signs of tenderness is an exploration into the formation of chosen family within the queer community, and the unique manifestation of relationships amongst those who identify as such.

this project, manifested in a mixed-media photobook consisting of short interviews and photographs of the subjects, documents eight individuals within their chosen families as they exist currently, and how these relationships have evolved over the course of these individuals’ lives.

all of our languages of love translate differently, but i can now recognize my own as a need for a sense of comfort, or familiarity, or home, in strange and new places. we create homes of our own where we seek comfort from things familiar. no matter the distance, physical or otherwise, we always find each other.

albert camus said ‘never stop waiting for signs of tenderness’, and i never have.

buy the print version here:

signs of






signs of





turbo town is:

abbey + eva + beth

ghey revival is:

eliana + tess + gaib

+ kath

this book is

dedicated to them,

and to everyone else

who has made me feel

part of something.

protect trans kids

We all know each other, or have known each other, in one way or another.

I knew of Eliana and Tess at school before we ever spoke, and my group of

friends and their group of friends sat next to each other at lunch, on the concrete

behind the 800 building. I left that group in sophomore year during my first

tumble into mental illness, which caused me to withdraw from most human


I met Eliana officially that year. We first spoke in chemistry class, where we sat

next to each other. She was one of the few people who forced contact on me

during that time. We met outside of school for the first time the week before

junior year started. We sat next to each in any other classes we shared for the

next two years of high school. I can credit Eliana with pulling me out of some of

my deepest and darkest moments, solely by being there to ground me. She has

never let up this quality, even when I learned I could stand on my own two feet.

It was through her I met Tess, and we also became closer on our trip up the coast

to look at in-state colleges. Eliana was rooming with another group she was

friends with, and Tess and I only really knew each other in the group on that class

trip, so we decided to stick it out together. (The two of them had been friends

since the start of high school, but at the time weren’t the closest.) We got pizza

together in the tiny town of Calipatria, and picked flowers in the hills of Santa

Cruz. She made me feel valued and helped me see the beauty in even the tiniest

of things.

Gaib and I met on and off at the start of my junior year as well. We went to the

same concerts and knew some of the same people. Our first real time hanging

out was the leap they made to invite me to their sixteenth birthday party. I didn’t

know anyone, not even Gaib really. We met up almost every other weekend

after that, when they were on their biweekly trips to San Diego to stay with their

mom. I pulled them through heart wrenching losses of love and innocence, and

they pushed me along a road to recovery that I still walk.

It wasn’t until senior year though that we all joined forces, in a way, against

some of the people we knew mutually who weren’t treating us with the greatest

of kindness. With my school friends, it ironically came to a head on the very trip

on which Tess and I first bonded, and Eliana split from the group who she had

originally spent most of her time with. Gaib and I leaned on each other in the

face of our own problems, and I brought them into a circle where I also found

support. We’ve all been involved in the same group chat for over four years

now (Tess and Eliana in the first version, then Gaib being added some time in

my freshman year of college), from our four corners of the globe: Gaib in San

Diego, Tess in Portland, Eliana in New York City, myself in Leeds.


We all hold each other up in the face of the world and whatever it throws at us.

I met Abbey on a dating app shortly after my break-up around the winter

holidays during my first year at university. We went on one date before I started

seeing my current partner, and somehow were able to stay in touch and become

closer as friends over the years. We bonded over our similar music tastes and

traveled between our houses often to attend concerts in each other’s cities. She

was the first close friend I made upon moving to the UK, and I am ever grateful

for her taking the time to stick with me over the years. We may not talk all the

time, but I’m always confident she’s there to speak when I need it.

I found a circle similar to the one I built with my own friends with Abbey and her

gals from Scotland. Even from a distance, even from short encounters, she retains

those friends and those relationships. She supports them, and they support her,

with closeness not rivalled by many. They’ve always had to deal with distance,

both physical and in those strange rifts caused by intermingling friendships but

are now concentrated into the circle that works best for them.

Becca was the first very close friend I made during my gap year in New York.

We bonded over my cold hands; at work, I complained once to them, and they

held my hands in theirs to warm them. We continued this ritual until the weather

warmed and grew closer over those months. The platonic intimacy was special

to me, and something I’ll always associated with queer relationships – we can

transcend the heteronormative ideas of what it means to touch and hug and love

your friends. Some people still ask if we’re dating. We’re planning on moving in


TL;DR: Eliana and Tess knew each other from high school -- where I also knew

them from -- and I knew Gaib through friends outside of school; Eliana and

Becca met through me because we all lived in New York at the same time; Becca

met the gals -- Abbey, Eva, and Beth -- during our group trip to Scotland. While

we all experience different levels of closeness with each other, one can see a

web of relationships being built out of a wealth of shared experience and a

desire for human interaction.

In an interlude in Gender Outlaws, Kris Gebhart wrote, “Us queers, we have to

write our own scripts… Take comfort in creating chaos and know that we thank

you.” It’s always been apparent to me that platonic intimacy is maybe not unique

to the queer community, but definitely more widely accepted therein. We’ve

written our own scripts, in a way, changing the way the story is told.








