I’m the only queer person that I know in my family. I have 20 first cousins and more than 60 second cousins plus untold third, fourth and once-removed cousins. Odds are good that someone else is also queer and/or trans, but no one is talking.
It isn’t easy being the only openly queer family member, especially one who is pretty liberal and has a blog. I don’t have relationships with most of my family, except for the funeral sorts of things. I’m fairly certain I am not invited to weddings, family gatherings and other spaces where I might show up with my partner and create awkward conversations.
To be fair and transparent, it is also true that I turn people off because I talk about racial justice, feminism, etc as well as the fact that I don’t go along with the revisionist narrative of our family history. Some of my family members abused alcohol, told lies, and far far worse. The most consistent theme in my family is to not talk about those things outside of family and probably not within family, either.
I refuse to put the fact that I am queer into the same category as a child molestor who was never prosecuted nor alcoholics/gamblers who sneered that their addiction was better than a heroin using cousin. Nope. So my relationships are limited to “Christmas card” and “Facebook friends, but I wish you didn’t have to always talk about the gay stuff” along with the usual array of people who sort of wander out of your life for no real personal reason.
Working on my family tree has been cathartic in some ways. I am related by blood and marriage to over 7,000 people in the United States! That could be a lot of Christmas cards. And many have been bachelors or spinsters leaving me to wonder about their lives. However, I believe that it is unfair to impose labels upon people especially out of historical context. But it gave me hope.
Then I met Cousin Lowell Remley. Well, Lowell died earlier in April 2016 so I never met him, but I discovered him and his open gayness. And I wept.
I wept silently, shocking myself at how much it meant to know that someone else in my family is gay. GAY. And how much it hurt to realize I missed knowing him by months. And how much relief I felt knowing that I am not alone. Lowell’s obituary reminds me that I am not alone – not only was he gay, but someone in his family made sure that was part of his permanent record.
Lowell was my grandmother’s first cousin. I might have met him at one of the handful of Remley picnics held in the 80s and 90s. I might have met him. My grandma knew him her whole entire life and might have known he was gay. She never said, even when I came out to her. Our family has a solid legacy of revisionist history and burying our heads in the sand over inconvenient truths, but I don’t know it that extends to Lowell’s family. It isn’t something you find at Ancestry.com.
Born in 1933, Lowell grew up in Pittsburgh, moving to Virginia and ,eventually, Phoenix. He was married to a woman for a brief period of time, but spent the majority of his adult life with his partner, Ric. Ric was a former hair stylist. Lowell and Ric ran a Phoenix based floral shop for several decades until they retired.
I’m sure Lowell and Ric didn’t have a perfect relationship. But they were out at some point and they died out, acknowledged and grieved without secrets about their identity. They witnessed Stonewall, perhaps they marched or knew people who marched. I can’t imagine being gay in Pittsburgh in the late 40s or 50s. But now I have a personal reason to explore.
It took more than 7,000 people and almost 20 years to find him, but now I know that I am not alone.
I am not alone.
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