I remember my Aunt Dee vividly. I remember her planning and executing my 5th birthday party to perfection. I remember her yelling my name, searching the apartment complex every time I ran away when my mother would come home high off her latest drug binge. I remember sitting in the living room eating freeze-pops and playing Pac Man on the Atari with my cousins, while she and my mother talked, listened to music and danced in the kitchen. My time with her was the closest I came to a stable environment until I was 13 and went to live with my father and his then wife. Being that young, I didn’t know she was a lesbian, but as I got older, I started to wonder. There were no clues, but there was . . . something (I guess it was my blossoming gaydar). I stopped wondering when my mom’s boyfriend called her “that dyke bitch.” I didn’t care. All I knew was that I loved my Aunt Dee, and she loved me.
With skin like raw agave nectar and coal black hair, she was a tall, long-legged elegant Alpha-woman. Except for special occasions, she was always in a turtleneck and jeans, even in hot-ass Phoenix, Arizona. She carried herself with class; even with that Jheri curl, she was killin em. She was the strong silent type, tough as old leather boots, but very loving and compassionate. I specifically remember her standing up to my mom’s then very abusive boyfriend. In that moment she went from having my heart’s attention to monopolizing it. She obviously had flaws and imperfections that I was unaware of, but she always seemed to be boldly secure in who she was, never cowering to anyone. My Aunt Dee was all kinds of fierce. When I fell in love with an ex, some of it was because she reminded me of my Aunt Dee in many ways.
She lived in the apartment complex next to ours. I have no idea how she and my mother met; I don’t even remember meeting her myself. I just remember having her in my life and being ridiculously happy because of it. Man, talk about spoiled. She had two boys so I was like her little girl. Luckily for her, I was into dresses during that time, so she took advantage and always dressed me to the nines. Between her and my Grandmother, my wardrobe stayed on point. Anything I wanted – all I had to do was ask and she would make it happen. We were inseparable. She was my Aunt Dee and I was her “Precious.”
I remember being at my Aunt Dee’s house more often than being at my own. The environment there – just a five minute walk from my front door – was comforting, safe. Happy. Around 8 years old, when my mother started selling, then using drugs, Aunt Dee’s presence in my life became a necessity. She was the mother I needed and wanted. She kept me focused on school and books and away from the crumbling world around me. And then one day, she was gone. I don’t remember much – I was at her house playing Centipede and my mom walked in, obviously high. Aunt Dee grabbed her by the arm and they went into the back room. There was lots of shouting. I fell asleep on the couch. I remember my hair being caressed, my face being kissed, and then being picked up and placed in a car. I woke up back at my house. I don’t remember seeing Aunt Dee anymore.
I started coming out to my family around age 28. But I didn’t come out to my mom; my girlfriend at the time did it for me. After deciding to jump from best friends to lovers (bad idea), and a night of amazing sex (great idea), she called my mom and told her not to worry about me anymore because we were together now and she would make sure I was taken care of. I don’t know what my mom’s response was, but when my girlfriend hung up, she said, “Well that was surprising, given that when we met she told me she was in a relationship with a woman for five years.” Gasp and clutch the pearls! Aunt Dee! I fuckin KNEW it! All this time! Why had she told my girlfriend and not me?! My mind swirled with dreams and wishes that they had worked out their relationship, that the crack epidemic skipped over my house, that the L Word wasn’t the only portrayal of “healthy” lesbian relationships that I’d been exposed to. They could’ve been the lesbian versions of Claire Huxtable and the Original Vivian Banks! I had to know what happened. What was it, besides the drugs, that tore them apart?
When I asked my mother about it, after her ranting about my queerness being a phase and GAWDUH being in the midst of sending me “a good husband,” she got quiet. Her eyes glazed over and drifted to another space and time. Then she simply stated “I would have stayed with your Aunt Dee if I wasn’t so concerned about what other people thought. Live your life, baby.”
A year later, my mom told me that she searched and found my Aunt Dee, who was living back in her home state of New York. I was over the moon. The little girl in me hoped they would get back together so I could have my two mommies back. I wanted this more than I ever wanted my mom and dad to get back together (sometimes you just know certain folks aren’t meant to be together – and you wonder how they ever got together. Another story for another time). She has visited my mom, and I have been able to stay in touch with her through text messages, phone calls and the wonderful invention that is Skype. She still has that amazing smile, and though they are now just friends, she is still crazy about my mother and me. To this day she calls me her “Precious,” and I turn right back into that 7 year old kid when I hear her voice. Though she will always be known as Aunt Dee, she stands beside the other women in my life who I call Mama.
I know two-mommy and two-daddy households can be safe places full of love, caring and protection. I know because I have lived it, and I wouldn’t trade it for the straightest family in the world. Which I also had, and is another experience altogether .
As Queer Black women, we don’t have many role models. The connection and communication with our elders is rare. It’s important to recognize and honor the LGBTQ women in our lives who have come before us, blazing trails that we may not have ever known we’d walk. And while it is important to remember iconic figures such as Audre Lorde and Lorraine Hansberry, it does our spirits good to remember the people in our personal lives on whose shoulders we stand. One day, others will stand on our shoulders and look to us for guidance. We must remember to continue to light the way.