Double rainbow over tree

Chosen Family

Today, many individuals find themselves navigating uncharted waters as they try to reconcile shaky relationships with blood relatives while simultaneously creating what’s commonly referred to as a “chosen family.”

According to the SAGE Encyclopedia of Marriage, Family, and Couples Counseling, “chosen families are nonbiological kinship bonds, whether legally recognized or not, deliberately chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love.” The term originated within the LGBTQ community and was used to describe early queer gatherings like the Harlem Drag Balls of the late nineteenth century.

The circumstances surrounding the birth of the first “chosen families”—intense loneliness and isolation faced by those rejected by their biological kin—continue today. Nearly 40 percent of today’s homeless youth identify as queer, and a recent study found that roughly 64 percent of LGBTQ baby boomers have built, and continue to rely on, chosen families.

“Chosen families,” though, can form as a result of any person’s experience with their biological family that leaves needs unmet. Friends who become your family of choice may provide you with a healthier family environment than the one in which you were raised, or their proximity may allow you to rely on them when your biological family isn’t located nearby. A chosen family can be part of a person’s growing network, and can help construct a wide foundation of support that continues to grow with time.

Finding Connection Through “Chosen Family” | Psychology Today

So many people around the world are not accepted by their parents or their family for who they are.

Rina Sawayama: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

I also realized that a big part of me is still afraid of coming out of my shell.

I need to find and assemble my Chosen Family. This journey has been lonely, and I need the support of people who understand me and I understand.

I didn’t realize how important that was to me until I broke out in tears reading the lyrics to Chosen Family.

I don’t know what to do or where to go next, but I know that I need to have folks in my corner.

I want to do great things, and I just need someone to take a chance on me.

Liana McCrea

Here’s a heart-strumming rendition of “Chosen Family” from Rina Sawayama (starting at 8:29).

Settle down, put your bags down

You’re alright now

Rina Sawayama – Chosen Family
Tell me your story and I'll tell you mine
I'm all ears, take your time, we've got all night
Show me the rivers crossed, the mountains scaled
Show me who made you walk all the way here

Our unchosen family are the rivers crossed and the mountains scaled. They are who made us not just walk, but trudge, all the way here. They chose a bigoted vertical morality and rejected horizontal morality, moral autonomy, and us.

We collected chosen family along the way, better family by far.

We don't need to be related to relate
We don't need to share genes or a surname
You are, you are
My chosen, chosen family
So what if we don't look the same?
We been going through the same pain, yeah
You are, you are
My chosen, chosen family

Rina Sawayama – Chosen Family

Family of choice might seem like a contradiction but your ‘chosen’ family consists of those who accept you for who you are and they want the best for you. They support you in your chosen ventures, help you when you need to make decisions and tell you when you might be going down the wrong track! As in any other family, you might have your differences, but they are always there for you. If you can find yourself among a unit of supporters who love you unconditionally, will offer a place to you that allows you to be yourself, safely and without barriers, you might have found your ‘chosen’ family. This family might not be all in one place.

The Autistic Trans Guide to Life

To all those stuck with or cast out by unchosen family, wondering where they belong.

There is something very special about forming relationships with people who understand and accept you for who you are. You may hear the phrase ‘chosen family’ used by LGBTQIA+ people to describe these relationships – people they have met, formed bonds with, and chosen to have as their family separately to their ‘real’ family.

Queerly Autistic: The Ultimate Guide For LGBTQIA+ Teens On The Spectrum

These types of relationships are especially important to LGBTQIA+ people. There is a long history of us being isolated from our ‘official’ family and friends due to our sexuality and gender, and so the idea of ‘found’ or ‘chosen’ family has a strong emotional meaning in the community. There are still people today whose family react badly to them coming out (as we discussed in the chapter on coming out), so relationships with other people in the LGBTQIA+ community are just as important as they ever were.

Even if your family is accepting and loving, relationships within the community can still be very important. They certainly have been for me.

Queerly Autistic: The Ultimate Guide For LGBTQIA+ Teens On The Spectrum

Whānau : extended family, family group, a familiar term of address to a number of people – the primary economic unit of traditional Māori society. In the modern context the term is sometimes used to include friends who may not have any kinship ties to other members.