My third cousin once removed is a divorce lawyer. He was talking to

my mom about it, and was like, being a divorce lawyer I find easier

to deal with relationship-wise than family law, because divorce law

is, at one point, you chose each other. Maybe for reasons you don’t

feel like anymore, at one point you did feel a lot of love towards this

person, and you chose to feel that way. Whereas family, it’s not a

choice, so it’s more difficult and more complicated. It’s just different.

He finds it easier to deal with people who choose each other than

family, which I thought was interesting.

A lot of it is based off of kindness and showing heart, and then

usually it matches up with political views which is helpful. I find that

my entire chosen family are all gay, which seems to work out, but isn’t

on purpose.

I do think me caring about the political views of someone has

changed, because it’s now a lot more important to me. Part of it is

what I do for outside of work, which is activism. I’m actively fighting

for queer rights, so if you’re not aligned with me on a lot of my

political views, it’s hard to be friends with people. That’s changed, but

it’s always been there. I think they’ve just become more important as

I’ve grown up.

I had a very nice childhood, and I’m really close with my family. I

think the only thing that I’ve found is that me and my siblings grew

apart in high school, so I feel like I find a lot of those relationships I

get with other people are sibling bonds. I feel like a lot of the friends

I become friends with end up feeling like a sibling, mostly. Thinking

on it, it’s probably what I was craving as a high schooler. I’m close to

some of them, but I’m not as close with them as other people are with

their siblings. It’s a bummer, but I have my chosen family. They’re cute.

Part of it is I can probably count on one hand the amount of close

straight friends I have. I’m just friends with gay people. Also, I never

have to explain things to them, which is helpful, or if I do it’s easily

explained. It’s just a large part of my life, and it’s a large part of

theirs, so it works out. Much better. Actually, I don’t think I have any

straight friends right now.

Chosen family is historically and currently still viewed as not the

same as biological family, but I know in queer circles it’s much more

important, which may be another reason why I’m inherently closer

with queer people. We don’t view relationships in the same way, like

that. Even though I’m close with my family, it doesn’t take away from

the fact that I grew up in spaces that are queer and value chosen

family more.






me, you,

and a gals tattoo







How did you all meet?


We became friends on a Facebook

group chat.


I was friends with Carlyn, then she

moved to Aberdeen.

[Eva & Beth know each other from

the school she moved to]


How do you feel your friendship has

changed since then?


[to Be th] We’re a lot closer than I

thought we’d be, than when we first



It’s a bit mad, thinking that we’re

pals at all.


The odds were stacked against us.


Stacked against all of us.


Yeah, you’re right actually.


Distance. Drama.


Do you have any traditions you

practice together?


Putting on either “Deceptacon,”

“Rebel Girl,” or - what’s the Kate

Nash song?






Are you sure?


The girl one. [singing tune]




Yeah, and just absolutely battering

each other whenever it comes on.


Traveling to see each other.


I mean, me and you.


Any comments on being a family outside your biological relatives?


I think when the squad was

more active, it felt like a

family. A fucking dysfunctional

family, but I did feel like

there was that point where -

it’s sad, but - you guys were

my closest friends, even though

it was so far away.


It’s weird thinking that I

wasn’t in that group chat to

start with, because I wasn’t

“gay” enough or whatever. And

then, me and you were the



I just don’t even

know how that fucking



How that came to be?


Yeah, like how we

became really close.

Because I remember

we met at Belladon,

got on, and then met

again, got along.



I think it was Gals Weekender,

because that was quite a monumental



It really defined the family...




But I feel the chat really helped

build it.


When there was a gals weekender, it

was us three to start with, but we

weren’t that close.


I was a bit of a stand-in.


We weren’t really even going to

this gig, and then I think because

so much happened that weekend,

that none of us expected or even

asked for, it just kind of happened

that that maybe brought us closer

together, because we had to deal with

the repercussions of, ‘what the fuck

was that?’ You know what I mean?


What was that game going on?


I think it is also because we’ve made

efforts that other people haven’t.



Just, off to see Abbey in England!

Why not? Got a week off, off I pop.


I just think it’s so weird how it



I think it’s funny how our little

group chat was full of completely

random people who we didn’t know at

all. Can’t remember or don’t know.


Every single time I get a girlfriend,

chuck em in. Throw em in the deep



Like, hello, nice to meet you. Really



Yeah, introduce us to the family! Get

in the group chat.


Which now lays inactive.


I wonder if anyone’s still in it.


Oh yeah, people are still in it. I’m

sure Lucy messaged it a few months

ago -- like my little sister Lucy.



So the group chat still exists, it

hasn’t changed?


But no one uses it.


I honestly think it was Lucy that

last used it, and then I feel she was


[Abbey passes around a meme Lucy

sent in 2019 about Beth setting up

the LGBT society at her school]


That is how it ended.


And then I sent that


Had a few too many turbo shandies


[They check who’s still in the group

chat - includes people they knew at

their respective colleges, Abbey’s

current girlfriend and sister, and

so m e o thers]


What else happened? It would chime up

every Christmas with people saying

“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”


How long did that go on for?



Literally years.


Two years, three years.


And every day.


Literally every day, chatting.


I actually got to the point where I’d

be like, I don’t know who’s talking,

or I don’t know what the situation

is. Just gotta chat.


It was like having a completely

separate social media to tend.


There’d be two hundred unread



Send it to squad. Send it to squad.

