Q: Jody, I can’t believe what is happening in my life. I thought I had it made with my family because when I came out to them as a lesbian, they were pretty accepting of me. I felt so lucky because so many of my friends didn’t have that kind of experience. Now, I’m flabbergasted by my parents.
The reason I’m upset is because my younger brother “Ben” thinks he is gay. Ben is 14 years old. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were gay. I guess it’s my gaydar that has made me think that. But I have never talked to him about it, and he has never talked to me about his sexuality or about me being lesbian. We are five years apart in age and have never really been that close, like that we would talk about things like that.
Two weeks ago, my brother told my parents that he is probably gay, too. I wasn’t there when I said that but I heard about it shortly after because my mother called me to chew me out. They accused me of trying to turn my brother gay. As I said, I have never talked to him about my sexuality. Ben heard about it from my parents, not me. I have never had a conversation about it.
When I came out I was 18 and already in college; I’m 19 now. I called my parents and talked to them about it. When I’ve come home from school for the weekend, my brother is usually somewhere with his friends, so I don’t even see him that much. I have never brought home a girlfriend and “flaunted it.”
So I ask you, how have I made him gay?! My mother was so irrational on the phone that I could barely talk to her. She wasn’t in the mood to listen, only in the mind set to accuse me of converting “her” son to the gay life style. When I asked her how I did that, she told me that I must be talking to him. (Like I’m spending my time calling him and telling him to be gay! Give me a break!) I told her that I wasn’t talking to him. She then said that my life must be setting a bad example for Ben. I couldn’t believe my ears. I said that I didn’t know why she was talking like this, that when I told her that I was lesbian, she had not said much so I didn’t realize she felt like this.
That’s when my mother said that she wasn’t “ecstatic” that I was lesbian, but she guessed she had to put up with it, but that she couldn’t bear to have two gay children. I asked her why and what was wrong with two gay children. That’s when she said that people would wonder what she had done wrong. That’s when I realized that I was “something wrong” in her life. I asked her if Dad thought that way, too. She said that she could tell that he wasn’t happy, but that he wasn’t saying much. She thinks he is blaming her, too.
So now, besides being devastated, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where I stand in the family. I don’t know what Ben is having to deal with at this time. I feel bad for him but I feel like I’ll make things worse for him and for me if I call him. What would you do?
A: I know so very little about you, your parents, and Ben. I can only give some general ideas that you can try or discard. First, though, I want to say how sorry I am that you are going through this with you family. You must feel incredibly betrayed, confused and probably angry.
I’m assuming you have an LGBT organization on campus. I recommend you check in with them for any support groups that might have to offer for you. If not a group, maybe you could get some support through counseling to help you deal with all this. LGBT organizations will also have resources, like Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), organizations that you might see if your parents would be willing to try. You could try PFLAG as well. You would meet parents of the LGBT community, some of whom are affirming and those who are on the path to understanding.
Be sure to take care of yourself. Surround yourself with loving and supporting people. To a large extent, your parents are going to have to come to terms with this, and though you can suggest their going to PFLAG or giving them materials to read, they are going to have to do the work of understanding – and they will need some time. Hopefully for you, Ben, and them, they will come around. Take care and let me know.
Jody Valley spent 12 years as a clinical social worker. She worked with the LGBT community both as a counselor and a workshop leader in the areas of coming out, self-esteem and relationship issues. The “Dear Jody” column appears weekly.