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Being the “Gay Uncle” Means…

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Family is complicated. There are no small parts, only small players. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, being the black sheep put you ahead of the game. You were gifted with a clarity you knew would be useful someday, but how? For what? To whom? You know you’re a true gay uncle if:

1. You fled your red state hometown for an elite coastal city.

Maybe your mom didn’t exactly join PFLAG when you came out. Perhaps your success began in exile. I for instance fled my ignorant family to a city fortified by its gayness, placing fifteen hundred miles of continent between myself and them. Since then I’ve been slowly rebuilding a relationship with my father the way a volcano rebuilds its obliterated edifice. I finally faced facts and stopped trying to save my sister. My grandparents, mother, and brother are all in my past, their last remaining task being death in that regard. The simple question “Are your folks cool?” holds a lot of weight.

New York. Los Angeles. Miami. San Francisco. You run until you run out of land, because only the ocean has any right to be endless. Your city is a surrogate for the cradle that upturned you. Whatever your choice, it represents invariably the things you were deprived of back home: camaraderie, support, validation, love. This is your home now.

Not that every queer needs to escape a toxic household to be proud of their achievements. Shitty parents are overrated. It doesn’t make you any less cool to love yours. It makes you lucky.

2. Before you were the gay uncle, you were the gay cousin.

Did you grow up in an absence of queerness, wondering who the gay cousin was? It was you, Barbara. It’s you.

Gay uncles grew up in isolation. We saw what everyone else in our families willfully ignored. When we ultimately find our way to somewhere gayer than where we came from, our nieces and nephews grow up thinking us strangers. That’s if you let your connection go unnourished. You can work this “mysterious stranger” angle. It’s Halloween all year round.

From nonfiction writer @carmenmariamachado

You may not have many (or any) queer relatives because they’re either dead or estranged. Perhaps you may be estranged yourself. You seldom return to your hometown except to gift your nieces and nephews with taxidermy. Regardless, your story likely branches out from those of your family members. In their reality, you’re the outlier, a stereotype Stuart once dubbed the “socialist gay hippie.” If you represent San Francisco and Gomorrah, come sit by me.

3. You were probably the first to seek therapy.

You don’t need to have escaped abuse to be a cool queer proud of your achievements. Unfortunately, for a number of us, those were our origins. Maybe you were driven to unearth the “why” behind your family. From a young age, I innately understood that mine was intensely dysfunctional. They boasted it as if someone should’ve been filming us, and in a way, I was. I wanted to know the cause. Seeing through my stepdad’s inadequacies and my mother’s insecurities engendered a double-consciousness. Soon I could predict how adverse situations would affect them, and I used what I learned to stay out of trouble. If it weren’t for that special double-consciousness, I’d have had no place to hide.

I successfully unpacked all of the above because of my dear therapist. She is one of my favorite people. I learned everything I know about setting healthy boundaries from her. For more free, vicarious insights, visit How To Deal With Toxic Family.

A gay uncle bends a lady's arm.

“Okay, but what does this have to do with my mother?”

4. You know your family’s darkest secrets, and precisely when to divulge them.

I am a proud gay uncle, keeper of chronicles and ruler of receipts. My mom used to call me a human tape recorder. I could undo hours of ass-kissing with a simple “That’s not what you said in the car.”

While known for their vivaciousness, gay uncles don’t make waves without good reason. Petty family drama is exactly the kind of thing he wants to avoid. He can keep a secret for years. He’ll know when it’s time to disclose it.

When my younger niece called to say her father, my brother, had moved in with our mom again, I told her that his first divorce ended the same way. My older niece wanted to know what her mother, my sister, was like before she went to prison. I gave her my memories of the vibrant, troubled person I knew. Unlike my mom did for me, I encouraged them to form their own opinions of our controversial relatives. They already had proper boundaries in place. Their relationships won’t be like mine, and it’s better that way.

A gay uncle spills the tea to his niece about her lying-ass grandma.

“Your grandmother’s ‘happy’ about Roe V. Wade? Did you know she paid for one of your dad’s abortions?”

5. You strive to be a mentor to newer queer generations.

I’ve learned the pressing need to sow closure over life’s early traumas only blunts with age. It reappears in strange configurations like a dream composed of bad memories. It could be a new, younger friend fresh from the same region as you. Maybe it’s your siblings, too ashamed to be truthful to their children. Whatever the shape, it shakes you out of your comfort zone momentarily. You remember you’re still moving at escape velocity. Don’t forget where you came from. Show others the way until they discover their own.

My gay uncle and I named my rocket "The Challenger!"

“If my faggy gay uncle can get the hell out of Dodge, maybe I will too one day! Fuck this wood paneling shit.”


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Jake Warren

Jake Warren

A Potawatomi nonfiction writer and Tenderloin resident possessing an Indigenous perspective on sexuality and a fascination with etymological nuance. Queer decolonial leftist, cannabis industry affiliate, seasoned raver, and unofficial earthquake authority.

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