I haven’t blogged about this in a while, but since my family has taken over my blog (thanks, sisters, thanks brothers), I thought I would return to writing my own pieces, and describe a bit of what it is like for me to be the “brother who happens to be gay” in a large family.
I have a very large family. Sometimes, too many to count. But seriously, if you count my siblings, their spouses, their children, and their children’s children, there are 159 people ranging in age from zero to 68. And that’s just my immediate family. My father came from a family larger than that — so if you include my aunts, uncles, first cousins, first cousins once removed, and first cousins twice removed, we’re closing on 400 people.
Do I know all these people? Well… some better than others. I know who they are and their names because I took on the responsibility of keeping my father’s family tree and genealogy. So at least I know who my family members are by name, date and place of birth, current location, and relationship back to my paternal grandparents.
When it comes to my immediate family — my brothers and sisters — we have an ongoing, healthy adult relationship. It took a while for that relationship to develop. Being the youngest, my twin brother and I were always treated as “the kids” and it took a long time for our older siblings to accept the fact that we were adults. I “came out” as gay when I was in my early 30s. Some of my family accepted me as being gay right away when they found out, and others did not. In fact, some said that they knew it all along and were just waiting for me to say something. Those who were more reluctant to accept that I was gay had interference from their respective spouses. Yeah, there are some of my brothers or sisters in-law who don’t speak to me unless they have to. Yet there are other in-laws who are as close to me as one of my own blood siblings. It varies.
I think what helped to develop a positive, adult relationship as a gay man, and a gay brother, with my siblings, their spouses, and offspring was an example taught by my mother when she died. It took her a few years to accept that I was in a relationship with a man. But once she accepted that, she grew to love my partner. When she died, we found a note where she designated my partner to be a pall bearer at her funeral — the only “son-in-law” so designated. That made a powerful statement.
I live a positive, up-beat, normal life with my partner, who I treat as an equal and as a spouse. As readers of this blog know, I am well-connected in my community and do a lot of civic work. My family recognizes that and values my contributions. They have supported me all the way in various “campaigns” and in some big events such as our annual Thanksgiving pot-luck or “Spring fix-it-up-for-senior-safety” gigs.
They’re there for me, as I try to be there for them. I show up at their kid’s school plays, football games, birthday parties, or other important events in their lives. We are intertwined. We are family.
It’s not easy being the “odd-ball out” as some people have described being a gay brother among a large family of heterosexuals. But I am not treated as being odd, or unusual, or “different.” As our family continues to grow and move along life’s highway, I am considered as one of those who contributes to our growth. I provide various ways for us to keep in touch through the internet, email, websites, and so on. But my family also works at keeping in touch and together.
I know that I am very fortunate to have a family like I have. I have heard from gay men who have been ostracized and excommunicated from their respective families. I feel very sorry for them. Most of the time, the negativity directed toward them was not their fault. Often, organized religion plays a very negative role in disassociating family connections. (That’s why I personally have a lot of trouble with the term “Christian” when people who claim that title act with bigotry, hatred, and hypocrisy.)
I am not saying that I have all lovey-dovey relationships with each member of my family. Some of us are closer than others. That’s going to be the case in a large family. I am, admittedly, closest to my twin brother J, but then again, you would expect that. But what I can say is that I have earned the respect of each member of my family, and even if they have personal reservations about homosexuality, they realize that “it” is among their lives and they have gotten accustomed to having a brother who happens to be gay. Not “the gay brother.” To me, that’s the difference.
Life is short: show those you love that you love them.