This weekend saw my brother pass through town – a relatively rare event. He’s almost always lived at a distance from me and financial and family obligations have prevented me from traveling to visit him much either. I had been looking forward to his visit for a few weeks, but by the time we parted, I wished he’d never come.
Where he’s loud, pushy, and firm in his opinions, I’m quiet, flexible, and open to listening to the other side. He’s blunt. I’m diplomatic. He either doesn’t care or is incapable of taking into account others’ feelings when they get in his way. I’m more attuned to seeing and interpreting how others react when I’m trying to get my way, and will change course if possible and look for mutually satisfying outcomes.
You get the idea.
I had come out to him during my last attempt at transition those many years ago, but we had never discussed it in the intervening years. At the time, he seemed very surprised and a bit confused about it, but basically told me to do what I needed to do. So, my enduring sense of where he was with regards to me and my gender was neutral to positive.
Saturday, my mother offered to have an early Easter dinner and to watch the kids so me, my wife, and my brother could go out. I’ve been pushing the clothing envelope around my mom without comment from her (there’s another post) so I had mentally planned to wear a women’s top that I wear to work now and go with some jewelry accents. I won’t hide myself from my family any more, and I figured that if he brought it up, it would be a good way to engage him and explain myself.
Things got off on the wrong foot when he asked me as I was playing with my youngest before dinner if had I tried to commit suicide while shaving. My neck was irritated from my 2-hour electrolysis session earlier in the week. I didn’t really feel like launching a deeper discussion right before dinner, especially since I’m not out to my mother’s boyfriend, so let the comment pass.
Later that evening, after the three of us had sauntered down to a local bar, we were about two drinks in when he turned to me and said, “What’s up? You’re looking kinda faggy. You’re wearing a women’s shirt.”
A heave a mental sigh and take a deep breath because I can already tell where this is going, “You’re surprised?”
“You look gay.”
I decide to drop it. This isn’t going to get any better. Time passes, and he makes a comment about our father’s wife, and how, “She used to be a guy.” He’s baiting me, and I resolve not to strike at it.
Two drinks later, and we’re standing outside of another bar waiting on my wife who’s using the bathroom. A band blares through the doorway, “You look gay.”
Standing on the sidewalk, with a few pedestrians wandering by every now and then, I attempt to tell him how I’ve struggled with my gender most of my life, and that I’m tired of cramming it down into a box. I’m feeling rejected and hurt by his attitude, and I try to tell him, but I get interrupted with retellings of past family history about our grandfather being gay, and then he drops a bit of a bomb on me.
“You know our dad has the same thing.”
“A freiend of his told me that.”
This stops me in my tracks as my brain shifts to contemplate this. Really? Is this hereditary? How would I ask him? Should I ask him? Is my brother just messing with me? What the hell? Or does he mean our dad is gay? I’m confused.
My wife returns, that part of the conversation ends, and we enter the bar to listen to the music and play some pinball.
Many more drinks are consumed. The band starts packing. I’m drunk, not tracking well, but across the now increasingly agitated banter around where to live and what to do with your life, my brother bestows this gem on me: “I don’t like you. I only hang around you because you’re family and I love you.”
Thinking that he’s referring to things about me he doesn’t like versus me in general (or gender), and the line stays the same. It’s not just about my gender, but a lot of other stuff about me he doesn’t like. I was totally floored.
So here I am, this sensitive person that’s been trying to connect with my brother all night long about a deeply personal and heartfelt thing about myself, and I get totally rejected and shut down with a totally messed up, conditional love from a brick wall.
There was a period of time that I hated my brother for how he treated me when we were younger. I got over that and forgave him. There was a period of time when I really disagreed with what he did for a living. I came to understand why he did what he did and came to disagree with the world that requires his services, and stopped judging him about his occupation.
I had actually come around to be a big fan of his. I valued his insights and takes on things, even if they were very black and white.
Now? Now I can only wonder at how much bullshit he’s fed me on purpose, and I feel an immense loss of trust and support that is particularly acute, because it was never there. I feel like a circus performer on the high wire who tripped and managed to catch the wire, and after crawling back to the platform, discovers that the safety net below wasn’t even installed.
It sucks to have family and feel like an orphan. It sucks even more to have family and know that they are indifferent to your experience.
It’s a shame my brother may never meet his sister now.