My cyber-sister in California reminded me of something I do not mention much about my family, and then it’s usually mysteriously anonymous, i.e. “someone else in whose footsteps I was following”. I respect my brother’s own, non-blog, ways of carrying himself in public.
Let’s just say there’s this guy I write about more than anyone else 🙂 with an older brother who, like the writer, is gay and has been living with HIV/AIDS since the 1980s. Both are openly loved and accepted by family, both close and extended, and many friends.
When the younger brother (let’s call him Kenn) “came out” to his parents in 1981 it was not a complete surprise when they revealed that Kenn’s older brother had also come out to them a few years earlier. One of the reasons Kenn had not been in on that, however, was the fact that Kenn – at that time – was test-driving ways of suppressing his homosexuality, to the point where he joined a right-of-Baptist, left-of-Pentecostal church for awhile. The test-drive, as evidenced in his subsequent writings, ended in a high-speed crash into a spiritual wall. Kenn’s internal injuries were very serious.
Anyway, after Kenn came out to his parents his brother wrote him a letter (in those days before email), another letter Kenn wishes he had kept. In addition to lending support and understanding, Kenn recalls the note offering some wise advice about the difficulties inherent in living out one’s sexual orientation in a gay ‘community’ which, at times, can seem like a very cruel world. (Rufus Wainwright, one of
my Kenn’s favourite contemporary musicians, profoundly captures this in his song “Poses”.)
To say that Kenn and his brother became closer, after Kenn had withdrawn from his ‘doth-protest-too-much’ stance against homosexuality (his own and everyone else’s), would be an understatement. However, to this day, Kenn regrets any actions that might have separated him from his brother during those times. The relationship has evolved to being much more comfortable over the years but geography still separates them physically.
Kenn learned in confidence, in the mid 1980s, that his brother had been infected with HIV – news which his brother later shared with other family members.
With all of that background, Kenn vividly recalls having a picnic lunch, a few years later, with his Mom and Dad during a brief vacation he had taken deliberately to disclose his HIV-positive status to them.
This being 1990, Kenn’s medicine bag only had AZT in it and yet it seemed like the heaviest thing in his back-pack that day. Knowing that he would need to take that capsule before the picnic party had returned to Mom and Dad’s home Kenn now only recalls these key moments of the conversation.
Kenn: “When (Kenn’s brother) told you he was HIV-positive the best information he had, at that time, was that Kenn was negative.”
Mom (sighing deeply): “Oh, don’t tell me…”
That was in the summer of 1990, a little more than a year after routine blood-work had first shown tell-all “counts” in reverse, certainly abnormal, proportions. (Those same blood samples, from the spring of 1989, were later tested specifically for HIV and were found to be positive.)
That picnic seems, to Kenn, like a lifetime ago. His parents and siblings gradually integrated this overwhelming information and were very accepting as Kenn shared his story publicly, even via television and newspaper media, culminating in a magazine article he co-wrote for his family’s national church magazine. (That article, originally meant as a simple tribute to his parents’ longstanding involvement in their church, included the traumatic events when his mother barely survived an attack of necrotising fasciitis – ‘flesh-eating disease’ – and how his father suffered a major heart attack as his mother was in the midst of her recuperation at home following more than two months of critical care hospitalization.) Kenn only has a paper copy of that article, which he will either scan or transcribe and post as an individual page on his blog.
Just a few more glimpses into what makes Kenn tick.