As a real-life gay uncle to five kids, author and screenwriter Steven Rowley said he was bound to eventually write a book based on his relationships as a so-called ‘Guncle.’
“I don't have kids of my own,” Steven said. “But I was moved by the depth of the relationships with my nieces and nephews, and how important these kids have become in my life. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I wrote about that.”
Since the oldest of his nieces and nephews are about to turn 12 years old, Steven said they don’t quite have a handle on his life just yet. Right now, he’s enjoying playing the fun uncle who spoils them whenever he comes to visit.
“I live in California, they’re on the east coast. I don’t go to an office, their parents do, it’s just a different life,” Steven explained. “But I fly home for holidays and lavish them with presents, then like Mary Poppins I’m gone with the next wind.”
Being a writer, Guncle Steven also tries to foster a love of reading in all his siblings’ kids. As they head into their early teenage years, he said he’s excited to see if it’ll stick.
After finding it to be such a special kind of relationship, Steven finally decided to explore the idea of being a Guncle in his work.
His newest book, “The Guncle,” centers on the life of a fictitious “larger-than-life” character, retiring TV star Patrick O'Hara, who is also a gay uncle. While Patrick is grieving his own losses, he is suddenly tasked with taking in his niece and nephew after their mother passes away. The kids move in with their Guncle in Palm Springs, which eventually leads to a season of healing for all three.
“It’s an exploration of grief, and hopefully it’s funny,” Steven said of his book. “Patrick’s super-power is his lived experience as an out gay man. His humor, his empathy, his pop culture references, all of it. He has lots of valuable experiences and wisdom in there that he imparts on these kids, who get to experience something they never have before.”
Although Steven said he has a lot in common with Patrick O’Hara, the character is not based on himself or his own relationship with his nieces and nephews.
In fact, Steven said the idea of Patrick borrowed heavily from the 1955 novel Aunty Mame, which was written by a closted gay man who later came out, Edward Everett Tanner, under the pseudonym ‘Patrick Dennis.’
“When writing Patrick in ‘The Guncle,’ I was really wondering about all these past writers who created larger-than-life female characters as stand-ins for gay men, because they couldn’t talk openly about who they were,” Steven explained. “It’s been fun to reclaim that, and to see who it might have been, had writers openly been able to share their own lives at that time.”
Steven is now adapting his novel for the silver screen with Lionsgate, and he said he’s looking forward to bringing the characters in ‘The Guncle’ to a broader audience.
“I’m excited for a big-screen family comedy with a queer lead,” he said. “That's something that's so important to me. Books are one thing, but movies have their own power, so I’m excited to introduce a new audience to them.”
He’s also been reflecting on the importance of gay uncles being present in the lives of their nephews, nieces, and other young mentees.
Since gay men often have such a different lived experience to most of their siblings, especially those in straight relationships with biological children, Steven said Guncles have a lot of wisdom to pass down.
“I think there's real value in our perspective, and what we as gay men have to offer children,” he said. “Gay people are often rejected by their families, and they move to big cities and create ‘found families.’ The idea in this book is that family is whoever loves you and accepts you, your uniqueness and your differences, and that should be at the heart of what family is.”
Throughout the decades, Steven said one of his greatest joys has been seeing how far LGBTQ+ rights have come, including the right to marry and start a family. Asked if he ever plans on having kids, the newly-wed said he and his new husband aren’t planning on having any children of their own.
“I don't do anything, and I get tired, so I don't think kids are in the cards for me. My favorite thing about being Uncle Steve is being able to give them back at the end of the day!” he laughed. “I’m the oldest, so to see my siblings parent, and to see these extensions of them, is truly joyful for me. Plus I get to spoil them, and that’s fun.”