It’s April, the year of our Lord 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has swept over the world. People are isolated, and feelings of loneliness and detachment abound. Things are happening outside of our control. People have fears about health, provision, and the future.
To cope with this new social isolation, people are starting to write about their experiences, and new podcasts are being made specifically to navigate this time. Facebook support groups are forming, along with Zoom calls, Google Hangouts, and online HouseParties.
This is all new territory for most people — although if you’ve been around this blog for a while, this may not be all new to you.
Over the years, I’ve been profoundly impacted by the stories and community formed here at YOB: from being able to process my thoughts and fears to hearing other people’s testimonies in the Facebook group to talking to others through our Zoom calls eventually to meeting them in person at our annual retreats.
From YOB, I’ve also expanded to other online “Side B” communities (those also holding to a traditional sexual ethic), including my own locally.
This little “Side B” Christian subculture has helped me navigate through life. Navigating this “Side B” gayness part of my life properly, I can now navigate the rest of my life and start learning how to thrive in my own local church community.
Before all the lockdowns started as the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world, I started writing this reflection about how my experience in the “Side B” bubble could play a bigger part in the Church and, in turn, the wider world around me.
When this whole pandemic broke out I thought, What better time to play our part but now?
So grab a snack and a drink, hunny, and let me explain.
The Conspiracy of the Nuclear Family
I recently read a very interesting article from The Atlantic called “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake,” and it’s sparked a lot of thought (you can also watch a 5-minute video summary of this article).
The article explains how industrialisation with the cultural shift toward making the nuclear family the ideal living scenario has basically flopped us in this present day of the western world.
It’s been marketed that the ideal living situation consists of nuclear families: two parents and 2.5 children per home. Once those children grow up, they are meant to branch out and build their own ideal nuclear families.
This is the optimal living situation. It contributes to people’s pursuit of happiness as they chase their dreams independently before eventually settling down when they’re ready to live their happily ever after.
But things haven’t always been this way. For thousands of years, people lived in bigger, extended families. And people still actually do live like that today in other cultures. Clans, kins, tribes, family compounds in neighbourhoods — all different versions of extended families.
According to the article, the phenomenon of branching into nuclear families started with the establishment of big factories. People started leaving their families and towns to migrate to bigger cities for work, or they tried living out the big city dream and started their families there.
An interesting quote from a clip attached in the article’s accompanying video was recorded during the boom of the nuclear family:
“These independent people spend the profit from their labour to have the highest standard of living in the nation.”
There was “a big conspiracy” within the culture to promote the nuclear family as the pinnacle of living. A big systematic marketing campaign said that the nuclear family equals better, happier, independent lives.
The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake
As detailed further in the article, the shift from extended families to nuclear families was actually the start of the decline of social support and an incline of loneliness in the coming generations in the west. Families are now just rigged to fail.
From extended families, people detached to form nuclear families; from deteriorated nuclear families came single-parent families; eventually, people didn’t have any sense of family at all. They lived alone or with random housemates.
Extended families have two great strengths. The first is resilience. An extended family is one or more families in a supporting web. Your spouse and children come first, but there are also cousins, in-laws, grandparents — a complex web of relationships among, say, seven, ten, or twenty people. If a mother dies, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents are there to step in. If a relationship between a father and a child ruptures, others can fill the breach. Extended families have more people to share the unexpected burdens — when a kid gets sick in the middle of the day or when an adult unexpectedly loses a job.
A detached nuclear family, by contrast, is an intense set of relationships among, say, four people. If one relationship breaks, there are no shock absorbers. In a nuclear family, the end of the marriage means the end of the family as it was previously understood.
Extended families used to share the load with everyone: from the practical load of everyday living to deeper, emotional loads.
For nuclear families, the load of responsibility is all dumped onto the parents. Saddest of all, single people living alone now have to carry the burden that was originally supposed to be carried by dozens of people.
As a single person living in a big city without a family, I deeply feel how it’s like every day: work, eat, sleep, repeat.
Work, eat, sleep, repeat . . .
And eventually . . . die.
Nuclear Family Culture in the Church
I don’t know about your church, but in my various church environments the influence of the failure of this nuclear family culture is very evident.
Lots of people come to church just to attend. They don’t want to get involved with serving or creating deep connections. Social interactions are confined to a handshake or a cordial “How are you?”
It’s understandable, given the individualistic and nuclear family-oriented culture that we now have.
People are busy just trying to survive, hustling with the ins and outs of their everyday lives with no time for anything else. As a result, they don’t have the capacity to volunteer, spend meaningful time with other people, or get planted into the community.
Their social needs are supposed to be satisfied whenever they get coupled up, start a family, and “settle down” — whatever that means.
Regardless the denomination, whether a small church or a megachurch, church has become a ceremony, a theological class, or an inspirational TED Talk on Sundays.
Yes, many people still make connections at church — but often with this underlying purpose of finding “the one.” And when “the one” is found, the couple becomes a segregated unit in the community with boundaries formed, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Especially within young adult communities like mine, people join a small group as a temporary solution to fill that social longing.
