January 12th, 2012 after I had my first date at table 12, I went out on a walk with him through a park where I found a gazebo. I squealed and told him that it reminded me of the one in The Sound of Music. Without hesitating, I ran inside and reenacted “I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” I even pranced from bench to bench and ran out of the gazebo twirling around as if I were in the rain and I had just received my first kiss. I hadn’t yet. But after I was done, he was grinning and I was embarrassed. We gazed into each other’s eyes and I knew that the first kiss was probably going to happen. So I panicked and told him I was wearing superhero underwear and asked if he wanted to see them. Later that day beneath the blue sky I asked him if I could kiss him and he said yes. We’ve been together ever since.
It’s a beautiful love story, but the problem in my world was that I was also a male. In my world, if a girl told this story everyone would be wooed. Or if I had told this story about a girl, I would have been called romantic and cute. I’m sure now, many people would consider that story romantic and cute despite the gender. It’s a woo story. You are to be wooed. I know I was. He was, too. But that wasn’t my reality back then, not so long ago.
If you haven’t already, https://www.michaelstoneburner.com/coming-out-gay-an-open-letter-part-one/ tells one part of this reality. So while I’m falling head over heels and losing my career over it, there was also another part happening at the same time. My family and friends who were still overseas were part of this straight life I had tried to live. They had no other reason to think otherwise. I had married a girl and moved to Australia. It had been 8 years since then. I had kept that aspect of me so tightly wound up I was terrified to let it go and if anyone who tried to accept me for me and tried to get me to come out, I just resented and pushed away. I had this persona I had to keep up or I was going to lose everything.
And I almost did.
It was hard to accept that everyone around me for one reason or another just stopped hanging around. When things got tough for me, I watched a few more friends leave or tell me they couldn’t deal with my drama or that they liked me better when I was happy and listened and was a good friend. I became this social disease. So I waited for someone to reach out for me. Anyone. Just to ask how I was. And eventually, that, too, stopped happening.
So I told my sister first. I almost felt guilty making things about me when talking to her. She was going through her own marital problems with a verbally abusive husband. Pressures at her current job were getting to her. She wasn’t doing what she loved to do – her artwork and she was slowly coming out and talking more and more about her own sexual/physical abuse growing up in our family as I talked about it more and more as well. She was not surprised when I came out.
My brother was constantly posting judgmental and hurtful religious things on his facebook page. I couldn’t go online to interact with him without seeing it. I tried to confront him about it. I tried to explain to him that his words were hateful, even if he claimed he didn’t mean them to be. So I told him. I told him the truth.
“But that doesn’t make me gay.”
I’ll admit I never imagined that was going to be anyone’s response. He never stopped posting his religious posts and there were two instances that made me decide that I just couldn’t deal…he posted a very homophobic and anti-gay marriage post, which to this day he claims he didn’t even read. He just posted it up to have a discussion. The second thing was when we were video calling each other and he has his children preach to me about Jesus and how I needed to be saved. He. Just. Wasn’t. Listening. Or he didn’t care. He was too busy hiding behind his scripture and his religion to even be able to speak his truth.
While this was all happening, I was told from a mutual friend on facebook that my mom was spouting homophobic things at her workplace towards that mutual friend’s trans-child. My mom was making it clear what her beliefs were…that it was a choice…no one is born that way…it’s a psychological illness…etc. I was triggered. I confronted her over the phone, over facebook chat numerous times to really understand her perspective and hopefully educate her. I approached her like an adult. I asked questions. I didn’t like the answers I was hearing. Things like gays are an abomination and are going to hell…even though she also added that wasn’t her place to judge…it was between the person and the god in which she believed in.
That discussion led into an awful argument and we didn’t speak to each other for a long time after that. To think that my own mom was spouting hate like that. She’s a nurse for crying out loud. You’d think she’d listen to science, but her arguments kept falling back on the Bible and what her god said. You need to understand that…other than my brother…they don’t go to church. They don’t believe in churches. They pick and choose what they want to believe in their book.
As for my sister, she kept sitting on the fence. Kept wanting to peacemaker. Would tell me about how wrong she felt our parents were and complain about our brother, but couldn’t actually stand up for me when I needed her to.
I was the listener in the family. I helped solved everyone’s problems. I was the counsellor, the brother, the father, the son, the best friend and the confidant. I think it completely shocked my entire family when I became more outspoken, confident and argumentative. I started to get phone calls from my brother and sister. Both of them warned me of a letter that was coming. They had read it. They claimed they tried to tell him not to send it. But he did.
