An Ode To The Gay Uncle

The Gay Uncle shows us that we can live our best lives.

We’re at the beginning of the holiday season, and you know what that means: family gatherings, reconnecting with friends, and party after party. I’m always amazed by the way this time of year can bring out the best and worst in ourselves, but ultimately remind us of where we want to be. And nothing brings that out quite like spending time with family.

I’m thinking about my own family gatherings over the last few years, and how I’ve evolved from a baby queer to the radical auntie I’ve always wanted to be.So many holiday dinner tables and family gatherings have a figure like this…what I like to call the Gay Uncle. Who is the Gay Uncle? Maybe they’re your version of a fairy godmother: the first queer role model you had. Maybe they’re the perpetual bachelor who struts into the holiday gathering in something velvet and lush-looking and reads everyone for filth while not spilling a drop of their drink. But maybe they’re the one that drops the best jokes at the table, not because they are the punchline, but because they know better than anyone how heavy the world can be for queer folks (especially this time of year). The Gay Uncle is different for everyone.

And this year, stuck in a mashed potatoes-and-vegan-roast food coma, I realized something: no matter who they are or what form they take, The Gay Uncle is the connection for many of our families—and a beacon of hope for baby queers everywhere.

We’re all expected to follow along with certain family traditions (going to college, falling in love, getting married, having 2.5 kids and a house—in that order). But the Gay Uncle, each year that they grace our tables and warm our homes during the holiday season, reminds us that we’re so much more than our family expectations. Our families may be waiting for us to follow along with specific life milestones, but the one who’s really living their best life is the Gay Uncle—defying expectations of becoming a parent or forgoing college or remaining single and unapologetically queer well into their silver years. They don’t subscribe to any expectations unless they want to.

The Gay Uncle represents to us that community and family, whether blood-related or not, are a core part of the queer experience (and such a fitting theme for this time of year). So many of our experiences are shaped, formed, and guided by those around us. And the Gay Uncle is often the first figure we encounter who shows us possibilities beyond the narratives saying that to be queer is to be doomed for a life of solitude and rejection.

Without the Gay Uncle, we wouldn’t have such a close model for freedom—a model for living life on our own terms. We can choose to follow these paths that have been laid out before us, but we can also put our own spins on it. The fluidity of choice, consciously forming who we choose to be without caring what other people think, is a core part of what makes the Gay Uncle so special.

There’s a quiet generosity that weaves through the importance of the Gay Uncle in our lives. I think about this most when it comes to the ways we think of families and parents. Parenthood is a common connecting thread for many of us. But birthing children is not the only way to become a parent; it’s only one expected path of many for us. The Gay Uncle reminds us each year that parenthood can go far beyond birthing children. On our own journeys, how many of us have been guided by the wisdom of a queer elder? How many of us have been given a kind word of advice or some necessary shade thrown our way to help us get stronger and more confident in ourselves?

We talk so much about chosen families and how important it is to honor them this time of year. But we should spend extra time honoring the individuals and elders who help to shape our chosen families into what we recognize. Ultimately, this is what the Gay Uncle embodies. Without them, many of us wouldn’t have such close models of our potential, what chosen families could do for us at the time when we need them most.

The Gay Uncle does so much more for us than we really give them credit for. They’re there for us when we have no one else to turn to… with a loving drag, a warm hug, and a ferocity that can only be matched by parent animals protecting their kin. Our families take many different forms. And queer elders are an important part of that structure. So it’s time that we give our Gay Uncles the recognition that they deserve. Let’s celebrate their importance in shaping who we are and recognizing who we can be.

At our dinner tables over the years, the Gay Uncle (or Auntie, or any name you recognize this figure to be) has been a source of inspiration and confidence for us. They’ve modeled the best of what we could be: in the families that recognize us for who we are, Gay Uncles show that we can be our best, queer selves and still have a seat at the table.