What I Learned From Meeting My Gay Uncle
Last week I met my gay uncle for the first time.
I take that back. I met him for the first time as two aware gay adults. The first time we actually met was during a family reunion back in the mid-90s. My immediate family flew across the country to America's other sunshine state, Florida. I remember getting off the airplane and my mother instantly getting upset that the humidity immediately transformed her expensive hairdo from the First Lady to Miss Frizzle. It was a week I vaguely remember; incorporating barbecue, thrills at Busch Gardens, and enough Spanish to make me feel right at home. I remember my uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents and others who looked like me, but who had never met, come in unison on the hardwood dance floor to authentic Panamanian rhythms and rhymes. I remember there being an "Uncle Carlos" - but his face, his presence, and his same-gender Jewish husband of 42 years making sure to do a prayer over the mic before we broke bread had never been saved into my memory bank.
I was a kid. The only thing gay I was exposed to was the unholy demise of Sodom & Gomorrah in Sunday School and randomly coming across a picture of my aunt and her “roommate” kissing in their 80s floral print decorated bathroom.
Recently, when I was asked why I haven't visited my granduncle in Palm Springs I didn't really have an answer. When I found out my mystery family member was gay, I tried not to be angry that this information was not disclosed to me until the eve of my thirties. Why so long? Did anyone think to tell me?
So… why didn't I visit the gay uncle who I could have reached out to when I was digging my own grave battling the reconciliation of my sexuality? Because I simply did not know the resource even existed.
The encounter was everything you would expect from an old sassy gay man residing in Palm Springs. Aged Brandy and artifacts from around the globe overwhelmed my vision as I gave the man I had spoken to on the phone a couple days ago an embracing hug.
“Wow, you’re so tall!” said the familiar stranger.
I was not sure how to address the whole “I’m gay, too!” thing and how we were connected outside a last name. I had an extra layer of curiosity when it came to the man who was sitting in front of me in a woven chair that looked like it was made in the 70s. He told us fabulous tales of his life. Eventually, the typical question you get asked when you’re a twenty-something-year old in the presence of someone older who has a general interest in your life come to surface.
“So, are you married?”
It wasn’t until two years ago that this question was a complete joke. That or a scandal that neither my moral compass nor bank account could handle. No, at the age of 29, I am not married, but I do have a boyfriend, and when the news hit his ears the look of confusion and excitement lit up the man’s face like the Fourth of July.
“You mean I have a gay nephew?! Who knows?!”
This man clearly did not have a Facebook. Yes, he was meeting his gay nephew for the first time. I could tell he loosened up even more after he found out we were family family. Next were the decades of tales of boys and booze from all over the world. He told us stories similar to ones that I’ve experienced meeting friends in random places and then sticking around for years to come.
Being a man of a certain age, all of these stories usually concluded with someone passing. He spoke so eloquently about death that it was as if it did not affect him. That’s just how his stories ended. Great times, great food, great sex, then they died. It made me think of the all the stories I’m currently in the middle of. I felt like an infant compared to the lifetime that this man had experienced and lived to tell his new “gay nephew.” Things I felt were of the utmost importance today all of a sudden became trivial. My encounter with my “guncle” quickly made things like resentment towards people or even fear of success almost obsolete and not worth my energy. The reality is, gay, straight, black or white, at the end of the day, my story I’m currently playing in is going to end with me and everyone around me having… died.
It slipped out when I asked about kids. Sure, it was possible that again, a man of his age could have followed society’s roadmap and pulled a Frankie & Grace later in life. He very well could have had the entire American Dream before reality hit him that he was in the streets naked with a rainbow flag. Gay men having children is a fairly new norm and with a smoky answer of “Oh, no honey,” I knew he was the last leaf on his stem of the family tree.
Kids are not for everyone. Especially with my generation, we are (allegedly) focused on avocado toast and becoming our own social media CEOs. Our American Dream typically doesn’t include a white picket fence and diapers for days. But what does that mean when we are Uncle Carlos’s age? Great stories of brunches, a nice bank account, and no family legacy? I’m the legacy of my parents, but who is going to carry the torch after my story ends and I die? Is that it?! Am I just gay and will die because I did not follow social norms and have a family of my own to be proud of me?
My visit to my Uncle was unexpected and one of the best rewards the Universe has offered me this year. Besides the mild baby fever and realization that one day I’m actually going to croak, it really put things into perspective. I decided not to be too hard on my family that knew, but knowing that I had a family member ‘like me’ would have made my life a lot easier when I was dealing with the uncertainty of my sexuality. Often, as much as your family is your family, many people who fall on the LGBTQ+ spectrum feel alone or singled out when it comes to understanding from their family. It would have been nice to know I wasn’t the only gay one at the holiday dinner table. We have to do better with talking about taboo issues in the family. Especially as black people, we need to have honest conversations about past and current family history. It can literally save a life because one day, we are all going to die.
We all need to be more present. Take that trip, tell that person you love them, and make moves like tomorrow is your last. Honestly, what is the worst that can happen? Just do it so you can one day tell the stories on how you truly lived your life.