There’s been a long-standing stereotype that young individuals often dread Thanksgiving. For some, dread can’t even describe what it feels like to go home for the holidays. Not when one’s entire existence feels like the antithesis of an older generation’s political ideology. For some queer Gen Zers, this is their reality and for others, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not surprising that a generation known to be breaking boundaries has found a way to escape from the cultural traditions of a centuries-old holiday. And though some have the privilege to flee from those molds, others have not been as fortunate.
A chosen family consists of close connections formed through shared values and intentional relationships. They are essential for marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ+ community. Unlike traditional families, these bonds are chosen for their affirming and supportive qualities, providing a sense of belonging and acceptance.
“Who would be your chosen family?” I asked six individuals; some friends, some strangers. They all came back to me with distinct responses in varying degrees of fervor.
For Katiya, 26, she found her chosen family in Los Angeles, quite a distance from the state she grew up in. “When I was growing up, I always spent [Thanksgiving] with my family, just being in a situation where I couldn’t do anything else,” she said. Since moving away from Michigan, her Thanksgiving started to look different than what she was used to back home.
“I spend it with people who are important to me in that season of life — recently, that has mostly been my friends,” she explains. “A lot of my friends live somewhere [they] are not from and aren’t close enough to [their] families to go spend it with them. So, we spend it with each other.”
For those in the LGBTQ+ community, Friendsgiving transcends a traditional Thanksgiving. It serves as a chance to assemble a chosen family that doesn’t guilt them into wearing a heteronormative mask.
Katiya goes on to say that she “definitely gets emotional” during the holidays as “it makes you really think about the passing of time.” I was under the impression that with every queer person, their emotional state during this time of year would be deeply rooted in their queerness, but with Katiya, I was happily proven wrong.
“My sexuality has never played a part in the holiday,” she said. Katiya had clarified that she’s a lesbian. “I know that others are not as lucky but I have been blessed with amazing friends and even family who have always not only accepted me but embraced me for who I am. And it’s great because now I can celebrate with my girlfriend as well,” she said.
Aria, who also lives in California, experiences a similar sentiment. “I don’t think much of it. Old people sometimes misgender me but not that often these days,” said Aria, who’s a 24-year-old trans lesbian. Her Thanksgivings are just spent with good food and company. She even jokes that “her friends are more fun and less old.”
“I don’t really stress about it. My family is accepting and my friends are great,” she then proceeds to apologize for having a boring answer. I reassured her that “boring” queer stories are just as worth telling. Personally, I find queer people’s contentment in a holiday that historically brings trepidation to a vast majority quite heartwarming.
For those in the LGBTQ+ community, Friendsgiving transcends a traditional Thanksgiving. It serves as a chance to assemble a chosen family that doesn’t guilt them into wearing a heteronormative mask. It provides individuals the ability to carve out a place for themselves within traditions that may have otherwise felt exclusive or unwelcoming.
During this year’s Canadian Thanksgiving, Cynthia resorted to sneaking out of her family’s celebration to spend it with her close friend’s family. “I was just getting a lot of questions about boyfriends, kids, and marriage. I just didn’t feel comfortable in that space. It felt like my house was filled with strangers. So I expressed this feeling of alienation to my friend Chloe. And she was like, ‘You’re welcome here.’ And so that’s what I did,” she said.
“I imagine my household empty except for us, trying so hard to cook something. I imagine chaotic-ness. I imagine [my friends] pretending to be chefs on a TV show. I imagine candles, cheap wine, and Boygenius playing in the background.”Cynthia, 20
Cynthia, who recently turned 20, was thankful she had finally learned to drive as it was instrumental to her getaway. Although that day was spent eating pie and watching TikTok videos in her friend’s room, it was obvious that she would rather spend a mundane day with a friend’s family than feel unwelcomed under her roof.
The very thought of Friendsgiving with her close group of friends, whom she dubbed as her support system, made Cynthia quite emotional. “I imagine my household empty except for us, trying so hard to cook something. I imagine chaotic-ness. I imagine [my friends] pretending to be chefs on a TV show. I imagine candles, cheap wine, and Boygenius playing in the background.”
