Preparing for Parenthood: Finding and Forming a Chosen Family

Group of people outside

The power of chosen family.

For generations, queer and trans communities have rallied around the concept of “chosen family.” But, even though media like The L Word and Pose show us the value of chosen family, we are never explicitly taught how to build this idealized community. As a result, many of us feel a lack of intimate relationships in our lives.

Though technology has allowed the LGBTQ+ community to connect and gather across time zones and geography, so many of us still feel isolated from those who understand us the most.

In the face of a global pandemic, political unrest, and the ravages of white supremacy, this loneliness grows.

In fact, we see that queer and trans people have battled loneliness, isolation, and lack of support at unprecedented rates over the past two years.

Especially as you embark on your path to parenthood, chosen family can be essential to persisting amid the challenges and obstacles you may face. Chosen family will continue to prove important to your parenting journey in ways you may not be able to imagine now.

So, what is chosen family? To that end, how do we build it and how do we keep it around? In this resource, we will explore all three important questions. Then, we will give some tools and action steps to help you build the chosen family of your dreams.

What is chosen family?

Teen Vogue describes chosen family as “part of the LGBTQ experience… inventing new social relations that provide the collective mutual aid that every individual needs for survival — a concept it only feels natural to call family.”

Although chosen families are common in the LGBTQ+ community, the concept isn’t limited to LGBTQ+ folks. For instance, many Black families and families of color add members to their families as life necessitates. These family members may have the title of “play cousin” (or just “cousin”), tio/tia, or other extended family titles. And, even though there may be no blood ties, they are treated as family and respected as such.

Why is chosen family important?

Our community’s focus on chosen families finds its root in this country’s historical ostracization and mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people.

In particular, LGBTQ+ young people turn to chosen family for social support, identity affirmation, care, stable housing, and tangible aid after their families of origin reject them. Additionally, many trans women, gay men, and drag queens of color find chosen family in the ballroom scene, known as houses. In this case, house members take on the last name of their house, live with one another, and support each other through life transitions—just like many traditional families of origin!

We know that all parents need breaks, adult conversation, and support in their parenting journey. Still, as soon-to-be parents, we don’t usually add “find community” to the top of our to-do lists. Often it’s only after we become parents that we realize our communities are not as strong as we need them to be. Because we live in a society that teaches us not to burden others, many of us struggle with asking for help when we need it.

This is doubly true for LGBTQ+ folks on the path to parenthood. Postpartum can be an isolating time in the life of any birthing parent, but especially if that parent is trans or gender expansive. And, once we realize that we need support, we often struggle to find welcoming spaces. For trans and gender expansive parents, experiencing how gendered parenting can be (including in many LGB parenting spaces) further magnifies this isolation. 

How do I build my chosen family?

The beautiful thing about chosen family is the word “chosen.” You have the freedom to choose the family you desire outside of the box of blood relationships.

But, the hard part is narrowing down what you want and need. We can’t ask for our needs to be met until we know what those needs are.

So, as you are considering the support you need in your chosen family, reflect on the questions below. Don’t judge yourself as you answer these questions.

  • How do you define community?
  • Allow yourself to daydream about your chosen family. What do you see when you envision them?
  • What roles are important in your chosen family?
  • Do you need help? If so, how?

Now that you’re clear on what you want and need…

Develop realistic expectations. This is a long game, and you won’t have your chosen family overnight.

Start small. First, write down 1-2 friends or acquaintances you would like to strengthen your relationship with. What is one thing you can do to strengthen that relationship within the next 2 weeks? Get creative! Create a handmade card with your kids and mail it to them. Record a short video and DM them on Facebook. Ask them on a virtual coffee date.

Build out your squad. Once you have begun to deepen 1-2 relationships, look broader. Who else are you closest to? Make a list of 5-10 people you would like to be in your chosen family. Do you feel comfortable discussing your relationship and how you would like it to change or deepen? Maybe they have other friends who may be a good fit for your community.

Be purposeful in your pursuit of new people. Sign up for some social activities that you enjoy on Meetup, Eventbrite, or Facebook and release your expectations. Go, have a good time, and if you connect with someone, ask them to keep in touch.

How do we keep in touch in a pandemic?

You may have noticed a pandemic happening all around us, which has disproportionately affected LGBTQ youth. It’s also thrown a wrench in chosen families. Because of this, many of us are having a hard time figuring out how we can connect with our chosen family members when we can’t see them in person. Here are 5 ways you can connect with chosen family during a pandemic.

  • Write a letter or send a postcard.
  • Make art with them (check YouTube and Pinterest for DIY art projects!)
  • Hang out at a park or other outside place. (Picnic, anyone?)
  • Host a virtual game night, karaoke (check YouTube), or talent show!
  • Do a workout video together on YouTube.

Take Your Time

Building and nurturing our chosen family isn’t easy or instant. But, it is incredibly worth it. We aren’t meant to go through life (or parenting!) alone. Prioritize nurturing the relationships you value with those closest to you. Now that you have some action steps, get to community building!

Additional Resources

Here are some resources that can be helpful for LGBTQ families building community. Of course, all organizations listed below are QTPOC (queer and trans people of color) or LGBTQ-led. We noted free resources.

Works cited:

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Khye Tyson

Khye Tyson (they/them) is an unapologetic southern queer Black femme who enjoys yoga, building community, laughing, subverting the gender binary, and reminding people that they can fire their doctors. Khye is a sacred transition guide, entrepreneur, healer, consultant, and educator. As the founder of Kuluntu Reproductive Justice Center (founded in 2018), Khye is working toward a world in which Black women and femmes can live, thrive, and raise healthy families freely within a healthy community. Khye loves to hike, sew, thrift, create art, sing, and dream of a world in which education is intuitive and culturally responsive. They are originally from Nashville, TN and currently reside in Atlanta.