Macaroni pie? Send it to squad.


That would’ve gone viral in squad.

Fifteen likes!


Two thumbs down.



I hold people that I’m friends with to a different standard than my family, like my chosen family

and then my actual family. I think, for me, it’s more of a feeling. It’ll get to a point in the friendship

where I just feel so completely comfortable with people. I’ll feel like they’re there for whatever,

and I’m there for them for whatever. I think it’s a feeling, but it’s also the changes. I’ve definitely

gone through a lot of changes in the past few years, and the people who have stuck by me with

that I would consider my family.

I’ve gotten close to people that maybe I shouldn’t have been close with, and I think now that I

know myself better than I did before, I feel more comfortable to open myself up to these intense

friendships and relationships. I think it’s a lot to do with how open you are to accepting help in a


It’s especially important to people who maybe aren’t in contact with their blood family, or maybe

never ever felt that close to them. I think that idea and the ability that people have to create their

own circle, their own family who will love each other unconditionally, is an amazing thing, if you

can do it, and if you find the people.

Even my girlfriend Michelle’s family; her mum helped me get into uni. Her mum did stuff that my

mum should’ve really been doing, and just that feeling of welcomeness and warmth that I struggle

to find within my family unit.

I’m closest to my littler sister Lucy. I think it’s just because we’re similar in age and we have a lot of

the same interests and we’re both gay. I just think we, maybe not understand each other, but we

can accept each other for who we are, even all the bad stuff. We’ve been through a lot together,

and we’ve always supported each other. It’s just the way it

happened. I’m quite close with my older sister, but she doesn’t live with us anymore.

Us three sisters going through something with the divorce and stuff, it brought us close together.

We all helped each other because no one else was, you know?

In general, I tend to gravitate towards queer people, even before they know they’re queer, and

then they come to me. In general, a lot of my interests are queer, so I just find myself bonding with

those people more than with people who aren’t into the same kind of thing as me. I think it’s a

shared experience as well that you can only really have with other queer people, which I didn’t

really realize is important to me. I think it is important to me, though, just thinking back to all my

friendships and people that I’m close with.





At every turn, I seem to be faced with a question of whether or not my

behavior is ‘appropriate’ for someone I may just call a friend: can I hug

them? Kiss them? Hold their hands? Lay my head on their shoulder or

chest while I rest or sleep or cry? Tell them I love them? Or should those be

reserved for a significant other?

Every piece of community or society around me says to draw a line

between or around particular natures of relationships, sectioning them

into family, friend, lover, and outer circles and assigning appropriate

levels of contact and regard for them.

The more I grow, however, the more I want to say fuck you to the

revulsion, the confusion, the disregard many people have for platonic

intimacy. Platonic love is not any less than familial or romantic love, and

the support network I have developed has done nothing but prove this

notion further.

“Behind closed doors we find many ways to feel each other, many ways

to tell each other how beloved we are, and many ways to release the

tension of living in their world beneath the weight of their assumptions.” –

Fran Varian, Daddy Gets the Big Piece of Chicken (2010)



We’re live, boys.

[Gaib burps. Everyone laughs.]


‘Scuse me.


This is being recorded.


Good. I need to let people still know that I’m kind of an

asshole. A little bit.




Yeah, just a little disgusting. I can’t get too cocky. Y’all

have been hyping me up for the last ten minutes, I can’t get

too cocky. I need there to be physical evidence that I’m



That’s the thing. That little bit of asshole-ness also makes

you more attractive.


Is that fair, though? Is that fair to other people that I get

to be an asshole and it’s okay?


It happens to other people, too. Are you kidding me?


Just think of all the people you think are hot who are

assholes. It just helps.



You’re all so hot and it’s offensive.




I have no memory of it at all. Really, I

have no idea when the first time we met was.


Fran picked me up from my brother’s

teammate’s older sister’s birthday party and

took me to your birthday party because I was

having a panic attack. And it was a formal

event, and all I did was tuck my flannel in.


Was that really the first time we met? That

is so wild. I totally thought I knew you

b e f o r e t h e n.


You guys met, very briefly, at the very

first Warped Tour Eliana and I went to

together. I didn’t know Gaib at that point,

either. I went with a friend, and then my

mom was like, surprise! I bought you six

extra tickets. I was like, okay, I’m just

gonna bring whoever is able to go. So I

brought Eliana, and Gaib was also there and

you knew my friend at the time.


I have no recollection of that either,

because for me, the first time ever meeting

you was at that Frights concert. And you had

long hair. And then I just invited you to my

birthday party because I was like, Fran is

c o o l.


Yeah. And I was only gonna go because our

mutual friend was gonna go, and then she

cancelled at the last minute. So I was like,

you know what? I just showing up on time,


which was early for you guys apparently

because everyone was literally in their

underwear cooking rainbow cupcakes. I didn’t

understand what was happening.


And that’s on turning sixteen, baby.


And then your friend spat out the dumplings

that I made.


I loved those dumplings, and I think about

them every time I have hoisin sauce. They

are so good. Can we make them when you come

back? I think that was the first time I met

Eliana, was at that weirdly formal birthday

thing. And I tried to avoid you guys as much

a s p o ssi ble.


