For many queer folk, chosen whānau offers authenticity and connection at a level that’s often not possible with biological family dynamics.
Re: News held a chosen whānau portrait event, where people could get a professional photo taken of them and their family.
The event accompanied Re: News’ new docuseries Queer Academy, a five-part series all about the good parts of being queer. Episode two explores the importance of chosen whānau.
We asked people at the event about the story behind their chosen whānau and this is what they had to say:
Lucina, Yuri and Kylie
Lucina: I grew up in Hawke’s Bay so, for me, coming up to Auckland and starting drag and being on the drag scene is how I met my people and found a place to belong. Seeing all these different queer people from different walks of life coming together was really inspiring.
Kylie: Before I started performing, I went [to shows] a lot. I remember seeing trans people and a lot of queer people on a stage celebrated, I think that's kind of when I thought in my head ‘wow, these people are being celebrated for their differences and not being called out or being made fun of. They're getting celebrated and they're getting paid to do so’.
As a trans person, it’s not the best in a lot of family situations. So for me, it was a lot about finding people close to me, and finding people that understand me and get me. So it was nice getting into the queer scene and finding everyone that understood me and accepted me with open arms no matter what.
Claudia: The first time I was in [the flat that we all share], I felt so safe. I thought to myself ‘this is my home’. I knew instantly that that's where I wanted to be. It's really beautiful and special. I'm so happy that I found this place and met these people.
Stacy: For some people, chosen family is all they have. I believe that people are brought together for different reasons, but it does help when you have a beautiful space that has lots of beautiful people and it just kind of grows from that.
Awhina: One of my favourite memories is one particular night where we were sitting down and having a meal together. Specifically, I remember having a conversation about where we come from and the maramataka and how that was affecting the way our lives were panning out at that time. And that was something that I was able to take with me when I left later on. I don't know if I could have had that experience in any other space or with any other people. I don’t think you could recreate that anywhere else.
One of my favourite memories is having a conversation over dinner about where we come from and the maramataka and how that was affecting the way our lives were panning out at that time. And that was something that I was able to take with me when I left later on. I don't know if I could have had that experience in any other space or with any other people. I don’t think you could recreate that anywhere else.
Gabi, Mizpah, Liam and Tyrone
Tyrone: [My chosen whānau] are really important people, in terms of support. People who show you love. They don't judge you in any kind of way and you can just be who you are all the time.
Gabi: I feel like my friends revealed a lot about myself. I think the family dynamic from my own family is quite prescribed, or you grew up in it, so it's hard to change or challenge it. And when it comes to chosen family, it's quite revealing what becomes comfortable and the dynamics are often really different from what you were raised in. Which is cool. I feel like I've learnt heaps through my chosen whānau.
Liam: Sometimes I almost forget how much my friends are my family, you know? That these people are my family. It's kind of nice to keep remembering.
Stella, Cat and Ailsa
Cat: Stella and I have been together since the end of 2019. We moved in together after dating for two months, we weren’t meant to be lesbian stereotypes. Having Ailsa in the house was also really, really incredible before lockdown. I feel like I can be my full full self with them. Like it’s a big difference from being with my biological family. I can actually be unguarded, I don’t have to worry about ‘oh, I can’t say that because then I’d have to explain what that means’ and stuff like that.
Ailsa: On my 21st birthday, I was gonna have a party. And the day of, we went into lockdown. And then we had to cancel everything. And then Cat made me this dinner and decorated the dining room in green silks and random fabrics with candles. And then everyone dressed up. And we all had dinner, and it was great. I still remember that. It was really special.
Stella: I’d say we are fiercely and passionately loyal and protective of one another. This is purely a joke, like don't report me, but I always say, “I will help you bury a dead body. Or whatever ugly emotions you need to process, I'll come with you”.
More Queer Academy stories:
Queer style used to be a subculture. I don’t think it is anymore.
“Queer people are good at sexual health because for a lot of us, we were forced to in the ’80s.”
"It’s still painful for me to revisit, because it was something that was supposed to be precious.”