Fractal Families/ Queer Debris: What Happens When Queer Family is Spatially Fractured?
A collective piece by Krizia Puig, Sav Schlauderaff, Layla Mina Mahmood Zbinden, Will Ellis & Sheema Khawar
Together, we believe in hope. Queerness is beyond individual identity, it is about escaping limited forms of relating to each other and reimagining forms of community care. Queerness is about our chosen families—our queer families. We strive to live intimate relationships beyond heteronormative imaginations of what constitutes a “best friend,” relationships that are about radicalintimacy, survival, and interspersed ecstatic timespaces of shared utopia. This week we wanted to give space to have you touch, experience, feel, imagine and reinvent queer chosen family as written by those who we consider ours.
Guiding Questions: What does queer family mean to you? What does queer family feel like?
Any comments on the distinctions (or lack of distinctions) between platonic/romantic/sexual relationships? What happens when queer family doesn’t exist in one space? How can we learn to care and love for each other long distance? What is the importance of queer family that we feel the need to exert this labor?
Queer family is not having to explain why you are upset. It is the feeling of home when you first meet. For me the distinction between friendships and chosen family is truly the feeling when we all first met that it felt so comfortable and not at all like horrible forced small talk. That time spent together felt re-energizing, not draining, not painful, not anxiety-filled. Queer family means being able to talk about trauma without having to assuage pity and shock. It means having similar closeted childhoods. It means always having your people there to make you laugh--even if it’s laugh-crying. It feels like always being connected no matter the time zone. Queer family for me is found every time I see bougainvillea flowers and every time I find a new beautiful writing cafe.
My soul/heart/being broke when we all moved away. I felt lost. Who would I spend hours at cafe with writing? Who would I watch Anitta and Beyoncé music videos with on repeat? Who would I force to be in nature with me? So indeed, what happens when queer family doesn’t exist in one timespace?
What happens is virtual hugs, memes, watching videos together, Google Hangouts, facetiming, ACTUAL phone calls, planned trips, coordinated conferences etc. What happens is a practicing of learning to care for each other virtually. What happens is that I often feel like I exist in multiple timespaces and not just the here and now. (And do our crip, queer, trans bodies ever just exist in the here and now? Have they ever? Don’t we all travel through timespace with our dissociations?) We always learn to survive, we learn to grow roots and grow connections thousands of miles away. We tend to each other, give energy and care when we can, we work to sense needs, we center kindness, we center care. We learn to ask for what we need. We need to learn to communicate without fear, we need to unlearn our harmful relationships from the past. Queer family necessitates honesty, deep listening, necessitates our bodymindspirits. Queer family is so much more, so much deeper than a friendship.
Queer family means so much to me, and is worth the labor because of how highly I value my friendships. And not to be That Gay™ but also my birth chart explicitly outlines the importance of friendship to me beyond romantic and sexual relationships--and my asexual & aromantic self emphatically agrees.
I choose to exert this labor because curating and cultivating queer family saved me. It made me a better and more honest person. It made me continually work on being honest with myself and others. Is making me learn to communicate my feelings and ask for help when I need it. It is learning to care communally and not bear the burden of individualism and competition. It is learning how to care for others. It is learning to listen to criticism and to stop, listen, and tend to myself. It has taught me to value myself in all my queerness, my transness, my cripness, all my trauma. It has shown me my own strengths and my own value. Queer family has saved me.
I know because I can feel the beat of your heart with the same rhythm as mine from far apart. I can see our connection as an spectral light. It is about those networks across spacetimes—the pain and the wonder that our souls have shared for ages. I know because when I hear you laugh my heart jumps with excitement, like a flying comet drawing in the sky. I feel your suffering, you aching joints, your nightmares, your fear. I also know your magic— the meaning of the different ways in which your eyes glow. I know because I am still fascinated by your contradictions, by your spiritual wisdom, by the existence of a being like you, full of such cosmic power.
Someone pulled my heart outside my chest the day we got apart. I feel less and more at the same time. Usually, when I close my eyes at night, I send you all my light. You are a voice, a screen, an email, a meme, a link, a song, a video that gets interrupted by the rain, the winds—Mercury retrograde. Every time I get to feel you, I breathe and I am scared of the pain of letting you go. I know our love transcends where I am but, from this window, I still cannot apprehend my life. Together, I believe in hope. You are my hope.
Queer family is learning the difference between loneliness and solitude. It is learning astral projection, time traveling, and shape shifting por amor. It is knowing you will wake up and someone will be there, to say good morning and talk about soup. It is knowing you will have someone to take you to the psychiatric ward when you decide to go but will never call the cops. It is knowing you have a place to run. Queer family are the hugs that save us, the gestures that give us other tomorrows. Queer family are synchronized tea times across the globe—bonding over books and drinks for the soul. Queer family is your love, fuel of my bodymindspirit, energy that keeps me spinning. Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, you will not be that far—it will not matter that I do not have a passport, or whatever rule about Fullbrights. It will not matter the funding, the health insurance, the green card, the visa, the clock, the job. I believe it will not matter.
Fostering queer family is pursuing a practice of changing the world based on quotidian acts of love—quotidian gestures of belief and radical vulnerability full of richness, ambivalence, and complexity. It is una apuesta for other ways of sensing, thinking, and feeling. These intimate connections disrupt capitalist, imperialist, racist, ableist, and cis-heteronormative distributions of physical, psychical, emotional, sexual, academic and psychological labor. These intimate connections are our ways of theorizing about and experimenting with different modes of survival. Fostering queer family is a way of finding connections that save us from the emotional genocide experienced by queer/disabled trans folks. It is about another way to love.
