I don’t remember when I first met my Aunt Jen, though I’m sure I probably met her even earlier than that, during the time before memory. Essentially I’m declaring definitively and with definite enthusiasm that my Aunt Jen has been a role model and veritable icon in my personal iconography of family for as long as I can remember.
Her beautifully big voice, her bigger personality, and her bigger still heart have been there when a lot of other things didn’t seem to be throughout my childhood. Her visits, sometimes solo and sometimes with Her Mom and Aunts were things my brother and I looked forward too, like they were bringing the vacations to us since we couldn’t find the means to leave Tennessee to see them.
Aunt Jen is the first woman I knew that played golf, and I thought of her years later when my neighbors Glenn and Katsuyo tried to teach me the most thoughtfully strolling game on the mosquito infested fields of Eugene, Oregon. Aunt Jen is the first woman I knew for certain my biological Father was afraid of, at least, other than my Mother. His older sister, she’d cut the cloth defining what rebel and outlaw looked like in their homestead, and I suspect he always felt a bit awed and overshadowed by her zany shenanigans. True, he managed to destroy the family car more epically than his sisters, driving over an open manhole and ripping the drive shaft manifold thing off the underside of the their mother’s family sedan. If you’re going to exceed the rebellious accomplishments, short of teen pregnancy, that’s a pretty good start.
Jen’s last name is Henry. At some point previous to my walking the Earth, Aunt Jen married a fellow that I’ve always thought of as named Henry though of course that’s actually his surname. They’d been divorced a while before I met him, and wasn’t until the past decade I came to learn concepts in the Gay and Lesbian community like Beard, so while he might not of been a certified “Beard”, or she for that matter, does help fill in missing details as to how these to people I grew up knowing as Best Friends, Ever could have ever gotten divorced. My only hint of contention between them comes from an anecdote about his missing sense of smell, and how that meant he had no idea the cat box had ripened beyond tolerance a week ago, or that the gas primers were out. Mr. Henry remains the only person I’ve met with that strange handicap / affliction, and while he is spared the unpleasant odors, I feel very bad for all the scratch and sniff opportunities denied him in life.
My Aunt Jen is the first Lesbian I’ve ever known. Not that I knew she was when I knew her first, and I met many others before I officially found out sometime in my early twenties when Aunt Jen and I began to reunite, catch up, and realize one another both pretty damn cool folks for various reasons likely puzzling to the other.
Moving to and living in Cincinnati’s Gaslight District with my friend / girlfriend / fiancé / first wife Lisa, I had my first exposure to Gay Culture. I’m capitalizing what I feel deserves respect, or at least, has earned my respect. While I worked at GJ’s by Gaslight across the street from the Roach Motel aka The Roanoke I met a wondrous cadre of folks that had found themselves not fitting the norms television and media pushed down our collective throats, the nuclear family, the man woman two kids picket fence pink houses and a pet. Sure, might keep and flip those tacky-gaudy pink houses, but the rest turned out to be rubbish for many of the friends I made while I lived there, and through them I learned about how to confront insecurities, or social awkwardness, being different, defining yourself for who you are and what you want to be and believe in. Who you’re realizing you actually are despite what the TV tells you, the church tells you, your school or work or supposed friends and peers tell you.
Excuse the tangent to explain a few very key points that will prove embarrassing to me yet had the unforeseen benefit of helping my Aunt Jen and I understand and open up more to one another.
As an early twenties male with a couple years of college radio under his belt and a sense that his narrow mind is wide open like some armchair Henry Miller or Jack Kerouac with a healthy, or unhealthy, interest in all things boobs and beauties, I’d tired of doctored photo airbrush touch up Playboy and plastic fantastic Penthouse type men’s magazines and begun to look for something more real. Or at least, different. Not hardcore, not people humping sheep or anything. Had unfortunately seen a bit of that during my freshman year in college thanks to my friend Shawn, and I really wish I never had, absurd and unappealing as it had been.
