It's a fairly common tale in the LGBTQ+ community: Queer people move away from home and build new families of their own. They go to cities, find friends and partners, and form a network. Since many queer individuals are rejected (or just simply tolerated) by their families of origin, this new support network is a place where they can shine and be their authentic selves. Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Pose knows this.
Yet, with the spread of social media, messages boards, and apps, the ways in which LGBTQ+ folks find each other has changed dramatically. Some still find their chosen family IRL, but others do it by popping up in someone's DMs.
To mark the conclusion of Pride month—and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion—WIRED asked five queer individuals how they found their communities. This is what they had to say.
Justin J. Wee
Bio: Justin J. Wee is a proudly queer, Australian-Malaysian photographer now based in Brooklyn. His editorial clients include Out, Anxy, and Broadly, and most recently Wee photographed Polaroid Eyewear's 2019 Pride campaign. He is also a community chef for artist collective Nomadique and Communion, a not-for-profit queer-only dinner he cofounded with two friends.
How I Found My Chosen Family: My chosen family was gathered in ways that are extremely ordinary; maybe we met on the internet, or community dinners, or through photo work. But it's the feeling of finding them that I remember the most.
In trying to articulate that, I can't help but think of that scene from Crazy Rich Asians where Constance Wu is sitting in the pews of that absurd but beautiful water lily wedding, and she glances over at Henry Golding standing next to the groom, and he smiles at her with misty eyes and mouths, "I love you." Her eyes brim, she smiles, and mouths the same back. It's cinematic, and is a moment laid thick with emotion. So much is contained in the gazes they gave one another. A gaze of unconditional love, of unwavering support, and revelry in the fact that this wedding was completely bonkers. In my head, these gazes are the ways in which I collected my chosen family. We'd see each other from across the bar, or the table, or the internet, and our eyes would lock and something in our bodies cosmically told each other that there was something meaningful to be unearthed here.
Bio: Jazzmyne Robbins is a video producer and talent for BuzzFeed's Beauty Channel As/Is, which focuses on style, beauty, and fashion content. Robbins' content specifically focuses on body positivity and provides a voice for people who may feel just a little bit different. She seeks to empower people to be their best selves.
How I Found My Chosen Family: Finding my online family is something that I did not know I needed until I had it. For me, I was very used to taking things on my own. Whether that was online hate or just feeling different from everyone else, I figured that was just something everyone felt. It wasn't until last year when I was invited to go on a Plus Size Influencer trip to Miami with my role model Gabi Fresh that I realized I had met my online family. Gabi brought us all together physically, but these beautiful women are the people that I go to for anything and always have had supportive, helpful advice. There was a total of 14 of us ranging in size, shape, sexuality, presentation, style, race, and living in different parts of the world—and every single woman is so amazing and has so much confidence and sense of self. They are all people I look up to. We are there for each other during hard times; we are there for each other for business questions and opinions; we are there for each other to offer support mentally, but also online to leave supportive comments for each other on our posts. We are always there for each other. I have never been a part of a group of friends that just get me without me having to explain anything, and this is the first group of friends, now my family, that just understand. I am so thankful for this group of women, and that the internet literally brought us together!
Bio: Jess Koala is a tattoo artist and illustrator based in San Francisco. Having drawn weird creatures, flowers, and objects since she was a kid, it was through zines and the riot grrrl movement that she found her voice and style. Pouring all of her heart into her work, she believes that art and activism go hand in hand, giving voice to the voiceless and creating a better world.
How I Found My Chosen Family: Tattooing, like many industries, is dominated by dudes. When I was starting out, it was hard to picture myself fitting into that world. As I got more involved in Instagram and other online platforms, it was super exciting to find other queer artists out there putting their spin on this medium. Instagram, in particular, has allowed us to find each other and form tight-knit circles of support, friendship, and family. Queer visibility in the industry empowers each of us to move forward and make our mark (no pun intended!) on tattooing and in business.
A few of the tattooers that make up my queer tattoo family are: Haley Adams, tattoo color extraordinaire/owner of Castro tattoo (@castrotattoosf) and one of my best friends. Millie K (@mklx), black work tattooer and owner of Undrgrnd SF (@undrgrnd.sf). Millie moved here from Singapore a few years ago and we became fast friends. Jazz Fuller (@1.800.tatline), a traditional tattooer with extensive knowledge of tattoo history and always working on a project. Jazz eats, sleeps, and breathes all things tattoo.
Together with other queer artists, we have formed a group called the Queer Tattoo Alliance as a way for artists to network, meet, and be visible to people looking for safe spaces to get tattooed, raise money for local/queer organizations, and to support each other professionally. Our long-term goal is to organize a queer tattoo convention, where queer tattooers around the world will come together in one space. Other artists involved in the QTA and our tattoo community are: @coltonjamesart, @nicholasbergin, @lesliemahtattoo, @cedretattoos, @x.faulkner, @fox.claw, @whotattooedyou, @femme.bill, and @pina.tattoo.
Bio: Jacob Hexa is a 22-year-old, nonbinary, gay, multi-artist specializing in makeup, sculpture, and costuming who is currently pursuing a degree geared toward their passion in costume design.
How I Found My Chosen Family: I'm based out of central Florida, and while that area can be pretty tolerant, it's never easy for a queer person to be so vibrantly who they are. I grew up in a town where my differences made me an outcast, and some individuals went as far to take their intolerance out on me through physical violence. I navigated this world for so long by myself, without a support system to confide in. As my confidence in myself and my talents grew, I began to freely express myself and allow my light to shine. This light acted as a beacon that attracted kindred spirits toward me. Through my self-expression in my art, I have found a community and family that allows me to feel safe enough to grow and continue to discover who I am. I mostly met my chosen family through social media. I've also met them through art shows, competitions, and anime conventions! I'm very happy with my chosen family and the warm love that I am surrounded by!
Ruben Guadalupe Marquez
Bio: Ruben Marquez, aka Broobs, is a collage artist and photographer residing in San Francisco. Using inspiration from nature, their work is heavily influenced by botanical elements and uses classic color palettes for balance. Their work can be seen as melding the past and present through use of color, shape, and subject matter. Broobs' goal is to bring visibility to queer artists and queer activists and to use their following to educate and illuminate champions of the queer community.
How I Found My Chosen Family: My community is in San Francisco and I found them all around the same time in my life. Although I have had friendships that fluctuated and changed these people are the ones who have been with me through thick and thin. Leaving home in 2011, I moved to a city where I knew no one. Moving away from family was very difficult for me emotionally, but I found that family can be found outside of blood relatives. These are the people I consider family. They are the people who have been in my corner cheering me on. They support me and are genuinely happy when good things happen in my career. They are also the people who have been with me when things aren't going well. They're all so loving and I know that I could count on them to help me with whatever. Whether it be life advice or art advice.