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    Relatively Speaking

    Karen Williams

    Karen Williams

    So…just how many lesbians does it take to feel like family? I’m not sure of an accurate number, yet I can tell you that our memorial celebrations feel like a rousing combination of a family reunion, old home week, a lesbian feminist revival tent, and a good ole fashion womyn’s music festival. And that’s whether there are a few of us or a whole tribe!

    At least that’s how it felt for me at “Sugar Mama,” Gwen Avery’s momentous and soulful tribute held in Oakland at the Montclair Women’s Club.  Joy, joy, joy was in the air that resonated with big laughter, incredible performances, and a celebration fit for the Queen that she was! The reigning sentiment at the event—let’s get together and share laughs, hugs, songs, and fun with one another while we’re alive to enjoy it!

    Holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day make me think about family, and particularly about family of origin and family of choice. I feel very fortunate that I was introduced to the concept of “family of choice” while living in the Bay Area. With so many folks from all around the country moving to the “Gay Mecca” of the world, it becomes commonplace to meet people who do not have any blood family in the area.

    In fact, I used to joke about never meeting anyone’s parents in the Bay Area. It is as though we all sprouted from the earth rather than from anyone’s loins! Many gay and lesbian folks flee their hometowns in search of meaningful friendships and relationships with others like themselves, building diverse support groups populated with other emigrants. It is not unusual for many Northern California residents to regard their close friends as “family” in the truer sense of the world—particularly after being rejected by their own families for their lifestyle choices.


    Sayings like “blood is thicker than water” often lead people to believe that their blood relatives are the only ones entitled to being close or supportive. Such beliefs can lead people who are alienated from their families of origin to feel stigmatized, isolated and alone. How comforting and soul-enhancing to be included and embraced by communities of like-minded people who share more of our ways, habits, thoughts, ideas, and lifestyles! And how freeing it is to associate with people who understand, tolerate, respect and appreciate our differences, who can share their stories of challenge and triumph, and lend much-needed emotional support in times of trouble and challenge.

    Let’s remember that we can take what we learn and invite others to participate in our shared learning. In my view, many human beings in today’s highly technological society experience alienation, loneliness and isolation. How profound to extend ourselves to one another as sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, mamas and daddies—roles that expand far beyond the limited views that were shared with many of us in our youth.

    I suggest that instead of waiting to be invited to a memorial, wedding, or birthday celebration, we create more opportunities to be together as family! Perhaps the idea will catch on and we can share the love, support, kindness and consideration with more and more folks, whether they are like us or not. Maybe we can be the folks who put the “human” back into “humanity.”

    I’d like to think so.

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