Gay Aunt Becomes Queer Person’s Beacon of Hope Amid Homophobic Family

by Kirsten

My name is Kirsten and I’m from Queens, New York. 

So when I was growing up, me and my aunt, my mother’s sister, were very close. There was an intensity to that closeness. We would talk about being from a different planet and we would look at ants on the sidewalk and she would tell me that they were aliens from our planet, and there was just this sense of feeling very special in my relationship to her. 

As I aged and I realized that I was, first, bisexual and then queer, my aunt, maybe even before I had language for that or came out, would give me these books like Sappho’s Leer and Bruce Bowers’ A Place at the Table and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. And I’d be like, “Oh, my aunt is giving me this weird stuff, maybe sees me.” 

I came out to my parents at 16 as queer, and one of their reactions was, “Don’t you have enough problems?” My family’s historically had a lot of homophobia in it, and I think people are trying to be better about that. But then there was also these other family members who, as they would meet my partners, whether it was a girlfriend or some trans partners, they would always have something to say, if not to me, then behind my back to another family member, who would then tell me about that in a way that was obviously meant to caution me.

I also, at some point, realized that I had these non-monogamous tendencies. So I started dating non monogamously, and about five or six years ago, I was in this relationship for two years that was really difficult, non-monogamous. My girlfriend just had constant new partners and I was also really adjusting and having trouble regulating around it. We broke up several times, and that year on Christmas Day, we had just broken up on Christmas Eve the night before, and I had definitely ruined Christmas for myself, and my parents were absolutely stressed for me because I was so unhappy.

And so on Christmas day, I just left their house in Queens and went to my aunt’s house, who was alone on Christmas, and I just broke down in her apartment. And I’m just breaking down and just so heartbroken, but also just yearning so hard to have someone who understood and understood what I was going through or even anything queer because nobody in my family was out as queer.

And so on Christmas day, I went to my aunt's house and I just broke down in her apartment.

And I had been suspecting at that point for years that she was, so I finally just asked her, “Are you queer?” I didn’t say, “Are you queer?” I was like, “Are you gay?”

And she was like, “Yes.”

And I was like, “Why did you never tell me? All of these years, you see me struggling. You see me out in the family, and why didn’t you tell me?”

And she’s like, “You never asked.”

And she just laughed at me, but not in a mean way. It was in this kind of like, “You’re finally asking me. You should have asked a long time ago.” She just starts showing me everything in her apartment that had been part of this life that she had with her partner, because I, in my assuming that she was gay, never imagined that she had a partner on top of that. 

And then she’d be like, “You remember this person,” and this person would come to my plays as a child, when I was in theater, would show up to stuff, apparently did a natal chart reading for me when I was born. And I just thought, “Oh, this is my aunt’s good friend who just pops in every once in a while.” I also knew she had died a few years before that. 

So my aunt just starts taking out all this stuff that either belonged to this person or was part of her life with this person. She showed me all these photographs that she had taken of her, and there’s some of her moving through this art gallery and there’s these rainbows shining behind her, the most gay photographs you could have. And she gave me copies of them and I now keep them in my room.

She told me what her father’s reaction had been. He had really been a jerk about it and had obviously said and done homophobic things around it. She never told anybody else after that. I didn’t meet him, but growing up with her brothers, my uncles, they were absolutely homophobic, and that was part of why I had such a hard time growing up. So I could only imagine what she was internalizing and why that was hard for her to be out and why it really forced her to be in the closet after telling my grandfather.

It was just kind of an onslaught of all these revelations about this person I was so close to who had been sharing with me, but had not given me, maybe, what I needed. And in that moment, I got what I needed, which was to know and to feel less alone. 

So yeah, it gave me a lot of relief, and now I keep the photos of her partner in my room just to remind myself that I really don’t want anybody to ever feel alone in their queerness if they’re around me, but also in reverence to her experience because I know what kind of stuff kept her from revealing that for so long.

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