Once they start coupling up — poof, they’re gone and sucked into the black hole of life.
It trickles into marriage, too. New couples living in big cities, struggling to pay the bills and rent start having children. Their life now revolves around raising their children with no time for social connection or hanging out with friends because babysitters are too expensive.
Their children eventually grow up and leave their parents to pursue their own life detached from their family, and the cycle repeats — give or take the additional loads of broken families, divorce, and single parenthood.
And of course, it’s a whole ‘nother story for people living alone, taking in all that responsibility of daily living for themselves. Yay individualism!
Singleness, Side B-ness, and Relationships
Personally, being “Side B” heightens this sense of loneliness and the overwhelming load of everyday living.
Many single straight people push through with a future-looking view of eventually gaining a “fuller” life via romantic relationships and their own nuclear families. Although as described in the article, it’s just another battle after crossing that threshold.
That glimmer of hope for single straight people, however misleading, can make all the difference in one’s future outlook.
For us “Side B” people, that future hope is slim.
Chosen Families and the Comeback of a Family Support Network
According to the article, the concept of an extensive familial support network is trying to make a cultural comeback, originating from within LGBTQ+ circles.
The modern chosen-family movement came to prominence in San Francisco in the 1980s among gay men and lesbians, many of whom had become estranged from their biological families and had only one another for support in coping with the trauma of the AIDS crisis. In her book, Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship, the anthropologist Kath Weston writes, “The families I saw gay men and lesbians creating in the Bay Area tended to have extremely fluid boundaries, not unlike kinship organization among sectors of the African-American, American Indian, and white working class.”
Like their heterosexual counterparts, most gay men and lesbians insisted that family members are people who are “there for you,” people you can count on emotionally and materially. “They take care of me,” said one man, “I take care of them.”
These groups are what Daniel Burns, a political scientist at the University of Dallas, calls “forged families.” Tragedy and suffering have pushed people together in a way that goes deeper than just a convenient living arrangement. They become, as the anthropologists say, “fictive kin.”
“Side B” people are more familiar with these kinds of living situations: living spaces created out of shared struggles and support, their chosen family (check out our very own chosen family podcast).
But actually, it’s not just we LGBTQ+ people who are supposed to be building these kinds of communities, and it definitely didn’t just start in the 1980s.
The Family of Believers in the Early Church
What interests me is that this chosen family model was actually the model of the early Church, and it was started by Jesus himself!
In Matthew 12:47-50 (NLT), Jesus talks about being adopted into His family:
Someone told him [Jesus], “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
And just before his death on the cross recorded in John 19:26-27 (NLT), Jesus took that notion further than an ideological concept and actually asked someone (none other than his bro-bae, John) to implement it:
When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.
After His resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ followers continued carrying out this notion of family in a very practical way. Acts 2:42-47 (NLT) tells us wonderful, heartwarming stories about it:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
And from Acts 4:32-37 (NIV):
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
In other words, early Christians did life together every single day like a real family. They didn’t just meet on Sundays and Bible study nights; they worshiped together each day.
They lived shared lives so that no needy persons existed among them. I’d personally classify such needs as spiritual needs, monetary needs, emotional needs, social needs, and physical needs (cough, cuddles, cough?).
Our Very Special Role in the Church
With all that said, I personally believe that we “Side B” people have a very special role in the Church — we who feel the loneliness of singleness more profoundly and even the married ones who still feel that desire for romantic kinship with the same sex.
We in the “Side B” community have experienced being in a state of utter hopelessness because of what both the general culture and church culture portrays.
It’s as if we’re looking through a glass window of a candy store, knowing we can’t have what’s on the other side whilst watching everyone else indulging in it.
We’ve somehow found and taken the red pill and have come out of the conspiracy matrix that is the idolisation of romantic relationships and the detached nuclear family.
Our culture has lost the way of how family works, and just like the LGBTQ+ community pioneering the concept of chosen family in today’s culture, we can also take on that role in the Church and bring back the early Church’s family culture of believers doing life together.
I’m not saying this role is just for us to take, because it’s everyone’s. But our own experiences in our little “Side B” Christian subculture have given us the tools to start taking the lead in bringing back this family culture that Christ started.
Circling back to the introduction, with our world in social isolation because of this coronavirus pandemic, this is our time to shine, hunnies!
Social isolation and loneliness are not new things, and they’re also not just “Side B” things. They’ve been buried beneath the comings and goings of life, cloaked by the false hope of the idolisation of the nuclear family.
Now that the vapour of things has been blown away, the foundations shaken, we are left to what life truly is.
So, go grab a straight friend! Zoom with him, walk with him through this time of social isolation, tell him the testimony of how you’ve been able to navigate this “Side B” life, and how you’ve found community.
Hopefully through all of this, we can forge a new bond, a new kinship. Not just a kinship of shared hurts but a kinship of shared hope that is Jesus.
A newly restored version of the family of believers that is a tangible testimony of the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:33).
What else does the “Side B” community have to offer the Church, especially during this current time of the coronavirus pandemic? Do you struggle to find hope with community in this life, or are you experiencing family like the early Church did?