May is IDAHOT* –  International Day Against Homo-, Trans*- und Biphobia. This year the organizers picked the lens of Family. That left me wondering, who’s looking out of the windows of this basic social unit. Mom, Dad and baby makes three or are there ladies* taking tea on the balcony? It’s common knowledge now: families of choice can be safer than many of the families we grow up in. But it didn’t always used to be that way.

In the families I knew love wasn’t something that was talked about as much as it is today. Sexual identity wasn’t a thing at all. So as you can imagine we didn’t talk about sexual relationships either except that getting pregnant out of wedlock was not the thing to do. It was so much not the thing to do that many girls saw no way out at all. Far too many of those girls died. Boys were going to get you pregnant so they were best stayed away from. “Boys bring babies,” they say now. I wonder if much has changed. There was never an alternative to boys for girls or to girls for boys. Boys were boys, girls were girls and babies were for after a foamy white dress and a ring. There is a word for that vision of family: heteronormative. It sounds very serious and scientific. Basically it means that the only place where society actively encourages us to transmit our knowledge to the next generation, is in a home with one man, one woman and one or two babies. More than two babies is problematic, unless they are blond and blue-eyed in which case up to eight are permitted, as long as the parents are married, the mother stays home and the father  (who had better be the father of all the babies), works. The preceding sentence is partly ironic, because it’s really true that the male-headed single-wage nuclear family is the model most heavily idealized and most abundantly rewarded by tax policy.

Still, we know the family is susceptible to many forms of desire. There are many attractions and loves, just as there are multiple sexual identities in the spectrum between boy and girl.  Most importantly: The intimate lives of human beings do not begin and end with what’s in their underwear. Usually it begins and ends with whom people choose to connect to and maintain a relationship with.

While some people carry on living by the Girl-codes and Boy-codes they grow up with, others escape. Often they end up on the streets, at the end of a chain of unsafe families, unsafe schools, unprepared support workers and un-empathic courts. The figures for the United States and Britain reveal up to a quarter of the 16- to 24-year-olds without a home identify as LGBT*I. Trans, non-binary or genderfluid 16- to 24-year-olds make up about half of those numbers.  Happily, many people still go on to build homes that embrace important features like attraction and sexuality that cannot be expressed to blood family.

When we look around us we can see that there are many types of family, some we are born into and stay part of, some blood family we run the hell away from because they suck the life out of us, some of our family we meet and choose ourselves and keep choosing those people over and over again because these particular temperaments nurture us. Families are complicated, people can be complex but connections are simple, universal and a matter of choice and so for IDAHOT I wish wholeheartedly that in our African family we respect the families of our Homo-, Trans* Intersex and Bi people. That we have conversations where we listen without trying to correct, convert them, out-argue or harm them.

Lets not do the work of patriarchy and sexual supremacy within our communities. Let’s build bridges, – and rafts and lifeboats and so on. Because when the heteropatriarchy attacks minorities, migrants and people who supposedly look like migrants, it does so using the criteria of race, gender and sexuality. These categories cut across all our black and person-of-colour families.

LGBT*I is the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender intersex



Clementine Burnley
Clementine Burnley was born and raised in Cameroon. At the moment, she lives and writes in Berlin, Germany.
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