My Brother is Gay- and Being His Ally was Hard
Allyship is incredibly difficult when it’s your own family challenging that allyship at every turn.
First off, let me say right off that bat, before any of you accuse me of being homophobic; it’s not that simple. And I’m not saying I that regret being an ally to my brother, or that it was too difficult for me. I did this best I could do. I love my brother, dearly, and I learned that allyship is incredibly difficult when it’s your own family challenging that allyship at every turn.
I thought I was good at being an ally. I started young. Beginning with my gay first cousin, who was bullied by the boys, when we were kids…simply for spending too much time with me.
We were quite a pair. I was such a tom boy, and my cousin played with “dolls.” And I, liked my trucks, and guns and cowboy boots. My family tolerated this. Trust they weren’t exactly pleased…but they let it go. But as for my cousin and the “dolls.” Oh boy did everyone ever have so much to say about it. My cousin actually played with puppets and marionettes. His mother would by them for him. His father would object to this. But me and my Aunt? We saw my cousin’s brilliance. We encouraged it. He would compose screenplays…at like five and put on shows for us. I would beg him to let me help. He rarely did. Said I was too messy and careless. It was true. Oh, how I just loved being around my cousin. And I would attack anyone who wanted to bully him about his “dolls” as they called them. My cousin would always correct them, they are marionettes! Indeed, they were…and quite expensive. Eventually, everyone came to accept by cousin’s uniqueness, because he was so very talented and is brilliant. But my cousin is not my brother.
Things with my brother were different.
I’m several years older than my brother, sixteen to be exact; and so, he is sort of like my baby. And we knew he was probably gay from the jump. I mean people want to argue whether it is a biological fact or a choice, which I think is a ridiculous argument, because either way, it shouldn’t matter. We like who we like, and?
Young and Gay
When my brother was young, it was fine. He was just so cute. Adorable, even. Bossy, prissy, kind…so kindhearted. You would not believe this heart. Who could possibly not love my brother? But when he hit adolescence suddenly, all of his behaviors became a huge problem, because as far as everyone in the family could tell, he didn’t have any interest in the opposite sex; and he also liked to do things such as dress in drag for Halloween.
As my half-latinx niece would say: Ay, yi, yi!
(I love it when she says that.)
At this point and time, the issue became for me, how do we support and protect him. Because trust when he did that, the clap back from everyone was crazy. We’re from the Midwest; and the sleepy suburb my brother lived in was not having it. He didn’t grow up in the hood like me and we lived in different places at this time. I was an adult, with my own family and living in Northern Virginia. He was in Cleveland. I was always hearing from my mom, about what he was doing and how much this upsetting her, shaming her. What was wrong with him? How could he do this to her?
I tried to talk to my mom, reasonably, rationally.
Mom, this is just who he is. He can’t change this. You just have to accept this.
But she was not having i.! My entire family was not having it. A Black Baptist family? Need I say more? With regard to my brother, I stayed arguing with my entire family. Sometime this jumped over into my extended family. I am a ghetto princess who comes from a big, huge Tyler Perry style family. I stayed telling them how stupid and ignorant they were being. Leave him alone. It’s fine if he’s gay. Would that be so bad, really? Yep, they said. They all wanted him straight. My mother, my stepdad, my two brothers…the only person who gave me any back up on the allyship was my sister.
And that’s crazy ironic…because she is very homophobic. But, she loves our brother too. And she’s a really sensitive soul, and so she, much like me, would see the hurt, the pain, the rejection in his eyes — and had no idea what to do. But we wanted to do something.
She let him throw a Victoria Secret party at her house. I wasn’t there, but she told me about it. Almost everyone there was wearing wings, and thongs…and very little else…that sounds like my brother.
Trust…my mother would have never gone for that shit. Never. To be honest, I don’t think I would have either. Because…being gay is one thing. Walking around in wings and a thong is entirely another; and inviting all of your teen friends to do the same and serve alcohol? No. I’m sorry. I love you dude, but way too much liability in what you’re asking me to do. That’s what I would have told him.
And real talk? I stayed having these conversations with my brother. I wanted to create safe spaces for him, and yet he was always trying to go out in the streets, and do something reckless. I told him:
You can be whoever you want with me. I do not care if you’re gay. But with them, (them being the rest of the world) you have to be more careful.
He was young, he didn’t know, within his own consciousness whether he was gay or not. And I had learned from allyship, with others, my cousins, and my friends, this was normal.
My first, really official form of allyship, occurred in college. I had a friend, let’s call her Trish. One day Trish said to me:
Amber, I think that I am gay; and I want to come out. I need someone to support me.
