Updated: Mar 8, 2021
My great-aunt D was born in 1909. She died 90 years later. She was one of three sisters and two brothers. Her father was a teacher and her mother, a "housewife". D was a career gal - she graduated from the University of Toronto and worked as a teacher and, later in life, as a fashion industry buyer. She never married and no one could recall her dating. I was told about a "close female friend" with whom D travelled, spent weekends, and was otherwise inseparable. Somewhat indelicately, I queried, "Did anyone ever wonder if D was gay?" The silence that followed was my answer.
As a genealogist, I am all about family stories. My obsession with genealogy came from my dad who spent over 30 years researching our family tree. He also happened to be a highly entertaining story teller and had a memory for details that was other-worldly. So, I grew up with stories about my ancestors - who they married, where they lived, how they died. The central component of a European-based family tree consists of the nuclear family - dad, mom, kids. Unwed women who spent their adulthood caring for aging parents don't make for much of a story. All I really knew about Aunt D was that she loved baseball.
It makes me sad to think that D's life has so few stories, that her life lived is not remembered in its fullest. I look at photos of her younger days and I see no record of love relationships. I imagine her and her "close friend" never being able to publicly express the bond they felt. D is holding hands with no one. There are no surprise embraces or goofy longing looks at another. There are no wedding albums, no photos of children, no evidence whatsoever that she loved or was loved. I wish I could set the record straight, go back in time, and ask her about her friend. What made her special? How did they celebrate their bond? Would they have married, if they were allowed to?
Happily, I can contrast Aunt D's legacy of a secret life with the one of my daughter, Pilar, and her girlfriend, Brooke.** I remember that when Pilar confided to me her sexuality, it barely registered. It didn't feel like something she needed to be cautious about revealing to me. I've always said, "The more people you love and who love you, the better." It doesn't matter what form that love takes. Just love.
I am so grateful that, in this day and age, my child is free to love whomever she chooses and that, together, they can share a life openly, with pride and confidence.
You can bet that these photos and the thousands of others they've taken (after all, we live in an Instagram world), will make it into the family stories. We will include Pilar and Brooke in our remembrances of past Christmases and birthdays. We will celebrate their successes and milestones and honour them as the loving couple they are.
Because I believe that healing in the present is an opportunity to heal the past, I am certain that great-aunt D is seeing this loving relationship from wherever she is now and that she is smiling.