No matter what happens in life. No matter what obstacles you face. And no matter how they may bring you down, there is always one constant in life – family.
Family comes in all shapes, sizes and varieties. Some you are born into, some you buy into – but all are there for you no matter what problem you may face.
Your family are the ones who know you inside and out. They are the ones you come home to at the end of the day. And they are the ones who will love you unconditionally.
But when there are voices inside your head saying that there is something wrong with you, and that you are immoral or doing something bad – family can seem to be the hardest ones to face up to.
Throughout the stages of your life there is a moment when the ‘ignorance-is-bliss’ life you lead as a child, falls away and you are left with a life in which opinions matter, and societal pressures come to the forefront of your mind.
It was in these times that I realised I was different, and looking back now I understand all the times I was blissfully unaware that I was showing my differences as a young child. These memories came flooding back as I began to understand my past.
The times where it was clear I wasn’t the same as the kids I was playing with.
In these moments I hoped and prayed that in my carefree state I hadn’t presented myself in a way that would cause my family to notice anything slightly abnormal in the repertoire of a young boy. I hoped I hadn’t given myself away.
I can remember nights home alone when I was older, finding photos of me in family albums dressed in a tutu walking my sister to school, or playing with a Barbie with my cousin – I couldn’t have been older than about five in the photos – and I was so mad and disgusted at myself that I tore the photos into a million pieces and hoped that no one would remember them. For it was in these distant memories that I saw a piece of my future self that I was not ready to accept.
I would watch family videos of me and my friends running around dressed as fairies at a birthday party, or refusing to continue going to my Auskick tournaments, and hope that these memories were nothing more than a dark hole in the minds of my family – something they could barely remember, if at all.
With all the ‘signs’ I had given in my past (though what boy doesn’t have these childhood dressing-up moments) I wanted to make sure I didn’t let slip once more in my life.
So away went the carefree, happy child, and in his place came the anxiety-ridden boy in the dark – choosing instead to be a silent figure rather than someone who could give himself away at any moment.
For me, coming out wasn’t the opportunity to show to the world, and to my family, who I loved and who I was loved by; more it was the opportunity to shed the self-harnessed shackles and be who I was born to be without stress or apologies.
Coming out hasn’t changed who I am to my family. But it has given me the opportunity to be a more truthful version of myself, which has allowed me to be who I really am.
And it is through this freedom that the relationships with those that I love has truly begun to flourish.
I first noticed it with the men in my immediate family.
I came out to mum and dad at the same time. We were getting ready for a funeral (superb timing, Michael) and mum was putting on her face, and dad (god bless him) was standing in the bathroom in his jocks. I had to get it out right then and there and I didn’t care what state of dress anyone was in.
They took it better than I had expected them to. Instead of tears, expletives and the door hitting me on the way out – there was a sense of calm, some questions, and more importantly a funeral to go to.
In the days that followed my coming out, my dad and I went out for a coffee and had the longest discussion that I can ever remember having with him before.
Dad had never met a gay person before, and was more intrigued than anything about the science behind it.
“What if…”, he began, “a really good-looking woman came into the room, you had a really great conversation and really hit it off…nothing?”
‘No dick – no interest’, I thought to myself.
“Nothing”, I replied.
With my brother – though he knew since I was four – coming out meant that I didn’t have to put up this façade of the hyper-masculine, lady-slaying demon I thought he wanted, and he didn’t have to keep getting disappointed when I couldn’t give that to him.
Our relationship probably changed the most drastically out of any other in my world.
From two boys who shared little more in common than a last name, to two men who would support each other through anything; who understand that our differences bring us closer together and are more honest together than they have ever been. I don’t have to hide who I am in front of him, and he can continue dancing like a ballerina in front of his fiancé – all without judgement. Kind of.
My relationship with my brother has become more relaxed now that I don’t need to be anything other than me. He and his fiancée have been my biggest fans (of my life and writing for my fight), and have even agreed to name their forthcoming child after me*.
He still wants to protect me as his younger brother, and is still waiting for someone to be a blatant homophobe to me so he can beat them up.
From the men in my immediate family, to the men in my extended family the same themes arose.
Without having to think about how my uncles and cousins may expect a heterosexual male in their family to act, I can instead be me. Just me. And know that that is enough.
No more overthinking what I am saying to them. No more trying to drop in the names of girls that I hang out with. I just give them myself, and don’t have to think twice.
When you are relaxed enough to step back and see the bigger picture in life, you see that there are so many differences and so many varied journeys in every family – that sexuality is pretty low on the food chain in how your family see you.
You are their son, their brother, their cousin, nephew or grandchild. You are a cherished member at the dinner table, a part of a family holiday memory long before you are the ‘gay’ one.
With the majority of coming out scenarios, it is common to hear that your grandparents ‘were born in a different era’ and that because of this ‘they can’t be expected to take it well’.
Both sets of my grandparents have shown both to me and to my family that being a good person is timeless. Acceptance doesn’t come from a generation or a birth year, it comes from a heart that is kind, accommodating and pure.
My maternal grandmother has never batted an eye at me, and tells her mah-jong group that she has a gay grandson and from that doesn’t see any problem with same-sex marriage.
My paternal grandma asked only how to spell my partner’s name for the card on his Christmas present.
And coming out to my grandpa with Alzheimer’s isn’t a one-time thing – but I know he’ll always have my back.
With my sister and my (female) cousin, who have been my best friends since birth, nothing really changed. We still sit next to each other at every family dinner. We still hang out on weekends. Except now when they point out a hot guy, I can too. And we all have matching marriage-equality tattoos.
Families prove again and again how much they love us, and it is a clouded vision we sometimes see through that make us ever second-guess something so unconditional.
Showing your true colours and spirit can often feel like the most daunting thing you will face in life, and in the days, week or years that we don’t we are denying ourselves the right to enjoy our time together with our friends and family.
When you are honest with yourself, you can be honest with your family.
And when you are honest with those you love, the love in turn that you receive can make your life that much brighter.
Blood is thicker than water. Love is stronger than hate.
*NB: not confirmed.