Well that sounded really official and scary! I didn’t know what I was going to have to do, so I asked Trish,
Well, what is that you need me to do, to support you?
Just come with me to clubs and GALA meetings. Do the activities with me.
So, I said okay. It was fun! I’ll tell you this much, ain’t no music, like the house music, in the gay clubs of Chicago! Best music ever! I mean EVER! I loved bopping around up in them gay clubs in Chi-town!
But…the coming out process was really rocky for Trish. There were days when she was full-on:
Yo! I’m just a fish out here, trying to land a cute dyke!
There were other times when Trish claimed to be bisexual and was pursuing and sleeping with men. Then there were other times she told me she was going to force herself to be hetero, because there was no way her very conservative military family would allow her to be gay.
And then one day, she did something really controversial. We went to a party, a regular black party on campus. But here is the catch, she was dressed somewhat like a man. She had decided, it was time. She was coming out to the yard. (The yard, was what we called our very small, very gossipy and judgy black campus community at Northerwestern University.)
And I knew…this was going to be hard, both for Trish…and for me. We knew all these people. They were all going to have oh so much to say about this. But…it was important to her, that she do this. So, I was there by her side, lending support. Oh, how everyone stared at us. I think one of her sorors, (she was in a sorority) came up to her and said,
What the hell is this?
Although, I honestly can’t remember what happened. This was quite some time ago. Some people asked if we were a couple. I said,
No, we’re just friends.
Why did people find that so hard to believe? Like gay people can’t have straight friends? Really?
I was attacked by some friends.
Pull yourself together! What are you doing? Ruining your life? You’d better stay away from her. She’s got the devil in her. She’s leading you down the wrong path.
I was like, really? Seriously? Haven’t we moved passed this kind of thinking? (We had not)
One of my very good (but also very religious) friends told me that she could no longer be my friend, if I choose to remain an ally to Trish. My response was:
Well…you do what you have to do.
Our other friend, however, jumped to my defense,
You know what, Donna, you are so closed minded. You are ridiculously closed minded. And I don’t even like Trish…she’s a bit of a bitch. But I’m not going to shun her just because she’s gay.
And then she said to me,
I am proud of you Amber, for doing this, for being Trish’s friend. I support you.
People had really strong feelings. I stood back, wondering how many friends I was going to lose over this particular allyship. I wondered what all these people were thinking about me. How were they judging me? Would they really write me off just because, I had the audacity to stand next to Trisha dressed in drag?
You know how many friends I lost? None actually. This is when I learned that if you stand your ground, and just stand up for what you believe in, people who don’t believe in what you believe in, will adjust. They’ll get over whatever discomfort you are causing them, because of what you believe.
Coming Out Takes Time
I had been on this allyship road before. I knew what to expect, kind of. I was by no means an expert, but I thought I knew enough to do this for my brother. For example, I had learned that it takes time for people who are not hetero to bring their different orientation into their own awareness and accept it.
And so, I was fine when my brother told me he actually did not consider himself gay. He simply considered himself a boy, who loved to dress in drag and wear Victoria Secret wings. What was the problem? He told me he could not understand why people were giving him such a hard time about these things. He was just doing him. Like WTF?
And here I was thinking about my brother…dude! You are so very gay. Only gay men like the things you do: musicals, Victoria secret lingerie, wispy white girls (as best friends, not sexual partners) and Ikea. My brother absolutely loved Ikea, every single time he came to visit me, it was Ikea time! It was watching musicals time. This is all very gay. But he kept insisting he wasn’t gay. I listened without judgment.
I mean…how could he admit that he was gay? He was subjected to nonstop homophobic stares, rants and hate. Oh my god. The things people said to my brother. The things my family said to my brother…you would not believe.
My family disliked all of these activities, because they weren’t straight things. They wanted him to be straight (and clearly, the more time passed, the more it looked like that was not in the cards.) So, my family pushed harder, trying to set him up on dates, dressing him up butchier. They even considered sending him to one of those crazy conversion camps. To which I said,
No! No! NO! I’m pretty sure that does not work! It’s not that simple!
But no one was listening to me. It was exhausting. It was a private war of sorts. It is hard to be an ally when the enemy is your own family.
As for me, I was told I was a part of the problem. I was not helping anything by telling him it was okay if he was gay.
Look at how confused he is, it’s all your fault… you’re making him gay.
Like for real…I had to deal with that bullshit. I could make somebody gay. Really? And then I wondered, could I? I know I’m a ghetto princess, but clearly, I didn’t have that much power. The power to make someone gay? I said to my brother who said this bullshit to me,
It doesn’t work like that.
