Thirteen years later, after two stays at a rehabilitation clinic for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, I have forgiven my parents. But I’ve never had an opportunity to build a relationship with my little brother. Mom and Dad never wanted him to know that I’m gay, but he’s 14 now, and I have his personal email address.
I have no interest in revealing to him the details of my ordeal with our parents, but I desperately want to be genuine and authentic with him. I want him to know who I am without any secrets or lies. I’m an adult, and I feel I have the right to make such a revelation, with or without my parents’ consent. I’ve respected their wish to remain silent for far too long and have begged them to tell him, but they keep making excuses as to why that isn’t prudent. My patience has run dry, but I still hesitate to do this behind their back.
Should I tell my little brother that I’m gay despite our parents’ disapproval?
I first want to say I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve been through. When you told your mother that you’re gay, she asked you to do one of the hardest things anyone can be asked to do: pretend to be someone you’re not. Humans have an innate need to connect with others, and when we aren’t truly known—or when we are rejected for who we really are—we are left feeling utterly alone.
I imagine that’s how you felt when you were kicked out of the house and forbidden from telling your father that you’re gay. You say that you’ve experienced depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, and studies show a relatively high level of these experiences and behaviors among LGBTQ children whose families reject them for their sexual orientation. The dilemma you’ve had to grapple with has left you with an emotional conflict: I can deny who I am and be loved, or I can share who I am and be shunned. Most people can’t live with this conflict for long, and if they do, they tend to suffer greatly.
The damage to your family goes beyond your own private pain. It sounds as though your mother, father, and sister all know now that you’re gay, but that information is a family secret from which your brother is supposedly shielded. The thing about family secrets is that they’re rarely truly secrets. Many people who grow up in homes with family secrets say that they always had a sense that something was not as it seemed, and that this resulted in chronic unease. What your parents don’t realize is that in trying to protect your brother from whatever danger they believe the truth would pose to him, they’re likely making him feel less safe.
Read: How one mom changed other parents’ minds about their children’s sexuality
Living authentically—in both the telling and receiving of truth—is essential to emotional well-being, so when this secret is finally out, both you and your brother will ultimately benefit. The issue right now is that your brother is living in a household with parents whose beliefs are misinformed and misguided, which complicates how you might tell him the truth and how he will receive it. For instance, a 14-year-old boy who gets a coming-out email from his much older brother with whom he barely has a relationship might not know what to do with that information. I’m guessing that some of what he’s learned about being gay has come from your parents and their community, so your email could make him uncomfortable, afraid, or confused. He might go straight to your parents with questions: My brother just emailed me and said he’s gay. Is this true? Is it contagious? Will he go to hell? If he does, your parents might reinforce their misguided beliefs and even forbid him from having any contact with you, which could make establishing a relationship with him when he’s older even harder.