Life with brothers can be tough at times. One minute you're eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast and the next you're beating each other with backpacks full of hardcover books. It's a dynamic relationship that turns more than a few parents' hair grey. It can also be a bond that we develop with our male peers, especially if there isn't a genetically-related brother to be found. In my case, there is a complication in these relationships though.
I am gay.
For most of my short life I was not -- at least not publicly. My brother and all of my close guy friends were unaware of this until relatively recently, which means at least some part of me was lying to them for years, if not decades.
Many gay and bisexual men struggle to come out to their closest male companions not only because they fear rejection, but even more so because they fear the reaction to the lie they have been telling. I have had conversations with numerous gay and bi men who, even as adults, still feel this way and have not been able to come out to their brothers or friends.
As the Founder of ComingOut.Space, I get to read a lot of coming out stories and have had the chance to learn about the experiences of many others. To learn more about the impact my own coming out had on two of my closest male friends, my younger brother and a lifelong friend, I sent them a few questions to better understand their reactions. The coming out process happened years ago, so both have had more than enough time to reflect on their thoughts and our relationships.
1) Did you feel betrayed when you found out that I was gay, knowing that this was a secret I had been keeping for years?
My friend replied,
No. For me, it was easy to understand that transparency was difficult with that subject and that you had to be ready to come out. I don't really know how to expand on it further because it is that clear cut. I just didn't feel that way. I remember questioning why I wasn't the first friend you told, and wondered why you told people who seemingly you were not that close to, but that makes a lot more sense to me in retrospect.
My brother replied essentially the same thing. In truth, I came out first to friends I hadn't known as long and who I was more confident would accept me. My logic was that I needed to build up my confidence in low-risk situations before I could tell the people who meant the most to me. I think, in the end, it was the right decision.
2) How, if at all, do you think our relationships would have been different if I had been honest sooner. Really think about this one. Given that we grew up in small town, would you have been ok with it if I had told you while I was still in high school? You might want the answer to be yes, but is that true?
To this, both my brother and friend replied that they wished, for my own happiness, that I could have come out much sooner. However they both admitted that if I had come out when we were younger, they would not have handled the situation the same way. My friend wrote,
I think that I wish you would have come out sooner, but maybe not in high school, because I question what my reaction would have been. I don't know that the course of our ultimate friendship would have been altered, but I think it may have taken me some time to come around to the idea in high school.
My brother shared that sentiment, but also added,
I had no idea this was something that was weighing on your mind so heavily. After you came out, I felt as though a weight had been lifted from your shoulders. Our relationship has become better over the years and I believe part of that has to do with the time at which you chose to come out.
Do I think their response means young men need to keep their sexuality a secret until their loved ones have matured? Definitely not. Do I think that coming out at a younger age presents a different set of challenges? Absolutely. When to come out is an extremely personal decision, but it is an interesting idea to think about the relative success of a coming out based on timing.
3) Do you have advice for gay guys who are struggling to come out or to guys who have to deal with their brother/friend coming out?
In a resounding word of encouragement, both my brother and friend answered this question by first saying that being honest with yourself is of the utmost importance. Either directly or indirectly, they both touched on an important issue. When I was still in the closet, I was a different version of myself. I wasn't happy. I wasn't always kind. Coming out helped me become the best version of myself and therefor made it possible for our relationships to progress. In retrospect, all three of us know this and are happy it happened.
To men whose brother or friend has just come out to them, my brother had this to say:
Try to understand what is going on with your brother or friend. If you are upset it is okay to show your emotions, but remember that coming out is not an easy thing to do for anyone. In my eyes the best thing that you can do is to be a good listener. The feelings and words of someone who is coming out have been thought about time and time again. Give them space and listen to what they have to say. Lastly, if nothing else, just be supportive of your family members through any impactful situation that they may go through. Family is for support and love not tearing each other down.
To read or share your own coming out stories, visit us at www.comingout.space.