4 Fiercely Heartfelt Poems for Celebrating Your Chosen Family
A term popularized among the queer community, “chosen families” are nonbiological bonds that exude support, pride, and love. For LGBTQ people—who may have complicated family relationships or face prejudice from their family—the concept of chosen families can represent a way to reclaim this strong, unconditional connection. In fact, research estimates that 64 percent of LGBTQ individuals have formed and continue to depend on these nontraditional, beautiful family units. These four poems illuminate the lived experience of that statistic, showcasing the joy, vibrancy, and everyday resistance of chosen families.
1. “All My Friends are Sad & Bright” by Cameron Awkward-Rich
Cameron Awkward-Rich counters the idea of queer tragedy and loneliness in “All My Friends are Sad & Bright,” published in Narrative. The poem contrasts an isolated past with an abundant, hopeful future—one characterized by the vital role of friendships. “I was by myself once, beside myself, breath / fogging up a window & what’s on the other side? Only / everything you wanted,” writes Awkward-Rich. “& here’s a room of everything you wanted. Think peppermint & myrrh. Think loved.”
2. “The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar” by Danez Smith
Poet and performer Danez Smith writes about the importance of finding belonging and community. “The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar” portrays the speaker’s first experience in a setting where queerness is the norm, showcasing how transformative this acceptance can be.
Smith’s poem explodes with color, touch, and revelry, exploring the idea of a gay bar as a kind of sanctuary. “This gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think gay & mean we,” Smith writes. “Bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew / this need to be needed . . . i want to raise a city behind his teeth for all boys of choirs & closets to refuge in.”
3. “Glitter in My Wounds” by CAConrad
CAConrad, one of the most influential modern queer poets, has said that poetry is a way to bring about “sustainable, humane changes we need and want for our world.” Following this belief, Conrad’s poetry speaks to difficult truths and dares to imagine better realities. “[H]eterosexuals need to see our suffering / the violent deaths of our friends and lovers,” CAConrad powerfully insists. “[T]o know glitter on a queer is not to dazzle but to / unsettle the foundation of this murderous culture.”
While CAConrad doesn’t shy away from depicting honest brutalities and violence, they contrast this with a revisionist, optimistic plea: “first and most important / dream our missing friends forward / burn their reflections into empty chairs / we are less bound by time than the clockmaker fears.”
4. “It’s not in what you do, more in what you say” by Kevin Bertolero
Kevin Bertolero, who counts iconic LGBTQ poets like Frank O’Hara and Tim Dlugos among his influences, continues the queer literary linage within the rich, voice-driven landscapes of his poems. The specific details in Bertolero’s poem—like soft serve Dairy Queen, Mucho Mango Arizona tea, and homages to pop culture—ground and invite readers into the scene, where queerness is unabashed and alive.
“We are interested boys with a love for cinema, and in the second-run theater we watch Purple Noon (1960). Peter tells us of the heat down in Dallas, his last family vacation, what our bodies would look like in that kind of daylight,” Bertolero muses. “. . . I think of a time when queer boys our age would listen to Rachmaninoff and stay inside. Today, we sing Mac DeMarco lyrics as we wander through some phantom orchard.”
Let these poems inspire you to tell your chosen family how much they mean to you and to bolster your queer reading list.