Thursday, April 14, 2011

A tribute to Brian

Yesterday I created a post that was intended to point out that one candidate should not complain about another candidate for doing what he himself has done in past. Regretfully, I used dated terminology that obviously caused great pain to the parent of a lesbian daughter. For that I am truly sorry. I understand the anger of the first commenter, Anon 9:40. I suspect the reaction is bred from a sense of helplessness in being unable to protect the one you love and care about from callous and insensitive comments.

I did grow up in the 1960s as a Catholic in small town Saskatchewan. My oldest brother Brian is gay. There is no way to describe to you what life was like for a gay teenager in small town Saskatchewan attending a Catholic school in that era. The doctrine of the faith we were raised in considered homosexuality as a sin. There was no way for him to turn to parents who were raised with this belief. Going to teachers or a religious leader was not an option. They were nuns and priests who taught the doctrine. It was a time before medicare so seeing a family doctor was also not an option for a teen of a low income family, although I'm not sure it would have helped way back in those so called dark ages. So the secret was kept.

When Brian finished high school he immediately left our home. He went to Europe for a while and upon return to Canada decided to locate in the USA where he could more readily hide out from the wrath of the majority. He attended university and became a teacher.

He took a first teaching job in small town Alberta. The local matrons soon began throwing their daughters at the town's new young eligible bachelor teacher. Before the year was up he realized he would have to leave before they discovered his "secret" and possibly tarred and feathered him before running him out of town. He also knew that too often people confused homosexuals with pedophiles. Please remember in this era there were no laws or human right tribunals to appeal to. It was a society that shunned and persecuted gays. People then did think it was a choice. Everyone was wrong about that and thus many good people paid a heavy price for the ignorance of that era.

Again he moved on, this time to a large urban US centre were he would find a community that accepted him. He went back to university and found a new profession and sought anonymity from the wider community. It took him a long while before he started fighting back, lobbying for his rights as a human being. He endured much emotional pain when "friends" turned on him when they learned of this "secret." He hated living a lie. He just desperately wanted to be accepted for who he was and what he could contribute to society. He wanted out of his closet. Once he came out of the closet he took on the task of educating all of us, particularly me. Now we could have open conversation about feelings and opinions and yes, we sometimes even joked about it.

Brian and I were close in age and as teens growing up together shared a bond. I knew he was gay when we were in school and sometimes felt angry with him for being gay. I just wanted him to be like everyone else. My girlfriends thought he was a "hunk" and always wanted me to hook them up with him. During that phase, along with him, I listened to the "fag" jokes and cringed and said nothing. Anything could be endured to keep the "secret" both of us knowing full well if it came out his life and future could be jeopardized. And I admit, at the time, I was embarrassed both for and by him. I was conflicted between my love for him and the teachings of the time. And I was a coward. I regret I was not a better sister to him back then.

Over the decades I did much to discourage him from telling our parents. Brian desperately want them to know who he really was and about his life. The brothers and sisters now knew, but my parents were aged and I feared that they would reject him and it would cause him excruciating emotional pain. But he was determined. While my father was in a nursing home and nearing the end of his life Brian went to visit him and shared the "secret." That day my father gave Brian his greatest and final gift. After Brian shared information about his life my dear dad asked him one simple question: "Are you happy?" When Brian responded with yes, dad replied with: "Then its all good. I only wanted that you would be happy." I hope my father knew how happy he made his son that day.

So many memories are bouncing in my head right now. I recall when my sons reached their early teens. I started hearing the "fag" word being used and it both angered and saddened me. I knew the time had come to share the secret. I was terrified one of them would use the "f" word during Brian's planned visit. It was bad enough that Brian should be hurt by strangers, but it couldn't be inflicted upon him by family. I sat my sons down and started telling them what a good man their uncle was and how much he cared for them, attempting to build up his image before I disclosed his "secret." To my amazement one of them interjected with "Mom, we know Uncle Brian is gay if that's what you getting at." I was shocked that they knew the "secret." My sons liked their Uncle Bri and thought he was a "cool dude" and they really enjoyed his company. He was the fun uncle who didn't lecture, but encouraged their ideas and goals. He listened and didn't judge. And they didn't put a tag on him, they just liked him. They looked forward to his visits then and do to this day.

