When the realisation set in that I would never be able to go back home, a sense of despair befell me. It was not that there was no house to go to, but that what I called home made no space for me.
We are not equipped to think about home in ways that don’t centre the nuclear structure, because it is accepted that we will do anything to stay affiliated with it. In fact, walking away from family is an act regarded with a level of disdain reserved for traitors. However principled such a decision is, the desire for belonging and community is something that remains for many of us. It is not that we don’t want a family or a community, but that we want to share space with those who understand and love us. Now starts the journey.
The task of finding community can be daunting and treacherous. A move away from the devil you know starts a dalliance with new, unfamiliar devils that sometimes cost more than they care. We will make mistakes and have lapses in judgement when it comes to deciding who we connect with, but these are opportunities for learning. It is a part of the human experience.
I have held onto the words of Maya Angelou since I first encountered them many years ago. She said: “Have the courage to trust love one more time, and always, one more time.” I think most people interpret her to have meant this strictly in the context of romantic love, but I doubt that she would object to being more widely interpreted. These words are a call to remain open to the possibilities that human connections, prone to the flaws of their handlers, are abundant and important to seek out.
When first stepping out of the cocoon of the nuclear family, it can be lonely, but most profound is the realisation that there are so many people like you in the world. As diverse as people are, our experiences prove universal in good and bad ways. Escaping an abusive marriage, fleeing your home country, moving to a new province for a job, making a new life to be your queer self – these are stories shared by so many. To carry this knowledge into your journey to a new home is an invaluable gift during lonely times. The disappointments along the way can convince you that it is impossible, but we find the people we need eventually.
There is a stigma attached to creating cliques and most often that has to do with the way such circles exclude people based on superiority complexes. That may be true, but all communities of similar people are no cliques. For marginalised people, who need a home to relate to those with similar experiences, it can be deeply healing to be in spaces where you do not need to explain yourself.
Some days, we are gripped by our traumas, and they spill over into our interactions. To be with people who won’t question or ridicule you for experiencing the ripple effects of the life you left behind is a necessary soft landing. We all deserve spaces that offer us softness and there is no shame in indulging our feelings when they need an outlet.
Despite the trauma, we are not simply receptacles of sadness and helplessness. Chosen families also provide us with safe spaces to experience joy, without judgement. We are people who have put time and thought into building relationships with each other. We are intentional about nurturing the bonds we form with each other. We do not form relationships with traditions, but with people. People change and grow throughout their lives and chosen families expand and grow with them to accommodate them.
Our families are also constantly open to receiving new members who are in search of the same things we are. We have a chance to be a constant source of comfort and belonging to one more person, and always, one more person. These are the possibilities that await us when we create new families with people who understand us.
I sometimes still think of myself as ‘alone’ because I don’t have close ties with my nuclear family. It is a form of indoctrination that privileges a heteronormative family structure to be the only legitimate form of family, and we all live with it. I must remind myself that I have something better than what I walked away from – I have people who choose me as I am. It takes time to unlearn old ways of thinking.
In this way, home is a journey. As we change and grow, so does home and what we need from it. It is a wonderful realisation to come to: that home is not a place but a way of living.