April 5, 2011

Runaway Love

[This is probably far more personally soothing than it is helpful to anyone else…#selfishpost…Forgive me]

My biggest fear about coming out to my family is rejection. I’m afraid that my sexuality will cause a dent in my mother and grandparents’ proclamation of unconditional love towards me. Lately, I’ve been reevaluating this apprehension in an attempt to find some glimmer of hope that I’ve missed over the last 10 years or so. Unfortunately, the only thing that comes to mind is my Aunt Donna. My Aunt Donna is my mother’s older and only sister. Apparently she was a wonderful artist and she had beautiful copper skin with auburn colored hair. I’ve never met my aunt because she either disappeared or committed suicide (no body was ever found at the location of her car accident).

When I was 8, I finally found the courage to ask my mom why I never met my aunt. I guess for my age, she thought it appropriate to just leave it at, “My sister disappeared because she didn’t think Grandma and Grandpa loved her.” Back then I used to carry a picture of my aunt around in my backpack hoping I would randomly bump into her on the street and could use the photo as proof that we were related. I really wanted to know her. I can recall sneaking up to my grandparents’ attic to play with her old clothes, jewelry, and art tools. I vividly remember saying nightly prayers with my mom and asking God if I could meet her. In my youth I didn’t understand why this would make my mama cry.

Finally, when I was around 14 my mom filled me in on all the details that 8-year-old-me probably couldn’t understand. My mom suspected that my aunt disappeared or committed suicide because she was gay and my grandparents didn’t approve. That information didn’t sting me, nor did it cause me as much discomfort and sickness, than as it does now. I don’t know whether it has to do with the fact that I’ll be leaving Duke’s bubble soon and I’ve never been “out” in the real world thus I’m nervous, or what. What I do know is that as of recently, when I’m going to bed, I see that picture I used to carry around of her everywhere I went. What I do know is that I’ve been crying myself to sleep for my aunt and for myself for weeks now. What I do know is that I feel crazy for missing a woman I’ve never even met but feel so extremely connected to. What I do know…is that I’m back to that 8-year-old child who is praying to just meet her aunt.

Perhaps I feel so connected to my aunt because I understand the feeling of just wanting to disappear instead of facing the “what-ifs” and repercussions of telling my mother and grandparents that I’m bisexual. When I’m crying myself to sleep, I feel as though I’m crying for her too because I believe that I can perfectly understand the fear she must have felt. I’m scared of following in her footsteps; living a life separated from my family because of my sexuality. However, I’m even more terrified of losing their love.

Below is a letter to my aunt, Donna Marie Dowdy. I’m not sure if she’s alive or otherwise, I just wish, hope, and pray that one day I’ll be able to say these things to her in person.

“Dear Aunt Donna,

My mama and Grandma Betty have always told me I have hands like you and that we have the same shaped eyes. I remember asking about you all the time or wanting to call Grandma Betty and Grandpa Pete on your birthday to see if you finally came home. I’ve always just wanted to know you; to put my hand in yours and compare them; to ask you to teach me to paint. I just want to look into those eyes that supposedly look like mine. When I was younger I was obsessed with you, but I never realized we would have so much in common.

At some point I stopped praying for you. I took your picture out of my backpack, I stopped asking questions, and realized that God wasn’t going to deliver that prayer—or maybe that my prayers just don’t get answered. Either way, at some point I gave up on you. I told myself you were gone and you weren’t coming back for me.

Well, now I’m praying for you again. I need you Aunt Donna. I need you to hold my hand in yours and for us to do this together. Because I love you unconditionally…and I don’t even know you. Because I’ll feel stronger if I have you to support me and I hope that you’ll feel the same about me. Because I need you to tell me that running away was a mistake. I need you in my corner and I promise to always be in yours.

Please come home.

—Your niece”


  1. poignant; real; eloquent way to start my Tuesday.

  2. Dear Donna's niece,

    I hope you will discover that your parents and grandparents are more accepting, loving, and supportive than you imagined possible. Time and loss have a way of changing people.

    As for the mystery of your aunt's disappearance, no one can know what happened or why. May you find her someday, and she turn out to be the kindred spirit you hoped for.


    Take care,

  3. Xan. This is so moving and beautiful. I know that wherever your Aunt Donna is, she is hearing your words. I love you booboo, you're one of the bravest women I know. Always, Amalia

  4. This made me cry. Very, very moving.

  5. I'm really, really glad you shared this. It wasn't so much of a "selfish post" as it was a sharing of an experience that was ironic in more ways than one.

  6. Definitely a sharing post rather than a selfish post! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to hear about this experience.

    One comment...that I'm sure you've heard before and probably isn't that much help. In coming out, I have learned that it is difficult to predict responses from family members. A billion things crossed my mind as I decided to come out to them. My thoughts ranged from what if my mom kills herself and what if my dad dismisses it. In the end, my mom has struggled accepting it, but makes a point to seem completely ambivalent about it. My dad is accepting though he makes offensive comments related to gay men and trans people not realizing I see solidarity there even though I'm a queer woman. There have been ups and downs. They don't really "get it," but coming out went well all things considered. Some of their responses surprised me and some of them didn't. It is very hard to know what will happen ahead of time. I think it is important to be strong in yourself. Be confident in your ability to handle their reaction. After all, that is the best you can do.

  7. I'm sorry Xan. It just ain't right.

  8. Wow. Thanks for sharing; this is really touching, and I feel, like you, a sort of solidarity with and connection to your aunt, although I'm even farther removed from the situation. I guess I'm also feeling the weight of her death/disappearance.

    I think Karan has a great insight here- that experiencing such a loss, especially since your mom herself has acknowledge it as a loss due to inacceptance, may have changed the way your family will react to you. Don't ignore this possibility, and know that even if their compassion isn't immediate, its stories like this that will give you a richer grounds from which to explain the need for their understanding.