It was really great, to be honest. We went

inside for half a second so I could say hi

to Eliana. To be fair, I wasn’t supposed

to stay for the entire time anyway. I was

gonna go for a bit, just to say hi, because

I don’t think I knew Eliana very much at the

time anyway -- you invited me so I was like,

I’ll just put a dress on and go -- but Gaib

also had me pick them up because they were

dying, so I did that -- but then I also had

to go cover a concert later that night so

we also did that. It was just a really messy

night overall.


Honestly, though? I think that since meeting

everybody was so chaotic, I think that’s why

we’ve been friends for so long.



I would say most of the people I consider chosen family are queer, with the exception of most of

my college friends and Bethany. I think most of us have that shared experience of being queer,

but I feel like my coming out was pretty tame. I don’t have a lot of bad stuff associated with it, so I

guess that’s different.

It’s super weird. Most of my friends who are queer are friends from childhood, so we were kind

of friends before we even knew what sexuality was. A lot of our friendship, when it first started,

wasn’t based around being queer because we were quite young. You know, first grade, before

you’re really thinking about that kind of stuff, and then we all just grew up to be gay. Everybody

just slowly started coming out, and of course it was really easy to come out to each other because

once the first person did, everybody was like, this is a safe place to come out.

For me, it was kind of a coincidence. I didn’t end up in a lot of queer spaces in college, and I don’t

know if that’s because I’m in computer science, which doesn’t tend to have a lot of them -- I know

they’re trying harder now, but in general. I go to a school that’s known for having a lot of queer

spaces, and I just never ended up in any of them. It was just a coincidence. I didn’t go out looking

for queer friends, and the one I have from college is the same way, where we’re kind of each

other’s only or one of each other’s only queer friends, at least from school. I didn’t go out looking,

like I’m only gonna make friends with people if they’re queer, but I also wasn’t like, I don’t want

any. I didn’t really feel super welcomed in any of the LGBTQ+ spaces I experienced at NYU, so I

just never ended up finding a place that worked for me.

They’re very accepting of my sexuality. I don’t think any of them really care very much. I can joke

about it with them, and there’s this understanding of what’s appropriate for me as a queer person

to make as a joke about queer people, and that it’s not appropriate for them to do it. It’s a really

interesting group of people where I’ve never felt weird about my sexuality around them.


It’s hard to pinpoint specific values. I think it’s more of a feeling. There’s

just a certain way that I feel around people when I have known them

for a long time, or sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a super long

time. We just really kind of... I don’t want to say people you just vibe

with because that sounds really weird, but that’s the only word I can

think of where it’s like, you feel like you can be yourself around that

person, and that person knows

maybe not everything about you, but as much about you as you’re

comfortable sharing with another person. You don’t really have to

perform around them. You can just be your authentic self, and you just

feel very comfortable doing that. I feel like that’s what makes someone

your chosen family.

For me, I’m a lot more comfortable expressing myself emotionally

around my chosen family. I find that most things, pretty much

everything, I’m more comfortable expressing or talking about with my

chosen family. I would just say that we’re just closer, and I feel safer

around the people that I’ve chosen. It’s nice. I like having it.


Tess, how the hell did we meet each other?


I met you because Lilly was like, this is my new girlfriend.

I thought you were too cool for me and was super intimidated

because I was like, her eyeliner is so good. I was just

learning how to do eyeliner and I was like, oh my god, am I



I remember that Lilly introduced us, I just didn’t remember

exactly how we met.


It took us a long time to have a normal conversation without

a buffer, just because I was so awkward.


Oh, same. And I definitely remember being intimidated by

you. I don’t necessarily remember exactly when we met, but I

remember being intimidated by you and just being like, she’s

way too cool for me.


You also had already dated someone and I was like, oh my god.

I’m fourteen. Am I gay? I’ve never dated anybody. It was a

lot of things to come to terms with for one person.


That’s the gay experience.


That’s wild just to know that because I remember meeting you

and being like, you’re so easily beautiful. I know you said

you were awkward, but to me I just remember you being very

socially competent and that really scared me.




My first introduction to Eliana was in chemistry

class. I don’t remember the conversation whatsoever

but you really wanted to be friends with me.


We totally wanted to be friends with you. If you had

incorporated into our general group of people, we

totally would have accepted you.


We were deeply depressed, so desperate for friendship

that we were just bringing people down with us.


I totally agree with Tess. We wanted to find people

who totally understood us.


That’s the thing with me, though. When I was thinking

about hanging out with you guys, during that time in

my life, I was self-isolating. I really was just like,

no one can help me, no one can understand what I’m

feeling. So I kind of went the opposite direction,

where I was like, I don’t wanna have any friends. I

don’t want to deal with anyone trying to judge me for

this kind of thing, so I can’t speak to anyone. For

basically the entirety of sophomore year, I just didn’t

talk to anyone. I didn’t make any friends. I just

completely cut myself off from everyone else.


Those are the two directions you can go when you’re

like, oh man! This is really bad, and a lot of people

probably don’t feel like this!


And honestly, that whole sophomore year, I think we

caught a lot of that, and a lot of that we translated

into being able to hit it with a lot of people who

weren’t mainstream.


I didn’t hit that until junior year, when I started to

open myself up to other people.






