Sunday, July 22, 2012
Call Me Aunt Peter
An interracial baby boy was born, recently, to two of my coworkers. "Aunt Peter loves that you had an Asian baby!" I joked. Neither the mother nor the father, who both laughed (thank goodness), are of Asian descent. Their newborn son just looked rather Asiatic in his first twenty-four hours.
I'm glad I can make people laugh with my feminine nickname. And I'm glad I feel relaxed about making fun of myself . . . now. There was a time when I didn't laugh about my silly moniker.
"Prissy, your Aunt Peter is here," Jerry would say to his cat when I came to visit.
Years ago, Jerry and I had become close friends at work. He was very supportive when I first came out of the closet and struggled, as a young adult, to try to find a compromise for my sexuality and Christianity. He had always been there for me when I needed a shoulder to lean on, especially the shoulder of a Christian friend.
Jerry was also willing to provide a listening ear when I started attending a weekly support group for ex-gays. It was a twelve-step program for Christian men who wanted their sexuality to stop interfering with their spirituality, however that may be interpreted.
In our effort to become complete as heterosexual men, one of the key theories we learned was the importance of shunning all things feminine from our personalities. I explained this to Jerry, and pointed out how damaging it was for him to address me with a feminine title.
And I had to emphasize that I was being completely serious.
The irony is that Jerry was not the most masculine of my friends, although he swore he was straight, from the day I had met him. Compounding the irony was the fact that we had worked together in entertainment - for Disney. Most of my friends from Disney and theater naturally had a finely tuned sense of gaydar. And most of those same people thought Jerry was very, um, "sweet."
Years later, as a single man, Jerry was still maintaining his heterosexual status. And it was years later that I finally went back to school to major in Gender Studies. Two years of soaking up the liberal and interesting perspectives of this field made me more open-minded about people's sexuality, including Jerry's.
Having been raised in a Christian family, it took a while for me to detach from a "black or white" lens. You were either straight or gay. You were either Christian or you were not. Learning about human sexuality helped me to appreciate all of the in between shades of greys, and pinks, and lavenders of people, including Jerry.
I also learned to appreciate the notion that "shunning all things feminine" is rather misogynistic. In the simplest nutshell, some men don't want to identify with women because it is beneath them. If women are inferior to men, then men should not want to be associated with any of their traits or qualities.
I love being Uncle Peter to my nieces and nephews. And I adore being an honorary auntie to my friends' children. I look up to quite a few women in my life: my own Aunt Pat, my dance teacher, Dede, and the CEO of our workplace, a role model for graciousness. It is an honor to emulate them, knowing even just a small part of the obstacles they have had to overcome.
So, I embrace the feminine in me, and the masculine. I love and accept that which is one hundred percent Peter Varvel.
(The photo above is of BFF Kathy's two children, Abby and Jonah, and me. At least they still call me Uncle Peter . . . for now).