“[Friendsgiving] feels different because you’re making the choice to spend time with people rather than [having it be an] obligation,” she said. “I would look forward to seeing these people because I’m choosing to see them rather than having a sense of dread. I don’t have to mask. I don’t have to be polite, even when I don’t want to be polite ‘cause f*cked up things are said.”
Emi, 23, expresses a similar stress in having to put themselves back in the closet to prevent the holidays from going awry. “This year it’s going to be with my family again and I’m flying out to Arizona to see them. I’m a little anxious because I do actually have to come out to my mom [the day after Thanksgiving] before she comes to my apartment for Christmas,” said Emi.
Coming out, in itself, is a terrifying experience but doing it during the Thanksgiving season, despite it being secular, could be even more daunting. Political talk seems to also be off the table in the slew of conversations they refuse to have with family.
“I do have to be closeted and act cis, and act straight-ish, but I do that all the time with them so it’s not just a Thanksgiving thing,” said Emi, who is bisexual and nonbinary. “Oh, but I’m not excited about having to hear my [dead]name all the time when I go out there,” they said.
They perked up when talking about the possibility of celebrating a Friendsgiving after Thanksgiving day, “I am planning on having a Friendsgiving next year in my apartment,” Emi said. “I think this year I’m just too swamped with school and financial struggles to fully plan one but it will happen! Trust!”
“My headspace is honestly a lot better during the holiday season since I don’t have to be around my parents, but my sisters are young children and four of them live in Africa. So it does suck to not be able to see them as much as I want to.”Anya, 23
Similar financial trouble plagues Anya, 23, who spends her Thanksgiving now, more or less, alone. Ordinarily, she would spend it with her family in Mississippi rather than Alabama since the atmosphere in Alabama felt less welcoming despite her family in Mississippi being more religious. Nowadays, it’s a much different story.
“Being older and broke all the time has been harder since I can’t see the family I like or my sisters, but I also like a lot of alone time. So my priority is usually to call my sisters, at the very least, text my friends, and then make food,” she said. “My headspace is honestly a lot better during the holiday season since I don’t have to be around my parents, but my sisters are young children and four of them live in Africa. So it does suck to not be able to see them as much as I want to.”
For Anya, she envisions the perfect Thanksgiving a little differently, “My sisters, they’re essential. A few friends from middle school, a few from high school, and another few from life after that. Several blood-related cousins, aunties, grandmas, and one uncle I’d like to come. We’d all be at my house and would do activities in and outside and just have a nice full day together.”
The term “chosen family” can often be misconstrued as simply one’s close friends and to a degree this would be true, but the conventional definition of the concept fails to accommodate blood relatives. Frequently, there is a tendency to perceive chosen and biological families as mutually exclusive, however, this perspective is rather constrictive. Despite complexities with families, Anya, and others that I’ve interviewed, spoke with full fondness regarding select family members. It’s up to the individual to define such an unconventional perception of family.
“The ability to be with family and still be proudly queer has had a huge impact on me, and my aunts inspire me to be that person in my family for my younger cousins, nieces, and nephews.”Eclipse, 24
Eclipse, 24, reinforces that concept with how they celebrate their Thanksgiving. “I usually spend Thanksgiving with my two aunts who live up north [from Toronto] and our dogs,” they said. Eclipse and their aunt’s definition of Thanksgiving couldn’t be further from convention.
Eclipse’s family shares the love with everyone. It’s rare to have the opportunity to witness queer representation within one’s family, so the objective for them appears to be extending invitations to those who may not otherwise partake in familial traditions. “My aunts have always been there for me and my other cousins as those adults in our family who truly listen, support, and care. So, Thanksgivings with them feel important, especially when I introduce them to the queer friends in my life who haven’t been able to experience a familial holiday with a chosen family,” they said. “The ability to be with family and still be proudly queer has had a huge impact on me, and my aunts inspire me to be that person in my family for my younger cousins, nieces, and nephews.”
In a world where family gatherings often trigger unnecessary stress and ideological clashes, these stories illuminate the warmth and acceptance found in the embrace of chosen families. Whether it’s overcoming anxieties, escaping from unwelcoming atmospheres, or simply sharing a meal with cherished friends, these experiences exemplify the essence of a chosen family. As we navigate the complexities of familial relationships and societal expectations, the spirit of Friendsgiving becomes a beacon of hope, proving that love and acceptance can indeed redefine our understanding of home during this season of gratitude.