thicker than water

by amanda swan

I guess it’s true that you “can’t choose your family,” because my family never chose me. They publicly displayed me. They privately disapproved of me. They constantly felt disappointed in me. But I was never the chosen one.

Nobody wants to believe abusive parents exist in the quantities they do. That your neighbor slaps his child across the face when he is angry. That your best friend viciously berates her daughter after she gets drunk every night. That Mother’s Day and Father’s Day social media posts, filled with amorous sap, are largely performative. It doesn’t matter the reason: the backlash from rejecting your parents is enormous. After all, “family is family.”

Queer folks know this isn’t true. We know what ostracization is like. We know what it’s like to be the one in the family who doesn’t fit at all. We know what it’s like to be in a family that might love the image we create for them, the person we’ve constructed to appease their value system. But that kind of family isn’t capable of loving us for the people that we are.

Blood, as all men know, than water’s thicker

But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than blood

Aldous Huxley, Ninth Philosopher’s Song

My family rejected me, not for the explicit reason of my queerness but because of the queer ways that I exist in the world. My family rejected me slowly, as I became less and less like them. When I disagreed with my parents as a child, they always insisted that I would be like them one day, hold the same opinions.

Then one day came. It became clear that I would never be like my parents, that I’d always feel disgust at their narrow perspectives. My father couldn’t handle my unshaved legs, my open display and discussion of queerness. Neither of my parents could stomach the fact that when they tried to call me a liberal, I’d laughed and told them to take a generous step to the left.

My parents felt horrible (for themselves) when I acknowledged racism, inequity, and the need for intersectionality. They insisted that white Americans like them were the true victims of the current system. My father couldn’t believe I’d choose public interest work, choose to live with less money than I have the “potential” to earn. My mother was unwilling to accept that I am mentally ill and have to take psychiatric medication. She remained in denial, insisted my brain was perfect, chose to perceive it as a personal failure. All of these things about me felt like a threat to my parents’ sham superiority.

It had been a culmination that was years coming. The drop that overflowed the glass was a post on my Instagram story about police reform. When my drunk, angry, conservative mother appeared in my DMs as usual, something felt different in my stomach. Enough was enough. When she started in on her usual degradation and financial manipulation, I realized I couldn’t tolerate any more. I would not let her treat me this way. I would rather not have any support financially, eat rice and beans and live in a trailer, than continue to be made to feel this small. I would rather have nobody.

So I found my own family.

I don’t have to tolerate being shoved in holes I don’t fit into. I’m not a children’s block set. I’m a fully grown, self-sufficient adult human who makes her own choices. I owe it to myself to insist that that human is treated well.

Whether the abusers in my life are family or not is irrelevant. We are punished so severely for cutting biological ties when snipping them away is the most generous gift we could ever give ourselves. I got a new phone number. I stopped talking to the cruel humans who could do nothing but project their own trauma onto my already splattered canvas.

And I found my own family.

I found familial love in a yard picking blackberries like a little girl with a human who has known true pain and faced it rather than running away. I remembered a human whose soul was always tied to mine, and I held her and held her baby and melted into her home. I remembered another human, encountered later, and threw myself into her life, trying to become the sister she needed as my own sister rejected me. I chased her almost two-year-old around like he was my own nephew. I remembered all of the humans who have shown me love over the years and I gathered them around me like a security blanket, opened my mouth to cry out for them.

And so I found my own family.

There was new family in old places, and new family in new places. I stumbled into a yoga studio where I found some of my best friends, discovered humans who would show up for me physically and emotionally. I let those humans hold me as I am. I don’t have to hide parts of myself to merit their love. They came to my home and made it safer, more comfortable. I spent Christmas with a fiery human from law school and felt fuller than my family ever managed to make me feel. My new job offered two more humans to love, people with unmatched ferocity and invaluable insight. They supported me when I got raped; they didn’t tell me to forget about it, that it was too complicated.

I found my own family, and it doesn’t look like I thought it would, or hoped it would. It’s messy and sticky and complicated. But it’s kind and accepting and mine. I am not shamed here. I am not berated. I am loved.

I’m not sorry.

My biological family is controlled by alcoholic narcissists who dressed me in cloaks of shame, layers of guilt that they forced me to knit for myself.

As they piled me in wool, they screamed, why are you getting so warm?

My life is a night sky of twinkling lights now, with the stars always there for me to find when I need them. As they illuminate my soul gently, the moon looks on, secures me in abundance.

She asks me, why are you so scared? All is here to hold you now.

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