Originally posted on Medium.
Growing up, I was taught to address my parents’ closest friends as “Aunt” and Uncle.” One of my godmothers is one of these “aunts,” who is not related by blood but by relationship to my mother.
“Aunt Marian” and “Aunt Linda” came as a pair and lived in San Francisco. (I grew up in a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area. Not as cool.) I was closer to Aunt Marian, or at least I perceived myself that way because I adored her. She is a traditionally trained artist who started teaching digital art pre-Photoshop. She wears the best glasses, and she has wild and zany hair. (Before Manic Panic was available on beauty store shelves, Aunt Marian’s hair was dyed leopard print.) I wanted to be her. She was (is) so cool. She is also a dog person, which is still a qualification I require for all people I spend my time with.
Obviously I loved (love) her. I got so excited every time she came to visit. She made my mom laugh and paid attention to each of us kids and Aunt Marian coming over meant a good time for all.
I adored and loved Aunt Marian so much that I wondered why she wasn’t coupled up. Clearly someone was missing out. She was super lovable, and I believed people who were lovable should be married to somebody. (Keep in mind I had been married twice by the time I reached my first grade playground. I was also hopelessly devoted to being a princess/bride every year for Halloween, even when someone left a green crayon in the wash and my immaculate white gown took on a sickly chartreuse dye job.) Marriage was the goal at the top of the mountain. It just didn’t make sense that Aunt Marian hadn’t reached the summit, because she was my favorite in every other aspect of life. She ought to have achieved Love’s peak by then.
I can’t drop a pin on how old I was when I started wondering about Aunt Marian’s marital status. It was during that age when I didn’t put any thought toward my teachers having lives outside of school. Based on the extent of my understanding of role and identity, they slept in classroom cupboards after the bell rang.
It could have percolated during a multi-year slump where I stayed the same height and had to crane my neck more than forty-five degrees to see my dad’s face while seated. A curious runt. I finally asked him, “How come Aunt Marian isn’t married?”
In one of my only memories of my dad sounding stern (by way of being massively astounded by my ignorance, I realized), he firmly responded, “Mayka, Aunt Marian is gay.”
“Who is homo?” -Mrs. Rynkowski, Skins
“She’s in love with Linda. She lives with Linda.”
So…how come they aren’t married?
In my simplistic world, two people could live together if they were married or roommates. I did not have space in my head for lover-roommates. (Again, my teachers slept in cupboards.)
Wait, so: Linda didn’t “lock that down?”
…You couldn’t just pass by a wonderful person like Aunt Marian!
…Why weren’t they “married?”
I didn’t get it.
I had a loose understanding that “gay” was a thing, but was not cognizant that it was something that could make marriage (then, the most concrete declaration of love/coupled-upness to me) impossible. I just always knew “Marian & Linda” to be “Aunt & Aunt,” and couldn’t reconcile them not being officially partnered like my mom and dad were.
It was probably years later, still, until the concept of sexual orientations, the distinctions between “lesbian” versus “straight,” and the mainstream’s need for “coming out” were socialized into me. My first “exposure” to homosexuals predated my baptism, so Aunt Marian and Aunt Linda’s relationship to me was almost symbolically like water: It just was (is).
Even then as I fully knew, accepted, and loved my aunts for “what” they were and as I grew into adolescence, I wasn’t always a good little ally. I have my history of dismissing one of my first queer friends’ coming out in eighth grade as a ploy for attention. I slung jocular “Well you’re gay!” jeers at friends in high school when I basically couldn’t deal with everyone else outperforming me in math. I have absolutely no excuse for how I conveniently disregarded and denied a core facet of my favorite selected family’s identities. My only guess is that in your teenage years, when you lack the ability to feel empathy, the hormonal changes throw major curve balls into your sense of self and how you relate to the world. Eventually I consciously dropped using “gay” and “retarded” as sneers to describe difficult tests, and came back to loving my queer family and friends as family and friends.
Southward and Forward
Years ago, my Aunt Marian moved to LA to teach while Aunt Linda continued to work in the Bay. During their long-distance relationship, I spent a couple weeks at Aunt Marian’s to attend rhythmic gymnastics camp. I had my first period at her house, a My First Time Story that actually makes me laugh. I was really calm, cool, and collected about it, “Auntie Marian, do you have any pads or tampons?”
“Oh, Mayka, I was done with that stuff years ago. No. What kind do you need?”
“I don’t really know. I guess I just need starter stuff. This is my first one.”
Aunt Marian was prepped to drive me to and from ribbon dancing; she was unprepared to usher me into womanhood. “So do you, do you know what do with those things?” Thanks to a public school education, I did! “Oh, okay, good.”
And then, “You sure you got that?”
“Yes, I’m fine! Thanks!” My heterosexual mom wasn’t there for this celebrated mother-daughter coming-of-age moment, but my lesbian aunt was! First period down.
As I went off to college, I lost touch with Auntie Marian and Linda, save for the regular holiday cards (and then ecards) Linda was so thoughtful to send out. I graduated, landed my first job, coupled up with an artist, and got introduced to the world of comic conventions. I find the events equally parts fascinating, draining, inspiring, and overwhelming at all times. To deal with the crowds, I started wandering around solo to take things in at my own pace.
Killing time flipping through prints at one of my first San Diego Comic-Cons, a voice perked my ears. I looked up, couldn’t place it, looked down, and refocused on the bin at my fingertips. Done with the bin, I looked up toward the source of the sound again, and I saw artsy glasses with rad hair.
“Auntie Marian?” I asked in disbelief.
She ended up breaking off from the group she was traveling with, and we toured through the Small Press section together. I introduced her to the artists I was enamored by. She bought a book for her friends’ kid. We caught up a bit: Aunt Linda transferred down south and moved back in with Aunt Marian. I was (am) still buying tampons.
Any time someone wavers in “proper” terminology – Gay? LGBT? Queer? – I’m reminded of my own path to awareness. I can sympathize with the confusion, because maybe to us, they start out as Aunts, Brothers, and Lover-Roommates first.
The raising of San Francisco’s Pride flags (as in: the festival, and not the everyday rainbow flags – the latter are perennial, like water) this week brought me back to my childhood naïveté. Those flags mean LGBT Pride Month is upon us, formally recognizing two of my favorite hand-picked aunts.*
*PSA: It’s basically June. I can’t believe it, either.