Extended family / Family

Shoe? Meet the Other Foot.

One of my favorite bloggers outside of the Lesbian Family blogosphere is Isabel, of Hola, Isabel. By simple description, we might be utterly different — she’s a churchgoing west-coaster whose husband is building their second house from scratch! I only recently became a regular churchgoer, live in the south, and between Jill and me, we can pretty much build Ikea furniture. I started reading Isabel’s blog when we were both pregnant, and stayed for the good storytelling. Plus we just like each other, you know?

This week, Isabel wrote a series of posts on her experience and feelings about having a gay brother who (finally) came out to his family in his late 20s.

These posts were so interesting to me, because they tell the story of an emotionally difficult and draining coming out, from the perspective of a family that had long known that the brother in question was gay, and who weren’t particularly uncomfortable with the idea. Yet the gay son is still alienated from his family of origin. And they are alienated from him.

What I walk away from Isabel’s story with is how much homophobia hurts families.

It doesn’t just hurt the gay members of those families, and it doesn’t just hurt if the straight family members are homophobic. Fear of homophobia, expectation of homophobia, perception of homophobia even when there might be another explanation — all of those things are part of the air we breathe when we are living our lives, especially when we try to live them as out GLBT people.

What I imagine, reading between the lines of Isabel’s story, is a brother who spent a long time afraid of being rejected by his family. I imagine that he heard the relative non-reaction of his family as something like silent judgment, and I imagine that he pulled away from his family defensively, because that was the reaction he was listening for. I don’t KNOW any of that — her brother might just be a straight-up jerk, who happens to also be gay, and he might have skipped out on family weddings even if he were a zero on the Kinsey scale.

And of course, he might be a gay jerk who WAS interpreting his family’s “reaction” (or lack of same) in the most negative and homophobic possible light, regardless of their intent.

Our straight friends and families don’t magically know how to reassure us that their feelings towards us haven’t changed. They probably have no idea that we’d like that reassurance.

They also want to know that the core of who we are hasn’t changed — we’re still the human being we always were. How to share both the changes in our lives and the consistency is hard.

A lot of us go through a sort of second adolescence shortly after coming out, and much like actual teenagers, we may think that we’re Finally Being Who We Really Are, that may not be entirely true. That’s something else I imagine from Isabel’s story.

Fortunately, most of us calm down again after the novelty of feeling free to tell the truth about our romantic & sexual lives settles into the normalcy of dating and living life.

The question is, how do we keep the lines of communication open with our families during all that tumult? And how do we give them the benefit of the doubt and keep them “in the loop” without oversharing. Or how do we rebuild those relationships after our irrational exuberance calms down? How do we share our lives in all their complexity with our families, in spite of our fears?

I don’t think there’s “an answer” to that, but I think communication, in spite of fear and resistance, is at the core of whatever the answers are. At least if we want to continue those relationships.

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  1. Thanks for this lovely post. You said some really good things that were important for me to hear.

    The bottom line is that I have no idea what is going through my brothers head. I wish I did. I wish it made more sense to me.

    (And also, he is a big fat jerk. So that may or may not have something to do with all of it!)

  2. Great entry!

    It’s nice to read things from “the other side” of the fence. My live-in sister came out about six months ago. It’s been a process – and one of the most courageous things she’s had to do. With each person she told, especially with my parents, she was shocked to find a great deal of acceptance. She’s been happier than ever with her life, and I’m so happy for her.

    The thing about having a family member (a very close one, in my case) come out is that everyone has some sort of mental picture of what their loved one’s future holds. I had to lay to rest the idea of a brother-in-law and neices/nephews (she doesn’t want kids) and paint a new picture in my mind for her. I was a little nervous, wondering how or if she would change, but for the most part, everything is even keel. She was gay long before she told me, and the only thing that really changed was my knowledge of it. I love that my kids will grow up with this perspective as their norm, and I love that it’s something that’s discussed openly at our house. Most of all, I love that I’ve gotten to take this “coming out” journey with her. I feel like I’ve earned at least a few rainbow stripes of my own.

    ;o)

  3. Thank you both!

    Isabel, I think it’s sad and not uncommon that you don’t know what’s going on in his head, and he seems to not know what’s going on in those of you and the rest of your family.

    Molly, it sounds like you’re having the opposite experience — the close communication with your sister, and really getting “what does this mean?” for her and for her future, just sounds amazing. For both of you!

  4. I really liked this post, Liza. You bring up a lot of good points about the difficulty of coming out for the gay person, but also for the family. I hate it when families get completely split apart over this, and I think it takes some give and take from both sides. I think one of the things that my mom found really hard at first was the loss of my having a family, but of course now my little family is a big part of the larger family.

  5. This was very interesting for me to read, Liza. Although I do not have direct expereince with this, and my own boys are only 5 and 8 months, I already think about how I might react if either of them were to be gay. Even at 5 years old, I see how much heterosexuality is normalized among children–especially as all the kids are going through a “I am going to marry so and so” stage. He was teased for saying he would marry his best little guy friend. When my husband recounted the story with amusement to the “future husband”‘s parents, they just looked at him in horror at the notion–as if he had suggested something vile. I will confess, I told him he should probably lay off talking like that with other parents whose politics we don’t know–I didn;t want my son to experience any kind of negativity (Husband’s response was “f**k ’em, reminding me once more why I am lucky to be married to him!)

    Obviously, this is a pretty small and not entirely relevant anecdote. But I know that I will love my son and whomever my son choses to love, and I hope I can raise him in complete awareness of this. I also know that my only qualms in the matter will be over how other people might mistreat him because of his choices.

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