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Love your ‘tita’ as aunts offer protection to LGBTQ youth relatives – study

Aunts, aunties, and tías (Spanish for aunts) offered housing stability and harbored emotional safety for their LGBTQ “nibling,” the gender-neutral term for the child of a sibling.

Aunts play an important role in supporting the well-being of their LGBTQIA youth relatives.

This is according to a study – “Aunties, Aunts, and Tías: The Forgotten Othermother Supporting and Housing LGBTQ Youth, Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World” by Brandon Andrew Robinson, Amy L. Stone, and Javania Michelle Webb – that appeared in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World.

For this study, the researchers interviewed in the summer of 2022 83 LGBTQ youth from the Inland Empire and South Texas, two geographic areas identified as understudied places in LGBTQ research.

The researchers found that:

  • Aunts, aunties, and tías (Spanish for aunts) offered housing stability and harbored emotional safety for their LGBTQ “nibling,” the gender-neutral term for the child of a sibling.
  • This dynamic challenges traditional family research, which tends to look at social dynamics and interactions between parents and children, and often focuses on the rejection by parents toward their LGBTQ child.

The study similarly discussed “othermothers” (here described as women who assist biological and adoptive mothers in mothering children), who can be sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and “fictive kin” (or those not related by blood but still have close relationship to someone with children). Particularly, these people tended to be “crucial parts of extended kin networks within Black, Indigenous, and Latinx families”.

“This study joins other scholars in not only decentering the nuclear family but also in interrogating what is missed in the lives of LGBTQ youth if scholars only focus on parent-child dynamics,” said Robinson.

That aunts play a big role in LGBTQ people’s lives need to be stressed, said Robinson, because parents tend to police them, and yet aunts tend to be more accepting.

“Parents are often uniquely invested in their child’s gender and sexuality, as parents often see their child’s gender and sexuality as a reflection of their own parenting,” Robinson said, adding that “gender policing” can drive parents and children apart. But aunts have been noted to: take LGBTQ youth into their homes, are familiar with online lives of their youth relatives, and even educate other family members about LGBTQ topics and gender pronouns.

For the researchers, and particular to the participants in this study, “aunts provided gender-affirming and queer and trans support, along with anticipatory support for housing and actual housing support for their niblings.” As such, “aunts acted as a buffer between the youth and other family members, especially parents, and provided consistent loving and affirming support. Scholars need to take seriously aunts, othermothers, and other nonparental relatives in the lives of youth, especially LGBTQ youth.”

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