I can’t tell if I’m truly a bad friend or if I just

choose people who are terrible to be friends with,

because I feel like senior year, again, my friend group



I feel like that happens a lot. In senior year, friend

groups implode for a lot of reasons. We ended up

staying friends for a lot of really wild reasons. Like,

why are we still friends again? I love you guys, but

how did we do that.


Tess, we went through so many similar friendship

implosions, how did we stay friends, you know?


I don’t know. Regardless, it’s too late. I feel like

there’s a point where I’m like, guys, this is it. If

you stop being friends with me, too bad. I’m gonna keep

hitting you up.


It’s not too late for me, honest to god. It’s really

not. You know me through everything.


You guys even went through that thing where you just

weren’t friends, and I had to make friends with both

of you separately. It wasn’t hard for me, I just didn’t

really know what was happening.


Tess and I had to go through each other’s individual



I feel like we’ve talked about this, but it was

probably for the best that we were like, okay.

Splitting up for a while.


Exactly. We needed to work out our own problems until

we came back to being friends.



I think that people who are my chosen family care about other people and tend to be more

empathetic or thoughtful of others, and also just generally not being a shit person. You know,

basic politeness and all that kind of stuff. They are interested in other people and try not to make

communities and the world worse, at the very least.

I feel like it’s changed, maybe not intentionally. Now, I just have a few people in my life that I’m

really close to and really care about, as opposed to, I used to be more interested in having a lot

of people in my life. I just had superficial friends or people that I thought were cool, and now I’m

like, do I love you? Are you a good person? Do we vibe? And if those are ticked, then, yes.

There’s a lot of things that, certainly for myself and I’m sure other people, that you can’t share with

your family, and is harder to connect with them about, particularly identity or even political views.

I think that people who share those kinds of values and also just make you feel cared for. Family

is hard, and I think chosen family is a lot easier in a lot of ways. Like, ugh, hey, maybe this hurt my

feelings. And they’re like, oh shit, my bad, instead of it being an argument.

I feel like I love the idea of a shared queer experience, and I’m happy that people can do that, I

just feel like sometimes I have a hard time connecting with other people about that because I sort

of flip-flop around, and it’s kind of a big question mark who I am and how I feel. I also do know

that I have a somewhat unique experience in that I know I always have people who will support

me regardless of what I’m feeling like or what my current experience is. That’s something that is

shared in a sense, even if it’s not exactly a queer experience, that blanket term.

I think that it’s special, and I think that everyone has some kind of chosen family, but maybe that’s

not the word you use to describe it. I feel like especially adults, you don’t see your blood family

as much and the people in your life are for sure your family. And even pets, you know? Not that

I have any right now, but the day I can have one, I will have my son and he will be so cute --

unspecified gender and animal but hopefully a cat.

It’s fun and it feels good to have people love you. That’s what everyone’s chosen family is.



I just remember being added into

your guys’ group chat and being

like, these are my friends now. At

first, I was really uncomfortable

because I obviously haven’t known

Eliana and Tess as long as you guys

have all known each other. I slowly

worked my way into being comfortable

talking to you guys and feeling

confident in that. And a beautiful

little friendship came out of it.


Tess and I weren’t friends for a

while, and then on college trip we

started talking and hanging out a

little bit again. College trip junior

year was the start of this thing

that went into senior year, where

my brain started separating people

who I had genuine friendships with

from people who I had convenience

friendships with. Like, we’re friends

because we go to school together,

or we’re friends because we have

to spend all this time together.

Versus these people are people who

I can genuinely be myself around and

people I’m actually friends with.


A lot of it was that one New Year’s we spent

on Kellogg’s. I didn’t know you guys that well

before that, but there was something lifechanging

about peeing with Tess in a bush in

front of somebody’s house, and walking up that

mile-long hill and talking about Capri-Sun in

a box. That was definitely the turning point

for me in terms of feeling comfortable with

you guys. I didn’t feel embarrassed at all

around you guys. That’s such a big thing for

me. Meeting new people, I always feel like I

have to tone it down a little bit, or tone it

up a little bit, depending on who I’m with. I

always feel really uncomfortable, but that was

the turning point for me, because I just felt

so comfortable with the both of you.


I feel like peeing with anybody is just such a

moment. I need to pee every twenty minutes, so

it works out really well.


I had never done that before, so being able

to experience that with people that I knew

wouldn’t necessarily talk shit about me, about

it, was nice. That’s a big thing for me. I

don’t really trust people, or I don’t really

like talking to people I don’t know that well

because I don’t know if they’re gonna say

things behind my back. I knew Fran was a good

judge of character, so if Fran was close enough

with you guys, I knew that you guys weren’t

that type of people.


That is just growing up in San Diego.


A lot of our shared experiences do have

to do with our queer identities, but for

me specifically, I don’t think of it as

supplementing for my family. When it comes

to actually talking about those experiences

and stuff, though, I definitely prefer

talking about it with you guys than them,

so in that sense I would say I’m closer

with you guys.


I definitely find myself having a lot of

friends that are queer or part of the

community in their own way. I don’t think

I try to supplement my family with those

friends. It’s more so that I feel like

I can relate and that these friends can

relate to me in a specific way that maybe

my mom can’t, or maybe my brother can’t,

and so on and so forth. Of course, I’m

friends with them because they’re good

people. I just think it’s more so based

around the fact that they understand

me as a person, and I understand them

as a person, and that’s what makes our

friendship work.


