..."The best thing for me—in all the many gifts of my chosen family, the very best thing—has been feeling that I am seen as the person I am, and loved for it—not measured against old hopes or expectations as I am in my family of origin, but valued for what I’ve done in the world as the person I am. I can count on my chosen family to understand how big a deal a particular honour or accomplishment is, to talk through complicated problems (especially the kind of problems that really benefit from the advice of an old and close friend who can and will say, at a certain point, “Mister, I love you, but this is just like it was the last four times. We need a different strategy”). They know what I overreact to and what I under-react to, when I’m actually feeling brave and when I’m just putting up a front, when to boss me a little and when to let me go off and do something potentially foolish—all the sorts of intangibles of intimacy that we gain very slowly over time. They can’t be rushed; they come with experience and patience—just as my old friend Jonathan, scion of an apple-orcharding family of seven generations, could take one bite of an apple and tell you not just the varietal but how soon it would be ripe, if it was late or early, what kind of weather conditions had contributed to the balance of sweet and tart, and the qualities of the flesh. He would describe the correlation between the rain last year and the taste in my mouth in a way that presaged his choice to later live as a monk for quite some time, and then become a writer after that. It was all there in his eighteen-year-old self, like the apple showing the conditions of his life (and his understanding of even a single, simple apple’s nuance, the product of a daily osmosis of information and experience since before he could remember). It’s a relief to feel so known, on a level that’s both beside and beyond any narrative I might be creating. Especially since I’m so often involved in creating a narrative.
Relief is exactly the right word—my chosen family, and especially my constellation of intimates, is my harbour in the world. Some days I really need one. But it’s not just an end-of-the-day sense of relief, the kind where after the travails of a workday you get to finally take your shoes off and put your feet up and have a short measure of something nice and an episode of The West Wing. That’s a nice thing; it’s a daily pleasure and over time the daily taste of it contributes to a much longer wellness. But this isn’t just that. This kind of relief is also a relief from a lifetime of solitude and doubt. Every phone call and email tells me that all the dire predictions made about my ability to ever make friends or coax anyone into loving me were unfounded. (I already knew they were unkind.)
The ways in which the people with whom I have planted and grown great intimacy, whether while naked or dressed or both, make a lie out of the pervasive myth that people like me—fat or queer or trans or unrepentantly nerdy or polyamorous or difficult or some of those things or all of them—that people like me (and maybe like you too) don’t get to have families. Not wonderful families, not families full of warmth and heat and light and the clean fresh air of love that lives in the truth. They shame us and scare us; they try to make us normalize ourselves with the threat of loneliness. We resist it so long that then when we can lay down our arms, sometimes we just need to cuddle up and cry for a while (or, at intervals, forever), and having a way to do that is as much a pleasure as the first moment a painful injury finally doesn’t hurt anymore—the relief radiates like the sun.
There’s another kind of relief worth mentioning here: the relief of having such an important thing named and recognized so well. When Ishai asked me about my constellation of intimates, I also felt the relief of not having to start at zero and explain everything I value and cherish in the world of relationships. It was a shibboleth; I knew immediately that despite the fact he’d offered me something called a vegan Reuben sandwich, we were nevertheless together in a profound way on some of the most important issues in my universe. I walked through the door he held open for me that afternoon, at that wobbly little café table, and into a whole new wonderful life."