JOZ Of LIFE: What makes a family? Cheering your squad and healing your tribe

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Ahhhh…fall. Welcome back you handsome son of a bitch. We made it through the summer, and that season right after summer when we find ourselves in weather purgatory, anxiously awaiting that sweet spot between the air conditioning busting Ides of August and the return of the arctic wind early December. Outdoor living returns, patios are full of happy desert dwellers and you may even find yourself in need of a light jacket for an evening out. As we brace ourselves for another hectic holiday season I find myself feeling unusually sentimental.

By now, you’ve no doubt read about the Spectrum celebration of Family. What a complex concept “family.” I suppose it’s no coincidence that our community adopted the term to identify its members. For some, it’s a necessary survival mechanism. For others, it’s simply a way to define a kinship and connection. Family has long been a theme for the LGBTQIA community.

I have witnessed and experienced countless iterations of family, none of which seemed more valid than the other, and none of which remotely resembled the other. Yet, without fail, each shared a handful of common traits. If any of these sound familiar, then you’re in luck. You’ve got yourself a family.

Families make time for each other. This may seem like a no brainer but it is surprisingly challenging. This could be a text message, phone call, tagging each other in memes all day or heck, even breaking bread. Whatever the situation, family makes room for family in their busy lives. For me, this often plays out on the softball field. Our team spends countless hours on the field together. Playing ball, traveling to play ball. Eating and drinking after we play ball. Planning the next time we can play ball again, etc.

Families manage conflict. Damn. This one can be tricky can’t it? Not everyone knows how to effectively manage conflict. For many of us our fight or flight instincts kick in and we either turn into assassins or run for the hills. There is no in between. Family embraces the discomfort and uncertainty of conflict and finds a way to work through it. My conflict management style varies depending on the family member. And the last year has taught me many lessons about managing conflict. What I can say is that my chosen (and biological) family got this one right. It’s usually not comfortable, but taking the time to work through conflict pays dividends in relationships. Just do it.

Families help each other heal. Let’s just say (hypothetically speaking) that your previous conflict resolution tactics have been less than fruitful. Family doesn’t care. Whether biological or chosen, family will take initiative to help you work through your stuff. That’s not to say that we should unload unresolved trauma or other mental health concerns on our unsuspecting chosen families. Rather, that the sheer act of “being there” is enough.

Families embrace emotion. If you can laugh with your melodramatic friend about their latest crisis or listen without judgment to your friend who has gotten themselves into a “situation” with a new love interest; if you can encourage a friend who doesn’t quite feel like enough; or celebrate the smallest of victories with the boundless excitement of a teenage girl with the keys to her first car, you can surely call yourself kin.

Families cheer for each other. I can’t emphasize this enough. If your squad isn’t riding for you like Gayle rides for Oprah, are they really your squad? Have you ever been surprised by who was cheering the hardest for you? Or (eek) who wasn’t actually cheering at all? Families are the first to encourage each other. The first to defend each other and you won’t find them hating in secret. Cheer for your loved ones and only surround yourself with family who does the same for you.

It is my sincere hope that these concepts are not foreign to you. But, if they are. Keep in mind that it’s never too late to find your family. Some people are born into a family who shows them the love and support that they deserve. Others will build it for themselves. Like so many aspects of the human experience. Family exists on a spectrum and it is for you to identify on your own terms.

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