When people come across the term “chosen family,” they often associate it with loose conglomerations of LGBTQIA+ individuals who choose to “hang out” and “have fun” in ways they wouldn’t with their otherwise uptight or less understanding families. But the concept of a chosen family for many in the international Queer community is far more than that. These communities that do function as families indeed can be a fun distraction from the harsh realities of life, but also they can be a source of knowledge, support, shelter, financial assistance, and even actual surrogate families for those in the Queer community who have been ostracized by their own biological families.
According to the Galop Hate Crime Report, 2021 conducted in the UK a few years ago found that while half of all LGBT students are targets of homophobic abuse, and 42% of the group experience bullying, only one in five are ever taught about safe sex practices in relation to same-sex relationships, while a total 40% are ever taught anything regarding LGBT-related issues at school. An overall 64% of the LGBT population in the country has experienced violence or abuse while only one in three respondents surveyed were received support when they needed it. The survey also showed that 34% of Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic LGBT individuals experienced hate crimes as compared to 20% of White LGBT individuals. All this while the UK is ranked 10th among European nations in terms of being LGBT friendly through quantifiable matrices like passing laws to address inequalities and providing legal protection for sexual minorities in the country.
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There are still 70 countries in the world that criminalize same-sex relationships, while 11 of them allow the death penalty as punishment for those who engage in homosexual acts. Most governments in the world also deny Trans people the right to legally change their name and gender, while a quarter of the world’s population still believes that being LGBT should be a crime. And while in most of the western hemisphere, older Queer individuals have high rates of social isolation, COVID-19 and the resultant global shutdown further exacerbated the situation and has been linked to an increase in suicides and substance abuse in the community.
For those of us living in China and other parts of the Far East, the last two years brought a different kind of isolation: Isolation from our families. Closed borders in China have meant that most of us have been unable to leave the country for fear of not being allowed back, meaning that for many of us, it has been at least 2 years since we were reunited with our friends and families back home, if not longer. There are also societal considerations for the Chinese Queer community.
Even though a UNDP-led national survey in China found that Chinese society is broadly accepting of the Queer community and rejects a pathological view of homosexuals meaning “homosexuality is abnormal and homosexual tendencies should be corrected”, many in the Chinese Queer community still find it challenging to come out to friends and family for fear of rejection. Some opt for convenience marriages or keep away from family and friends, seeking the company of other Queer individuals, in effect creating their own chosen families.
Put in such stark terms, it is clear why chosen families are not only useful but necessary for many of us to maintain our sanity, and at times even our livelihoods as such communities are a great place to network and get job leads. I talk about this and more with my friend Zach Bomberger who is a great community organizer and mobilizer in Beijing, as he explains what the term “chosen family” means to him and offers his perspective on how to not only preserve these most important of units but also our mental wellbeing in the current global climate. In our signature jovial and at times chaotic conversation style, we delve into these topics with great delicacy and honesty.
Photos: Unsplash, Zach Bomberger
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