The Hardest One to Tell

The Hardest One to Tell

[August 30, 2017]

My wedding in August 2009 was the most wonderful day of my life. To have (almost) all the people that I love most in the world gathered to witness and celebrate my marriage to my husband, Stacy, was humbling and completely overwhelming. One of the things that I liked most about that day was hearing my friends and family honour my husband and me with their words. One of the surprise gifts of that momentous day was an unplanned speech that my sister, Cathy, gave for me. It was a surprise because my sister is not normally a public speaker and I know how difficult it must have been for her to stand up in front of everybody—a lot of whom she had just met—and recount a story about her baby brother. She did it, though, because she loves me and knew it would make me happy and, more importantly, I believe she did it because she wanted to give Stacy and me her blessing.

In Cathy’s speech she told a story about me when I was in kindergarten. As the story goes, my sister walked into my room one day to find me coveting something in the top drawer of my desk. Wanting to see what was so interesting, she peered over my shoulder to find that I had several brand new erasers, meticulously lined up as if for display purposes, hidden in my desk drawer. Knowing instantly what I had done, but wanting to hear my side of the story, Cathy asked me where I had gotten the erasers. Without a hint of remorse or guilt I told her that I had gotten the erasers from school. Seeing that I didn’t appear to understand what I had done wrong, Cathy let me know that I had stolen the erasers; that they were not mine, and that I would need to return them back to my school. With the realization that I was a thief, I was immediately afraid to tell my teacher. Wanting to spare me the humiliation, but still wanting me to take ownership for stealing, Cathy came up with a plan for me to return the erasers: everyday I was to return one of the erasers back at school and leave it in a different location within the classroom. If I did this until all of the erasers were returned Cathy, would not tell my parents about my behaviour. I, of course, followed my big sister’s instructions to the letter and returned all of the erasers that I had stolen. It wasn’t until years later that Cathy let me know that she had indeed told my mother and, confident that she had handled the situation adequately, had convinced my mother not to intervene.

As you can probably guess, that story brought the house down and was one of the favourites of many of our guests. Cathy’s story was funny and touching and gave people just a glimpse of the special relationship that I share with my sister. As her story illustrates, my sister has always been like a second mother to me. When things got tough with my eldest brother Ricky’s addiction to drugs and alcohol, Cathy made sure that I was not forgotten. When I was just a child, and Ricky would come home late at night and argue violently with my parents, Cathy would take me into her bed so that I wouldn’t be afraid. In my early adolescence Cathy took it upon herself to teach me how to manage my newspaper route, and how to study for exams. When I was struggling to make friends at school, she noticed and, as a result, always made time for me. Though I didn’t have friends of my own, she always made sure that I saw the movies that I wanted to see, allowing me to tag along on countless dates with her then boyfriend (now husband) Mike so that I wouldn’t feel like I was alone. Back then, Cathy always made me feel like I was a priority and for a boy who –at school- was made to feel like he was different and somehow wrong, her affections were indeed a lifeline and I will always be grateful for how she took care of me.

Unfortunately, as a result of her constant caring I began to put my sister on a bit of a pedestal. Thinking that she could do no wrong, I idolized her and tried to emulate her in any way that I could. When I finally made friends of my own I strove to live up to my sister’s example. In the context of my family that was an admirable goal, but putting anyone on a pedestal is unwise and it did not leave me prepared for the very personal challenges that awaited me.

If you have been reading my blog from the beginning (and I really hope you have), you will know that I have inherited many admirable qualities from my parents and each of my three siblings. You will know how much I love each of them and that, as a family we have learned, grieved, and grown together immensely over the past 15 years. In fact, the whole point of my blog, and my book, is to honestly share the journey to here and now.

But part of that journey included great pain and suffering. But where my oldest brother’s pain and suffering was very loud and out in the open, mine was very quiet and hidden. I memorably came away from my family in my teens with the notion that being gay was very wrong. We were a large, working class, blue collar, Roman Catholic family. Of course, no one in my immediate family was a hateful person, or a bully, and I am sure none of them ever acted on or was openly hostile to anyone gay. But they said homophobic things, made homophobic jokes and comments, and passed that belief on to me. As I looked up to her so much, it was my sister’s opinion that I most cared about, was most influenced by, and, because of that, internalized the homophobia without question.

Perceived as gay in high school, I had been bullied for almost my entire adolescent life. Once I had finally found some friends, I quickly decided to protect myself by letting people know how repugnant I thought gay people were. I am truly not proud of that time in my life. But being thought by others as gay had brought me nothing but sadness, and deflecting those accusations by feigning disgust seemed like the only viable option against revisiting that pain. It was the only way I knew how to survive. I am so sorry if in my misguided attempt to protect myself I passed that pain along to anyone else.

As the years passed, I watched my sister mature, go to college, get married and have two children. Before I went away to university, I was very involved with my sister’s life as well as the lives of her husband and children. I love them all very much.

After graduating from university and coming to terms with who I truly was, I had to forgive myself for the homophobic views I once held, and shared, and purge myself of years of self-hate in order to begin the long journey to true self-acceptance. Feet firmly planted on my new road, I wondered if my sister’s views about gay people had changed and I feared what her reaction might be to my news.

Out of all my family, I was the most afraid to tell my sister that I was gay. When you finally have the courage to come out, you remember all the hurtful things you and other people have said about gay people, and you allow those hurtful things to prevent you from sharing your truth. As a result, I was petrified that once Cathy knew I was gay she would reject me. I was scared to death she would perceive me as being different, be disappointed in me, and forget all the history that we shared together. Most importantly, I was the most afraid to tell her because I still greatly looked up to her and wanted her to love me.

Despite all of my fears, though, I still told my sister my truth. Surrounded by my other family members, she took in the news and, unlike everyone else, quietly ruminated over it. To be honest, I didn’t get the reaction that I wanted from my sister when I told her that I was gay. She was concerned that I was upset and did her best to reassure me that she would love me no matter what, that my news didn’t matter to her, but it appeared there was something behind her eyes and that didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps I was just expecting more from her than the other members of my family because of the special bond I believed that I shared with her. Whatever it was that she was feeling, though, she kept to herself. Knowing my sister the way that I did, I knew that accepting my news was going to be a struggle for her.

As time passed, things got easier between my family and me. My news was an adjustment for everybody but the more time they got to spend with Stacy and me together, the more they realized I was still the same person and because Stacy is such a great guy, the gender of my partner began to matter less and less.

Surely, disagreements and misunderstandings are what families are all about and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is discord that is quite often the primary way in which families grow. I have watched my sister grow and watched our bond become stronger because of our efforts. Much work had to be done but with most of the hard work behind us, I can say I once again see my sister, as my greatest supporter, my steadfast protector, trusted confidant and loyalist friend. She has truly opened her heart to Stacy and done everything she can to make him feel welcome and part of the family. In fact, just last summer she called my home in order to schedule some time with just, her and us, on our annual August visit to Cornwall. I mention it because when she called and Stacy answered she didn’t ask for me but instead simply scheduled her plans with him.

So how does this story end? It ends, of course, where it began. With my sister proudly giving a speech on my wedding day. Sure, there were bumps in the road and I had to be patient but as it took me years to accept my sexuality and combat my own inner-homophobia, how could I not give my sister an equal amount of time to adjust? When I look at my sister now, and she looks back at me, I no longer see a struggle behind her eyes. She has changed, and she made that change because she loves me.

Back to blog