My religious family stopped speaking to me when I came out. My chosen family rescued me.

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I always knew I was bisexual, but I didn’t tell my family for a long time. I had a feeling they wouldn’t react well, so I went to college out of state, made some queer friends who encouraged me to be my true self, started dating an amazing woman, and eventually decided it was time.

I agonized for months over how to do it. I wasn’t super close with most of my family — considering I now lived several states away and didn’t visit often — but I figured since my partner and I were discussing marriage, they should probably know before the invitations arrived.

Coming out is rarely easy, even as folks are increasingly coming out younger.

Findings from the Williams Institute’s Generations Study on Coming Out Milestones reveal that middle-aged (34-41 years old) and older-aged (52-59 years old) LGB people were more likely to come out to their families around the ages of 22 and 26, respectively, while younger LGB (18-25 years old) people came out to family around age 17.

But for a huge portion of young people in the United States, coming out is still wrought with the possibility of rejection. According to the Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, less than 40% of LGBTQ+ youth find their homes accepting. 

For my coming out, I went the email route. I typed up a message explaining that I’m bisexual but that it doesn’t change anything about me as a person, as I’ve always been this way. I hit send and waited. 

And waited…

Two years later, I still haven’t heard a word from the vast majority of my family. I’ve found out through the grapevine that they do not approve of my so-called “lifestyle choice.” I guess they won’t be getting an invite to the wedding after all.

Saved by chosen family

When my coming out went badly, I thankfully already had a strong support system. I had a lot of loving and caring friends — who also happened to be queer — to lift me up. I could turn to them and vent my fears and emotions, and not only could they make me feel better, but they could also relate to my situation. Before I knew it, they had become my chosen family.

I quickly learned how lucky I was to have a solid support system outside of my birth family in place before coming out. 

I’ve since learned a chosen family doesn’t have to follow any sort of “typical” family structure. We’re all queer here, after all; we don’t follow heteronormative rules like that. A chosen family, rather, is just a group of people that are bonded together by closeness and can depend on each other in times of need. 

You don’t need your chosen family to be queer, either. It just needs to be made up of people who will love and support you, just as a real family should.

How did I foster those relationships? I spent years building trust and spending time with people, being there for them while they were there for me, and just generally becoming closer. The key to finding a chosen family, I learned, was to look for the people in my life that I felt deeply connected to, the people who asked how I’m doing, who checked in with me, and who I felt comfortable opening up to. 

Okay, but what if you don’t have any people in your life that you feel like you can open up to or include in your chosen family? Try checking out local support groups for LGBTQ+ people or affinity groups for hobbies like a knitting circle, book club, or recreational sport. It may feel outdated, but Facebook groups are also a great way to meet like-minded people. 

In fact, some groups are designed specifically for LGBTQ+ folks looking for family.

A series of Facebook groups called “Stand In Pride” connect folks in need who are in close proximity, like “Stand in Pride Northeast” or “Stand in Pride Midwest.” These groups are full of LGBTQ+ people and allies of all ages who are willing to “stand in” as family members if needed. Say you’re feeling down and really wish you had a mother’s advice; you could post in that group and have hundreds of queer or allied moms reaching out to you within minutes offering their support. 

“Chosen families have been around since the beginning of time,” Stand In Pride founder Daniel Blevins told me. “For the queer community, chosen family has been instrumental in our survival. Stand In Pride was born from that necessity…Survival.”

“Stand In Pride is essential for many reasons. It’s a safe space for queer people to share their lives without fear of hatred. Social media has very few safe spaces for us to share our lives. Whether it’s a job promotion, an engagement or just the occasional life update, Stand In Pride will celebrate with you!”

Perhaps the hardest part of building a chosen family is that you might have to be the driving force to nurture certain relationships. When I wanted to develop my friendships, I had to quiet the voice in my head that would worry about pestering people. I just reached out with a potential plan in mind, paid attention to social cues (like if they never texted back or kept saying no to plans with no intention of following up), and pursued the friends that I not only got along with but who seemed enthused about spending time with me as well.

So be prepared to send the first text, make the plans, follow up, etc. Don’t be shy — the person will tell you in one way or another if they’re not interested in a closer friendship.

But these days, who doesn’t want more, deeper connections? 

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