Family is strange. We each have one and in almost all media and modern stories spell the moral imperative of defending our family regardless of the opponent and yet the family is complicated.
Family raises us and impacts us in ways that no one else can. People compare you to your parents or siblings and say “oh, you’re a surname”. But there comes a point in our lives for some of us when the family stops being everything and it usually revolves around the keeping of a secret.
For me, it was the fact that I was gay. However, that only exacerbated an issue I already had. For as long as I can remember, I have feared being a disappointment to my parents one way or another. I don’t know where the fear comes from, but it has always been there.
I was never into football or hockey like the rest of my immediate family. Arrogantly, I was my own person and now that I have grown up, I can see that all three of us – my brother, sister and I are each our own person. But back in my younger years, I didn’t realise that and keeping my secret didn’t help.
I closed myself off, shutting myself down emotionally, whilst locking myself away in my bedroom, away from my family physically. To hide the secret meant hiding myself. The fear of rejection opened up a cavern between us that I am unsure they ever realized was there, but one that I felt deep within.
The irony is that my fear of losing them meant I ran away from them emotionally.
After seven years of an internal battle, I completed the main phase of coming out by telling my family that I was gay. The initial reaction was far better than I expected, but still not great either.
There are two scenes in the film, Love, Simon between Simon’s mum and dad that I wish had happened to me. But they haven’t. In fact, my sexuality has maybe been mentioned five times in five years.
When it did come up in the family, usually as a result of my sister-in-law making a comment or asking a question, I felt my entire body tense up, and no one else in the room said a word. One weekend, a cousin who I haven’t seen in ages because they live down south asked me about my boyfriend and my first instinct was to look around the room to check who was listening before I answered.
In almost all other environments, I am happy and open and free to be and talk about who I am. But in the family setting, I still feel like that scared teenager. I’m not longer closeted, but the topic still sends a shiver of fear through my heart.
My boyfriend wanted to meet my family, and I wanted him to meet them too, but there was so much bottle of fear inside me about the reaction. The devout Catholic family who barely mentioned or asked about their child’s sexuality and even when they tried with small comments, I shut it down. It remained unspoken. It remained silent. Despite being the big fucking elephant in the room.
Except I was wrong
I gave my anxiety too much control over the entire situation. Maybe you can’t blame me. A gay kid growing up in a Catholic environment was always going to have issues, but in my case, just not with my own family.
My boyfriend has met my parents and more recently most of one side of the family at a birthday celebration and received nothing but positive and welcoming regard.
My anxiety had built up enemies within that didn’t exist. It jeopardised relationships that were never in danger. And it belittled and insulted the love and compassion my family holds for me.
It has been a long, hard road with many self-inflicted wounds, but I still have some way to go.