As a bi man, I have what some might consider to be a complicated relationship with the word "choice." For as long as I can remember, it’s a term that has been weaponized in a multitude of ways against bi individuals, as well as the larger LGBTI community. Often, we are pressured to choose a certain way of living that goes against our natures or happiness for the sake of satisfying the expectations of others. We’re essentially expected to consciously choose to be unhappy and dissatisfied with our lives because others are unwilling to broaden their narrow, uncompromising perspectives of how people should exist in this world.
For too long, I made my choices based on what would appease the expectations of others because, for some odd reason, I did not grasp that I had the power to choose my own path forward. When that epiphany struck, I was dazzled by the endless options that now seemed possible for my future. I wasn’t (and am still not) sure where these choices might lead me, but I am much happier knowing they are mine and mine alone. While choice certainly has a significant impact on every part of my life, this shift in perspective hit particularly hard in one area: my family.
I was raised in a community where honoring familial bonds is considered to be the ultimate test of someone’s character. You are meant to stick by family through thick and thin, regardless of its impact on your overall wellbeing, and anything to the contrary indicates some deep moral failing within the unforgiving party. For many, myself included, this sense of duty can lead to toxic, traumatizing relationships, encouraging individuals to continuously pursue one-sided bonds that do nothing other than cause pain, regret, and self-doubt.
For example, roughly twenty years ago, as I was nearing my tenth birthday, my maternal grandpa, who up until that point I saw several times a week, married into a new family and subsequently left my siblings and me behind with barely a goodbye. It was absolutely devastating to have someone I idolized abandon me so easily, and the pain of that act has followed me for years. Major milestones like birthdays and graduations have gone by for decades with no contact at all, and with each missed event, my hope of reconciliation dwindled until, finally, after my high school graduation, it was utterly and irrevocably depleted.
Oddly, it’s not just him that contributes to this pain point; in fact, in recent years, it hasn’t been him at all. Time and time again, I am asked by people in my hometown who knew him if I have considered reaching out to re-establish contact as if I should have spent the last twenty years of my life fighting to get the attention of a person who clearly couldn’t care less about me. Why should I reach out to a man who has caused my family and me nothing but pain for twenty years? Who in their right mind would want to bring someone so selfish and cruel back into their lives? My definition of family does not include people like that, regardless of what antiquated ideals some residents of my hometown might believe.
Family is my grandma coming to every single one of my sporting events, rain or shine, for years, even if I was riding the bench. Family is my best friend of twenty-plus years telling me she would always stand up for me after I came out. Family, to me, is putting in the effort to let someone know that you care and are there to support them. I don’t want or need people in my life out of a sense of obligation; I want people who are going to be there when I need them, who genuinely want to be around me. That is the choice I make when it comes to who I consider to be my family.
Of course, there are caveats to this perspective, such as those who struggle with mental illness, substance abuse, or a variety of other issues and may not be able to express this kind of love and support as they deal with and, hopefully, overcome these challenges. It’s also not a path I would choose for trivial issues; those are just a normal part of any family’s life.
I choose to leave people like my grandpa out of my life because they have made their own choice clear: they do not want to put any effort into building or maintaining a relationship. So, to those who tell me I am lacking in character because I refuse to retraumatize myself by relentlessly pursuing an apathetic man with who I just so happen to share a family tree, kindly keep your thoughts to yourself from now on. I have a beautiful, loving, and incredible group of people I consider to be family, and while there is always room for this family to grow, it takes much more than a similar genetic makeup to make the cut.