Reflections on family, in all its varied forms

The one thing that is true for people of the Christian faith throughout history is that we are called to live amidst the complexities of our time, alongside a liturgical calendar. It is this liturgical consistency that is meant to help us make sense of the often chaotic world around us. 

As part of our own sense-making and meaning-making as an IAM team, over the past few weeks we have joined together to write posts as part of the #communityofcare series. We write today’s post during Holy Week in the Christian calendar, with Resurrection Sunday around the corner. In South Africa this weekend is traditionally followed by Family Day on the Monday after Easter. For this reason, our focus for this week’s post is family during this time of lockdown.

We know that for most people family is a complex network of relationships and experiences that sometimes span decades and centuries of messy joyfulness – celebrations, stories, feuds, love, hate – and everything in between. 

Within the LGBTIQ+ community, we’ve learned that family is most often non-biological, a chosen group of people who share the same complexity of relationships and experiences as any other family. 

Our team shared some of their experiences of lockdown and family with us during this time…

Grateful

“Being in lockdown with my family makes me grateful, so grateful that I feel almost too scared to say it out loud. It brings me so much joy to be able to spend all this time with my husband and kids. But at the same time I feel almost undeserving, when I think of other families and individuals who might not be coping under these uncertain times.

If I wasn’t locked down with this family, a family consisting of:

My daughter – messing in my make-up, wearing my clothes, and 

eating all the food… 

My oldest son – obsessed with getting his schoolwork up to date. He starts school at 5am (lol) and

eating all the food…

My youngest – breaking my indoor plants who already have a tough life (having me as the owner) and

eating all the food…

Clayton – my rock who makes inappropriate jokes to keep me laughing, and 

eating all the food…

If I wasn’t locked down with this family, I would surely go insane.”

– Abby Harricombe, IAM Administrator

Family: here and beyond

Being with family during this time can be a blessing. My partner and I have used the period of lockdown to experiment with a multitude of new activities. These activities vary from cooking new dishes to homebrewing our own sangrias. 

While enjoying new activities, being asthmatic, the nightmare of not surviving a COVID-19 infection is a harsh reality. I appreciate the extra caution that is being exercised by my partner to ensure that I remain as healthy as possible.  I may not be with my biological family during this time, but I am with someone who has become my home.

I have also lost a dear friend during this period, a queer activist who had a passion for writing. They were a part of my chosen family and having to say ‘goodbye’ at a time when I am called to celebrate the resurrection of Christ is hard for me. The travel restrictions and social isolation has made the grieving journey to be dark and cold, with limited communication due to data and network challenges. I am aware that April is also the month that we grieve Eudy Simelane, an LGBTIQ+ icon. This will be the first year that Eudy’s life will be commemorated without the presence of her mom. Ma’Simelane made giant strides in creating spaces for the acceptance of LGBTI youth by parents and faith leaders within the Black Queer community. She has been a rock, a mother to all who have come to her and an activist. I reflect on the journey travelled with Eudy’s mom as we worked to celebrate Eudy’s life. 2020 has become a cold year for me.”

– Thuli Mjwara, IAM Process Coordinator

“Together Building a New Life…”

I’m inspired this morning by reflecting on the words of President Nelson Mandela when he said: “There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you… As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

As a family that doesn’t and will never fit the heteronormative mould and definition of a “family unit”, we have always straddled the lanes of conformity and authenticity. But by virtue of standing in our truth and embodiment as a same-sex family with an adopted daughter, how could we choose to hide, to confirm, to shrink so that others could feel secure in their own ignorance and bigotry.  Douglas and I chose to stand in our embodied truth with Rebecca – and together build a new life, a new normal, a family that reflects the uniqueness and Divine blessing of God. 

From the moment Rebecca was placed into our arms and she looked into our eyes, we knew that our lives were irrevocably changed. Suddenly the world looked different, and we reasoned differently. There was permanence and meaning – and the vows that we made when we got married made sense and had purpose. A woman gave up her right as a mother to offer us an opportunity to raise the daughter she biologically brought into this world. And the reasons she had for giving up that right became sacred and a blessing to us. Her sadness gave us joy – and for that we will remain eternally grateful.

How could we ever shrink in the presence of others, denying who we are – so we choose to enter spaces proudly and boldly! And in some spaces, we choose to be silent – not because we feel less, but because our mere embodied presence speaks volumes. Our embodied presence tells its own story, a new narrative WE choose to tell. We realise that if we allow ourselves to believe and stand in our truth, we open the door to infinite possibilities of who we can become and who we can be – discovering the hand of the Creator recreating and co-creating through our embodied presence in spaces often toxic and welcoming. And through us being present as a family, we TOGETHER discover our own courage in taking that first step so that our footprint in the lives of others become entwined in the bigger tapestry of life.

As a result, we have lost many for being present and not shrinking – but we have gained more by contributing to the liberation of others. As we reflect on being a Community of Care in a time of isolation and lockdown, we realise that family is different in every home. And we celebrate this unique opportunity to rediscover what it means to be connected as family at this time… and what it means to celebrate family at a time when we as Christians reflect on Christ’s sacrifice of grace. 

Family is important for Douglas and me – and all we can do is to stand boldly in our truth, to live in the moment for Rebecca and to be there for her emotionally. And when we make mistakes, to own it and to move on – TOGETHER.”

– Marlow Newman-Valentine, IAM Regional Coordinator

—-

As a team we wish that you and your family – chosen and biological – may continue to journey with lightness and joy as your journey with the sometimes difficult, often rewarding complexities of life in the presence of those who know us best and love us deeply regardless thereof.