen families refer to the tight-knit groups of people that offer extensive support and stability to each member. The difference between chosen families and biological families is that the latter is predetermined by genetic affiliation, so the group cannot be chosen. The beauty of the chosen family is that it deconstructs classical notions of what “family” means. Rejection by one’s biological family has the potential to be unfathomably traumatizing; yet efforts by local, state, and federal governments to address the issue are noticeably sparse.
Seven percent of youth in America identify as queer, yet they make up 40% of the homeless youth population. A 2013 study held by the Center of American Progress revealed the even more distressing truth that queer youth of color are even more disproportionally affected by homelessness. Chosen families are important because it provides queer homeless youth with stability, support, and connection in an otherwise isolating situation. These families have the opportunity to instill trust, foster confidence, and contribute to social change. In selecting those who constitute one’s chosen family, one must pay particular attention to ensuring that the group is both supportive and diverse.
According to queer activist“Every moment in our lives is political.” The very empathetic connections we create can act as forms of resistance. The decisions each of us make and the people we choose to share our lives and experiences with become sociological and political statements. In that sense, if one chooses a family that is homogenous or unaware of its relative privilege, combatting systemic oppression and intrinsic biases will be markedly more difficult. Queer culture is dominated by a narrative that favors the gentrifying white, gay male. In the results of a 2012 Gallup poll, research shows that in reality there is more of a significant presence of queer people of color.
Though the queer youth homeless population is consistently oppressed and denied their rights, one thing stands true; “One thing they can never take away from us is our ability to define family for ourselves.”