He insisted that it did. Sigh. They were actually confusing me. Was I apart of the cure or the disease? What was happening? How was I in the wrong on any of this? For a time, I stopped speaking to my brothers, assholes that they were being about this. My family’s resistance to my brother being gay was so intense that, he refused to come out…at home.
But in his social life, where he could have an outlet? It was all lipstick and eyeshadow, and Victoria Secret Wings and thongs and bras. What blew my mind is that he didn’t seem to care that what also came with that, which was harassment and bullying — and fear (on my part) especially when he would tell me the things people would say and do to him when he dressed like this.
I was scared. I would stress out about it. One time, as we all were preparing to go to another relative’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, I whispered to him quietly:
Not the lipstick. That will drive your uncle nuts! You don’t want to have to deal with that shit! Not at Thanksgiving!
You might say, well you were being homophobic right there, Amber. I would say to you,
No! that was me keeping my brother safe! I knew what was coming at him and for him. And fuck you! And get out my business!
But…maybe it was. My husband once said to me:
You can’t let your fear get in the way of him expressing who he is.
Sometimes, Gay Kids Falter
I tried to make everything okay. I tried to hold the line. But it was hard. And it broke. And I don’t really want to talk about that. But there came a low point in my brother’s burgeoning gay identity. We hear of such things with the kids. He went through a really hard time. He didn’t respond well to it.
Something traumatic happened.
Now everyone in the family was sitting around just looking silly and stupid. I was in over my head. I felt like I was failing horribly at this ally thing (and mind you this was all happening before allyship was even a concept.) I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing,
I knew I needed some back up. So, I went to see a P-Flag counselor. They are trained to deal with just such things. I told, him my story (my brother’s story, really.) I was very upset…and the P-Flag counselor, too became very upset. We both sat there, wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth.
I wanted to say,
Come on man! Pull yourself together! You supposed to be counseling me! We can’t both be upset!
After hearing the whole story (and wringing his hands and gnashing his teeth), he did his job. He actually told me what to do. So, I went back to my family and I said:
Look, I got some special advice, from someone who knows about such things; and this is what we’re doing! This is how it’s going to be! I don’t want to hear no more shit about yall having problems with this boy being gay! We’re gonna support him! We’re going to love him! That’s final.
My stepdad said,
Okay, we just have to love him.
I was so proud of him in that moment. You have no idea.
My mom wasn’t really ready. But she said,
I guess you blame me for this.
I wanted to say:
Well who the fuck else would I blame! You! With all your crazy intense homophobia!
But I ain’t say nothin…I just pursed my lips together tightly…and kept all of that to myself…because the blame game wasn’t gonna make anything better. We were at a point, as a family, where we had to pull together.
Anyway, we got through that. And despite that, my brother grew up fine. I never did tell yall what that was. And, I won’t, because it’s my business. It’s our family business. It wasn’t nothing good. That’s for sure. Love the children, no matter what their sexual orientation is, that’s all I will say about that.
Out and Proud
When my brother actually came out- OUT, I don’t even know. I want to say some time after college. Because at college, clearly there were absolutely no limits placed on him, at all. He could be as gay as he pleased.
I visited him at his school, the Rhode Island School of Design, RISD for short. What a funky ass school! Every time I went to see him there, we had a ball. We went to a party, where he was twerking, in my face. I was not amused. I said,
Boy, if you don’t get yo ass out my face.
He stayed dressing in drag and would get offended if anyone took issue with that. It was fine at RISD, (you would have to know RISD). But this certainly wasn’t gonna fly everywhere, so finally, I told him:
Look, if you want walk the streets dressed in drag, you’re going to have to move to New York, or LA, where they won’t bother you.
But even that was ridiculously naïve on my part, because he wasn’t necessarily any safer in those places. He did move to both of them, but eventually he went back home. Those are crazy expensive places to live.
But my brother has heart; he has always been true to himself, no matter what the costs. I completely respect people with heart.
Everyone in the family accepts that he is gay now. I also have a cousin. She is a lesbian who drives a truck. Her and my brother are about the same age. I don’t know what coming out to her close family was like for her…but I do know this…black folk be trippin, if you happen to be gay.
And even though they are gay, our big ghetto-ass Tyler Perry style family mostly doesn’t talk about it. And that is awkward, and kind of sad. I’m like, really, we’re just going to ignore that they are gay? No one is going to talk about this? Whatever. I honestly think this is the best my big ghetto ass Tyler Perry style family can do.
When it’s all said and done, after all the challenges and trauma, and all the wishing it wasn’t, and religious bullshit, and macho, toxic male drama, and don’t wear lip stick to Thanksgiving dinner whispers, and the secret Victoria Secret parties and the drag-dressing, and the P-Flag counseling, we give them the best we’ve got to give — and that’s love.