My brother texted me last weekend.
He said, “If you die before me, I’m totally doing a photo montage of you to the Mama Cass song ‘make your own kind of music’—the words fit you so well.”
I listened to the song.
And it made me happy that he thought of me that way.
In some circles, I am a nobody. In others, I feel like a rock star. And in others, I just think, “why am I standing in this circle?”
But it’s nice when family—who has to love you, but doesn’t have to like you—sees courage in your decisions. Especially the brother that was brave enough to tell his very conservative Mormon family that he was gay.
In my family, you didn’t talk about how you really felt. I certainly didn’t. I held closely to the image I was trying to convey. I had a lot to uphold. A lot of people depended on me being the very religious, happy, cheerful, believing, faithful person I had always projected myself to be.
My mother so appreciated my spirituality.
My father seemed pretty proud as well.
I read the scriptures. I gave meaningful, heartfelt prayers. I taught inspiring lessons in Sunday School and it didn’t take me long to serve in the Bishopric and then become President of the Elders Quorum.
But Telford (we’ll call him Telford), here he was, an even stricter Mormon than I was. Home from Rick’s College (a church-owned school), telling the family he was gay.
As in rainbows and lollipops.
Didn’t he know that would break my parents’ hearts? Didn’t he know the shame he’d bring upon himself and his family? Wasn’t he afraid?
What if my parents kicked him out? What if they disowned him? What if he lost all his friends?
What if everybody we grew up with found out? What if people called him names? What if they called him a faggot?
This happened 17 years ago.
The world was different back then. Being gay was uncommon. Hell, even knowing someone who was gay was uncommon. Especially openly gay. Especially in Utah.
And nearly everything he was worried about, or everything that I would have been worried about, did happen. But life has a way of normalizing things. Very little turned out as bad as it seemed like it might.
Yes, my parents were crushed. For a while.
They didn’t disown him, but they did tell him never to bring any of ‘those people’ to the house. Ever.
We all tried to convince him that he was confused. He needed therapy. He needed a good girl to be interested in him. He just needed the right book or influence. Or prayers. Maybe there just needed to be a lot more prayers.
He was patient with us.
But he continued to be unapologetically gay.
He moved out. Made new friends. Got a new job. Started dating. And eventually found love.
He’s living a hand-crafted, authentic life.
It reminds me of an excerpt of Parker Palmer’s book, “Let Your Life Speak.”
(You can find the excerpt here. It reads:)
“Where do people find the courage to live divided no more when they know they will be punished for it?
The answer I have seen in the lives of people like Rosa Parks is simple: these people have transformed the notion of punishment itself. They have come to understand that no punishment anyone might inflict on them could possibly be worse than the punishment they inflict on themselves by conspiring in their own diminishment.”
I’m not comparing my brother to Rosa Parks.
But he had his Rosa Parks moment: He could no longer live a divided life.
And when it came time for me to live my life more authentically, I looked to him for the example I needed to take the necessary, difficult steps.
There have been so many moments in my life that I’ve been afraid to shed the facade and I didn’t think I could and then I remembered the heroic thing my brother did, and that gave me strength to put on my own skin without getting hung up by potential consequences.
And now? Things are better now than anyone would have expected on that fateful day. My parents have traveled all over with my brother and his partner of 13 years. And they attended their 10-year anniversary. They consider my brother’s partner (and someday-husband) a son.
It’s been good.
There are many things I admire about my brother beyond the fact that he had such a courageous moment. But it’s given me strength many times, and for that I’m grateful.
And he’s the one complimenting me for making my own kind of music.
And I am complimented, indeed.