Jenny Block: A chosen family — even a virtual one online — is there for you when you need them


Photo by Steph Grant Photography

I’m not sure how far back the idea of a chosen family goes, but it’s an idea I wholeheartedly love. I’m a lucky girl. I have a sister I adore; a dad to whom I am very close; and even though my mom and I have our issues (and we live rather far apart), she’s in my life. Not everyone can say that, especially in the LGBT community.

I have been lucky to travel extensively and meet all kinds of amazing people … and, in large part due to social media, I have had the honor and joy of building a chosen family from among these folks. Although very much a virtual one in some ways, they are my family nonetheless.

When the chips are down, I can post status updates online about how I’m feeling and my virtual family turns out instantly and in droves, with kind words and generous thoughts. When I get hateful comments on an article I write, I can share the link and they rally around me to shame the trolls. When I get amazing news, I can spread the word virtually and they all celebrate with me.

For all the bad you can say about social media, it’s hard not to cherish the good when it comes to allowing us to connect regularly with ease with the people we choose to love regardless of bloodlines and distance.

I wonder what it must be like to have no choice in who your “family” is. How stifling and scary. What if they hate you or you hate them? Or what if you don’t even hate them but simply feel no connection to them?

Surely this is the case for some, even today. But it was certainly the case in days gone by when there was basically no way to connect to people who weren’t an arms-length away. So the fact that we are able to reach out across the virtual abyss and connect with exactly who we want to, precisely when we want to, is incredibly powerful.

Of course, if we simply use social media to share cat photos or show off carefully curated, insanely fake lives, well, then social media is a problem. Just like if we use it for bullying or judging people or fear-mongering, then social media is a downright evil. But if we instead choose to use it to stay in touch with those who have touched our lives and who we hold near and dear despite the miles, I think that’s a remarkable thing.

And, yes, I know. There is the phone and texting and email. But are you really going to text or call or email everyone, all the time with the kind of regularity social media affords?

One of my besties, Kelly, lives far away. We text regularly. But social media allows us to stay in each other’s lives daily in a way that texting couldn’t possibly do unless we quit our day jobs to text all day long.

We can watch one another’s days and share events and jokes and links and see what one another’s friends are up to. She is a wildly important member of my chosen family and I can’t imagine if we didn’t have social media to track the pulse on one another’s lives.

That’s the thing: You can hate technology for all its foolishness or even its potential for evil or you can embrace it and use it for good. Use it not to curate a seemingly perfect life, but instead to create a truly perfect chosen family

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2015.