By RoiAnn Phillips
Thanksgiving is a holiday I often spend with friends – partly because for years, my family of origin was anything but the calm refuge I held in my mind’s eye, that beautiful family I wished for while staring out my bedroom window, complete with made-for-TV-movie music playing in the background – and partly because I never liked that story of a hostile land takeover from indigenous people which underpins the whole celebration. So once I was old enough to convince my parents I needed my own Thanksgiving Adventure, I started joining friends in their family Thanksgivings. Soon, Thanksgiving became a celebration that friends and I created on our own.
It’s one of my favorite choices.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my family of origin and plan to spend Christmas with plenty of people related to me, but I love this choice for Thanksgiving. I love this sense of holiday adventure.
One year, my friend Beth tried cooking turkey in a paper bag. It’s counter-intuitive, putting paper in the oven, but she swore up and down it would work. The bag was meant to keep the moisture in, I think. Except that in our case, the paper bag caught fire, so she and her toddler son, and my very pregnant friend who joined us, spent an hour of Thanksgiving on a New York City sidewalk with firefighters swarming around us.
Another Thanksgiving, I was studying in London – again with Beth and some mutual friends. We pre-ordered a turkey and cooked it with fries. The wine flowed and we sat on the stairs of our flat until quite late at night, serenading our neighbors with “American Pie” and every other song from that era we could think of.
The settings have changed over time, but the menu, not so much: Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, nutloaf, cranberries, olives, pie.
My friends and I learn one another’s tastes along with one another’s strengths, skills, wishes, dreams and needs. Each time we gather for a holiday, we discover what we’re capable of, what our friendships require, how we need to behave. We become like family.
When I came out, I really thought queer people had this family-making thing down. We knew how to forge lasting relationships after being shut out or picked on or bullied or attacked. We knew how necessary it was to have – to build, to nurture – a safe refuge, to have each other’s backs, to lift each other up and to envision a new way of living, together.
I danced and played and slept and ate and performed and fell apart and rose again and frolicked in the close circle of queer friendships forged in my early twenties, many of which still hold today, 20 or 25 years later.
Still, not everyone needs a community in the same way I do. And not everyone who identifies as LGBT or Q finds the LGBTQ community a safe place to land. We don’t all envision or require the same things. Yet families and communities are meant to hold and nurture and support all their members, leveraging everyone’s resources and talents to meet everyone’s needs. This is why we have to speak up. This is why we have to listen. Disagreement doesn’t give us license to disappear on one another, to run off, find an affinity group of like-minded people and just STAY there.
That doesn’t work for me. Never has.
Family is the love we pour into it, the creativity we bring, the space we insist on so that each member can thrive. Every day, we choose how to be with one another.
I’m pushing 50 now and my vision for family hasn’t wavered: People show-up for one another, cook together, watch out for each other, support and inspire one another, discuss, debate, and take each other’s kids for the weekend. My vision is not pure and it’s not perfect, but it is possible.
It takes work to make it real.
We need to treat our country like a family.
Families are messy and awkward and they don’t always fit the way we feel they should. I know. And sometimes, we need to step away. Sometimes, it’s necessary even to step away permanently. My heart goes out to anyone for whom this is so.
But in the case of our country, I think we need to stay and find a new way forward. Together. I think we need to find each other and rely on each other and hold each other accountable, now more than ever. I think our survival depends on it.
I am not a political strategist. I am simply a queer mom who loves to write, but I know what I know and I want what I want and as we head into Thanksgiving here in the U.S., what I want is a country which holds, nurtures and supports all its members, a country which leverages everyone’s resources and talents to meet everyone’s needs. That is a country worth fighting for. That is a country for which I can be truly thankful.
RoiAnn Phillips blogs about co-parenting, adoption and other things at Are You the Babysitter, http://areyouthebabysitter.wordpress.com You can also connect with her on Twitter: @OPgrrl