One of the curses of homophobia is the disconnect we often feel from our family. After we come out we are often excluded from those family gatherings where so much history is shared and knowledge passed. We are kept at arm’s length no longer a part of that familial inner sanctum.
This can be especially hard during the holiday seasons when the invitation to the family dinner excludes your partner and you are cautioned not to talk about your life around certain elders or children. It’s a variation of love the sinner hate the sin. Everyone is happy to see you but they don’t want to enter the “gay zone”.
Now that both of my parents have died, I have been trying to reconnect with my family, especially the elders. I never cease to be surprised as to who knew and who didn’t. My mother was pretty cool with everything and was close to many of my gay friends but never told her sister. But I wasn’t upset about it, she was just old school. She didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant until I was about to give birth.
I asked her why once and she said it was because she loved me and didn’t want anyone to say something that would hurt me. For the most part, on her side of the family, that was never the case. When my grandmother found out I was pregnant, she just said “Well it’s not like she’s the first one to get pregnant,” and kept on loving me.
The reaction was about the same when I came out to my aunt. Her response was, “Is that why you never brought anyone to Christmas dinner?” She has since fallen in love with my girlfriend. My aunt is under five feet tall and weighs only eighty pounds. When we pick her up for an outing she throws her arms around Sandra’s neck and kind of dangles there for a couple of minutes while she covers her face with kisses.
It was altogether different with my dad. His was not part of a close family so we rarely saw any of them, which was probably A-OK with him as he wasn’t very “affirming” of my “Lifestyle” to put it mildly. It wasn’t until after my mother died, in the two years before his death that we reconciled, leaving me with many unanswered questions about family ties.
My aunt and I spend many hours talking about family. I know about cousins I never knew I had. I’ve learned fascinating family history and great stories. I even began developing a family tree but my tree was lopsided because I knew nothing of my father’s family and knew no one to ask.
I had found bits and pieces – even a cousin that set my “gaydar” on red alert. (Hmm maybe it wasn’t my mother’s fault – as my father so often claimed – after all.) There were teachers, actors and of course the preachers which could account for my gift of gab. I knew I was a Brown but never knew how much until I received an unexpected “gift” this holiday season.
I had just mailed the manuscript for my second book “Wild Fruit Hidden in Open Spaces: Musings in Prose and Poetry,” to the publisher and had settled down to go through another box of papers left from my dad’s things.
There in an envelope was a manuscript of poetry written by my great aunt Annette C. Brown. There were also clippings of viewpoint’s she had written for her local newspaper “The Henderson Gleaner”. As I read her words I felt a link with my past, that missing connection – I was her and she was me – a kindred spirit. I read her words and imagined what it would have been to share my writing with her. I wondered what stories she had to tell. Would we have spent hours together talking about old family stories like I did with my mother’s sister. But I would never know as she had died in 1982 at the ripe old age of 97. She had never married and lived her entire life in the house where she was born.
But then I found my “gift”. It came wrapped in her obituary. Not only did it tell me a little more of my family history but it gave me another tidbit of information that was the greatest gift of all. When she was 87, a college student had done her thesis on my aunt’s oral history. She had spent weeks interviewing my aunt, hearing the stories, and learning about my family.
Through the magic of the internet I was able to find the now Professor of Anthropology and sent her an e-mail. To my great surprise she contacted me within hours promising to send me a copy of her thesis and making time to try to answer some of my questions.
So what’s the point you might be asking. The point is each of us are part of the human chain, a family member even though our family might turn their back on us. We were not hatched from eggs, or beamed in from another planet and certainly not “Satan’s spawn.” We represent the good, the bad, the strengths and weaknesses that have allowed our families to procreate and survive.
I spent many years learning to love me, see the good in me, even though I was being told that I was “Bad” for not being the perfect heterosexual daughter. I wasn’t a mistake, an accident. I am a continuation of history.
During these holiday seasons when so many of our community are alone, sad and excluded from traditional family gatherings, take a moment and reclaim your heritage. We are family too!