What Siblings Know
“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces” – George Santayana
By Danielle Collier
When I was twelve and my brother David was seventeen, we were home one Halloween night watching a horror movie we’d rented. It was an entertaining but silly movie about a woman who becomes a witch. The woman who played the witch was young and looked like a model. Every time she cast a spell, her long red hair whipped around her face and her eyes got bright green. Once when this happened, my brother said, “Wow, she looks really hot.”
I stared at him. I was astonished at what he’d said. I hadn’t notice it before, but until that night I’d never, ever heard my brother voice an attraction to a women, even though he was a teenager and supposedly in the prime of his life.
This is what I remember when people ask me when I first knew my brother was gay. I didn’t realize he was different until I heard him saying something that most guys his age would say without a second thought.
My brother tried to like girls. The thought of him trying-even by saying something as trivial as “She looks hot” about an actress on television-breaks my heart. Al that time he was trying, through middle school and high school and into college, he couldn’t tell me or my parents how hard it was for him. He was all alone.
When I was twelve, David went out of the state for college. He came home for holidays and few weeks in the summer, and he called every week, but every year he seemed to pull farther away from me and my parents. When he was home, he was quiet and distant, and on the phone he was polite but tense, the way people get when they are hiding really big secrets.
My parents were slow, but they weren’t stupid. A couple of years after David left for college, when they still hadn’t heard mention of any girlfriends or even dates, they became suspicious. My mother started asking me questions, think that I must know something she didn’t know, because siblings tell each other things they don’t tell their parents. But David hadn’t told me anything. He loved me, but he was more independent than the rest of us, and I never felt he needed me.
The next time David came home, I did a terrible thing. I wanted to borrow his leather backpack and I knew he wouldn’t let me if I asked him, so I just took it. But before I filled it with my things, I had to take out his things to make room. There were some schoolbooks and a fancy notebook bound with rubber band. I was curious. I pulled off the rubber band and started reading.
Immediately, I found myself immersed in a world of suppressed anger, self-loathing and tentative romances. I learned more about my brother in those pages than I ever could from him, at least back then. I learned that he’d known he was gay his entire life, but that not until he escaped to college did he admit it to another human being. That human being was his roommate, Rob. I remember him mentioning Rob had transferred dorm rooms in the middle of the semester, and when I read my brother’s journal I learned that Rob changed rooms because he didn’t want to live with someone who was gay.
It was a little while-a few pages into the journal-before my brother told anyone else. He joined a campus group and made some gay friends, and slowly his life forked into two lives. There was the life my parents and I saw-a life with lies and friends who didn’t know him, and no one to love-and there was a second life, a life with friends and crushes and dates. A life where he was happy.
I put the backpack-and the little notebook-back in my brother’s room, and I never told him what I’d learned. But my parents continued to badger me about David and his lack of love life-they knew he was gay, I’m sure, but denied it even to themselves-and eventually I called him up. “David,” I said, “you have to tell them.”
He didn’t ask me how I knew, and I didn’t tell him. But looking back, I understand that reading my brother’s journal-a horrible crime I would never commit again-only filled in some of the details. Somehow, I already knew the story. Maybe it is true that siblings know each other better than their parents know them. I like to think so.
The next thanksgiving, after a pretty typical family meal, my brother suggested we all take a walk. We walked past the end of our street and onto the grounds of the highs school, then onto the track. Then my brother stopped. “I have something to tell you,” he said. “I felt my parents’ hearts skipped a beat-they wanted so badly, back then, for it not to be true. “I wanted to tell you that I’m gay.”
My parents were pretty rational, considering. They told David that he was just experimenting, that eventually he’d find a woman he wanted to marry. He listen to them, then politely but firmly said that this was something that wasn’t going to change. They argued but never raised their voices, and eventually we went home and took naps in separate rooms. The following days were very quiet. Then David went back to school, to his happy life.
It was five years before my parents came to truly my brother was fortunate to be out of the house during that time, but I was not so lucky. My parents fought more than ever, my father drank a lot, and I spent time out of the house. But slowly-very slowly-my parents got used to the idea. After a year, my mother told one of her friends about David, then my father told one of his. They received love and support-David was a great kid, said my parents’ friends. That hadn’t changed. Secretly, I’m sure they were relieved that it wasn’t their kid who was gay. After my parents learned not to hide it, there was still the matter of being proud of David, of not only tolerating hearing about his romantic life, but wanting to hear about it.
About a week before Christmas one year, my brother called home to ask my parents if he could bring a friend home for the holiday. A boyfriend. My parents told David they’d think about it, then called him back and said absolutely not. My brother felt hurt and rejected, and when he came home, relations between him and my parents were strained. Then he and my father got into a fight on Christmas Eve, and David took an early flight back to school. Christmas Day was sadder and lonelier that it had ever been.
I called David a few days later. “You can’t rush them,” I said, feeling guilty for defending them. “It’s been three years,” David said. He was frustrated, which I understood. So was I. I didn’t understand why my parents couldn’t just get over it. It seemed simple. Every time my mother asked me how a date had gone or said she liked a boy I’d introduced to her, I thought, what’s so different between me and David? Don’t you want him to be happy, too? But David’s patience paid off. My mother joined a support group for parents of gays and lesbians, and soon she was succeeding in dragging my father with her to the meetings. She was even asked to speak at a conference for high-school teachers about being unbiased toward homosexuality in the classroom. Time passed. My parents eased into not only accepting the fact that David wasn’t ever going to be straight, but also that it wasn’t bad thing at all. That for David, it was a very good thing.
Then they did the craziest and most wonderful thing. I still laugh when I think of it. They made a list of all the people they hadn’t told about David, including old friends, siblings and their own parents, and they planned a three-week road trip across the country. They had news to deliver, and they wanted to deliver it in person and do some sightseeing in the meantime. They’d gotten this idea in their heads that it wasn’t enough for David to come out of the closet. He would never feel they’d truly accepted him until they came out of the closet, too, as the loving parents of a gay son.
David’s apartment was the last stop on their journey, and I took an airplane up to meet them when they arrived. We took another family walk, and David told us about his new boyfriend and I told them about mine. Finally, after so much pain and hard work, my brother’s two lives started to merge.