I was raised in a large family on this farm in the mid-west. It was a great place to grow up with two older brothers, four older sisters, and two younger brothers. There is a twenty year spread in our ages. Dad worked the farm. Mom worked the house and us kids. We were raised to be true to the Catholic church. Eat no meat on Friday, regular confession, fast before church, take regular communion, receive all the sacraments at the proper time. Those were the rules we followed without question. We were smart and happy most of the time. We did well in school and never gave our parents undue grief. Almost never.
We lived a variety of life experiences. Some of us completed college. Some never went. Eight are legally married. Seven have children. Seven are politically conservative. Six are practicing Catholics. One is a fundamentalist christian and once considered the priesthood. One started in seminary but left soon after. One was a nun for thirteen years, fell in love, and left the order. Two are alcoholics and have remained sober for many years. One is gay.
My youngest brother is gay. I am closest to this brother when it comes to talking frequently and in depth about issues that matter to us. But, he lives more than 1,000 miles away. Our closeness really started in 1974 when he asked me to join him as he told Mom and Dad about being homosexual. He was twenty. I wasn’t much help. My role was for moral support. It didn’t go well. They took it negatively. Dad got very ill later that day. Mom seemed to blame it on the stress from my brother’s revelations.
My brother lived with another man for a while after trying the seminary. That relationship didn’t work out. For several years he went up and down emotionally, resulting at one point in a suicide attempt that landed him in a psychiatric unit for six weeks. He is a recovering alcoholic. He believes in God and despises the Catholic church.
After dealing with his addiction issues years ago, his life has become full and satisfying. He is now in his twenty-third year of a loving and committed relationship with another man. He is especially grateful for this continuing relationship with his partner in life. But, he is still gets very frustrated about gay issues and particularly the Catholic church’s efforts to derail any established or burgeoning statewide initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage. They want to be legally married.
More than a year ago, he and Melanie and I had a lengthy talk during a visit to his home. He was angry about what he could, or should, try to do to get the rest of our extended family of siblings and nieces and nephews to recognize their gay relationship as equal to that of anyone else. He wanted the acknowledgement from them that they understand how difficult and unfair it is in this culture to be a gay couple, that they pose no threat to heterosexual couples. He wanted our family to affirm their relationship and to embrace him and his partner and their desire for equality and civil rights.
He wanted a direct and in-your-face confrontation. Instead, he chose a quieter approach. Almost no one talks about his being gay. They say how much they love him and hope he is happy. But, it seems forced and awkward. There is no talk about his journey to this point in his life. There is no real sharing of feelings, except from a few. His feelings will probably boil over again with his frustration at the deafening silence from everyone.
Frank Bruni had an opinion piece about being gay in the Sunday NY Times of January 2012. He asked how does one end up a gay person. Is it something you are born with physiologically? Is it a choice you make? The article made me think about those questions a lot. It made me ask why one of my siblings is gay. We were all raised in basically the same ways, with the same parenting, and in the same environment. I wondered what my younger brother felt about those questions. I forwarded the editorial to him and simply asked “What comments do you have about this?” I figured we would talk about it soon face to face. Instead, he wrote back immediately.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a moot issue. Was I born gay due to genetics? Quite possibly. Did environment play a factor in my conscious decision to embrace or refute this reality? Absolutely. Under different circumstances, could I have developed into a well adjusted heterosexual? For me….no, unequivocally no. My belief is not shared by all, and that’s okay. As mentioned by the author, my earliest memories were also about Timmy, not Tammy. I tried for years to “think” myself into being straight – forced mental imaging of foreplay with female classmates, crude heterosexual locker room boasts with my male friends, I even attempted to HAVE straight sex on prom night (Oooh…I didn’t get very far). All of this occurred in my teens, and no matter what I did, who I hung around with, how many Playboys I thumbed through….I always reverted back to visions of boyfriends dancing in my head. In hindsight, my efforts to simply ignore the obvious direction of my sexual attractions caused as much harm to my psyche as the inevitable torment I endured in coming to terms with my homo-reality.
The author makes solid and politically astute observations: Religious freedom, freedom to bear arms, equal rights amendment, etc., are not genetically based. They’re considered unalienable human rights that must be protected. The fact that I am “moved to love” and perhaps wish to marry someone of the same sex should also be classified as an unalienable human right, protected by Constitutional law. Someday maybe it will be a reality, I hope so. Being gay is not a choice, not for me. Bottom line, who cares.
I told my brother how much I have learned from him. I told him how much I respect him and his partner. Every time we talk I come away feeling I know him better, and myself, too. But, I will never fully appreciate what he must feel. The sharing of ideas and joys and pains is enriching. He even helped me edit this post to its final draft.
A Special Update
Since I originally wrote this story, a lot of positive things have happened. His state passed marriage equality last November in a ballot measure. They pondered the real and meaningful changes that could mean for them and their relationship. They wondered how and when to best plan a marriage ceremony that would be what they wanted for the 23 years of their committed lives together. It seemed like a daunting task. Who to invite? When to do it? Where? Small or large event?
When their last cat died recently at nearly 20 years of age, they felt a huge loss. The empty place they felt seemed very deep. They wondered what they could do to begin feeling positive and happy about their future. In a moment of inspiration, they decided to go ahead and get married in a very small and private ceremony.
A close friend was able to officiate. She jumped at the opportunity. Another family member was eager to be an official witness. They chose their favorite location, a secluded beach on the Atlantic coast near their home. It all came together within a few days. Last Saturday morning, they were officially married. Sunday they posted an announcement and photos to friends and family on facebook. Reaction was strong and positive for them. He announced at work what had happened over the weekend. Thunderous applause erupted. They are so pleased and happy the way it all turned out.
Have you faced these issues with your family or friends? Have you really talked with each other in depth? Do you feel progress is being made toward marriage equality? Do you have some guidance to offer? Your comments are welcome and appreciated.
Thank you for reading.