Wan­der­ing into gun­cle­hood

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

Peo­ple have started ask­ing me, “Is that your son?” and a part of me wants to re­ply, “No, I’m his gay un­cle.” But “gay un­cle” sounds like whim­si­cally cre­ated fam­ily rather than bi­o­log­i­cal kin, or like I’m train­ing my nephew to walk the run­way in a house ball.

So I sim­ply say, “No, I’m his un­cle,” although that doesn’t pre­cisely de­scribe our re­la­tion­ship since mid-Au­gust. The most ac­cu­rate term is tem­po­rary guardian, which lacks the fa­mil­ial warmth of un­cle but evokes the parental re­spon­si­bil­ity I feel, and now legally have, to­ward my youngest nephew, who turned 7 last month.

My 21-year-old nephew brought his younger brother down to At­lanta in Au­gust with lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of what is re­quired to re­lo­cate a mi­nor child. De­spite my ini­tial frus­tra­tion with my older nephew’s hap­haz­ard strat­egy, it was inar­guable that it was bet­ter for the 7-year-old to be in At­lanta than on the South Side of Chicago.

Our fam­ily agreed that I would as­sume le­gal guardian­ship, which while tech­ni­cally tem­po­rary, feels in­def­i­nite. There’s a lot of ad­just­ments and chal­lenges that arise from sud­denly tran­si­tion­ing from a club reg­u­lar to a cus­to­dial care­giver, one of which is find­ing ter­mi­nol­ogy that is suc­cinctly ac­cu­rate, while match­ing the choppy emo­tions I’ve felt dur­ing our tran­si­tion.

While I cer­tainly have parental sen­ti­ments, I am not his par­ent and he is not my son. Most ob­vi­ously be­cause he has par­ents, and he is their son. Nei­ther of them can cur­rently pro­vide an en­vi­ron­ment that is safe and con­ducive to healthy de­vel­op­ment, but that doesn’t di­min­ish the love and bond they will share with their son for­ever.

Sec­ondly, I have done noth­ing to earn call­ing my­self a par­ent. Adorable as my nephew looked on his first day of school and on Pic­ture Day, I don’t think I qual­ify yet for par­tic­i­pa­tion in such proud-par­ent posts on so­cial me­dia.

I’m do­ing my best im­per­son­ation of par­ent­hood, and am still en­joy­ing the ben­e­fits of be­ing an un­cle – a re­la­tion­ship that, thus far in my nephew’s life, has meant bet­ter fun and more treats than he re­ceives at home. It’s been dif­fi­cult on both of us when I’ve had to show a sterner, more parental side of my per­son­al­ity, and he’s al­ready test­ing my moral op­po­si­tion to spank­ing chil­dren.

But I am not just an un­cle; I am a gay un­cle, and was gen­uinely touched when my sis­ter said that she and my nephew’s fa­ther be­lieve the best place for my nephew to come of age, to learn about man­hood, is un­der my ward.

I was in no way ex­pect­ing or pre­par­ing for par­ent­hood, but rather a gay man rev­el­ing in a stereo­typ­i­cally sin­gle life. There is an in­nate self­ish­ness in be­ing an un­part­nered, child­less 30-some­thing, a self­ish­ness that I cher­ish and al­ready miss.

But it’s en­cour­ag­ing to know that a healthy aware­ness and attention to max­i­miz­ing one’s own plea­sure and con­tent­ment does not mean that I and other LGBT peo­ple are the self-cen­tered car­i­ca­tures that we are por­trayed as by crit­ics. It’s hum­bling to join a legacy of LGBT aunts and un­cle who have nur­tured the next gen­er­a­tion of their fam­i­lies, and gives me a new, un­ex­pected source of pride. Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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