And so, around my 35th birthday, around the time I’m having a mental breakdown from stepping away from my teaching career, to losing people around me, I receive my birthday letter.
We could sit and analyse this letter for a long time. There are many things that I think a psychologist would find fascinating about this letter, but I wasn’t too affected by it until I read the last paragraph and that’s when I decided I needed to call him and break down the letter with him and really confront him about it. It was the last time I tried to talk to him like an adult.
The whole conversation he interrupted me. He didn’t let me finish my thoughts or even my questions. I had him on speaker phone. Joel was there by my side. It was actually him that started to lose his patience and his cool. He interrupted my dad and told him he wasn’t even listening. He wasn’t even trying to hear my rebuttal. That’s when my father raised his voice and talked over Joel, told him he had no right to come to my aid as he wasn’t a woman. That a partnership and a real relationship was between a man and a woman. Joel was not part of the family.
That’s when I lost it. That’s when I started screaming and swearing and telling him he was an awful human being. I didn’t defend myself, but I defended Joel.
I haven’t spoken to my biological father since that phone call.
The more outspoken I became about my childhood, the more I started to write the book: He Was A Boy Who Smiled, the more they called me a liar. People who talked to me for the longest time stopped talking to me. Aunts. Cousins. Friends of the family. They all just seemed to side with them. Those who I stopped talking to because of their own homophobic religious views were also coming to my parents aid. That’s when I deleted my facebook account. It wouldn’t be for a year before I attempted to have a facebook account again.
I attempted one last time to keep in contact with my brother and my sister and my mother.
While all that was happening, I’m trying to salvage what little relationship I had left with my family overseas. I even made a group chat so Joel could be a part of it. Hoping that if they got to know him that they’d grow to love him.
But my mom had it in her head that I was only gay because the relationship with the girl ended so badly.
My brother was lost in his religion.
And my sister was so busy making peace that she didn’t realise she alienated me.
The group chat turned to my mom and my brother pretending Joel didn’t exist. Where is my dad in all this? He’s not a phone person. He’s not into technology. So he didn’t take part. Didn’t matter that the fact of his life was that he had a son overseas, so if he wanted a relationship with his son, he’d have to get over it. He didn’t.
So I tried to approach each one with my issues.
My brother just didn’t get it. He didn’t see just how passive aggressive his religious beliefs were. I couldn’t listen to it anymore. I couldn’t listen to his spiritual lessons when his personal problems in his life kept returning in cycles and were contradictory to his said beliefs. We were clashing without even really clashing. His life was toxic. At the state that I was in, I just couldn’t deal.
My mom and I tried to approach the conversation again about religious beliefs. She wanted to get through to me about her beliefs and I wanted to get through to her about mine. So I point blank asked her, “Do you believe gays will go to hell? Do you believe I’m an abomination?” She quietly said, “Don’t make me answer this. I don’t want to hurt you.” But I did anyway because I already knew the answer. I just needed to hear her say it. She did, “Yes I do. But that’s between you and god. It’s none of my business. Only god can decide.”
Our relationship crumbled quickly after that. When she started to deny she ever said it. She stopped understanding that her words, as much freedom as she has to say them, have consequences. And there was no way I was going to have anyone sit in my wedding who judged me, who lied to me or who thought I was an abomination unto god. And that made her angry. So she said some pretty hurtful things. Things she apologised for later because she admitted she just said them to hurt me…because I was hurting her…
So the abuse with my sister was getting worse and worse. He was starting to throw things and I was so scared for her and her son’s well being. So I reached out to my mother. I also wanted to discuss with her the last time I spoke with my father. Little did I realise it would be the last time I ever spoke to her.
After a long, drawn out conversation, we end up nowhere. She thinks I’m a liar. She defends him. It becomes a cycle in which I could no longer be a part of. And that’s when I decided, I could not deal with their toxic relationship anymore.
And as these relationships fell apart around me and my teaching career fell apart around me, all that I had left was Joel.
Joel was my family now. He was my friend. My constant. Both of us needed to climb back out of the hole the world around us had created for us. Joel had his own story throughout all this. His own heartaches. His own coming out and falling in love with me that led to me being his family. His friend. His constant. So together, we tried to start anew, but Australia wasn’t done with us yet…