As A Queer Person, Relationship Anarchy Helped Me Create The Family I Need
Like so many other people in the LGBTQ+ community, I grew up feeling like I had to be straight. Being straight is treated as the "default," for lack of a better term, and I had always been attracted to guys as a teen. It was only when I got to college that I realized I could be attracted to other genders—and that realization overflowed into questioning all my other kinds of relationships, including nonromantic ones.
When I started to question and understand my sexuality, it led me to question the other relationships in my life as well, why I prioritized them as I did, and why I felt the need to do so.
I belong to a family, like so many others, where everyone is just assumed to be straight and cisgender and expected to get married and have kids. Nothing else was ever even talked about. So during my time of self-discovery in college, I was too scared to speak to my family about my sexuality because I didn't want to be judged or shunned by any of them. On top of worrying about what my family would think, I identified as pansexual, and I doubted anyone in my family had even heard that word back then.
But in college, I was meeting people who lived their lives outside the gender binary, who were loving individuals of all genders, and who would accept me for who I was, whatever that looked like. I was building new friendships with people who I, in time, began to see as family. One of them is the first person I ever came out to.
I think it was this experience that caused a shift in my mindset around relationships—and why I began to embrace the concept of relationship anarchy.
Family is more than just what blood runs through our veins.
Relationship anarchy is a term for viewing all relationships as having no rules other than the ones all involved parties agreed to. Although relationship anarchy is often used in the context of ethical nonmonogamy, relationship anarchy can apply across relationships with family members, friends, and others. Essentially, it refers to viewing all relationship types as equal. The importance of a relationship doesn't have more or less value because of the presence of blood or sex. It relies solely on your bond with that person.
I'm close to my family, sure. I figured I was supposed to be. But at the time I was exploring my sexuality, I didn't feel like my emotions were safe with them. On the other hand, I had cemented bonds with people with who I had no fear. We were exploring our thoughts and beliefs together, and anything I said was something we could talk about openly. The buds of relationship anarchy were forming.
Think of that old saying, "Blood is thicker than water." It's meant to convey the idea that family always comes first. But I choose to live by another saying: "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb." This phrase says the exact opposite. Relationships with family aren't more important just because of a shared bloodline.
For some, relationship anarchy seems like a radical idea. But for me, it's more logical than anything. It's used by those who reject societal expectations of how close people are supposed to be to others.
Realizing I'm a member of the LGBTQ+ community inadvertently caused a shift in my thought process. Just like I was learning that I didn't have to honor the traditional markers for what being "masculine" or "feminine" was supposed to be, I was also learning that I didn't need to abide by the pre-distributed labels placed on certain types of relationships. Not only did I begin to look at romantic and sexual relationships differently, but I began to understand that my previous view of what's an important relationship was based on societal expectations: that I should love someone just because we're related by blood, or that none of my friends who have been there for me for years (and vice versa) could ever come close to the distant relative I only see during the holidays.
For me, the idea of ditching the relationship hierarchies in favor of relationship anarchy was easy enough to adopt, although my family has never been on board. My mom's always been one to say that friends come and go. At the end of the day, family is all you have, and you have to keep them close, she would say. My grandmother also hammered this idea home, saying that my "little friends" would never be there when I needed them.
But that ended up just not being the case. I have the friends I have today because we've shown each other over the years that we're always here for one another.
And it wasn't just our shared queerness that brought us together: These are the people I turned to when I was boiling over with self-hatred. My friends understood me because we were dealing with the same kind of negative feelings. We all hated ourselves in some way, and it was easy to sit in that together.
My mom, though, could never understand why I felt the way I did, and it was difficult to find the words to make my thoughts make sense. She would say things like "Happiness is a choice," but I could never understand why she thought I would choose this.
Looking back, I was definitely depressed, and I don't believe my mother understood how serious my feelings were. But at that time, speaking to her about any of that seemed almost impossible. Reaching out to her for help felt like blasts of judgment every time. Our conversations left me feeling frustrated and isolated.
I realize now that a lot of the reason I even made it through my high school years is that my friends and I were all depressed together. We were all trying to find small ways to make it through each day and support each other. We talked about how we purposefully looked forward to seeing each other or reading the next chapters in our favorite books.
I was able to see these kinds of adult bonds through rainbow-colored glasses, and questioning that one type of relationship bled into questioning them all.
As I've gotten older and more secure in my pansexual identity, I've been able to reach out to my family just to talk. I realize now that we don't have to have deep, soul-searching conversations about my life if I don't want to. No one is entitled to my story except me. But I will say that taking the small steps to initiate the conversation has allowed me to build new relationships with my family on my own terms while still keeping the close bonds I formed in college as my primary emotional connections.
What I am saying is we can all choose the kind of relationships we have with others. Coming out as a part of the LGBTQ+ community meant that I wasn't limited to having friendships with other women. I was able to see these kinds of adult bonds through rainbow-colored glasses, and questioning that one type of relationship bled into questioning them all.
Family is more than just what blood runs through our veins. A family can be chosen. You can actively choose to put people in high regard and keep them the closest to you.
I'm not sure when this thought process began or when it ended, but being a relationship anarchist has—just like being a member of the LGBTQ+ community—meant that I'm leaving expectations and generalizations behind in favor of creating a new narrative for myself that's completely my own. I can shape it how I want, and I refuse to feel bad about removing people from my space who don't serve my needs and wants.
It's important to mention that the fact that I can actively choose which relationships are most important to me is a privilege. Other people in the community aren't that lucky. So many are thrown out of their homes, live in areas that are unsafe for them to be themselves, or have countless other barriers that prevent them from being around others that will accept them. For those people, keeping the bonds you have, sometimes regardless of how fulfilling they are, is all you have. Relationship anarchy alone won't solve these systemic issues.
But just remember: At the end of the day, you have the power. Not every physical space can be safe, but our chosen relationships can be. Wherever you can, find a community that will accept you and understands you for who you are. You don't owe your story to anyone, and this should be one aspect of your life where you feel empowered to take control and set the terms.
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Kori Nicole Williams is a freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in journalism from St. John's University. She strives to use her voice to support and uplift others, but she also loves Marvel movies and writing about entertainment news. Her work has been published at Seventeen, Distractify, mindbodygreen, and elsewhere.