The concept of a “chosen family” is a very familiar one within the queer community, and that idea is one that has inspired me to share my experience with sexual orientation and my personal intersectionality with mental health. Hi, I’m Beth, and I am a queer woman who also happens to be on the road to mental health recovery!
Growing up in a small conservative town, both the notion of family and God had been the foundation of my home-life. I was raised in the almost constant company of my grandparents and aunt, as well as my mother and little brother. Everyone seemed to buy in to this unspoken rule that (after God) family came first, and you would do everything in your power to support one another. So much so, when my parents divorced when I was 6, my mom packed my brother and I up and moved us into my grandparents’ home, that was already being shared with my aunt. It was safe to say that we were pretty close and as a child, it felt like I had won the jackpot of being born into such a loving and supportive community. That is… until I started to understand and explore my sexuality.
I grew up in a place that did not have an apparent queer community, and honestly, I didn’t really go out and look for one. I didn’t always know I was gay, and even as I write this today, I find myself struggling to find the specific term or label to identify where I fit into the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
As an adolescent and teenager, I dated males and felt happiness from the relationships that I had helped to build. And honestly, for a long time I hadn’t even entertained the idea that I wasn’t straight, because in my house it was a direct disobedience of God’s will. Besides, I was taught from a young age that “one day I would meet a nice man, I would fall in love, and we would marry before starting a family of our own…” And as someone who liked boys, the narrative of this future only made sense and was actually quite appealing.
As I grew older and was finishing high school I did feel, however, a deep curiosity towards the idea of intimacy with women. And of course, like so many young queer folk, I used the cover of the influence of alcohol to experiment with some of my female peers. I pushed away the feelings of guilt and shame with the idea that I kissed girls at parties because I liked the attention it brought me from my male peers. I continued to keep my growing feelings of confusion from my friends and family, fearing what they would think of me if I showed them my authentic self.
I feared the shame that I believed it would bring my family, I feared that they would attempt to dismiss my feelings and would convince me to abandon them, but most of all, I feared the outright rejection and alienation that I would face.
I remember being filled with not only fear for what I felt I was “becoming,” but shame for not fitting the mold that I was taught was created for me and disgust that I had learned to associate with any and all acts of homosexuality, and a general feeling of hopelessness.
As I moved further away from home and gained the independence that comes with attending post-secondary, I finally began to come into my own when I found belonging and acceptance in university. I remember the first time I admitted to a friend in the dining hall that I wanted to experiment with girls now that I was away from home, and being met with unconditional support. This was my first experience of really feeling what it meant to choose your family and support system.
For the first time, I felt as though someone had given me permission to live authentically (at least within the safety of my university community) and I ran with it!
I began to act on the curiosities that I had been harbouring for so long and I began to feel more and more comfortable projecting more of my personal authenticity when meeting new people.
In my fourth year of school, I joined my university’s Residence Life program, and it was there that I met several people who would become my chosen family and my greatest support system! For the first time, I felt like I was surrounded by people who not only gave me the space to be myself, but who unconditionally accepted me for who I was and wanted to be. They hardly blinked when I shared with them that I was a queer woman, and they looked at me like I was just as “normal” as everyone else, they celebrate me in both who I presently was, and have accompanied me on my journey to becoming my true self. These individuals continue to be my closest friends and have really become a part of what I consider to be my true family.
I think that many people often take the notion of support and acceptance for granted, and they don’t always appreciate the difference it can have on a queer person’s mental wellbeing. The strain I have felt and continue to feel with my biological family continues to negatively impact my mental health today. I currently still exist in a state where I am not able to display my authentic queer and proud self while at home and this only perpetuates my past feelings of inadequacy, shame and guilt. These are very heavy feelings to carry on a continuous basis, and they have certainly contributed to a low self-esteem and thoughts around suicide ideation.
But I am one of the very lucky ones to have found my “people”, and the support and love that I feel from my chosen family has been the most influential aspect of my journey to improving my mental health!
If anyone reading this takes one thing away, please support and show love and acceptance to people who are different from you, people who are going through a change in their expression or identity, and/or any queer individual in your life! Feeling loved and accepted can truly be the difference between life and death, especially for young folks in the queer community!
Thank you so much for reading & please know that it really does get better!
Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line: https://www.youthline.ca/
The Rainbow Pages Edmonton: https://www.therainbowpages.ca/
Calgary Out Link: https://www.calgaryoutlink.ca/