ABSTRACT

Within the field of family studies, there has been a shift in emphasis away from households and blood ties, to an engagement with the more complex family structures that appear in our postmodern world. These newer structures reflect social changes such as the increase in divorce and growth of ‘blended families’, the introduction of civil partnerships or same-sex marriage in some countries, and the complexities of new reproductive technologies, which may produce new configurations of biological and social kinship. Gabb (2009: 17) characterizes this shift as one from a concern with narrow roles to ‘who affectively counts’. One of the most influential concepts within this theoretical literature that focuses on affective relationships, is the concept of ‘families we choose’ (Weston 1997), or relational networks based on ‘choice’ and ‘love/friendship’, rather than ‘blood’ or ‘marriage’. Weston’s (1997) classic study suggested that lesbian and gay people had a distinctive approach to kinship. She argued that many LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people experienced homophobia and alienation from their ‘families of origin’, or parents and siblings. Thus, the barriers to intimacy or rejection they experienced with their families led them to create new ‘families we choose’, or new familial networks consisting of lovers, ex-lovers and friends. This characterization of queer kinships persists in much academic literature. For example Weeks et al. (2001) refer to choice as the basis for queer familial arrangements. However, it is also the case that a greater awareness and acceptance of

same-sex intimacies has changed attitudes towards those coming out from family members. Many LGBT people now retain significant relationships with their families of origin after coming out. This is not to say that homophobia has been eradicated – far from it – but that coming out narratives are also changing (Heaphy 2007; Heaphy et al. 2013). In this chapter, I propose two challenges to Weston’s classic argument about the distinctiveness of LGBT kinship. First, younger generations of LGBT people may not always experience alienation from their families of origin in the way that so many have in the past. Second, some cultural communities, including the Irish, may place considerable emphasis on the importance of ties with families of origin,

so that these links continue to resonate and inspire considerable ‘emotional labour’ (Hochschild 1983) on the part of their LGBT family members. I will draw on findings from two separate research projects to support these claims: a study of lesbian mothers in Ireland; and a project about the Irish LGBT diaspora in London.