Five years ago, I asked my older sister Kelly if she was gay and she said yes. The question was more or less a formality, I had known since I was six, even though I didn’t know what “being gay” was when I was six. What I did know was that Kelly was struggling with something that I was not struggling with. At age 19, I would discover that that thing she was struggling with was her very identity.
When you have an LGBT(Q) sibling, you watch a lot of emotions unfold – pain, anger, resentment, fear, love, confusion, acceptance, doubt, triumph. But most of all, you witness someone daring to go through hell to be who they are. And you never forget a single moment of it. Here are 10 things you learn about life when you have an LGBT sibling.
1. You don’t know what they’ve been through, but you can be there for what they go through.
In high school, my biggest problem was that I walked around wearing neon blue eye shadow and nobody told me that it made me look like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. My sister Kelly, on the other hand, was being forced to sit through religion class and wonder if God made her wrong. So if you’re letting something small get to you, put it in perspective – it’s probably not that big of a deal compared to what someone else is going through.
2. Your daily conversations are probably more gendered than you realize.
When I meet someone new, they’ll often ask me if I have a boyfriend, just to make simple conversation. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. (My answer would have been something douchey, like “Yeah, his name is Burnett’s Vodka LOL”). But now, I think of my sister every time, because I’m sure she gets the same question. How does she answer it? Is she confronted with a wave of anxiety every time? Does she feel like she should just drop the gay bomb there or does she try to brush it off and avoid the question? There are so many social situations like this that are carefree for most of us, but potential anxiety storms for other people. So try and remember that although things may come easy for you, that’s not the case for everyone.
3. Not everybody will feel comfortable talking about it with you, and that’s something you’ll have to learn to cope with too.
I love when people find out my sister is a lesbian. It used to be a big deal to me when I told someone, but now, it’s like telling someone I’m from Georgia or I’m one of 4 kids – it’s just another piece of information. Most of the time, people don’t know what to say, so they mutter something along the lines of “Wow! I didn’t know that! Well, you know what? Good for you!” Thank you for the admiration, but I didn’t accomplish anything. I just happen to have a sister who likes boobs.
4. Their coming out can sometimes feel more profound for you than it does for them (thought you’d usually expect the opposite.)
A few years after coming out to me, my sister told me she didn’t remember how the conversation had gone. I was shocked. I told her I remembered it down to the syllable, and she gave me a look like “oh, that’s cute.” Because she’s had to come out to 50 MILLION OTHER PEOPLE over and over and over. There’s only so many ways you can explain to someone that you’re a lesbian but you’re not like Rosie O’Donnell. If your sibling doesn’t remember coming out to you, don’t take it personally. Just be proud that they freaking came out in the first place.
5. You’ll probably ask a lot of dumb questions in the beginning.
When Kelly came out to my younger brother, his response was “when did you find out?” as if she had received a letter from Hogwarts informing her that she was a lesbian. Many dumb questions like this will arise during this experience, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Questions mean you are making an effort to understand your sibling, so ask away.
6. You will discover that people often accidentally stereotype the LGBT community.
When some people find out I have a gay sister, they don’t know how to respond, so they just start naming gay women that they know. “Oh, your sister’s gay? That’s cool. I watch Ellen’s talk show sometimes.” Oh, do you? How interesting and completely relevant. That would be like me finding out you have a straight brother and informing you that sometimes I watch Entourage.
7. People might congratulate your sibling on coming out, and this might seem weird to you.
My sister came out to my entire extended family over the last year or so. This was no simple task, least of all because my family is extremely Catholic. Some of them were surprised, and some of them are still warming up. But for the most part, there was an overwhelming amount of love and support. After the third “congratulations on coming out” phone call, my other siblings and I began referring to this time period as Kelly’s BirthGay. It’s strange when people are applauding your sibling for their sexual orientation, but if “coming out” is slowly becoming a celebration and not a scandal, I’ll be the first to bake my sister a Congrats-on-Being-Gay Cake.
8. Find humor to ease the moments that get intense (they will get intense.)
I started making gay jokes to my sister the day after I found out she was gay. While I hated the fact that she had felt forced to keep part of herself a secret, I didn’t want it to become this horrible cloud that I saw hanging over her all the time. So instead, we laughed about it. You and your family and friends are going to experience a lot of difficulties throughout your life. These challenges are going to be upsetting, and they may come close to breaking you. But never lose your sense of humor, because laughter is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world, no matter what the circumstance may be.
9. You don’t have to try and make sense of it. It’s not your job to try and make sense of it.
Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why your sibling has this hurdle to jump instead of you. Rather than wasting your time obsessing over this question, spend that time just goofing around with your sibling and being normal. That’s what siblings are for.
10. You’ll get frustrated when people are closed-minded, even if it’s unintentional.
If your friend’s sweater identifies as male and it is attracted to other male sweaters, then sure, you can tell your friend that their sweater is gay. There are no other acceptable situations. If your friend is just wearing a sweater you don’t like, use adjectives like “lame” or “Anne Hathaway” to describe it instead.
11. You’ll start to look at almost everything in a completely different way – even fast food.
Chick-fil-A tastes a little less delightful when you remember that they don’t support your sibling getting married. You eat it anyway. So does your sibling. You cast your eyes down in shame when you pass the Billboard Chick-fil-A Cows on the freeway, and vow that you will not have another Chicken Biscuit until your sister gets married. This lasts for 11 days. Basically, you suck, but your heart is in the right place.
12. You start putting a lot more thought into your friendships.
As you slowly transition into adulthood, there are going to be certain issues that become extremely important to you, such as the right to marriage. You’ll learn to pick your friends accordingly, because life is too short and too special to waste with people who can’t support or respect your beliefs.
13. You don’t assume boy-girl pairs are the only couples anymore.
If I see two girls walking down the street together, I sometimes find myself wondering if there’s any chance they are dating. Having an LGBT sibling really opens your eyes to all the potential possibilities of love around you.
14. Heartache is painful, no matter what.
My sister went through a break-up recently, and watching her struggle through it was like looking in the mirror and remembering the various heartbreaks I went through. Although I knew that she was capable of being in love the same way I was, it wasn’t until I watched her heart get broken that I really understood how irrelevant sexual orientation is. The good news is that no matter where you fall on the spectrum, you can always eat your feelings, because according to my sister, chocolate tastes the same to gay people as it does to straight people.
15. Love is love.
Love is about sacrifice, vulnerability, and putting the life of someone else before your own. It can never, and will never, be validated by a piece of paper from the courthouse. Boom. Politics. Bye.