“What can I do to support a trans friend who has shitty parents and no real support system?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
The answer to this one is very simple, but not very easy: When your friends are struggling and support systems are failing them, you have to come together and be that support system.
This is painful, heavy stuff. The things that society tells us are meant to be unbreakable can be shattered by ignorance, repression, and fear. Last month, Grace wrote a great piece (and made an excellent mixtape) about coping with shitty family, so I want to focus on this other side of the coin: the love, beauty, and magic found in the chosen family we make for ourselves.
One of the greatest blessings that we are given as queer and trans people is the opportunity to redefine the institutions that just don’t work for us. When our given family leaves one of us in the dirt, we build our own with the people who are really there for us. Chosen family is one of the most important things you can find in this life, and it starts right in the here and now.
This is an imposition: The world can be cruel to people like us. Sometimes we are cruel to each other. It is our duty to be there for one another when it feels like the world is falling to pieces and other safety nets have failed. We find those people who need community and we build that community together.
You know that saying “Blood is thicker than water,” right? Do you know the other version of that statement? Well, this is the truth: the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. In other words, the bonds that we build—those people that we choose for ourselves—are the strongest relationships in the world.
As queer and trans people we are given the opportunity to radically redefine relationships from the ground up. We get to decide what family means. I’m not saying that we all have to hold hands and get along with anyone who happens to be LGBTQIA. But growing up takes time, care, and compassion. No one can go it alone. Everyone needs space to learn, to fuck up, and to get better without fear of losing everything. Time, care, and compassion.
For the trans person out there growing up at a loss for love and support, I want to tell you a bit about myself: When I was younger, I thought things were all my fault. The fragmented relationship with my given family, the relationships that burned away when I came out as trans, the daily struggle of connecting to others while navigating disability and neurodiversity—it was just so, so much for one person to go through. I didn’t have anyone to look to where I saw someone like me. I carried that weight around with me for a long time.
Life was really hard for a while. In those days I could never imagine much of a future for myself—but looking back today I am so, so grateful to have made it through. At a point in my life where I could barely imagine making it to next week, it was time that saved me. In time I found other people like me, and where we felt all the hurt where society let us down, we built something better together.
I was nineteen the first time I met my sister, at Camp Trans. It blew my mind to see so many trans people in one space, but she and I bonded immediately—two genderweird trans women bonding over bad folk-punk and happening to live near one another. She was the first person in the world in whom I actually saw myself. In time, the circle of people in my life who understood each other grew. We built something new together. We became a family of our own making.
I am overflowing with love and pride for the family we made for ourselves. In the last decade we’ve been through it all. Grief and joy, weddings and breakups, hospital beds and baby strollers. I am who I am—I am alive at all—because of my chosen family. This is what I want for you and your friend. It starts today.
Make a commitment today to be there for the people who need you. In time, friends become chosen family. It’s a relationship forged over years, and it’s one of the strongest bonds in the world. The people in your life now can be the people you grow with; the people you hurt with; the people you heal with. Be there for one another. Make something new.
I made this mixtape for you in celebration of chosen family (with a lil side of fuck you for the bigots). If you’re having a rough go of it or struggling today, I strongly recommend blasting “Battle Cry” on repeat and remembering that “the time we spend in darkness when the rain comes is where we often find the light soon as the pain’s done.”
Mahdia Lynn is the founder and Executive Director of Masjid al-Rabia—a women centered, LGBTQ affirming, pluralist mosque in Chicago—where she has spearheaded unprecedented programming in support of marginalized Muslims. Mahdia’s prolific career as a community organizer has centered transgender liberation, disability justice, prison abolition, and youth suicide prevention. Her Black and Pink Crescent program provides services for hundreds of incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims across the globe. Mahdia lives in Chicago where she is a senior caregiver and works as a freelance writer, speaker and educator. You can learn more about Mahdia and her work at mahdialynn.com or on Twitter @MahdiaLynn
Cover Art designed by the incredible Isabella Rotman!