This post is dedicated to my Aunt Mern (Marian Faulhaber). My godmother, and a constant example of what it is to be a strong woman in this world. Thank you for being such special support.
I’ve just gotten back from a long trip home to NY. After spending a lot of time with family and friends, I watched the new Lady Gaga documentary on the plane. It sent a rush of emotions through me. This trip was a strange one for me. I experienced pure joy - watching a few folks get married who I love dearly with all my heart, and pain - the unexpected loss of a family member. Timing, after all, is everything - so I can’t help but think things were meant to be this way.
Gaga’s influence on me is as much about my connection to her creative process, as it is about her work. The sources of her inspiration have always hit close to my heart. There is a scene in Five Foot Two when she visits her grandmother. Alongside her father, the three discuss family memories and the difficult passing of her Aunt Joanne at a very early age.
Joanne was a unique artistic spirit and very talented, gone too soon. After listening to the title song Joanne, her grandmother simply says “you are, you’re just so special.” The look on Gaga’s face watching her grandmother take in the song she wrote for her made my heart ache for my grandfather. I was lucky enough to be raised with 4 grandparents, all artists in their own right. I had a very deep connection specifically with my maternal grandfather, Francis X Faulhaber. In that moment, I heard his voice in my head telling me the same thing that Gaga’s grandmother said to her. There were so many times I showed him my own work, sitting next to him downstairs in his workshop creating pieces of my own. I missed him deeply in this moment, but I know that he is still proud of all that I am creating.
Also, like Gaga's experience - I was taught how to be a woman from the LGBTQ community. There is an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked Season 9, Episode 1 (min 14:30) which she spoke the exact words I have felt since I was young. I encourage you to watch the entire episode(s) yourself, but I think that the transcript makes more of an impact for purpose:
“I’m not a gay woman, you know - and it’s that touchy sort of subject, right? Where can you stand up for people that you are not necessarily fully part of that community in a way that you can understand what you all go through. But I have always been surrounded by incredibly intelligent powerful gay men who have lifted me up through lots of changes in my life. Becoming famous was very strange, and it’s the gay men in my life that helped me to become a woman. I don’t know that a lot of people would understand that, but it’s because of what you have been through. You have survived so much, that you inspire me to continue surviving. So thank you for that.”
My Aunt Mern was named my godmother before anyone knew we would have such a special connection. I always new Aunt Mern was gay, I always knew her 'roommate' was her partner, and I always knew that it must have been hard for her in a very Catholic family to be true to herself. My love for collecting Nikes started with her, and she came to just as many of my basketball games as my parents did. I had a hard time in high school, I was teased a lot for being tall and a tomboy. I never felt beautiful, but Aunt Mern taught me that "pretty" doesn't necessarily always look like traditional femininity. Beauty can come from strength in oneself and pure love. I remember once I was visiting home from college, and she asked me if I had ever been to a drag show - 'they are just so gorgeous' she said. She always asked me and my cousins to go with her to a show with her friends in downtown Buffalo.
When I moved to New York after school, I eventually ended up working in the creative industry. I spent a few years in fashion, and my 20's became more nights at a gay club dancing all night, and less of dive bars drinking beers watching sports with dudes who were more likely to grab my ass inappropriately than make me laugh - (except for when we went to Boxers of course! shouts to when I met my idol Greg Bennett ). I guess I just felt safer, but above all I had found my tribe. I was accepted, straight or not. It felt really good to feel normal in my own skin for the first time outside of athletics. Rachel took me to Cubby Hole for exclusive table dancing antics, Bruno taught me how to accessorize, and Thomas taught me how to drink distilled vodka from Vlada while we plotted world domination. The Drag Queens I met along the way showed me that I wasn't athletic and awkward - I am my own self and that is where true goddesses are born. They also taught me how to wear makeup properly, how to walk in heels, and how to pair a manicure with a bag, and walk with my head held high - things my mother never taught me. These people are my family. They lift me up when I am having anxiety attacks, and are a constant reminder that I am loved.
I don't know if Aunt Mern will ever know how much she taught me to be a woman. How she opened my heart, by opening our family's eyes. Most of my own inner strength was born out of her example. She was unapologetic about who she was - and so I knew it was ok to feel different.
Thank you. You made me whole.