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Don't Ask, Don't Tell About Gay Aunt?

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Sue Carswell: If they ask, do you tell the kids?

two woman holding hands

I have four siblings, with a total of fourteen nieces and nephews, and I'm gay. In the past, I have been asked by my then 11-year-old niece Megan if I might have a wedding soon, and could she be invited to be a bridesmaid. She wondered if I even had a boyfriend. Not knowing what to say, I simply responded, "Gee, not yet." (Gee, not ever.) If Don't Ask, Don't Tell is true for the armed forces, it's also a policy that can be true for many of us gay men and women within our own families. Surely, my 18-year-old niece in college knows. Doesn't she?

I recently got in touch with three of my four siblings (one sister has twins who are only two) to see if their children knew I was a lesbian or not. We are an Irish Catholic family, so I thought their responses would be interesting, and full of no's. I never thought it was my place to tell my nieces and nephews the truth about my sexuality, as I felt that decision was up to their parents. Nor do I think I'd be good at the birds-like-the-birds and the bees-like-the-bees story. When I reached my youngest sister Sarah, she said, "No, I've not told them that you are gay. But they know girls can love girls and boys can love boys." In the rear seat of her SUV, 4-year-old Lucy piped in, "And sisters can love sisters, but brothers hate brothers." My sister added jokingly, "I feel like you're the one who can deal with this! You chose that route!"

Next up was my very Catholic brother Bill, who has six children ranging in age from two months to 18. "Wow, that's an interesting question," he said. "I think our oldest knows. But no one has ever asked about your sexuality. Still, the twins (13-year-old girls), like Santa Claus, are also picking up on it. And I simply don't think it matters to our son (15). Unlike the Catholic Church in general, our parish is very inclusive to gay couples, and we're always saying that gay marriages should be recognized by the state." Hmm. This was becoming interesting, as I had always thought that my siblings weren't even all that embracing of my sexuality, as we never really talk about it.

When I finally got a hold of my sister-in-law Kathie, mother to my 16-year-old and 14-year-old nieces and my 8-year-old nephew, she simply replied, "Well of course, I believe the girls at least do. My mother told them. But William doesn't know, and he's in school right now. Do you want me to pull him out so we can have a dialogue? Because I will ..."

What more can I say? This was my family's truth, and it kind of made me smile.

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6 comments so far | Post a comment now
PlumbLucky November 2, 2009, 6:19 AM

My (bi) Aunt’s girlfriend I knew only as her “roomie” while I was younger…and I never questioned it, as it wasn’t odd for folks in my family to bring roommates and friends who didn’t have anywhere/one else to ours for holiday gatherings. Her girlfriend was “family” to me, and that’s really all I cared about. I figured it out on my own when I was not too much older, and you know, it never occured to me that it was “odd” to some folks.

It is not a fun thing always though. My child has two aunts (SIL and partner), and a Grandmother (MIL) who would rather break her daughter’s heart than permit the appearance of something other than Norman Rockwell at all family gatherings. At least I can declare “our house, OUR rules” when gatherings are at our home and make sure SIL and partner know that they are welcome.

Rev JDSpears November 2, 2009, 7:03 AM

Sue, I believe that the social environment has changed under our feet. You are indeed lucky to have an apparently open and loving family, not everyone does. Blessings are found not in the great movement of life, but in the small whisps.

Black Iris November 2, 2009, 7:43 AM

My approach has been to make sure my children know. We had books like “Heather has Two Mommies” when they were little. When they talked about people getting married I told them things like “sometimes two women love each other just like X & Y.”

I talked about love, not sex, just as I would talk about straight couples. As my children got older, I took the opportunity to talk about gay rights whenever I could and I made connections to the people they care about.

Beth November 2, 2009, 9:25 AM

We’ve been talking with our son about two mommies/two daddies forever. He doesn’t bat an eye at my close friends who are gay or really anyone. When he asked, once, if they could get married, I said, well in Canada and some states, yes; in our state, no. He said, why is our state stupid. I told him I didn’t know, but we’re working on it. He’s four.

Barb November 2, 2009, 10:27 AM

That’s a wonderful story about your family. My 6-year-old understands that sometimes girls fall in love with girls or boys fall in love with boys. We teach her that as long as everyone is happy, that’s all that matters.

Mimi November 2, 2009, 10:35 AM

I agree with Black Iris — it’s not my place to discuss ‘sex’ with my nieces and nephews (nor the friends of my children) but I absolutely feel like it’s my right to answer questions and talk about our family’s love or our structure. We’re a two-mom family and when our children’s friends ask, “Why does he/she have two moms?” we reply, “She’s just lucky” or “That’s just the way his family is.” No biggie… or if it is, that’s THEIR family’s issue to deal with.

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