In Cleveland, it was Belinda, Susan, and Neil. We were department managers at the Euclid Mall branch of The May Company, me fresh out of college in a new city and an ocean away from family in the Philippines. We bonded over beers and work gossip and pranked one another with pretend birthdays so that the Red Lobster waitstaff would sing and bring out free dessert. We danced until dawn, supported one another through thick and thin. We were inseparable until I headed east.

In New York, it was Dave and Michael in business school, along with a constellation of others, every Friday night for margaritas at Bandito’s in the Village. For a stretch, it was my ex-partner Bruce and a circle of locals we socialized with at our watering hole not far from where we lived in New Hope. Recently, it was Richard and Tim, who rented from me until they found their own place over the summer. We had shared a familial existence watching Netflix and hosting epic dinner parties.

About this series
The old saying goes that you can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. As the holiday season begins, The Inquirer Opinion Department asked Philadelphians to share stories of how they've gathered a "chosen family." 

Throughout my nomadic, at times messy, life and as I try to find my footing as a middle-aged, single-again gay man, I have relished connections that organically turned into something more and beautiful. My parents are now deceased; I love my siblings, but time and distance (that ocean) has caused us to take divergent paths. Cousins and nieces are scattered throughout the world, so we default to Facebook updates.

It’s no surprise that chosen families are part of the LGBTQ+ community’s DNA. We are traditional outsiders, not always welcomed by blood relatives for our true selves. We gravitate to those who share in our struggles — our fears and insecurities — and to whom we become each other’s safety net.

Which is why the groundbreaking TV show Pose resonated with so many, regardless of sexuality. Not just because it captured the “Vogue” ball scene during the AIDS crisis, but because the trophy-competing “houses” — comprised of underrepresented, oftentimes misunderstood groups — dramatized the true manifestation of what it is to be chosen family.

In fact, queer theory asserts that the term “chosen family” has its roots in such structures.

All fall, I have been bracing for a Thanksgiving on my own. Trying not to wallow in self-pity, I apparently downed a few Manhattan cocktails on Halloween and unwittingly shared my solo-for-the-holiday anguish to friends Andy and Michael, with whom I have traveled to the U.K. and plan to spend part of this winter in Mexico.

The next day, once I had sobered up, they reminded me that I had agreed to turkey dinner at their home.

For chosen families past, present and future, the refrain of a heartfelt duet by Rina Sawayama and Elton John, two LGBTQ+ icons, expresses my gratitude best:

We don’t need to be related to relate

We don’t need to share genes or a surname

You are, you are, my chosen, chosen family

So what if we don’t look the same?

We been going through the same thing

Yeah, you are, you are, my chosen, chosen family.

Jobert E. Abueva is a writer and resident of New Hope.

Read more stories of chosen families