Perhaps you saw the actor Jason Bateman disgracing himself and his upbringing around the internet recently, rushing to defend a male co-worker’s abusive behavior with bleats about faaaamily and process while the abused female co-worker cried and struggled to find space in the conversation at all. That hit pretty close to home for me, because two years ago I listened to a convention chair complaining from the dais at opening ceremonies that we shouldn’t even have to have a Safety Officer because we’re like a faaaamily. I said, in a bright, clear voice, “Because everyone knows abuse never happens in families!” And the people around me grimaced, and some of them laughed in the way that you do when something is not funny.
But I want to come back to it again just to say no to it again. No. No, again.
I am a big believer in chosen family. A startlingly large percentage of the people I mean when I say “my family” are no biological, legal, or marital relation to me; even the tag “my cousin” most often applies to a woman who is, in fact, only my cousin as a relationship approximation–which, considering how many cousins I have through biology, legal adoption, and marriage, is quite a feat.
But when people push it on you from the outside. When, instead of looking at a particular friend and saying, aww, cousin, sibling, auntie–you have someone in authority telling you: you must view this set of people in that fashion. That is an absolute red flag. And even when it’s someone who is on equal footing with you, it’s worth checking: when you choose to be family, do you mean the same things by family? are you choosing the same things? The more you’re choosing en masse–choosing one particular convention or “fandom” as your family–the less you can be sure that you are. And the more you can be pretty much certain that at least one person in that group hears “family” and thinks “people who aren’t allowed to have boundaries with me” or “people who aren’t allowed to tell anybody when I hurt them” or some set of hierarchies that you might not even be able to describe once you’ve been experiencing it for years.
Sometimes the people who are most toxic about a group being a family are the ones who are sincere about it. Other times it’s people who don’t mean a word of it but are perfectly happy to weaponize it against others. Either way: especially when it’s someone speaking to a large group–especially if they haven’t met all the members of that large group–it’s time to be skeptical.
Because abuse does happen in families. Abuse gets swept under the rug in families. But even not up to that point, some families have horrible dynamics about how no one young is worth listening to, or about never visiting the elderly, or both. Some families have horrible dynamics about who does all the work and who gets to put their feet up. And–especially in times like the interview with Jason Bateman and his co-workers. Especially in moments like the con chair at that convention undermining the safety officer. The question is: why are they using this now. To what end. Who benefits, if they start leaning on family rhetoric.
It’s really great to have chosen family. It really is. My godkids’ parents sat down with us before we accepted the job, and we talked it through: what does this commitment mean to all of us, are we on the same page, because this is a role that culturally and personally varies so much. Those people are my family. I am so glad of them every day. I really, really don’t want to undermine anyone’s actual chosen family with this post. I just want to flag how prevalent this is, in how many industries.
And if you go to report harassment, assault, abuse of any kind, and they invoke family rhetoric to try to minimize what you are reporting, THIS IS WRONG. THEY ARE WRONG. Even if they are your actual family. Even if they are your family in every way, even if they birthed you and raised you and were there for you on holidays and happy occasions and sad ones and everything a family can be. If your actual family treats you that way, I am so, so sorry. But I need you to know that THEY ARE WRONG TO DO IT.
And if someone who is not in any of those ways your actual family pulls out the “we are family” like you’re supposed to dance out of the end of “The Birdcage” with them? NOT ONLY NO BUT HELL NO. NO MORE. NO MORE OF THIS. WE ARE DONE.