And it just so happens that they’re queer.


Right. I mean, that helps. I’m not saying

that people in the community aren’t

transphobic or biphobic, but it helps that

I have people who do understand what my

experience is like, and I can understand

what their experience is like. You know I


would put someone in their place if they

said some shitty stuff. I think it’s more a

‘nature of our relationship’ type of deal.

I just feel more comfortable discussing

stuff like that with you guys.


I wonder if it’s half got to do a maturity

level, and half got to do with, maybe not

even a shared experience thing but a shared

treatment of experience?


Or maybe just an underlying understanding

and respect.


I know we don’t deal with the same kind

of experiences that the other person

does. We’re all met with the same kind of

dilemma, and we’re all gonna deal with it

differently. Maybe it’s because we’ve just

dealt with each other for so long, and that

has affected how we receive feedback and

receive advice. So that’s how we do it.

Or maybe it’s just inherently within our

nature to gravitate towards people who give

advice a certain way.


I talk to my friends about things that

they can think intellectually about. I talk

to you guys about things that I think we

can have an intellectual discussion about.

And so on and so forth, with all of my

friendships. I don’t talk to my friends

about something who I don’t think that they

would understand my experience in it.




I’ve known you for so long. It is really weird. I hate it, because I hate that fact that I

existed before senior year of high school, but I think that’s a really big factor for me: friends that

I’ve had for a very long time, I consider family. I’ve just known you guys for so long, and honestly

that’s not the only reason, but that’s definitely a big factor in it. People who I’ve known for over a

year, I’m like, okay, I’m adopting you, or you’re adopting me. This is happening. We’re basically

blood now.

I think it’s just a mutual understanding and respect for one another. I’m not saying that I have

friends that don’t respect me, because obviously I wouldn’t be friends with them if they didn’t, but I

think it’s something you have to feel. Like I said, I have friends that I respect, and that they respect

me, and it’s mutual, but it doesn’t feel... there’s a certain closeness that you have. It’s like when

you have a best friend in the fourth grade. That person is your world and you tell them everything.

I’m not saying you have to tell

anybody anything that you don’t want to in order to be considered family; for me, it’s that

level of closeness and understanding of character. Not free of judgment because if we’re close

enough, you’re gonna tell me when I fuck up, and I’m gonna tell you when you fuck up, but an

understanding of who you are as a person, and the things that you stand for on a deeper level.

Obviously, being a support system in the decisions and choices that you make in order to further

your life. I think it’s really important. You can have friends that aren’t supportive, but I think to

have a family, especially a chosen family, that’s supportive, that makes things a little easier day to


It just happens naturally along the way. There are going to be people that I prefer to hang out

with over others, like you. When you came to town, I spent all of my time with you and none of my

time with my other friends, because to me that was a priority. There are just people that I prioritize

sometimes because those are the people that I want to hang out with. I know we’ve talked about

this before, but I can hang out with you forever and it doesn’t drain me at all, but if I were to

hang out with -- I’m not dropping names here -- some of my other friends, after six hours, I’m like,

okay. Either leave my house, or I’m gonna go home and be alone. Kind of like when you crave

something to eat, it’s what you’re in the mood for. I have friends that I consider my chosen family,

but they can also need to come in small doses. Just like a normal family, in the sense that we

function as if it is one, but under different circumstances. Also, I’ve kind of gotten over the whole ‘I

need friends to survive’ thing as well, so I just kind of vibe, and then if people talk to me, I’m like,



I feel like I’ve definitely gotten way more careful with who I hang out with and when I cut them off.

I feel like I’m really harsh when it comes to the friends that I have. You really have to fucking mine

for my compassion sometimes. With new people, I really could give a fuck. I’m sorry. I don’t know

you. I will respect you as a person, but if you’re going to talk to me, you have to do it in a certain

way, otherwise right off the bat, I’m gonna be like, uh-uh. This is not it.

When I was younger, I think coming from the family that I did, I just wanted anybody who would

take me, or wanted anybody who would care about me, which led to hanging out with and dating

some really, really bad people. Now, I have, not way more self-respect, but enough self-respect

to be like, I’m tired of being your emotional punching bag. I don’t let anybody get close to me if I

don’t feel like they could reciprocate the care that I give, or at least the respect that I give, because

obviously, there are people that we both know who fucked that up consistently.

That was definitely a big turning point in my life, just not stopping people from thinking they could

use me in that way, or thinking that I’ll always be there so they could treat me like shit because

they knew I wouldn’t leave. I think that has resulted in me meeting some really awesome people.

I’ve known people from before I went through that, but like Chainé. I don’t think I would’ve had

the self-respect to be like, oh, Chainé is a very kind-hearted person. I want to be really good

friends with them, you know? When I was younger, that obviously put a lot of strain on my ideas

of what having that chosen family could mean, because I started to hold it to such a high expectation.

After going to therapy and stuff, I think I just seek out people now who have similar

morals to me, or that we can build a relationship where we feed off of each other and we’re never

draining each other. It’s just an equal sense of... I don’t want to say power because there should

never be a power dynamic, but you know, we’re equal. No one is above the other person.

