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“Your relationship did not begin, I suspect…”
That’s the first line of an email my wife and I received from her uncle back in 2015. “…because you were trying to make a point, or join a cause, or make a political hoo-ha”, the note continued. He was reflecting on how, just by being ourselves, we were able to influence our families, friends, and co-workers to bend toward simple fairness and justice.
We received this letter when our state had just been through a brutal and divisive battle over excluding gays from ever marrying. LGBTQ+ advocates had lost such battles in a dozen other states. Our uncle’s letter closed with, “You had opened hearts and minds so that the people who know and love you could not betray you. We have a lot to be grateful for in just knowing both of you.”
When my now-wife and I got together in 1999, we were a little apprehensive about attending family events, but we always showed up. It wasn’t long before people came to expect that JacquieJan–as we are often called–would always be around. We simply integrated into our respective families. It was only weird when one of us didn’t show up for gatherings. Work was no different; we had no fear of being “out” there either.
They called little girls like me “tomboys” back in the 60’s. I didn’t care much for dolls, but I sure did like my Hot Wheels and tools. My three older sisters were way more “girlie” than me. I joke that my dad was bound and determined that his fourth child was going to be a son. He wanted to teach somebody how to use tools, throw a ball and change the oil in a car. He wanted to teach “field expediency”, which is what we now call “MacGyver-ing”. And I was a sponge. It’s not like he wouldn’t have taught my sisters; they just weren’t interested.
There is no hard evidence to suggest that nurture or nature is responsible for somebody being gay, but I knew at a pretty young age that I was different. I realize now that Jodie Foster, Kristie McNichol, Meredith Baxter, and Kate Jackson were all crushes. I gravitated toward Theatre Arts because I felt a strong connection there. My first kiss from a girl was backstage at the Paramount Arts Center in Aurora. That’s when it clicked.
And of course, there’s that fascination with the androgynous David Bowie. But I digress.
My dad passed before I told him I was gay. I regret that because it fell on my mom to hear it from me. Let’s just say that conversation didn’t go well. But it got better. Way better. Just before my mom passed, we had a long conversation about many things, including about my cousin. He was an artist in New York in the 90’s. Those were dark times; he had just contracted AIDS. Like mine, his family had come to terms with him being gay and welcomed him home to pass in comfort. I asked my mom if she was afraid to touch him and she said quickly, “Oh, Jannie! Of course not!” It was good to hear.
My wife and I are both fortunate to have loving, supportive families because it’s not like that for everyone. Not all members of the LGBTQ+ community are as fortunate as we are. Far too many are estranged from their families of origin. Instead, they form Chosen Families; they are not biologically or legally related but choose to be significant in each other’s lives. Also called “Families of Choice”, these groups are important social networks and might include ex-partners, friends, and neighbors, among others.
While many aspects are the same, caregiving in the older LGBTQ+ community presents unique challenges. Members of the community, impacted by past trauma or stigmatization, may fear reaching out for help, which can lead to greater feelings of isolation. Many older LGBTQ+ adults do not have children and Chosen Families are often made up of people their own age. As the Family Caregiver Alliance notes, that can set up a scenario where older adults are the sole support for other older adults.
When my best friend was grappling with cancer, her primary caregiver was her wife and a small group of friends. She wasn’t that close to her parents, and her siblings lived out of state. We helped take care of day-to-day tasks and eventually planned her funeral. Some might say that’s an awful lot for friends to do, but we were family – it didn’t matter if it was chosen or blood. We were family.
I have been a caregiver for my father-in-law and my best friend, both blood family and chosen family. And DARTS supports caregivers on both ends of the spectrum. Throughout these experiences, we have relied on a network of friends, family, and resource professionals like DARTS to help navigate being a caregiver and balancing that with being family.
I am proud to be a part of an organization that makes me feel seen, as I am and in the context of my experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Jan Hix is the Director of Programs at DARTS. Her main focus areas are Home Services and Transportation. Jan came to the non-profit sector in 2016 after a career at FedEx, which gives her a unique perspective on the challenges of transportation. At DARTS, she is also a database administrator and the self-proclaimed “Chief Statistician”. She can often be found curling up with a good spreadsheet and pivot table.
Originally from Illinois, Jan moved to Minnesota in 1998. She and her wife, Jacquie, have been together since 1999 and were married in 2015. Together, they enjoy working on projects around the house, traveling, or just hanging out by the lake in summer.
Music is a through-stream in Jan’s life. While she enjoys many genres, she really leans into British rock ‘n’ roll artists, most notably David Bowie. She is also interested in art & photography, the latest tech gadget, and telling a good story. One of her favorite quotes comes from the Satellite Sisters who say, “Not every conversation will change your life, but any conversation can”. May the Force be with You.