Kinship in Covid: family looks different for everyone


The holiday season has just passed, and, over a year into the pandemic, people on all seven continents have felt a change no matter how big or small. 

From reading the words of Hafiz on Shab-e-Yalda to lighting the glowing candles on Hannukah and Kwanza or hunting down Boxing Day sales with leftover Christmas cake in hand – or toasting the new year with champagne and twelve grapes, nothing is quite the same regardless of how you celebrate the winter holidays. 

Just a mere number of days into 2021, some have been living with family the last months, retracing the steps of our younger selves and maybe learning how to live with parents again. Others have been separated from their loved ones by barriers of a few neighbourhoods or even as vast as a few oceans. Normalcy has been turned upside down, even that of our winter traditions. Across the globe, holidays and traditions often revolve around kinship, something that centres us and grounds us. 

But what is kinship? 

Cambridge gives us two definitions: “the relationship between members of the same family” and “a feeling of being close or similar to other people or things.”

You may look for kinship in a single parent or two: your two moms, your two dads, one of each. Maybe it’s a grandparent or an uncle-aunt or some other special guardian. 

Family doesn’t look the same for everyone. 

For some, blood relatives may not be a source of kinship—in fact, the very opposite. For certain trans and queer people and some neurodiverse and differently abled folx, blood relatives may be the source of stress, anxiety and pain. Blood relatives may not understand our experiences and may not receive us with open arms.  Even people who don’t share these experiences or identities know this toxicity from the uncle making racist and transphobic jokes at dinner to the aunt who thinks you’re wasting your life with your passions and choice of career/studies.

Blood relations are by no means easy. Many of us find our closeness and family in friends, that fabulous housemate or even a partner or spouse. We find closeness, love and acceptance in our chosen family.  

No matter how you find kinship and affinity, whether by blood or chosen, throughout the pandemic, some have the privilege of being together and others are apart. Some find freedom in what others find challenging and vice versa. This is not to create a binary of experiences or only deem certain challenges more worthy of sorrow and attention than others, but simply to recognize that experiences scatter across a cluster like the stars above. Some are living with toxic relatives in a pandemic and others are yearning for the day to go home and hug a loved one. 

The months of COVID feel like they drag on and on, and our traditions from Sunday brunch to Christmas dinner take on different forms from video calls to a party of two, or maybe they don’t happen at all. These months can be isolating and overwhelming whether living alone or surrounded by a household of company. And perhaps you find your mental health deteriorating. 

As we march our way through the next months with COVID-19, it is important to consider our affinities and the affinities of those we care about to forge support for one another. Now more than ever it is crucial to continue growing our empathy, love and understanding whether it be for our close friends or the stranger in the corner of your screen. Check-in on those you care about and seek to learn their experiences. Let’s support each other in these uneasy times that can be very hellish. Hopefully, in a few months, we’ll see the horizon of a new and brighter future. 

Alex Bacchus is a StudyAbroad student at SOAS, and is completing a number of language modules including Turkish, Persian, Swahili, and Hindi.

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