I have eight niblings and one great nephew. That’s what happens when your dad was married three times. I was an aunt for the first time when I was six-years-old, and my last nibling was born my freshman year of college. We all grew up together — I was more like an older sister than I was an aunt. I was usually too busy living my life to be present for them, but I would try to pop in for birthday parties and the like when I could. As they were moving through adolescence and early adulthood, I was navigating early motherhood, and it became important for me to try and step up to the auntie plate. A few of them are queer themselves, and I feel an extra sense of responsibility to them.
Being queer is actually one of the things that bonded me and my youngest nibling. I often post a lot of memes on my Instagram about being queer, and they always like or comment on it. They turned 18 earlier this year, which is killing me because that’s how old I was when they were born. One time they posted about how embarrassing it was to have to go suit shopping with their dad, and I wished so much that I could have been there to take them shopping. It’s cool that their dad would take them… but it would be way cooler to shop with your queer aunt. I’m desperately trying to convince their parents to let them come visit me so we can have some time together.
My sister is a total PFLAG mom.I absolutely love it. She is super supportive of both of her queer kids — my mom could take a lesson from her, but I digress. She understands the importance of showing up and making your kids feel loved and accepted. My sister and nibling were in this year’s NYC Pride parade. But as accepting as she is, it doesn’t replace having someone in your life who gets it. When I post about loving boobs, my nibling feels seen in a way they will never be seen by their mom. There’s a shorthand we’ve developed and I really love it.
Honestly, it’s been the development of my relationship with my nibling that made me understand how important it is to continue living my queer life out loud. During a visit to my hometown, my partner and I took them and their sisters out to bowling and dinner. We didn’t talk about being queer, but I know we left an impression by simply showing up. They get to see me and my partner sharing a life: raising a family, hanging out with our queer friends, just being two queer people in the world. When the idea of living a queer life seems elusive, they can scroll through my Instagram feed and see me living my life and remember it is possible for them too. And that I’m never too far for a pep talk or advice. It’s true that queer teens now have more access to more queer visibility than I had as a teenager. But there’s so much to be said for having direct access.
Growing up, I had queer people in my orbit. Mostly close friends of my mom, but they were people I was around a lot. While I saw their lives as normal, that didn’t translate into me understanding that I could also live a queer life as an adult. My mom’s best friend (my honorary godmother) is a lesbian — we were close when I was young. But it was before I truly understood queerness; at seven or eight, I accepted her life as normal, and we never talked about it. My mom didn’t sit me down and explain that Aunt Janice was a lesbian and what that meant. I’d spend the weekend with her and her girlfriend knowing full well that they lived together and slept in the same bed.
As I got older and started to understand my sexuality, my Aunt Janice came around less. Gone were the sleepovers at her house, the outings with her and her girlfriend. I probably wouldn’t have asked her questions about being a lesbian because I was way too private about my romantic life. But I needed to be around queer women so I could try and make some sense out of the feelings I was having. Maybe she would have seen my burgeoning queerness and indirectly given me some advice. By the time I came out, we had no relationship, and I was no longer interested in pursuing one. She did comment on a few of my early Instagram posts insinuating that life would be better now that I was out of the closet. It felt like she was trying to make a connection with me, but I felt it was too late — I had already built my queer support system.
My partner has two young nieces. Because both my partner and her youngest sister are queer and in relationships with other women, those girls have an abundance of queer aunties. They haven’t really expressed romantic interest in any gender, but because they see us, they don’t think twice about loving another woman. Both of them are into things like princesses and mermaids and pink, and now that I’m part of the family, they finally have a femme auntie who will talk to them about nail polish and buy them Barbies with multicolored hair.
It’s an honor to be there for my niblings as the queer aunt I never had. I’m proud that they get to see me living my most authentic life and get to be a part of it. Creating relationships with them has been so important to me, so that they know they can trust me and confide in me. I want them to be able to ask me questions about what it’s like to be queer so I can demystify things for them. I want to show up for them, make them feel seen and heard and valued by someone who gets it. But ultimately, I just want to be their cool, queer aunt who lives LA that they tell their friends about.