Wandering into gunclehood
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.