Musings on the village and identity by a not-so-rich, childfree aunt.
I’m in my auntie era. Let me explain.
When I turned 40 I told my friends that I was embracing my life as a not-so-rich childfree auntie. Thing is, I was kinda joking but kinda not.
I’ve been an aunt since I was 13 years old, a casualty of having much older siblings. But, more recently, I’ve begun to embrace being an auntie. There’s a big difference.
An aunt is your parent’s sister or sister friend. An aunt can be close or distant part of your familial village. An auntie*, however, is woman or femme in your life who is confident and a confidante, who lives by their own rules, and gives no fucks. Aunties are worldly and experienced. They are not necessarily nice, but they are always kind.
Does my definition not sound like the aunties you grew up with? I get it. I know aunties rightfully get a bad rap for a few reasons, especially in immigrant communities and communities of color. So many of us have encountered the judgmental auntie whose greeting is, “You’ve gained weight” or “when are you going to get married?” instead of “hello.” The ones who send your mama COVID misinformation memes through WhatsApp and try to set you up with their musty ass sons. Y’all know the ones. Those are the aunties I want to push off a cliff into a bed of thorns. Just tip them right on over never to be seen again. But, I digress. Those aunties don’t get the final say on what auntieness gets to be. We get to lift up the aunties who are possibility models of how to be and if we don’t have examples in our communities or families, we get to make new definitions and tell new stories.
When I say say auntie I mean an othermother, a family figure who models good boundaries. The type of person you can talk to when your mama is tripping, and your daddy won’t listen. The type of person who can get you together and pull you back from the edge without shaming you. The person who takes you in when your folks put you out. Someone who models integrity, fun, and joyful aging. Someone who values your thoughts and learns from you. The adult you needed when you were a young person.
While I’ve always be a happy aunt, I haven’t always been cool with being an auntie. I know that auntie is often used derogatively, a way to signal that some is older and a bit uncool. For me, that has been intimately connected to existing in a large body. Growing up fat and Black, I was used to being the butt of the proverbial joke, so I was definitely not trying to be nobody’s “auntie” and continue to reject any sort of auntie shade in that vein. In high school, I remember watching 2Pac’s video for “I Get Around,” an ode to his life as a player. In some of the scenes Pac is on a tennis court being chased by two fat Black girls. It’s all in good fun, right? That video was emblazoned in my young mind as a cautionary tale. I had already experienced years of bullying for my weight and had the shame of internalized fatphobia. I never wanted to be seen as pressed for attention and vowed never to chase a dude.
I hated that my fatness not only made me uncool but aged me in a way, made me old before my time. Back in the day (and even to a certain degree now), being a big girl meant having to wear business casual or look like you were in Little House on the Prairie because plus-size clothing options were wack. I felt “auntified” as a chubby teen out here dressing like I was a member of The Weather Girls or the mother of the bride. Even though there are any number of fat folks getting it in, the image of the desexed fat person who could not possibly be desired still prevails. When you add ageism to the proverbial fatphobia you get a wicked combination.
So I get why for some, being called auntie has a whole lot of baggage. I take no issue with folks like Oprah who reject the label. And, to be clear, my homage to auntiedom is not carte blanch to run up on me and call an auntie or to do so to other. Don’t’ be unwise. Folks to decide who they are and what they will answer to.
What I am saying is that I am leaning into my mentoring relationship with folks younger than me, particularly my chosen family. And I’m having fun being part of intergenerational community, on my terms.
*Also known as a tía, ti, ti ti, and other terms of endearment