Family of Origin, Family of Choice
Stories of Queer Christians
- ISBN: 9780802878571
- Published By: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
- Published: April 2021
The slim book Family of Origin, Family of Choice: Stories of Queer Christians is researched and co-written by Katie Hays, founder of Galileo Church, an LGBT+ affirming, self-proclaimed “quirky church for spiritual refugees” in Fort Worth, Texas, and Susan A. Chiasson, a social scientist with experience using qualitative methodologies, who is also a member of this church. The text is straightforward and easy to read with an unconventional but simple structure: a foreword and prologue followed by an introduction from Hays, a separate introduction from Chiasson, then a series of edited interviews, transcribed into narrative form, and two conclusions —again, one from Chiasson and one from Hays. At less than 150 pages and with no footnotes or references and a minimum of academic jargon, it is a swift-paced text with a clear goal: to share the coming out stories of people connected with the LGBT+ community (and Galileo Church) as testimony that might offer healing or liberation to those experiencing similar growing pains or triumphs in their own families.
The introductions poignantly lay out why the authors decided to make a research project out of their church members; as a pastor, Hays regularly finds herself on the receiving end of painful stories from her LGBT+ congregants about the fear and rejection they experienced from their families of origin upon coming out. In the timeless tradition of pastors everywhere, she is both honored and overwhelmed by these situations that seminary could not have prepared her to handle. Chaisson, having already learned the importance of listening as a researcher, combines her skills with Hays’ own to craft a ministry of listening to the storytelling of others—based in sound qualitative methodology—in the hope that sharing these stories more broadly can be instructive to anyone who wants to “do the difficult work of loving across difference” (10).
The stories then related are faithfully messy, sometimes without satisfying endings or obvious takeaways, relating secrecy, familial rejections, estrangements, slow reconnections, and strong allyships. One strength of the text is how several of the fifteen narratives fit together as multiple members of the same family recollect their experiences of the same events—for example, interviewing the married couple of Rory (who is genderfluid) and Noah (who is genderqueer), and then one of Rory’s parents and both of Noah’s parents. While keeping the relationships clear can be challenging at times, the repetition of memories creates a kaleidoscopic perspective— somewhat chaotic, but multifaceted.
Some of the most interesting work of the text comes in the first conclusion, where Chiasson arranges the stories into an aggregate series of challenges and possible reactions to a person’s coming out using the metaphor of a “road map.” At times, the text reads very much like “how to” risk-assessment for someone considering coming out to their family, complete with reflections about how different families approach conflict, which could help someone anticipate responses and think through the potential aftermath. One can imagine this section being intriguing to adolescents or young adults who are debating when and how (or whether) to come out to their families.
This book’s intended audience is fairly wide —anyone who is intrigued by coming out stories that have religious components—but academics or professors may find it more useful as a source of examples than as a standalone text, given that the text has minimal space dedicated to either deep theological exploration or qualitative methodological minutiae. It feels more like a jumping-off point than a treatise, which makes sense given the specific scope. However, for those who need a nonintimidating introduction to LGBT+ issues in contemporary Christianity, especially for undergraduates or novices to the subject, this text offers a thoughtful beginning to the conversation.
Emily S. Kahm is assistant professor of theology at College of St. Mary.Emily S. KahmDate Of Review:March 22, 2022