I’m From McMinnville, OR.

by justin k.

I had always known I was gay. I came out at 18 during my first year at college—my first year away from home. There was nothing extraordinary about coming out to my mom (on the phone – coward), or at least I thought that at the time. My parents were not accepting at first, but they learned to accept it over time because they loved me. Being away at college, I was fairly insulated from their coping process. My younger closeted brother however, was not.

If asked to look back on it now, it was clear to me that my young brother—and only sibling—was gay. I even found a collage once that he had industriously created of scantily clad men taken from a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog. I swiftly ridiculed and chastised him for this—mostly out of my own fear and self-loathing. He was unaware of my fear that it could have been found by our parents, that he—or I for that matter—could get caught by our parents out of simple carelessness. He only felt betrayal and humiliation from the way I was treating him. I think to this day that still hurts him.

I was 18 when I came out, he was 15. At that time, I figured he was too young to really know what he liked anyway, so I just presumed what was convenient at the time. He was probably straight. I was being selfish; I was newly “out.” I had my own problems.

My brother followed me to Eugene where we both went to college. He went to community college however because his grades had taken a drastic plunge during his last year in high school. Only later did I connect the dots that it was due to some fairly severe harassment over his sexual orientation—being verbally and physically assaulted by a group of boys over a period of time left him unable to focus on school work.

Despite how awful I must sound in this story, I was always supportive of my brother. I love him dearly. I figured that was enough, to be there for him, to listen to him. To give him advice that only an older brother can give. I moved to New York after college with my partner—it was truly time for my brother to become his own man.

A couple years later, shortly after he had finally come out at age 21, I received a phone call from my brother that left me shaken and in tears. He had been struggling with a drug problem as of late and I had likened it to harmless experimentation. He confessed to me on the phone that he needed help. That he was getting worse and was unlikely to stop. I made a plan to have him move back home—to McMinnville, with our parents. I knew it was an unlikely solution. The tension had been thick at our parent’s home after both their children had come out of the closet. I knew my brother would have little support or social interaction.

My brother did get better—through sheer force of will. He stayed in community college, eventually transferring to a four-year university and graduating with a degree in business. I had never been more proud of anyone or had more admiration for anyone in my life.

I don’t really know if there is a moral to this story. Your sexuality; your identity; they do not form in a vacuum. The things you say, the things you do during this process, they have an impact. Not just on your parents, not just on your siblings, not just on yourself.

People always ask me if it was hard growing up with both of us being gay and the answer is: of course not. We had a built-in support system, whether we knew it or not. My brother is my best friend. He is my family.

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