Our LGBTQ family centers on our marriage family – me and Ledcat. It also has a strong tie to our role as aunts to our six niblings (gender neutral term for niece/nephew.) We are involved in the lives of four, but I always remember the other two who don’t live nearby and think of them and hope one day they know that.
They range in age from 16-10 so it is a whole new level of adventure with them now. Four of them plus me have a group text chain, I also talk with them individually as often I can. It is very important to me to be the adult in their lives that I wish I had in my young life. I wish my aunts and uncles had taken an interest in our lives, especially to intervene in the tough parts. But I also just wish they had been around. I wish anyone had been around. So I keep showing up, albeit imperfectly.
And last week, after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, was one of those times. I reached out to the two older teens. One is involved in a peer MH support effort at their school so that was how they channeled their feelings. The other sent me a video to watch that he had found on YouTube. It was a edited, polished video suggesting that unrestricted gun access was comparable to being free of gunfire in the classroom – a false attempt to find a “medium” ground. I was so proud when he dissected that himself and told me his views on gun control (much stricter than mine.) I suggested they both watch the podcasts created by 1 Hood Media to contextualize this and other experiences.
To be clear, I did reach out to the younger ones but they don’t love texting. I asked their older siblings how they were doing. And I send them cute cat photos. Just keeping those lines of communication open paves the way for one of them to one day send me a video and ask my opinion. I don’t know how to protect them individually except to continue advocating systemically for gun control, electing Democrats, and making sure their schools and other public assets are well-funded.
But I do know that the lifelines between us are essential to their safety as well. I’m not their parent. I am an adult who loves and values them. I would lay down my life for them without hesitation. I will always reach out so they know I’m here, I’m listening, I’m ready to engage whether that’s when we see a movie, have a family cookout, or just send some video links back and forth. And if they don’t stay in touch for any period of time, that’s okay – I’ll still be here for them.
I grew up in a “traditional” family – I had five aunts, five uncles, some assorted grand uncles/aunts and a lot of cousins. But there wasn’t a closeness. The trauma of our families created barriers. I understand the “why” of there decisions to not help me and my brother and my parents, but I don’t understand the “how” or what they told themselves to sleep at night. I do know that alcohol was often involved. I do know that an uncle who can afford a beach house should find a way to pay for an apartment for a sibling in a horrific situation. I’d like to think Laura and I would do that if necessary.
I’m not suggesting I’m a perfect aunt. But I don’t bury my head in the sand. I go to therapy, work to be healthier, take ownership of my mistakes, and I don’t keep the family secrets, I don’t protect the enablers. I look for joy and always order dessert. I believe Starbucks is a sacred place for aunts and niblings.
Being the adult I needed in my life means being there. It doesn’t require spending tons of money or creating big adventures. It doesn’t involve fancy gifts or presents. It is my job to keep that line of communication open so they know I am here for them. That I will help them if they face distress or have a problem. That I’m honest with them even when it is awkward or difficult. Or when they don’t like what I”m saying.
I don’t love the phrase “family of choice” or “chosen family” – but I do acknowledge I made a choice to prioritize these children. None of them are biologically related to me -two are Laura’s brother’s kids and two belong to our best friends, but are also adopted so I wouldn’t be biologically connected anyway. None of that matters. Just like the reality that the two I am related to and have never met are still in my heart. If they grow up and come looking or asking questions or reach out, I will still strive to be the adult I needed in my life.
You never grow out of needing a loving adult.
Today is LGBTQ Families Day, a time to celebrate the many families in every state and almost every county of the U.S. that have LGBTQ people in them! Please join in by sharing a family photo or another image or message of support and celebration, using the #LGBTQFamiliesDay hashtag!
If you would like to read our previous years’ contributions to #LGBTQfamiliesDay:
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