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Locals forge found families, combat holiday blues

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Photo by Anna Shvets / Pexels
Photo by Anna Shvets / Pexels

The holiday season can bring immense joy to those who dream about long-held family traditions, shared meals, and general coziness. Yet for others, it brings painful reminders of loss. It highlights the isolation they feel all year long and can become unbearable for those spending time away from loved ones. These holidays can be especially hard for Queer people who have become estranged from family who did not support their true identities.

Regardless of where people stand on celebrating the winter holidays, one universal truth remains: human beings need connection. Even when we try to convince ourselves we don't, the fact of the matter remains: our souls yearn for a bond with others. We desire, on a deep, cosmic level, to see and be seen, to be understood and accepted.

For many LGBTQ+ people, the primal need for family is met outside of blood bonds. Community is found through unlikely avenues, places of work, local bars, and even online.

Photo by cottonbro / Pexels  

Forging connections at work
Vesta, a Seattle local, took to the internet, not to find friends but to work. They joined the site WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming) and picked up odd jobs for months. They thought the opportunity would lead to a paycheck but found so much more.

"About five months ago I joined an animal sanctuary with horses," they said. "Over these five months living and working on the farm, the host family kind of adopted me and taught me so many incredibly valuable life skills, helped me work through my mental health difficulties, and invited me to stay indefinitely."

Vesta's new family is one connected not by blood but by love. The family shared their home, their wisdom, and most importantly, their acceptance and thereby forged a connection.

Finding genuine connections through work environments is a common theme for those with found families in Seattle. "I'm building [a found family] since I can't expect anything from my relatives," said Ellinor, who discovered a bond with others in her workplace who shared similar identities. "It's primarily been from a team that I worked on a few years back that's relatively diverse. They sort of took me under their wing, and we've all kept in touch ever since."

Forming close bonds with co-workers is not only good for the individuals but has been proven to increase productivity. According to Business News Daily, friendships at work increase employee engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity. Close bonds between co-workers was listed as one of the biggest reasons employees choose to stay with a company. While it can sound cheesy, sometimes an office can become a work family.

Photo by cottonbro / Pexels  

When friends become family
For some people, family means a group of friends knit tighter than most. For Ryanne, it means building a community out of her closest friends.

"The found family I currently live with are friends I met back in high school a decade ago, well before I transitioned. They are married and have been there for me a ton over the past year as I've gone through a lot of heavy stuff, from cutting out my family to divorce, to mental health issues, to trauma healing, and so on."

She is hoping to build more than just a family unit out of the group: a home where they can all flourish.

"I currently live with my closest found family, and have talked fairly seriously about starting a commune with the larger friend group," she said.

"It's gone through a bunch of iterations at this point. Considered a group of friends going in on a house purchase together, then saving up for a custom build sometime in the future. But different levels of commitment across the friend group made that idea difficult, though it's still a future idea/dream," she continued.

"The idea we had was to get a plot of land with individual parcels/units and jointly construct a central common area to do communal meals and games, as well as be there for each other in the event life circumstances become difficult for anyone."

The state of friendship
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans, on average, are facing friendships from a new perspective. A survey by American Perspectives shows that people in the United States are reporting having fewer close friends than they did before 2020. Americans are also less likely now to reach out to friends during a difficult time than they had been in the last 30 years.

While there are many reasons for this decline, including a more polarized political environment, there is also reason for hope. Americans today may have fewer friends, but the quality of the friendships they hold is only growing. For those who have strong bonds with friends, the statistics show a greater rating of happiness. American Perspectives also found that nearly one-third of those surveyed reported still staying close with a friend from childhood, and 69% reported having a best friend.

Friendship brings joy to Queer people regardless of the time of year or their relationship with their families. Even those with supportive and loving families often feel a strong need to connect with fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community. Unlike other marginalized people, most of the time, Queer and Trans kids are raised by cis-het parents and do not have the same opportunities to connect to their culture and community.

Whether your found family is a group of friends, supportive co-workers, or a commune of loving people, cherish them this holiday season. Community is one of the sharpest tools to fight back against self-deprecation and seasonal depression.