Family of Origin, Family of Choice – Katie Hays and Susan Chiasson

Family of Origin Family of Choice Katie Hays
Family of Origin, Family of Choice: Stories of Queer Christians by Katie Hays, Susan A. Chiasson, Paula Stone Williams
Also by this author: God Gets Everything God Wants
Published by Eerdmans on April 20, 2021

First-person testimonies from LGBTQ+ Christians about coming out and navigating their family dynamics
What happens in a family when one member comes out? How does LGBTQ+ identity affect relationships with parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins? What does Christian love require and make possible for families moving forward together?
A social scientist and a pastor, both from Galileo Church on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas, asked their LGBTQ+ friends from church to help them understand how they navigate relationships with their affirming, non-affirming, and affirming-ish families of origin, even as they also find belonging in other families of choice. The resulting stories, crafted from interviews with fifteen queer Christians and family members, kept anonymous at their request, are as varied as the colors of the rainbow. Over the years, some grew closer to their families of origin; others grew more distant. Some were surprised by the hardness of heart they encountered; others were amazed by the breadth of their family’s love. Most all describe a trajectory, a journey, from the coming-out moment till now and beyond, as their families of origin, like all families, remain a work in progress.

Life is story. It’s the founding premise of this whole website. The more stories I read and the more people I talk to, the more I’ve realized that my theology, politics, and whole general paradigm for life has been shaped by people’s stories and understanding their experiences. I grew up conservative evangelical in the Church of Christ (just like author Katie Hays, though we were liberal enough to allow piano music) and lived in a town that was rural and almost all white. I had a lot of views on race and racial reconciliation change when I moved to a Big City and actually met people of color and listened to their experiences and saw their struggles.

Up until a few years ago, I would have told you that I held to a traditional sexual ethic. Ultimately, what changed that for me was not so much the theology of it all but seeing the fruit of the Spirit so evident in my LGBTQ+ friends. Hearing from real people, most of whom had grown up as I had and struggled with this issue personally—as in within their person—was the catalyst for my personal change. Family of Origin, Family of Choice is a book of stories just like that.

Rev. Dr. Katie Hays of Galileo Church partnered with sociologist and researcher Susan Chiasson to tell the stories of queer Christians in their words. All of the people in the book are, or were, affiliated with Galileo Church in some way, though enough details have been changed to protect their anonymity. These are stories from people who have processed their trauma. They reached out to people who they felt had reached “a kind of equilibrium with respect to their queer identity and their relationships with their families or origin. Family of Origin, Family of Choice also recognizes that getting to that place looks different for everyone. These aren’t all happily ever after stories. But they’re stories of queer Christians who have come to terms with their queerness and are rest in God’s “shalom.”

The first half of the book contains some fairly singular accounts, but what really made the book for me was the latter half wove together a complex family tapestry. That interconnection began with the chapters belonging to Leanne (she/her) and Ava (she/her). Separate chapters tell separate stories, showing how people who come together in relationship might still have different journeys to that place and different family backgrounds.

Then, there’s a series of chapters revolving around Kyra (she/her) and her wife Neve (she/her). Kyra married Neve in 2014, who subsequently came out as transgender and began transitioning from male to female. Couples undergo changes in relationship, but rarely one so radical. Kyra speaks about how they re-evaluated and re-identified their relationship. There are limits to what is appropriate, and this is a book that is anecdotal and not academic research, but there’s a whole memoir of deep, relational material in that story—the nature of romance, the marriage relationship—so many things that Family of Origin, Family of Choice only barely discusses due to space. I think there’s a lot about love, acceptance, and relationship that we could learn from a couple going through such a drastic, outward change.

The following chapter follows Daniel and Kellie, Kyra’s parents. Getting the perspective of a parent is so important for what Hays and Chiasson are trying to do in this book. People coming to this trying to understand a queer child can also see reflected the story of the parent of a queer child. For Daniel and Kellie, it’s especially interesting as their daughter had, ostensibly, a heterosexual marriage. Learning of their journey to learn and love their children is an important aspect of the book.

Family of Origin, Family of Choice is a beautiful series of vignettes. I wish some of the stories had gone deeper because as soon as I felt like I was really getting to know the person, their story was over. I loved and appreciate the honesty and transparency that the people interviewed gave. Disclosing your story is always vulnerable, and doing so as a sexual minority even more so. It’s a testament to Katie Hays, Susan Chiasson, and Galileo Church that they had so many in the church who felt comfortable sharing their story.

This book shows us the good and is clear where we need to do better. It highlights the importance of testimony in the Christian faith as others share their stories. Family of Origin, Family of Choice will mean different things to different people. Hays concludes with these two meanings: Wherever you are, you aren’t alone…and you won’t be there forever. For queer Christians, struggling or closeted, this book provides solidarity and hope. Not a rosy everything’s going to be okay type of hope, but a hard-won hope that acknowledges the struggle. For straight Christians, it’s a way of listening and learning, a way of validating and centering the experiences of queer Christians (and non-Christians) so that we might understand and make a better world for them.