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Jan Phillips

Chosen Family
by Jan Phillips


By the time I was 21, I’d been dismissed from the convent and refused absolution just for being
gay. I was excluded from the sacraments and excommunicated from the one church I’d found
after leaving religious life. The God I wanted to dedicate my life to seemed to be closing every
door I knocked on. Where was I to go from here?


I come from a Catholic family. My mom was the second of 14 children. I am the sixth of
65 grandchildren. We are tribal— gathering around campfires every chance we get, bringing
out banjoes, fiddles, guitars, harmonicas and mandolins, harmonizing in four parts. Music helps
us transcend our differences. It’s our safe default. No opinions or discussions about who’s going
to hell. Just the sentimental beauty of “You Are My Sunshine” and “Country Roads.”


I don’t count on my birth family to get me right, to inquire into my life, read my books or
stand up for queers, though four of my cousins are also out and proud. I have to choose a family
to get that kind of respect. Hand select them. Go into the depths with them. Mirror them as
they mirror me. Tell the truth and nothing but the truth. My chosen family—my soul mates, my
intimates— I call them around me frequently because it’s a requirement of these relationships
that they be tended and sustained.


I hold a First Friday Potluck every month so we can find sustenance in each other and
deepen our friendships. As I look around the circle of who’s there, I see Patricia, daughter of
Irish immigrants, born in the Bronx, my age, who came to a group I facilitated 20 years ago
because she “wanted to become a mystic.” We have been building a relationship ever since and
now understand we are already mystics and there is nothing to seek. We make it a point to
connect at least once or twice a month. She is my spiritual soul sister.


Sitting next to her is Kathryn, (early 60s) whom I met three years ago at a workshop I co-
led on Spirituality and the Earth. She was my lunch-mate and I knew right away she would be in
my life forever. So did she. To sustain our friendship, we meet every few weeks for food or a
fun activity. She is an RN/Administrator at the VA Hospital. I ask for her work stories and as she

unravels them, I get to know more about her as a friend, a visionary leader, a collaborator. She
keeps me connected to the culture-at-large.


Next is Marlys, (mid 80s) who has been meditating at noon every day for years with four
women who live all around the country. They were doing it by phone long before the
emergence of Zoom. Marlys is in our Course in Miracles Group which meets every Monday
night from 5:45—7. We are now reading John Newell’s Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul to expand our
ideas about the Divine Presence in our lives and our planet. Marlys has the depth of a deep
mine. She is steady as a rock and her presence brings me peace and hope.


Also at the Potluck, in the Miracles group and part of my chosen family are Suzanne
(late 70s) retired realtor, caregiver for husband with Alzheimers. Suzanne practices French and
the piano everyday, reminding me that it’s never too late to learn something new. Mary (mid
70s) went to Harvard Law School in her 50s and was a corporate mover and shaker. She’s a
quintessential organizer, and stepped in to help me produce a fundraiser without me even
asking. Teri (late 30s) a surfer/psychologist exploring doula options for both life and death,
takes regular vacations to surf in Costa Rica. Just watching her create her life lifts my spirits.
Kelli (early 50s) designs large scale sustainable waste programs and is trying to thrive in a male-
dominated environment. I can identify with so many of her struggles. These women are all


Since George Floyd’s murder, I am attempting to educate myself about the influence of
racism in myself and the culture, which has led to relationships with 3 black women who are
dear to my life and in my chosen family. Alyce, a poet and ancestral storyteller, Johnnierenee, a
California poet-in-the-schools who is my mentor in joining the program, and Christie, a PhD
administrator/academic whose sabbatical I had the privilege of supporting last year. They bring
to my life a richness in sound, story, and joy—and the opportunity to see the underbelly of
white supremacism from the bottom up. They do not spare me details and the privilege of that
for me does not go unnoticed.


Also integral to my chosen family are Barbara, June, and Nancy, fellow writers from back
east who bring an added dimension of support for me as an artist and writer. Any struggle with

a poem or chapter often leads to a phone call asking “what do you think?” And this road goes
both ways.


No matter where they live or what they do, I maintain the same practices with everyone
in my chosen family. I reach out often. I do not wait for them to go first. I spend money and
time to travel so I can be with them at least every few years. I surprise them with little gifts. I
forgive myself when I forget their birthdays. I call or email when I think of them. And I drink
Margaritas as often as I can with the ones who live nearby.


Every one of them gives me a sense of belonging in all kinds of ways: how they listen to
me, how they challenge my ideas, how they dare to reveal themselves, how they make room
for and make light of what some might call “mistakes,” how generous they are with their time
and words, unafraid to let me know how much I mean to them.


All this attention might be considered over the top, but it’s part of building trust and
intimacy. We want to love and be loved. And for that to happen we have to be available,
authentic, adult. There’s not a lot of attention given to creating one’s “chosen family,” though
many of us are doing it, gay and straight. The process, for me, is always the same: listen for
resonance, respond to its attraction, be loyal as a friend, enter conversations with an
expectation of joy and discovery. And throw lots of parties! Get people together. It’s not hard.
We’re creating our lives 24-7 with every thought and word we utter. To create a chosen
family, think about what you want in a family and start paying attention. Your new siblings are
everywhere and most of us are looking for the sameI’m thing.


I’m sharing this for my go-to party appetizer because it’s the perfect dish for a potluck
and people love it. There are never any leftovers! For years I made it with 1 cup of mayo, I cup
of parmesan cheese and one can of artichokes. Recently I came across a healthier recipe, but
you can go either way.


- 14 oz artichoke hearts drained + cut in small pieces
- 5 oz frozen spinach -about 2.5 cups. thawed & drained
- 1 cup Greek yogurt

- 1/2 cup small curd cottage cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Thaw and drain spinach thoroughly.
3. In a bowl mix all ingredients until thoroughly combined.
4. Pour dip mixture into a glass 8×8 or medium oval pan + bake at 400 for 25 minutes.
5. Broil for 1-2 minutes before serving to get cheese on top brown + melty.
6. Serve with cut up pita bread, chips or veggies.

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