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.
She had skin the color of raw agave nectar and was a tall, long-legged elegant Alpha-woman. She was Bette Porter before The L Word. 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 abusive boyfriend. In that moment she went from having my heart’s attention to monopolizing it. Aunt Dee never cowered to anyone. She obviously had flaws and imperfections that I was unaware of, but her confidence was defiant and I loved it. She was all kinds of fierce. When I fell in love with a certain 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. And I was so spoiled. She had two boys so I was the daughter she never had. 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 her 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 after that.
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 being 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 it wasn’t supportive. And my girlfriend was surprised: “I thought she’d feel differently, especially since when we met she told me she was in a relationship with a woman for five years.”
Me: “I’m sorry, what?! Aunt Dee! I fuckin KNEW it! All this time!” Why had she told my girlfriend and not me? I started daydreaming about the what-ifs 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 Vivian Banks (the 1st one of course)!
I had to know what happened. What was it, besides the drugs, that tore them apart? When I asked my mother about it, she ranted about my Queerness being a phase and GAWDUH being in the midst of sending me “a good husband.” I must’ve given her one of those cut the bullshit looks (that I got from her), because she took a deep breath, smiled and said, “If I hadn’t cared so much about what other people thought, I would have stayed with your Aunt Dee. Live your life, baby.”
So, life goes on until about a year later. My mom calls me up, smiling through the phone and tells 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 that I thought had died started filling my head with hopes that they would get back together so I could have my mommies back. I wanted this more than I ever wanted my mom and dad to reconcile (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).
Since then, they’ve visited each other frequently – and they seemed to have picked up right where they left off; it’s like no time has passed. It’s amazing how a true soul connection can endure time, distance and life’s complexities. Aunt Dee still has that amazing smile, and though they are now just friends, she’s still crazy about my mother and me. To this day she calls me “Precious,” and she reawakens that 7 year old kid in me. Even though she’ll always be Aunt Dee to me, 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, affirmation and protection. I know because I have lived it.
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 Queer women in our lives who have come before us, blazing trails that we may not have ever known we’d walk. And while it’s important to honor iconic figures like Audre Lorde, Lorraine Hansberry and Josephine Baker, it does our spirits good to remember the people in our personal lives on whose shoulders we stand. The women who gave us guidance, made sure to light the way and awakened the inner child that we didn’t know had survived.