Whānau are not powered by adrenalin but by love and mutual care. Most Autists are not born into healthy Autistic whānau. 

Takiwātanga : Autistic ways of being, takiwātanga literally means “in their own space and time.” 

We have to co-create our whānau in our own space and time. In many indigenous cultures children with unique qualities are recognised, are given adult mentors with similarly unique qualities, and grow up to fulfil unique roles in their local community, connected to others with unique knowledge and insights, perhaps even in other communities. If we are embedded in an ecology of care, we can thrive and share the pain and the joy of life.

Whānau is much more than the Western notion of “family”. It is a deep connection, a bond that you are born into that no one can take away from you.

An Autistic whānau could be conceptualised as a soul tribe, it is not an amorphous global Autistic community, but rather a human scale ecology of care, consisting of Autistic relationships between soul mates that are bonded through shared experiences and working together. 

Closely related concepts: 

Whanaungatanga : relationship, kinship, sense of family connection – a relationship through shared experiences and working together which provides people with a sense of belonging. It develops as a result of kinship rights and obligations, which also serve to strengthen each member of the kin group. It also extends to others to whom one develops a close familial, friendship or reciprocal relationship.

Whakawhanaungatanga : process of establishing relationships, relating well to others.

Whakapapa : the “genealogical descent of all living things from God to the present time. “Since all living things including rocks and mountains are believed to possess whakapapa, it is further defined as “a basis for the organisation of knowledge in the respect of the creation and development of all things”. Hence, whakapapa also implies a deep connection to land and the roots of one’s ancestry. In order to trace one’s whakapapa it is essential to identify the location where one’s ancestral heritage began; “you can’t trace it back any further”. “Whakapapa links all people back to the land and sea and sky and outer universe, therefore, the obligations of whanaungatanga extend to the physical world and all being in it”.

In a healthy culture Autistic children are assisted in co-creating their unique Autistic whānau, but in our “civilisation” this cultural knowledge has been lost and is suppressed. In mainstream society people don’t understand how Autistic peoplesupport each other, love each other, and care for each other in ways that go far beyond the culturally impaired neuronormative imagination.

Autists depend on assistance from others in ways that differ from the cultural norm – and that is pathologised in hypernormative societies. However, the many ways in which non-autistic people depend on others is considered “normal”. The endless chains of trauma must be broken.

There is the saying that “It takes a village to raise a child.” The Autistic translation of this saying is “For an Autistic person it takes an Autistic whānau to feel loved and alive.”

The foundation of our whakapapa is the ocean and the mountains. Via Autistic trauma peer support we are embarking on the journey of co-creating healthy Autistic whānau and Autistic culture all over the world.

Depowered feral Autistic relationships | Autistic Collaboration

A NeurodiVenture is an inclusive non-hierarchical organisation operated by neurodivergent people that provides a safe and nurturing environment for divergent thinking, creativity, exploration, and collaborative niche construction.

In Te Reo Māori the NeurodiVenture concept translates to Neurodivergent whānau. Indigenous languages like Te Reo Māori have important words for concepts that have been suppressed by colonialism.

Without the support of an Autistic whānau, Autistic life feels like a life in continuous emergency mode.

Autistic people – The cultural immune system of human societies

I will also say this: I have never, not even for one single second, regretted it. I have never regretted doing the right thing or fighting for the health and wholeness of others even when it causes me pain and puts me at significant personal risk. I have lost nothing that I needed, because I had it all inside me. And the people that have now become my precious, chosen family are people I would never have met if I hadn’t been walking this path.

#ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing

“In my phone contacts, I put emojis by their names. I put strawberries next to people who were super loving. I put seedling emojis by folks who taught me things that made me think or grow.”

Within a year of his making these changes in his life, many of Samuel’s “strawberry people” had become members of his found family. They had his back as he worked through therapy for PTSD and eating disorder recovery. The strawberry people even became friends with one another—Samuel writes that they all talk in a single group chat.

Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity

I finally realized that I was a dyke and had been for years. Since then, I have lived among dykes and created chosen families and homes, not rooted in geography, but in shared passion, imagination, and values.

Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation
Hand me a pen and I'll rewrite the pain
When you're ready, we'll turn the page together
Open a bottle, it's time we celebrate
Who you were, who you are
We're one and the same, yeah, yeah

Related reading,