I believe that one of the greatest gifts that the LGBT community has offered to our families, friends and neighbors is the importance of “intentional family” – in other words celebrating bonds that go beyond simple friendship, with a diverse cross-section of people in our lives. I think we LGBT folks (and I emphasize all four of those letters) have been role models to show our straight brothers and sisters that their lives can also be richer if they embrace the diverse friendships in their own lives, and create intentional families of their own. As we’ve all seen so often, intentional families do not replace – and are not a threat to – marriage bonds, but rather they make each of our lives richer.
I recently returned from taking my mom to Seattle for my cousin’s wedding. While participating in one of the most traditional rituals of our culture, I also looked around the room and smiled at the wide variety of “families” that had gathered for this occasion.
There were certainly parents with children, and older and younger heterosexual couples without children – the traditional definition of family – but to celebrate their own union, the bride and groom invited all kinds of different family groupings to their service, including two lesbian couples – and his gay cousin.
My 85-year-old mother was proud to have been invited to light the “mother’s candle” on behalf of my cousin, whose own parents passed away several years ago. And the bride invited “Mom Squared” – a woman who’s been close to her since school days – to light the “mother’s candle” on her side. Then the bride and groom each took their “mother’s candle” and together lit the unity candle in the center. Since both Craig and Kate are older than your typical bride and groom, they laughed a lot during the rehearsal and service, and I think they had more fun than most nervous young couples.
Critics loudly scream that validating a relationship that I might have with another man (still waiting ….) somehow is a threat to the deeply loving relationship that my cousin Craig is clearly establishing with his new bride Kate. My response however is quite the opposite. Isn’t the world a richer place for Craig and me celebrating the choices we have each made about who to love, rather than judging each other?
When I came out during college in the 1970s, there was no script about what gay family units might even look like – let alone how to create our families. My longest relationship so far was three years, but I am proud to say that during the 40 years since I came out I’ve always been surrounded by family. Happily that family has always included each member of my biological family, who has each blessed me with unconditional love.
My family has also included former boyfriends and others with whom I have made a commitment that goes beyond mere friendship. In fact I moved to Key West in 1996 to join with my best friend to be the care team for a former partner who was in his final months of fighting HIV. When I met Jim, I promised him a home whether we continued our romantic relationship or not, and I kept this vow until his last day, a decade after we broke up as partners.
The most distant member of my intentional family is my friend Dongqing in China. He was my translator and guide when I worked for IBM in China in 1985, and we’ve remained close friends since. After he married, I also became good friends with his wife, and when their one child was born, they asked me to share “godfather” duties with her grandfather. A wonderful fringe benefit of leading tours – and specializing in small group tours of China – is that I’ve been able to see Yue Yue every two or three years, and watch her grow up.
1973 marks 40 years since I came out, and it also marks 40 years since Hanns Ebensten ran the very first gay tour (a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon).
To celebrate this 40thanniversary, I plan to lead a very special tour of my former homeland of China, May 28th to June 15, 2013. I am excited to return and to introduce the members of my group to my Chinese family – Yue Yue will be 16 then, and I expect that like her father, she’ll be quite proficient in English by then!