Family, a Queer History / by Kathleen Gullion

I wish I could say I was the first queer thing to happen to my family, but I’d be lying. 

The first queer thing to happen to my family happened in the 1970’s, when a gay man and a gay woman fell in love. They tied the knot with a tasteful ceremony in their own backyard. Adopted 2 kids. Probably had a white picket fence. Definitely had a poodle named Sarah. 

They were my aunt and uncle.

By day, they were the perfect couple. Probably attended PTO meetings together. Definitely spent hundreds of dollars on professional family photos that hung in the living room.

At night, they’d tuck the kids in, smooch their greasy foreheads, and saunter off to bed, arm in arm. They’d open the door to the bedroom, in which you’d find a king sized bed smack dab in the middle. Egyptian cotton sheets carefully tucked in around the mattress, hospital corners. Goose feather pillows, fluffed. A hand made quilt, folded up at the foot of the bed.

So perfect, you’d almost think they never used it.

That’s because they didn’t.

If you lifted up the sheets, you could see the price tags, right there. But no one ever bothered to look.

My aunt and uncle cross the threshold into their bedroom, and disentangle their arms from around the other’s waist. They give the other a courteous kiss on the cheek, and part ways. My uncle heads left, my aunt heads right.

What you didn’t see when you first walked in were two doors. One to the left, and one to the right.

At the same time, the hands turn the knobs, and the doors open. Before stepping through, my uncle looks over his right shoulder, my aunt over her left. They smile. “Good night.”

They each cross the threshold into a bedroom, which connects to a house in another world, not unlike our own. 

Let’s start with my uncle. It’s now morning; he’s waking up. He sits up with a hot cup of black coffee in his hand, watered down with a single ice cube, just the way he likes it. His husband stirs beside him. People confuse them for twins, and my grandmother will still call my uncle’s husband his “friend” even though they got married in Canada years ago. 

Their home is covered in expensive art. My uncle makes a lot of money listening to other people’s problems. He hires two women: one to clean the house, and another to dust off the art. They come every day, at 9:30am sharp. 

Of all the privileges my uncle can afford, these are the most special to him: the art and the woman who cleans the art. 

He and his husband travel the world. They go to France, Brazil, islands in the Pacific. In Brazil my uncle will meet his second husband, but don’t tell husband #1 that. 

I imagine he is a passionate lover, but I don’t imagine it too much, because he is my uncle after all. All I know is he has a deep, velvety voice, and is an excellent dancer, and that’s all I really need to know, because again, he is my uncle after all.

It’s always spring here, my uncle is always in bloom. Sometimes when he closes his eyes, he sees my aunt, but she doesn’t exist in this world, so he pauses for a moment, but doesn’t dwell on her. After all, she doesn’t exist here, so what is there to think about?

Sometimes he goes dancing. It doesn’t matter what music is playing, he will dance. Sometimes he goes with his husband, and sometimes he goes with his friends. My uncle seems to know a lot of scientists, and sometimes he goes with them. They dance better than you think they would. His 2nd husband turns out to be a scientist. An environmental kind. 

My uncle laughs loudly here. Sometimes my aunt can hear it in her world, and she smiles, because she knows, and she’s laughing too. 

If we rewind the tape, we can see my uncle stepping through his door- remember? Let’s pause, and shift the camera to the right. We see my aunt. If you want to imagine, you can imagine me. I’ve been told we look alike. 

We can see her stepping through her door. She closes the door behind her, and sighs. But the sigh is really a deep breath in, because it’s morning here, and she’s taking her first breath of the day. She has a cup of coffee in hand, watered down with one ice cube, just the way she likes it. 

My aunt and uncle have this in common, and it’s actually why they fell in love.

In sleep, her socks have fallen down around her ankles. She pulls them up back to her knees. Her feet get cold when she sleeps. She needs the socks to keep them warm. She hates the way tight socks feel against her leg hair, pulling the hairs in all directions. But she hates having cold feet more.

Her lover stirs beside her in bed. They share a twin bed, because they’re college students at Smith.

The women of Smith are not allowed to have men in their dorm rooms after hours, 8pm to be exact. At 8pm every night, a woman in tweed knocks on my aunt’s door to make sure she is complying. My aunt always complies.

That morning, my aunt has taken all of her bras and put them in a cardboard box. She’s carefully wrapped them up in tissue paper, and written a note that says, “I won’t be needing these anymore.” She spent an hour perfecting the penmanship. She seals up the box, and addresses it to her mother. She thought about burning them instead, as some of her friends have suggested, but this was more her style.

In class, my aunt listens carefully to the professor and stares hard at her notes, perfecting her penmanship, not because she cares about Robert Frost, but because her lover sits across the room from her, and if my aunt looks up for even a split second, they’ll lock eyes and she will not be able to look away, and that wouldn’t be very good for her studies.

That afternoon, my aunt and her lover sit in a secluded place and share pickles, long dill spears. They lock eyes and now, there is no reason to look away. They have all afternoon, and their studies can wait until later.

I imagine she is a thoughtful lover, but I don’t imagine it much, because she is my aunt after all. All I know is she folds her dirty laundry before she washes it, and when you tell a joke, she laughs, even if the joke wasn’t funny, and that’s all I really need to know, because, again, she is my aunt after all. 

She calls my grandmother on the phone that evening. My grandmother tells my aunt about the green bean casserole she made for supper, and then hangs up. This is the conversation they have every night. My mom is off somewhere, practicing the flute.

It’s always fall here, and my aunt is always surrounded by an autumnal, golden glow. She doesn’t think about my uncle, because she hasn’t met him yet. If she thinks about the future, she thinks about it for a moment, but doesn’t dwell on it. After all, the future is so far from now, so why think about it?

Her eyelids start to grow heavy, and she knows it’s almost time. She kisses her lover on the temple, and carefully steps out of bed. She pauses at the door, looks over her left shoulder, and whispers, “Good night.” 

She steps through the door, and sees my uncle doing the same on the other side of the room. It’s morning. They both feel as if they’ve slept eight hours, and they haven’t even had a cup of watered down coffee yet. They smile at each other because they know, and they don’t need to talk about it. 

They brew the coffee, they fry the eggs, they toast the bread. The kids come running down the stairs. They all tousle each other’s hair, and lick their lips in anticipation of breakfast. 

I wish I could say I was the first queer thing to happen to my family, but I’d be lying.

My eyelids are growing heavy, and I know it’s almost time.

Good night. 



Kathleen Gullion is a performer, writer, and theatre maker living in Chicago, IL whose work primarily focuses on queerness & gender. Recent performance credits include a theatrical adaptation of the piece featured here titled Knowing a Goddamn Thing or Two (Curious Theatre Branch's Rhino Fest) and ID (Lady Square Arts). Her writing has been published by Devise Literary Magazine & 39 West Press. She likes making messes on stage and would encourage you to use rosemary in baked goods more often. Read more about her work here.