No, I wanted something real, something speaking for an audience to an audience that wasn’t utterly manufactured. And the, ironically from a Club International column I learned about Susie Bright and Annie Sprinkle. That would prove to be the last issue of CI I would ever purchase, a final glossy paged Adult equivalent to teen classic Hit Parade requested from the considerable rack (pardon the pun) behind the corner convenience store counter on my way to one of my last overnight shifts at WRFL 88.1, that in a plastic sack with a two liter of Coke and three Honey Bunch frosted buns (ironic, I know) and a couple packs of Camels, all the stimulants I’d need to stay alert during the 3am slump. By this point the improbable necking twins and dynamic doubles were scarcely enough to solicit more than an appraisers grunt, good form here, could stand to lay off the Oreos there. And so of course, as any Playboy aficionado will tell you, when the eye candy looses luster, you begin reading your secret journals for the articles. And while Ween sang about weasels in their chimney and Alice Donut bemoaned an egg and Boss Hog growled about finding water, I read about two women that were feminists of a completely different ilk, and suspect the entire time someone had hired a female intern on a lark at Club International, possibly a feminist or at least a liberal arts major, because the articles author seemed deeply intent on steering me away from plastic pretenses to something smarter, owner empowered, and far more fair to the females involved.
I’d read Our Bodies, Ourselves when about the same time I hit double digits of age, and while I would never claim to have understood half of what that fine tome contained, I did appreciate that women should have some control over how they chose to objectify themselves, how they serve themselves up to the consuming public. This goofy little interview in Club International so many years later helped me to better understand what I’d read as a kid, and further, plant a few signposts for me to follow as though searching for some sort of guilt free, non-oppressive porn OZ in the wilds of alternative media and literature.
And in Cincinnati, I found the magazine that seemed to reflect a non-exploitative, honest sort of erotica, a magazine that incidentally cite Susie Bright as a managing editor called On Our Backs. Sure, the pictures were all black and white and the paper didn’t lend itself to splaying out easily on a thigh in the throne room. I actually never felt I could treat a single issue I procured with the indignities many a cheap issue of Club International had suffered. Instead, I wanted to read, to know, to understand, everything that could possibly contextualize the few scant photos the magazine issues contained. Picture might be worth a thousand words when you want to read into a photo, however when you want to know just the facts, ma’am then the photo, well, she has some ‘splainin’ to do. And through those issues I learned about bell hooks, about Betty Dodson, and about Susie Bright’s gynecological stage performances with the audience meets speculum line-ups.
And sometime about then is when Aunt Jen and I began to reacquaint after years of minimal, birthday card sorts of interaction. And somehow, like yet another example of how a quest for boobs has lead to some small or large personal enlightenment about life, art, culture, etc., I had more to offer for substance and questions for my Aunt Jen, and through that, she felt more able to share with me.
And when Aunt Jen came out to me, I seriously thought she could not have found a way to become even cooler in my book than she already was. Surprisingly, perhaps, not for the obvious virile straight male reasons, I mean, sure the lipstick lesbian fantasy sounds awesome for let’s pretend time, however people are people are people and having recently discovered through On Our Backs a tiny lens into one strata of society not getting a lot of mainstream exposure, that my Aunt Jen represented a stand up and be who she wanted to be regardless of social perception or awkwardness commanded my respect, my admiration, hell, even my envy. Didn’t take that many club land field trips with my coworkers from GJ by Gaslight to sort out that despite my interests in fashion and dramatic flair, I would forever be straight and thereby typical and mundane.
