Extended family / Family

The Life of a Gay Uncle

Bryan Herb

Uncle Bryan serves up the best fake martini in these parts.

During a recent visit, I created a kiddy cocktail bar for my niece and nephew and after they left, it made me revisit thoughts of having children of my own. Being an uncle is definitely fulfilling, but will it be enough? For me, it’s always been a bit complicated.

One of the biggest road blocks to my coming out was the idea that I would not be able to have children. Now, of course, gay couples are having children, getting married, and living lives that resemble our earliest concepts of “family.” However, I came out 20 years ago when things were different. I have always been someone who strives to turn lemons into lemonade and after I came out, I quickly began a personal campaign to reconcile my desire to have children with the possibility that I wouldn’t.

So, I started traveling. I started traveling a lot, and it brought me so much joy and inspiration. At times during my travels, I would think, “How will I do this if I have children?” You can’t exactly take off at a moment’s notice and for indefinite amounts of time if you have kids. It was during a trip to India that I started to ask myself if I wanted children because I genuinely wanted them, or if I wanted children because that is a norm with which I am familiar, born out of a desire to live a life that I considered to be normal. For the first time, I started to consider that perhaps I didn’t want to have my own children after all.

Another thing happened around that time that made this decision much easier–my siblings started having children. Suddenly, I was a gay uncle or, as a lot of us refer to ourselves, a guncle. Now, I am about to talk in terms of stereotypes, so bear with me–I know there are exceptions across the board but I think the following is often true. Gay men have a reputation for being more free-spirited, open, emotionally available, and childlike than our straight counterparts. And, a lot of us have traveled more as well. I have read statistics that in the 1990s, 10 percent of Americans carried passports, while that number was more like 90 percent in the gay community. If you don’t believe me and are curious how this plays out today, do your own research. Ask your gay and straight friends and family if they have traveled outside of North America. I cannot think of one gay friend who doesn’t have a passport, no matter their age, and I know at least 100 straight friends and family who do not, but I digress.

Guncles and lesbian aunts (launts just doesn’t have a ring to it) have so much to offer the children in our lives and, generally speaking, it is different than our straight counterparts. With my own nieces and nephews, I engage in a lot of childlike behavior, but it is genuine. I love playing Barbies with my niece–like, I want to. I teach her how to give them uber-fancy hairdos, and she teaches me how to make them twerk better than Miley Cyrus (which isn’t difficult). Playing Legos with my nephew, we aren’t just making simple cars and houses–no, not when there are Eiffel Towers, Taj Mahals, Big Bens, and bullet trains to construct.

Even though LGBT people can have children, it is usually a more complicated process when one considers adoption or surrogacy. When spending time with my niece and nephew, the thought that I may not have children of my own is always present and I sometimes wonder if my relationship with my nieces and nephews takes on a greater importance in my mind. I don’t take anything for granted. Spending time with children can be so energizing, inspiring, and beautiful, and I don’t have this outlet at home, and may never, so when I see them, I try to really bring it.

My sister recently came to visit and I wanted things to be really special, for her and her kids, and I wanted to play with them on their level. My sister told me that they love kiddy cocktails so I decided to create our own bar. Let’s be honest, they will be joining me at gay bars once they turn 21, so I need to start preparing them. I jest, but it’s probably true.

I started to plan out my bar and the non-alcoholic necessities I would need, such as maraschino cherries and sparkling grape juice, but something was missing. It was lacking a certain pizzazz. Suddenly it hit me–we needed costumes. Now like any self-respecting gay man, I had recently hit the after Halloween sales and bought a lot of costume props. My bar was about to become a wild west saloon. If you ever do this at home, I definitely recommend costumes. It really kicks it up a notch.

During our time at Bryan’s Bar and Grill, my love for travel and family came together, as I asked the kids where they would like me to take them once they graduated from high school. My niece wants to go on safari. By then she will have outgrown dolls, but I bet she will let me do her hair. My nephew, on the other hand, is bound for London. I wonder if Big Ben will be as impressive in person as his childhood Lego creations.

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