Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Friendship is an odd thing.
Scrap that, relationships are odd things. We have different names for them, they supposedly have an order of importance in one’s life, everything is codified and pre boxed. Odd.
Family is supposed to come first. But what exactly is family? In most Western countries, which is my reference since I’m half French, half American, the answer will be “people related by blood”. So my dad is my family, and so is his second cousin twice removed. But there is a hierarchy within the family. Your parents come first, your siblings, your grandparents, then your aunts and uncles (even if the bond is by marriage not blood, which doesn’t fit the definition but I got yelled at for pointing it out), then cousins by order of how far in the tree is your common ancestor. But they’re all family, and they all matter more than anyone else, supposedly.
Then comes your spouse, which is family but not the same family, and your spouse’s family. You owe them respect and love and care and all the same things you owe your own family, but differently and a tiny little bit less. You’re supposed to not get along with them, too, but to pretend you do for the sake of… I’m not sure for the sake of what, but that’s how it’s supposed to be, and if you do it differently you’re doing it all wrong and are a disgrace. Nobody has explained to me the specifics, if I learn more I’ll let you know. I have no idea where in all that children are supposed to fit.
If you’re not married (shame on you, you should totally be married, that’s what people have been telling you your entire life, you’re already 28, get a grip, do something with your life, which is get married) your romantic relationship comes below family by more than if you’re married. Your partner’s family doesn’t matter for some reason until you have the piece of paper that says it does. Your partner is less important than your cousins on your great-grandmother’s side. At least that's what I’ve gathered from years of experience and experiments. Family first. Unless you’re married, seriously woman, just settle down already.
Now we get to friendships, and things get even messier. As a woman I’m apparently not supposed to have friends that are not women. The fact that I am openly and unashamedly bisexual doesn’t have any impact on that, and nobody believes that I am bisexual anyway, or that bisexuality even exists, but that’s another topic and I digress. If I have friends that are men or male presenting, people will assume that I sleep with them. Which I don’t. I have, with some of them, ages ago, and honestly that’s nobody’s business but ours. They are still my friends. Fuck society and fuck you, out there, who are judging me. I do not make any difference between my friends based on their gender, skin colour, culture, religion, or sexual orientation. I make differences based on their personalities. Some are party folks, some are quiet folks, some are gamers, some are artists, some I honestly have no clue where they’re from or even how old they are, some I know every single thing about. Which means I will do different things with each of them, as they have different interests. And I love them all equally, and I treat them all with the respect they deserve, which is a lot.
Still, friendship is odd. You have no obligation to be friends with people. You don’t owe them anything. They’re not related to you. Hell, some of my dearest friends I’ve never even met. I’m not supposed to be friends with some of them. And you know what? They have more value to me than my family.
I would jump in front of a bus for my best friend. I would jump on a plane to the other side of the world just to be with a friend on their wedding day if they asked me to. I would empty my bank account to help a friend in need.
My friends have saved my life. I’m not ashamed to say it. My best friend let me sleep on a mattress in her bedroom for 6 months because I had nowhere to go. My own mother, whom I asked first, said she couldn’t house me. Yes she was in a toxic relationship, yes he’s the one who refused, but she didn’t bother to fight for me. If not for that friend I would have slept on a park bench for 6 months. In winter. She gave me a place to live, access to hot showers, food, she even gave me some clothes. Other friends kept my stuff safe and away from humidity. They made sure my guitar wouldn’t come to harm. They bought me beers or coffees every now and then. They texted me every week to check if I was okay. They saved my life, my sanity, and my dignity. My family knew, and did nothing.
More recently, when I ended up in another dire situation and asked for help, friends sent me whatever bits of money they had to make sure I would be able to eat, drink, get a hotel room if I needed it. They support my every endeavour, no matter how crazy. People I don’t even know the face of tell me they are proud of me, tell me they admire me, tell me they respect me. They support my Patreon. They read my blog and my stories. They send me messages to talk about it, they ask me for advice, they give me tips and counsel me, they don’t judge me. These are my friends, and they are more precious to me than any member of my family.
I am closer to that diabetic girl I met less than 6 months ago on a Discord server than to my little brother. I trust this American writing coach dude more than I ever trusted my father. My schizophrenic friend from overseas knows more about me than any of my cousins. I have never met any of these people in real life, and likely never will. Yet they have done for me more than my own blood.
Relationships are odd. They are codified in a way that often doesn’t reflect reality. Why should I give more respect to someone that has a common ancestor with me than to someone who saved my life? Why should a contract change the balance of a relationship and the way a person acts with another? Why should I hold some people to lower standards than others? I wouldn’t accept abuse from friends but I’m supposed to take it from family or a spouse? No. I hold everyone to the same standards. I expect the same from every single person I encounter. The fact that my family doesn’t respect my boundaries while complete strangers do tells me that we should rethink relationships.
We should change these codes. Remove the boxes. Strip the labels off. When people who are related to you by blood put your life in danger and people you are not related to in any way save it, then friends become family and family becomes acquaintances at best.
I know there are other fights more important than this right now but if you think about it, this one is related to the others. Who raises you to believe white folks are superior? Family. Who puts you back in the closet when you try to come out and live as the person you truly are? Family. Who tries to influence the way you think about gender roles? Family. Who tells you that you need a 9 to 5 and a house and kids to be fulfilled? Family. Who pushes you to get married? Who forces you to go to college and get in debt when what you really want is to be a mechanic or a baker? Who rules your life until you’re 18 and tries to keep doing so even after you’re legally considered an adult? Who is the reason behind your preconceived notions? Yes. Family. Not friends, not spouses, not romantic partners.
Family as society still sees it is behind the continued existence of White Supremacy. Family is the institution that brings the most trauma to the LGBTQ+ community. Family enforces the idea that a woman should be obedient and earn less and not speak up. Family almost killed me, almost killed thousands of people, managed to kill thousands more. We need to fix that. We really, really need to fix that. We can’t change society if we don’t change the way we see and treat the different kinds of relationships. And most of us agree that we need to change society.
So, people. Rewire yourselves. Just because you share some DNA with someone doesn’t mean you owe them anything. Just because it’s your dad doesn’t mean he can abuse you. Just because you’re from the same ancestors doesn’t mean you have to do what they tell you.
Choose your family.
Grab your friends, hold them close, and dare tell them you love them. Dare tell your blood family “no”. “No, you’re not the boss of me. You’re not better than me. You don’t deserve respect you haven’t earned.”
Well, only if you can do that without getting yourselves killed. If you’re in danger, reach out. Friends are there to help. Family, in my experience, is there to keep you within the boundaries society has decided for you. Friends will get you out of there. Friends will help you become who you want to be. Real friends will save your life as my friends saved mine. Real friends will protect your dignity at all costs. And that, to me, is what family should be.