I said earlier that he did a lot to educate me over the decades. On one visit we got to discussing whether or not gay couples should be allowed to adopt. At that time I took the position that children needed balanced gender roles that might not be achieved in a gay family. He listened and then asked me that should something happen to my husband and myself and I had one of two choices for the guardianship of our sons, the first choice being a heterosexual home prone to fighting and dissent and rancour, and the other choice being a gay family that would provide nurturing and encouragement in a loving environment, which would I choose. As I said, he was a good teacher and I a good student.

The good thing about discussing gay issues with my brother is that he didn't over react with anger because of what I said, but he always used the opportunity to turn my thinking around.

I could write for hours on this and share with you with joys and pain I shared with my brother over the years. But I will simply say he is a good son to his mother, a good brother to his siblings and a good uncle to his nieces and nephews. In short he is simply a good man and a far better one that those who cannot see him beyond his sexuality.

Today, when people make negative comments to me about gays I react one of two ways, depending on the time, place and my mood. Sometimes I will give them a cold fisheye look, a sorry shake of the head and let them know of my disgust. Or I stare them directly in the eye and state that my brother is gay and I don't appreciate the comment - which generally has them sputtering with weak retractions. I wish I could handle these situations more like Brian does.

I think over the decades the public reaction to gays, lesbians and transgendered citizens has changed because of people like my brother, who promote education and understanding of gay issues rather than responding with anger. He looks beyond the words and into the heart.

Much has changed over the course of one generation, and much yet needs to be changed. Anon 9:40 I hope your daughter's life is better as the years go by and that her family will represent a generation that has been unshackled from prejudice and bias.

If you read this Brian I just want to say I love you. I am proud to call you my brother and friend. Thank you for always being there for me, for your understanding, patience and contribution to family and community.


  1. amazing post Elaine. Thank you for sharing your family's story.

  2. Thank you for that, Elaine.

  3. Great post Mistress. I have often been one of your fiercest critics, it is glad to see a different perspective of you and especially one that I had not expected to hear from you. Salute.

  4. Your post is informative and touching but it doesn't excuse the fact that you state that Hill is going to play the 'gay card'. Where did that come from? Has he said anything about it?

    And even if he did (which would be odd in a very conservative leaning riding), why would this be a bad thing? When I lived in Trost's riding back during the federal same-sex marriage debates, I reached out to Brad to ask him if I could come to speak to him on the issue. You see, I had a personal reason to, as I'm gay myself.

    The silence I heard was deafening. I hadn't asked him to change his vote -- I just asked that he give me some time to make my point of view known. This was denied to me both by Trost and by Ken Cheveldayoff, my MLA at the time.

    So forgive me if I play the 'gay card', but I find it upsetting to be denied the right to speak to my elected representatives about being treated equal under the law. Does that matter to the majority of Sask-Humboldt? No, but it matters to me. And ideally I would want my representative to have equality of his/her citizens to matter to them too.

    I have been in a committed relationship with my partner for 15 years. This summer I am finally getting married to the man I love. This is despite the Conservatives, nearly to a whole, voting against my ability to do this. I'm sorry if I can't be bothered to share the conservative mood of my province. And I'd ask that you continue to try to think a little bit about how it feels to be in someone else's shoes... because I would guess that's what Brian would want as well.

  5. Best Blog yet Mistress of course you had to endure a lot of crap the day before, but that's one of the casualties of the freedom of the internet. Most people don't know the other person behind the text.

  6. Anon 3:55 - I do not defend Trost's poor record in responding to his constituients. I'm not gay and he didn't return my calls either I'm pissed at Trost for his private member's bill to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and for attempting to re-open the abortion debate.

    As for my comments on Hill playing the "gay card" I can only say that past performance its the best indication of future performance. And he did it during the last civic election. Why does it irate me? Because too many people have paid a heavy price trying to make being gay a non-issue across the spectrum.

    Congrats on your pending nuptials.

  7. Anon 3:55

    Quit being delusional

  8. CM: Thanks for the congratulations and I agree totally with you on Trost's other shortcomings.


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