Chosen families are such crazy dynamics, because you can get anybody from any age. For me,

in my chosen family, everybody except for Chainé is the same age, but you know how people

are like, ‘you’re mature for your age’. I’ve gotten that a lot, and I do have a lot of friends who are

older, and I know that’s common for a lot of people who are

twenty or twenty-one, but I think that’s really cool. Especially because not everybody needs to

know each other.

Obviously, a lot of them have crossed paths or know each other -- like Chainé and Ingrid are

friends, and Chainé and Katherine are friends, and that’s cool -- but a lot of them have just

crossed paths with each other and not really known it. And I think there’s

something interesting about that, because everybody’s chosen family is different, just like a normal

family, but it’s very specific to each person. My chosen family can be very

different from Sav’s chosen family, or Kai’s, or Chainé’s, or Ingrid’s, you know? And I think that’s

kind of cool, because it gets really boring in a normal family, and it’s cool that you get to pick who

you let in, instead of having to be stuck with the same very boring people for the rest of your life.



It’s really important that we’ve all

gotten to know each other, and develop the

friendship that we have. I think it’s very

special and unique to us as a group. I’m

really grateful for that.


I totally feel the same way. You guys are

very important to me and you’re a very

essential pillar of support in my life.


It just baffles me that if I hadn’t invited

Fran to my birthday party on that whim, I

wouldn’t have met you or Tess, and I wouldn’t

have become really good friends with Fran.

I probably would have missed out on so many

opportunities in my life, and I wouldn’t be

who I am today.


We’re far back enough of friends that, how

I’ve been impacted is experiences I’ve had

and things I’ve had that have shaped me, has

been because I know you.


It’s the same for me. That was really my

first foray into knowing who I am, and

knowing exactly what I want, and accepting

myself for who I was, despite the fact that

it kind forced me into a really big toxic

part of my life.


Some of it came at a cost, obviously.


It absolutely did. And it could have still

gone this way if I hadn’t made bad choices,

but it still definitely made me grow.



Right, but also knowing that after all of

that, we’re all still here to back each

o t h e r u p.


I went where I did and experienced what I

did because I got that bolstered confidence

of, if I go to this place, I’m still gonna

have connections from back where I came

from. Coming full circle, I think that’s

what you expect out of a family. You want

your roots somewhere. You have a back-up

plan if whatever you decide doesn’t work,

and choosing a family that is so spread out

across so many places that you actually love

kind of gives you even more of a security.

If I don’t wanna move back in with my

parents, I have this city where I know these

people that I actually enjoy living in, and

therefore it’s not as difficult to move there

and not know anyone. Even saying that, I got

roots in San Diego. There are still moments

where I’m like, I would move back to San

Diego just because I know Gaib lives there.

At least I got one person, you know?


I’m not the kind of person who would move

there because my biological family lives

there, but would based on the idea of moving

somewhere where I have my close friends.


I’m not saying that having a chosen family

is superior to having a biological family.

It’s just a different connection because y o u

choose these people. You invest so much of

yourself into these people, and vice versa,

that you know no matter what, they’ll have

your back.








It’s important that people aren’t always selfish, I think that’s something that makes me feel really

uncomfortable. I feel like you can see it from within a person from a mile away, but people who just

seem to genuinely care about themselves and others.

It’s changed, without a doubt. I remember when I was little I just wanted friends. I was like, fuck that,

I don’t care if you’re an awful person. I just want friends. But then you end up getting screwed up or

around. So good riddance.

It isn’t necessarily important, but I feel like it’s definitely inevitable. Not that everybody has the same

experience in being queer, but I think that it’s really easy to find similarities, or at least to connect. But

it’s not really important to me. As long as they respect other people.

My chosen family definitely makes up for a lot of emotional vulnerability. Growing up, none of my

siblings were really ever taught that they could be emotionally vulnerable, so if you start crying,

it’s a ‘shut up, stop crying’ or you have to kind of go walk away because it’s so uncomfortable for

our family to see us crying. I do not give two shits about what my chosen family sees me doing, so I

think it’s been really rewarding to be able to be super, without a bound, emotionally available and

vulnerable with my chosen family.

For a long time, I thought my strength lay in an ability for

adventure, risk-taking, charting into new and unknown lands – I

travelled away from home often, for long periods of time, and

usually alone, before graduating high school. University was an

experiment into just how far away I could get from the city where

I grew up, and many credited me with being brave for going to

an entirely new country to do just that. Since then, I’ve realized

that I didn’t need bravery so much as a solid support network to

achieve this.

All of our languages of love translate differently, but I can

now recognize my own as a need for a sense of comfort, or

familiarity, or home, in strange and new places. We create

homes of our own where we seek comfort from things familiar.

No matter the distance, physical or otherwise, we always find

each other.

