I like to joke that I never had a formal coming-out, but that my younger brother outed me to myself.
We were in high school. Our parents had settled in for the night, but Arthur and I were still zapping text messages back and forth from our separate rooms. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I’m pretty sure I was having some sort of emotional breakdown (as I am wont to do), and he was helping me through it (as he is wont to do).
Unable to come clean about what was really bothering me that night, I must have hinted at a secret. Ever the sensible sibling, Arthur wasn’t about to play that game.
“I know about you and Becca. It’s OK. Come talk to me.”
But I didn’t. Instead I stayed in bed, crying and shaking. I couldn’t leave my room because that would mean admitting what I already knew. Talking about it would make it real. And for all the usual reasons — shame, stigma, internalized homophobia — I couldn’t admit it. Not to myself, and not to my baby brother.
Arthur was born two and a half years after me, and he’s been my best friend ever since. We grew up in Tampa together, went to college 1,200 miles apart, and talk daily about our crazy family, our girlfriends, our shared love of Scrubs, and whatever else pops into our heads. He happens to be straight — I’ve forgiven him — and he’s the most stable support system I’ve had in my coming-out process. And that process hasn’t been easy.
I probably started figuring out that heterosexuality wasn’t my thing as early as middle school, but for years I didn’t think about it, let alone mention it to anyone, because I wanted it to go away. When I did start thinking of myself as bisexual around senior year of high school, I still didn’t want a big coming-out fanfare. My family has always been open-minded, but something held me back. After all, I could just work my magical bi powers and only date boys for the rest of my life, and then nobody would have to know a thing. Right?
Shockingly, that plan failed, leaving me to embark on a sluggish coming-out tour. Arthur confronted me first, promising to keep it a secret. Later, on my way out the door to my first pride parade, my parents asked me if I had “something to tell them.” When I started dating my first girlfriend, we let our friends figure it out. During my college years, far away from the conservative cocoon that is Florida, I presented myself as if I’d always been openly bi. I didn’t “come out” of the closet so much as decide I was no longer in it.
While my series of anti-comings-out proved more carefree than if I had convened a family meeting and printed off announcements, they were largely indifferent and unconstructive. I’ll take apathy over rejection any day of the week, obviously, but part of me craved some kind of affirmation. Nobody actually told me that magic sentence: “It’s OK, I love you just the same.” Nobody except my brother.
Arthur was the only person who offered to talk about what I was going through while I was untangling my identity. (I may not have taken him up on the opportunity, but I’ll never forget that he asked.) He’s just as protective of me whether I’m dating a boy or a girl — and just as insistent about wanting nieces and nephews one day. He proudly displays an equal sign sticker on his car. It doesn’t quite spell out the words “I Love My Gay Sister,” but it doesn’t need to. The message is there.
Times have changed for young LGBT people like me even in the few years since I started to realize my abundant queerness. When I was a freshman in high school and Arthur was 12, he was suspended from school for a day for kicking another boy in the shin. He later told us the story of their petty preteen fighting, and how the last straw was when the kid called me a dirty word: a lesbian. Back then I was far from acknowledging that I wasn’t straight, but I wonder what would have happened if their conversation had taken place four years later.
“Your sister’s a lesbian!”
“Shut up, jackass! She’s bi.”
Few things are more important to me than participating in the LGBT rights movement openly and wholly myself. My relationship with my brother is one of those things. If I can’t be honest with Arthur, I can’t be honest with myself. And then, frankly, I can’t get anything done.
From the night he invited me to talk about my secret girlfriend, Arthur has understood that being a brother and being an ally are indivisible, and that kind of support is more meaningful than the best coming-out story in the world. I’m a sister first and a gay sister second — and my baby brother is there for me either way.
CAMILLE BEREDJICK is the digital communications assistant at the Gay Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, and a former Advocate intern. She lives in New York. She blogs atGayWrites.org.