I remember seeing Dead or Alive at the Dock in Columbus, and during the Halloween after party being asked off the wall while wearing jeans and a sleeveless Abercrombie & Fitch flannel shirt to dance by a handsome doppelganger for the prime of career version of Arsenio Hall, and feeling deeply flattered while turning him down. I don’t care about gender, when you’re 260 pounds and wearing a mall boutique store lumberjack wife-beater and someone still finds you attractive, you blush, you courtesy, and you goddamn well say thank you. I didn’t dance with the silk suit wearing Seal looking beauty for a few reasons. For one, I’d learned to dance from Yo’ MTV Raps with Ed Lover and Dr. Dre, and yes Who’s the Man is one of my favorite movies, as is Coming to America. Anyone that knows me can attest to the epic majesty of my shuffle step, however no way on a throbbing gay club self illuminating dance floor after a warm up set from Pete Burns with his sequined pasties and Yankee Doodle Dandy sequined thong. For another, even if the dance went well, I didn’t want things to go farther, or to encounter an awkward moment of confronting misunderstanding. Sure, I might look vaguely bear or butch, but I work for a bank that represents credit cards for clothing stores, collect Kenner Star Wars figures, and have a girlfriend back home that I look forward to getting personal with if she’ll let me when I get home. Yeah, sadly straight, or so I thought back then, normal, typical, and boring. Not like my Aunt Jen at all.
Lisa and I braved a literal hurricane on the highway to drive from Columbus to Buffalo to stay for a week with Aunt Jen. That’s where the picture at the head of this post is from. Somewhere is a picture of me holding my first ever lobster a few minutes before I discovered how traumatic killing your first lobster can actually be. If I find that picture, I’ll post it, pretty funny stuff.
We stayed with my Aunt Jen and together the three of us went on a tour of everything she could think of to show us. My first Canadian cigarettes? My Aunt got them for me. Expos. I marveled over the strangely wider, short packaging and different, less toxin infused flavor. My first and second Lesbian owned & operated venues? My Aunt took us to them, introducing us to her friends, her surrogate family, quietly explaining the real meanings to terms I’d learned from porn, what a lipstick lesbian actually is, and how that repressed power play is not nearly as endearing or fancy free as I might’ve been lead to believe. She pointed out women that turned to the gay and lesbian community for support after abusive relationships, something Aunt Jen professionally understood and worked to remedy through counseling and support, then for children, later for people probably not unlike the handful she indicated during our whirlwind Willy Wonka tour of her life and lifestyle.
We accompanied her to meet and chat with her therapist. Having had a strange couple rounds with shrinks as a kid, I had to wonder why someone all grown up and so seemingly in charge of her epic like as Aunt Jen would need a couch to cry on, so to speak. And then I learned how human Aunt Jen actually is, and somehow, that just made me love her more. She had regrets, memories, and at least for a couple of those I think our visit helped dispel some ghosts, exorcise a couple demonic doubts, something like that.
When Lisa and I got married, we of course invited Aunt Jen. And she came, and further, she brought Mary, and Mary rocked, and now all this time later the two of them have finally, officially been able to legally tie the knot that was apparent as noses on faces for Lisa and I way back when, when my youngest sister thought flower girl meant flower power and my brother still blushed when I teased him and my Dad showed up with tortoise shell sunglasses looking not unlike a young Jack Nicholson and my biological father Tom wanted to take pictures of everything signifying a bourgeoning career with his wife Gloria that would come full circle snapping beautiful shots at Aunt Jen and Aunt Mary’s wedding last month.
You’ve read me mention churches in my past, and I could do well to clarify that some other day. Suffice to say the Presbyterian church has been an aspect of the Christy family for quite some time, back to Aunt Jen’s Father, a Granddad I never met but fortunately have a number of recorded sermons my biological father Tom digitized years ago. While I never knew the man, I’m positive he would have been proud his daughter, his firstborn child, chose to also be one half of the first ever Same Sex union in Presbyterian history, in New York and apparently anywhere else, including Ohio. And I know I am.
Despite the strange ways we get to know one another again and again over the years, results clearly justify the means, and I could not be more happy for or earnestly congratulate my Aunt Jen for making official for the world the life and love that reflects her being as an individual, self-wrought and whole.
Nothing but love, respect, and appreciation this day for my Aunts Jen and Mary. Hope to see you again soon, introduce you to my family, my better-half Lindz, and most of all my son, your Great Nephew, who I hope you’ll both inspire every bit as much as you and your Aunts inspired me.