Albert Camus said ‘never stop waiting for signs of tenderness’,

and I never have.



is online!


special thanks to

lizzie coombes,

who stuck with me through

this project and all the

times i second-guessed

m y s e lf.


all images by francesca tirpak

Cover Gaib flares, Bombay

Beach, CA, January 2019

Page 2 Kath & crew at the WTC

mall, New York City, NY, March


Page 8-9 Becca at Jacob Riis

Beach, Brooklyn, NY, July 2019

Page 10-11 Becca in Boston, MA,

August 2019

Page 12-13 Becca, Glasgow,

Scotland, February 2020

Page 14 Becca in the

underground, Glasgow, Scotland,

February 2020

Page 14-15 Trees by Loch

Lomond, Balloch, Scotland,

February 2020

Page 16-17 Becca’s boots,

Glasgow, Scotland, February


Page 17 Becca up close,

Glasgow, Scotland, February


Page 34 Beth and Abbey on the

playground, Balloch, Scotland,

February 2020

Page 35 Bonny bonny banks,

Balloch, Scotland, February 2020

Page 36-37 Eva and Beth playing

pool, Balloch, Scotland, February


Page 40-41 Beth slipped, Balloch,

Scotland, February 2020

Page 42 Eva on the playground,

Balloch, Scotland, February 2020

Page 43 On the way to Loch

Lomond, Balloch, Scotland,

February 2020

Page 45 Beth and Abbey say

goodnight, Glasgow, Scotland,

February 2020

Page 46-47 The Noguchi

Museum, Long Island City, NY,

January 2019

Page 48-49 Eliana at Bombay

Beach, CA, January 2020

Page 52-53 Eliana near the

Saltan Sea, CA, January 2020

Page 66-67 Tess in the

abandoned building, Niland, CA

August 2017

Page 69 Eliana and Tess on New

Years’, January 2017

Page 70-71 Tess on the sand

dunes, Saltan Sea, CA, January


Page 73 Tess near the Saltan Sea,

CA, January 2019

Page 74-75 Tess at the sand

dunes, Saltan Sea, CA, January


Page 76-77 Tess and the sunset,

Desert Shores, CA, January 2019

Page 78-79 The Guggenheim,

New York, NY, May 2019

Page 79 Tess kisses a jackfruit,

Brooklyn, NY, May 2019

Page 82-82 Tess offers Gaib a

beverage, Bombay Beach, CA,

January 2018

Page 84 Gaib amongst some

scrap metal, Niland, CA, January


Page 100-101 Gaib and Kath on

the subway, New York, NY, March


Page 102-103 Gaib and Kath at

Sunset Cliffs, San Diego, CA, June


Page 104 Gaib and Kath at the

cliffs, San Diego, CA, June 2019

Page 105 Kath at the cliffs, San

Diego, CA, June 2019

Page 106-107 Kath somewhere in

Chinatown, New York, NY, March


Page 108 Skyline in Chinatown,

New York, NY, March 2019

Page 109 Kath at the WTC Mall,

New York, NY, March 2019

Page 110-111 My window,

Brooklyn, NY, May 2019

Page 112 Flowers and Polaroids

from the desert, Bombay Beach,

CA, August 2017

Page 113 Gaib on the first Sunday

Funday with flowers, San Diego,

CA, July 2017

Page 18-19 Becca’s jacket,

Glasgow, Scotland, February


Page 20-21 Becca and Abbey at

the skate park, Glasgow, Scotland,

February 2020

Page 22-23 Gals tattoo,

Glasgow, Scotland, February


Page 24-25 The gals, Balloch,

Scotland, February 2020

Page 28-29 Making turbo

shandies, Glasgow, Scotland,

February 2020

Page 30-31 Beth tucks Abbey

in, Glasgow, Scotland, February


Page 54 Eliana at the sand dunes,

Saltan Sea, CA, January 2019

Page 56-57 Art at the Met, New

York, NY, August 2019

Page 57 Eliana at Central Park,

New York, NY, August 2019

Page 58-59 Eliana and Tess in

the grass, San Diego, CA, August


Page 61 Eliana and Tess at

Mission Trails, San Diego, CA,

August 2017

Page 62-63 Eliana and Tess with

lights, San Diego, CA, August


Page 64 Eliana and Tess on the

boat, Bombay Beach, CA, August


Page 85 Gaib at the abandoned

building, Niland, CA, January


Page 87 Gaib in Long Island City,

NY, January 2019

Page 88-89 Gaib at Bombay

Beach, CA, January 2020

Page 90-91 Gaib on some art,

Bombay Beach, CA, January


Page 92 Gaib at Mission Trails,

San Diego, CA, July 2019

Page 94-95 Gaib at Lestat’s in

Hillcrest before an Antifa rally,

San Diego, CA, August 2019

Page 98-99 Gaib in North Park,

San Diego, CA, August 2017

Page 115 Tess and Eliana in

an abandoned house, Bombay

Beach, CA, August 2017


Camus, A. (2008) Notebooks

1951-1959. Lanham, MA: Ivan R.


Gebhart, K. (2010) Interlude. In:

Bornstein, K. and Bear Borgman,

S. eds. Gender Outlaws. Berkeley,

CA: Seal Press, pp. 134.

Varian, F. (2010) Daddy Gets the

Big Piece of Chicken. In: Bornstein,

K. and Bear Borgman, S. eds.

Gender Outlaws. Berkeley, CA:

Seal Press, pp. 136-142.

signs of tenderness is an exploration into the

formation of chosen family within the queer

community, and the unique manifestation of

relationships amongst those who identify as


this book documents eight individuals within

their chosen families as they exist currently,

and how these relationships have evolved

over the course of these individuals’ lives.

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines