Simon Dunn, On the Importance of Being a Gay Uncle

Sitting in the waiting room of the maternity ward in Wollongong Hospital, I remember almost crying at the sound of other expectant mothers as they gave birth. I knew that my sister was about to go through that exact same process not only once but twice. In that waiting room, my fear was mixed with excitement. At the young age of 16, I was about to become an uncle to twins—a boy and a girl! Kurt and Teileigha. Many hours past whilst I sat in the waiting room, but, before I knew it, two beautiful examples of perfection were rushed past the waiting room and into the neonatal unit. My love for my niece and nephew was instant.

Being six weeks premature, it would be some time before I got to hold them in my arms or give them a hug. For weeks, I watched their tiny, little bodies through a glass box, forever hoping they would be fine. My little angels were born into the world with an instant struggle for life. This was at a time when I – although having accepted my sexuality – was very much struggling. These two precious babies turned out to be the perfect distraction.

I was 16 and about to go into what North America refers to as "senior high." Also, my sister came to live with us again for a bit of extra support. My older sister and I have always been really close. So, naturally, I found myself waking up most nights to help with feeding and even the occasional diaper change. I soon learnt to always expect to be vomited on at any time, to always wipe to the back with girls, and that no matter what you do, sometimes babies just want to cry. To this day, I feel as though this is why my bond with my niece and nephew is so strong.

It was during one of these midnight feedings that I first came out to my niece. She was barely a few months old, and I whispered into her ear so my sister couldn't hear me. My sister was only a few feet away feeding my nephew. The importance and sentimental value of this moment during my coming out doesn't escape me because it ended up giving me the confidence to tell other people.

As the years passed, I spent most afternoons and weekends with the twins. I lost a lot of my friends when I came out, so being able to spend weekends with my sister and the babies helped me escape from the reality that I'd lost life-long friends for simply being honest about who I am. Although these are memories I still cherish to this day.

After I'd fully come out and completed high school, I wound up moving to Sydney. My adult life took precedent over family time because I was living in a different city, working full time, and I had an active social life that made it difficult for me to get home. Despite this, those years in Sydney, to this day, have proven to be the hardest for me emotionally. But, the twins and their cheeky smiles always kept me going through those tough times.

There was a time when I was in a long-term relationship with a dancer, so every Christmas, birthday, or even on my occasional visits, Teileigha would be learning to dance while Kurt and I were outside playing rugby or exploring. However, when it was time for me to leave, we would always have to pretend that I wasn't leaving, and I'd sneak out. On one visit Teileigha saw me and came running out to the car. She grabbed my hand and said to me, "Uncle, please don't go. I'll miss you." It was absolutely heartbreaking.

A few years later I got a call from my mother. "Brooke's pregnant again," she told me. Her obvious trepidation was overshadowed by my excitement. The baby would turn out to be a boy – my nephew Kyron. I regret not getting to spend as much time with Kyron in his early years, but with his natural affinity for sport our bond soon grew.

Kyron is a natural on the rugby league field, although he is a little too competitive. He's also the one I will go kick a rugby ball around with when I visit now. The twins, now in their early teens, prefer just to hang in their rooms. It's a sad day that I'm sure all parents, uncles, aunties, and grandparents can relate to when their babies start growing up.

The baby making journey for my sister didn't stop at three. One to always do things to the fullest, she fell pregnant again. This came at a time when we'd started to realize that my sexuality and inability to find a husband would mean I probably wasn't going to have children of my own. Brooke took me aside and said, "I'm having this one for you, just in case you never have your own". None of us realized that this one would in fact turn out to be twins, again. My sister gave birth to twin boys named Ryder and Saxyn.

Now that I was a little more mature, my family became a lot more important to me. I was about to move to Canada to pursue a career in bobsleigh, so I moved in with my sister for a few months before I left. Raising five kids isn't the easiest of tasks, and I have all the admiration in the world for my sister and her husband. During this time, I built an extremely close bond with both of the little twins, but most notably with Saxyn.

Unable to say the world uncle, I was referred to as "Bubble". Every morning, I'd hear Saxyn's little feet run towards my door to wake me up. He became my shadow, and my family referred to him as "Uncle's Little Man".

Ryder grew to be the most unique little boy I've ever met. He is not as boisterous as his brothers, or even his sister for that matter. He prefers hanging out with his mother and grandmother to spending time with males. He also prefers to wear dresses. He is so fortunate that his mother and father, just like myself, love him for who he is and love him for his uniqueness. I'm so excited to see his journey in life. I am confident that regardless of how things eventuate, I'll always have his back.

To be honest, I love how my sexuality has been fully accepted by them and has helped make them more accepting of other people. I often hear stories of them defending the LGBTQI community to their peers who may have never met anyone within my community. But, I'm also often asked when I'll finally find a boyfriend.

One of my greatest joys in life is being an uncle, notably a gay uncle. I feel, given the fact I may never have kids of my own, I place more emphasis on being there for my niece and nephews. I also strive to always be a strong role model for them. Sometimes, I feel like my heterosexual counterparts don't always place as much importance on being like this. Unfortunately, I know this is the case with my own uncles. Although my uncles were always important figures in my life, their relationship with me cannot be compared to the power and beauty of my relationship with my niece and nephews.

There's something amazing about looking back at your niece and nephews and seeing them look to you with awe and so much love in their eyes. Each of them has motivated me in my life to be the person they think I am, even when I stumble and fall along the way. Being away to pursue my bobsleigh career was always very difficult for me because I felt like I was missing out on so much of their lives. But, when I visit, I see that they're so proud of me and all that I have achieved. Their unyielding love for me shows me that I'm doing exactly what I'm meant to.

I can't wait until I'm back home in Australia, so I can teach him everything I've learnt from my sporting career. I look forward to being more of a presence in their lives and helping them grow to be the amazing young adults I'm certain they will be. Maybe one day I will even coach Kyron's rugby league team. And because of all the experiences I have had helping raise my niece and nephews, I'm confident that should I ever have a family of my own, I've got it covered!

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