Queer fam feels like… indigo euphoria. It feels like the merging of souls. I mean this in the most spiritual and physical of senses. Bodies and hearts and spirits feel whole when we are together, when we share space. Queer fam is a barrier of love, of tender affection, of hardline life lectures and support across identities through shared experiences and politics. Queer fam transcends the here and now. Queer fam offers portals to the futures that are possible. Futures where bonds with others are not rooted in expectation for carrying the weight of others at the expense of holding your own. Futures where we have networks within and through each other to carry each other, and when one of us is in pain we all are, when one of us succeeds we all do, when one of us is thriving we all thrive - we are interconnected. We feel each other intimately. I use these terms - intimate, euphoria, love - queer fam is not a (always) sexual space, but it is sensual, it is deeply intimate, it is radial love, but not in the white way.
Going back to “the here and how” my own queer fam experiences different here’s and now. After graduation we all moved - or didn’t move - and now live in different time zones, different states, different countries. We clung to each other until the very last of us left. I remember leaving, feeling cold, shivering, and alone. Afraid of the future. But we are a radical bunch. We are clever. We have figured out ways to survive with each other’s tender energies caressing each day. We drink tea. Across the world we drink tea together our tea times aligning with one another as if we planned it. We have the daily memes for light hearted play. We have WhatsApp for the rants and the baby photos and the cat photos and the dog pictures and the more intensive daily interactions. We have the Queer Knowledge Collective where we edit each others papers, offer sources from our own areas of expertise, building bridges as we branch out into our own fields. When one of us is MIA we don’t take it personally, we hold space for the energies that each of us can share at any given time. Its fluid. It changes. We each have our own rhythms. And when we need each other desperately we GoogleHangout. We put forth this energy because without queer fam I would be dead. We all would be. The energies of Queer fam are life sustaining. When I embrace my Queer family, I can breathe. Without them, the air is stale and suffocating. Heavy and thick, Queer family feels like a crisp ocean breeze, salty, clean, invigorating. Euphoric.
Queer family is not fixed, but it is a fix. Queer family is a tender process of giving space, in multiple senses of the phrase. Whether that means empowering your kin to not have to share all of themselves with you, or giving them space to express their anger and sadness and joy; the allocation of space is compassionate and dynamic.
The love of queer family is not unconditional (as is true for all forms of love). It means understanding that the aphorism “love means never having to say you're sorry” isn't a banal and empty sentiment. It’s a notion that disallows the transformative potential of binding yourself to others. Queer family and queer love understands that none of us are perfect, that perfection isn't real, and that we are constantly in the processes of learning how to affectionately auralize the lived experiences and feelings of those we care for.
In these ways, queer family doesn't have a static feeling, but it's dynamic in it's emotionality. It can be a feeling of being heard and understood, the warmth of giving unalienated love and support, the sting of being misunderstood by those who you have chosen to be integral to your lived experience.
Given that queer family is a dynamic process of feeling and performing love, it is untethered by straight time or location. This means that, while physical distance may present new bumps in understandings what your queer family means to you, it is also an opportunity to explore how emotional bonds can help free us from the feters of normative understandings of relationally. Our love, our passion, our depression needn't be lessened by space; nor is it necessarily strengthened by those forces either. The love of queer family, above all else, isn't deterministic. What it is, is a hope that through forging (and—potentially— breaking) bonds, we empower ourselves to imagine and to hope for more holistic, compassionate, and fulfilling consciousnesses for collective selves.
For me, finding and being with queer fam has been about rethinking love, connections and relationships. And perspective I desperately needed on me and my relationships. As I sit down to process these connections today, I’m overwhelmed with feelings of loss and missings, of being untethered. I came from the farthest away and I moved back to Pakistan after two years of grad school. These two years have been an exhausting exercise on justifying and explaining my existence in the US. Finding queer fam was about getting respite from being an outsider 24/7/365. It was about not having to explain or rethink or rearrange my person to minimize the discomfort to strangers.
Today this queer chosen family means having my heart and my home in multiple places and timezones. 12 hours ahead, I wake up to finished conversations and discussions. I am playing catch up and it hurts. My heart is often bleeding and dreaming of alternate possibilities of living and loving and my ideas of home have shifted. Home is Karachi, in the ways that I fit in unquestioningly, of being understood as a three dimensional person, a privilege not afforded to me in the US outside of queer family moments. Home is also a temporary hideout in a gentrified San Diego neighborhood, getting together with fam after iftar. We would always circle back into the toxic drain that is discussions on grad school and professors but we clung to these conversations desperately to find validation and purpose outside of the ways academia deemed our bodymindspirits and our knowledges too radical or invalid. Home was in the multiple possibilities of friendship over chai and MIA songs and J Lo’s thighs. In the possibilities that came to be and those that didn’t. It was also about fitting in seamlessly, with a bunch of brilliant and kind and thoughtful misfits.
I have felt and claimed outsider status on this sacred queer family situation many times, negotiating the queer identity aspect. Many conversations and arguments later, much yelling and confusion and exploring the queer of it – the lifestyle, the identity, the politic, the labels – I was forced into the family (and also the label)! And I am grateful for the privilege and I MISS all of it. Connecting and reconnecting virtually has been a messy process, but it is a crucial exercise in survival. I do it for me, in the ways I have been validated and embraced by queer fam, in the ways I have been afforded the space and patience to heal. We try to hoId space for each other and account for our differences and our sameness. I do it for chosen family, in needing them and needing them to be okay. I do it for the radical moments of kindness and understanding and emotional connections.
what does queer/chosen family mean to you? how do you continue this work of relationship building and community care when you don’t live in the same space or the same time zones? how do you love across timespaces?