Through These Eyes: Aunt Barbara



Most of you reading this are members of the GLBT community. It isn’t easy for us, is it? Some of us lose family and friends when we tell them who we are and whom we love, and through these losses we gain insight into the values to which our families and friends cling. We’re made aware of bigotry, we see ignorance, and perceive irrationality.

What comes with the pain of such abandonment is an outlook commonly bleak and jaded. Some of us will use the experience to hone our wit. Others will cling to material things to forget their pain. A few will let their lives hinge on–and dissipate under–the hurtful opinions of the ones they love. Insecurity becomes an issue, and trust, more so. Tear-downs and gossip are an unsurprising result.

Most of us, though, will force our way through as we would through any trial. We may become a little more hesitant with people new to our lives, but we’ll pursue who we want to be: ourselves.

What goes so unappreciated during these trials is simple. As our pain from rejection, abuse, and apathy subsides, we are presented a priceless opportunity from which too many people walk away. We have the opportunity in the face of this adversity to create our own families.

Through our proverbial ashes rise the lives we build for ourselves–lives unburdened by the opinions of those who refuse to understand.

The families we build for ourselves no doubt include the people who knew us before we came out, and love us no differently when we do. The rest of our new families we build with new friends.

What once I considered my family was large. We convened at my grandmother’s house every Sunday after church for fried chicken and sweet tea (yes, I’m from the South). We held sacred our reunions, Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Easters.

But as my family aged, it faded. Cousins and siblings grew up and forgot our holidays. After my grandfather and grandmother died, so too left their extended families, and aunts and uncles vanished.

Of my family, which once numbered a dozen or more on a regular Sunday afternoon, there lives now only one person I consider part of my family today. She is the person I love most in the world. She was my mother when mine died, and she remains so more than ever before.

“You didn’t have to come out to me,” she once joked. “When you were 18 months old you came to my country house and marveled at my antiques. I knew right away you were gay.”

When I was a kid she let me plunder her closet and play in her clothes. She refused to call me “Scooter” (my nickname) in favor of “Justin,” to lend me the air of maturity I so desperately desired. She invited me to escape social suffocation in North Carolina to spend my every teenage summer with her in Fort Lauderdale. And she’s inspired me to pursue my greatest passion, my writing.

The things she’s led me to try, to achieve, to aspire to, are far beyond any words I can publish in a magazine, but she is my family not for anything aforementioned, and she isn’t my family because she merely was my mother’s sister.

She is my family because she is the sum of the Brilliant Intangible–an invisible, undefinable thing we each hold in our hearts.

To me, she’s always been Aunt Barbara, and though this is the title and name I’ve used always, her most accurate description is “Mom.”

Everyone has their own Aunt Barbara. She may be a “he,” she may be a family member or a friend, she may be a social worker, a role model, or an idea. An Aunt Barbara is anything that provides for you a reason for being who you are, and aspiring to who you want to be.

So for the Aunt Barbaras of the world, and most especially for my own, words on a page aren’t enough, but I’ll give it a try…

Happy Mother’s Day.

I love you.

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