What I Mean When I Say “Family”

Last month, my hometown of Austin, Texas, had two separate pride celebrations–Austin Pride 2010, organized under the auspices of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and QueerBomb, a counter procession dedicated to reclaiming pride’s radical, carnal, noncommercial, and transgressive lineage.

qbombhunk.jpgTo this writer, it seemed like the organizers of Austin Pride 2010 were bumbling bullies straight from central casting. Early on, one of the board members publicly queried why “transvestites and bisexuals” couldn’t just stop “pissing on our parade.” Later, they ousted Sandra Bernhard from the roster of official pride events for being “too vulgar.” According to several sources, a local leather group interpreted the march’s rules about “good taste” to mean that they could only participate if they agreed not to wear leather or even vests.

Why, you ask? Why would anyone want to see leather men marching in their business casual attire? Well, the organizers of Austin Pride were quick to answer their critics. They’re doing it for the kids, of course. For the families. To ensure that Austin Pride remains a “family-friendly” event.

As someone who has a family in the sense that these people mean when they say “family” (i.e. a reproductive family), I get mad when people use me and my kid as a cover for exclusion and censorship. When “family” is just a convenient screen onto which they project their internalized transphobia, homophobia, and sex phobia, it makes me feel…dirty.

Luckily, the organizers of QueerBomb refused to fall for the divisive politics of family. Queer Bomb provocateur Silky Shoemaker made this refusal explicit in her remarks to the 1,000+ crowd at the alternative pride celebration:

We will be told again and again to make ourselves presentable, to hide behind closed doors, to button up, butch up, hush up, pay up – to sell out our values for mainstream acceptance. BUT this is wrong! And it’s also BORING!

They will say we should do it in the name of normalcy or decency or that it’s the only way to get it done. And especially they will say, “Do it in the name of families.”

But my family is right here. I’m reclaiming that word. (Again!) Because my family is built around respecting and honoring each other in our many facets, in the beauty and dignity of our varied experiences.

My family is right here. As I looked around the crowd of freaks and rabblerousers, I saw my mentors, teachers, sisters, and co-conspirators. I saw people who have helped me through hard times and people who have helped me have a lot of fun.

queerbombstreet.jpgqbombfriends.jpgSometimes it’s easy for queers with kids to lose track of this larger meaning of family. They buy into the narrative that growing up means turning homeward, buying stuff, and leaving behind our queer subcultures. They start to fall for the message that one type of family is more valuable and deserves more space.

So, in the spirit of QueerBomb, I want to affirm that, when this dyke mama says “family,” I mean both/and, not either/or.

I mean daddies who are leather daddies.
I mean people whose family is at the bar.
I mean friend family and circles of lovers and exes.
I mean people whose family is their cat.
I mean genderqueer mommies and trans mentors.
I mean gaybies and fairy godchildren.
I mean gay brothers-from-another-mother and lesbian bromancers.
I mean people who make art, justice, outrage, and love together.

It’s not just that I couldn’t live without this queer family; I wouldn’t want to live without this queer family. If I had to choose…well, luckily, I don’t. Those who would pit one family against the other are creating a false dichotomy.

queerbombcatguy.jpgqbombstilts.jpgqbombpaul.jpgqbombsilky.jpgqbombrudy.jpgqbombcouple.jpgQueerBomb crowd and speaker photos by Bruce Wiest. Man with cat and Paige & Katy photo by P.J. Raval. All other photos by Katy Koonce.


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