Raising My Rainbow

When My Brother Came Out

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My brother came out when I was in high school and he was in his early twenties. The right way to come out is different for every person. For my brother it was in a mailed letter.

I was sitting at the dining room table doing homework with my boyfriend when my mom came home from work and started opening the mail. She stopped halfway through the stack of envelopes and catalogs.

She went up to her room and came back down wearing a sweatsuit and said she was going for a walk.

That’s when I knew something was wrong. My mom never went for a walk and I didn’t even know she owned a sweatsuit, let alone the bright white sneakers that served as warning lights on her feet.

After she walked out the door, my boyfriend and I stared at each other without speaking . This wasn’t the nightly routine.

She returned hours later. She was sweaty and I could tell she had been crying.

She told my boyfriend that he needed to go home, but didn’t offer him a ride. Something life changing had happened, or was happening. I braced myself.

She said she needed to talk to me and I followed her to my room. She started talking in a tone that was forced calm, measured calm, scary calm.

“I got this letter in the mail today,” she started, waving the envelope in the air.

I racked my brain trying to think of what the letter could possibly say. I came up with nothing that would warrant my mother putting on a sweatsuit.

“This letter is from your brother and you know what it says?” she asked. I shook my head.

“Do you know what he is?” she said. The scary calm was fading, now she was just scary. “He’s gay.”

“So?” I thought to myself.

“Shit.” I thought to myself.

“This is going to suck.” I thought to myself.

She was still talking, but I couldn’t hear her because I was thinking a lot of things to myself.

“This doesn’t mean that you’re gay. You have to promise me that you don’t think you’re gay,” my mom said, finally getting my attention.

Wait. What?

What did my brother coming out have to do with my sexuality? Hours earlier I had been making out with my boyfriend when we had the house to ourselves.

But…I was oddly, strongly attracted to the girl who sat in front of me in English class.

Maybe I was gay.

No. I couldn’t be gay. Only one of us could be gay and my brother had clearly already called dibs. If him being gay forced my mom into a sweatsuit, I could only imagine what me being gay would force her into.

She retreated to her bedroom and closed the door. I heard yelling and crying all night. She didn’t go to work the next day.

When I got home from school she told me to get in the car immediately because I had an appointment to see a therapist.

“Why?” I asked. With all due respect, it seemed like she was the one who needed a therapist.

“Because your brother being gay is going to be a lot for you to deal with.”

It was?

Once awkwardly sitting in the therapist’s office with my mom crying in the waiting room, the therapist opened our time together with a prayer.

PFLAG brochure circa 1992

Then, for an hour, she told me what the bible said about gay people. She taught me how to pray for my brother so that he might see the error in his ways, ask for forgiveness and, once again, lead a godly life. She taught me how to pray for myself so God would know I loved my brother, but didn’t agree with his sin. The therapist told me not to tell anybody that my brother was gay.

I sat in silent revolt. The therapist obviously didn’t like my brother, so, therefore, I didn’t like her. I was supposed to meet with her once a week. I refused — leading my mother to firmly believe that she had failed as a parent. The relationships that my mom had with each of us as individuals and together as a sibling unit were never the same.

She made my brother tell me himself over the phone that he was gay. Like it was a punishment. I was just happy to hear his voice, until I heard that he was crying. I cried too; not because he was gay, but because he was in pain.

I didn’t tell Michael about my therapy session until much later because I knew it would hurt his feelings. And, it did.

But, at some point when I was feeling like he thought that his coming out affected only him. I needed him to know that it affected me too. It’s a major plot twist in my life story. Coming out isn’t just about the LGBTQ person. Conversion therapy isn’t just for LGBTQ people. But, I always knew that however bad I had it, my brother had it worse.

PFLAG brochure circa 1992

Before her death a year and a half ago, my mom cried to me and told me that she felt like a failure as a mother because of her reaction when my brother came out. She said that, at times, her love for my brother, for her kids, didn’t triumph over her concern about what others would think or say. Weeks before she died she told my brother in words on a card.

Going through a box of my mom’s stuff last week, I found a huge envelope stuffed with papers sent to her by her sister the week that my brother came out.

The note said, “When you’re ready, maybe some of this info will help.”

Handouts, copies and brochures from an organization called PFLAG followed the note. I held them in my hands, thinking of my mother’s sweatsuit, my brother’s tears, the therapist’s prayers and I thought about how different my family’s life could have been if my mom and I had attended a PFLAG meeting instead of a religious therapist.

If you are an adult or parent struggling with a loved one coming out, please seek support that doesn’t seek to change your loved one. Click here for some resources.

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