“In queer communities, we love to tout the power of chosen family, and for very good reason. Historically and today, people are kicked out of their homes, disowned by their family of origin, or if not entirely cut off, may be experiencing a feeling of discomfort or little moments of exclusion that aren’t super drastic; not total disownment, but not feeling safe or good either. We have this robust history in queer communities of cultivating chosen families, but at the same time, we know that LGBTQ older adults are much more likely to experience social isolation.
“So something isn’t adding up there. There’s a disconnect. And I think that ageism within the LGBTQ community is a big problem, just like in the country at large. We build these chosen families, we find each other, we do potlucks, and we show up for each other on birthdays, and through divorces, and all kinds of things. However, when you are all relatively of the same age, the same generation, and because of your identity, because of heterosexism and cissexism, you are more likely to experience health disparities. Add onto that other identities, like race and experiencing racism, or poverty, all these things that make you more likely to experience health disparities, and you’re all rocking your chosen family over time.
“Well, over time, a lot of your peers are either going to die or are going to become really, really sick and won’t be able to show up the way that they used to anymore. So I think it’s really important that we are critical of how we talk about chosen family—what do we really mean by that, and think about ways to make our chosen families intergenerational. Because I look at my dad, and I look at photos from when I was a little kid. Oh my god. Everybody was always over at the house. We had big Christmas Eves and all kinds of things.
“I look at those photos, and I can point out, okay, they’ve died, they’ve died, they died—some of them of AIDS, but some of them of suicide, of alcoholism, of cancer—disparities that are more likely to impact queer folks, particularly as they age. Even if they’re not dead, chances are that their health is very, very precarious. So when you’re struggling to keep yourself alive, how are you going to keep showing up for your chosen family with the same energy that you always did before? I think the question of social isolation for queer elders, whether they’re living with HIV or not, is a really important thing to really think about and prompt us as younger folks to change how we interact with one another, and expand our social circles to be inclusive of multiple generations.”