A gay brother’s gay brother


I’m feeling better having written this:

It’s not too many LGBTQ-etc. people (the reclaimed “queer” is good shorthand) who can say they have a queer sibling although, that said, it has surprised me over the years just how often this does happen.

Craig and I came out, four years or so apart, without knowing sufficient gaydar to have fully recognized the other.

As the blogger-blabber in the family (google Craig Chaplin, as a sister did recently, and you are led more quickly to me, not him) I would like to respectfully try to revisit my ‘coming out’ and how Craig and I grew as gay men – different in some ways, so similar in others.

As I look back now I am reminded that it was during the time of Craig’s coming out that I was doing my level best to dig myself in. I had just begun college a year or so earlier while Craig was well into his studies to become a United Church minister. These were the tumultuous days of “the issue”.

How did Kenn, aka Me-thinks-I-didst-protest-too-much, handle this and the reality of my own awakening sexuality? Why by getting myself baptized, fundamentalist-style!

It is no wonder that in those early years Craig chose carefully those in whom he confided (but this did include our parents). Also his personal integrity was such that all who had anything to do with the ‘laying on of hands’ at his ordination knew Craig was gay.

Not until the events of February 5, 1981, and with more defiance than a feeling of blessing, did I come out.

Like Craig, although without knowing he had done so a few years earlier, I chose to write Mom and Dad a letter. In it, as much for my own reassurance as theirs, I told them that I now believed that it was not inconsistent for me to be both a Christian and gay – and that, despite a loving upbringing in an unabashedly United Church liberal household, I had only recently become convinced of that. I remember thinking, again not knowing that Craig had paved the way for me, that by writing this letter I needed to prepare myself for the possibility that Mom and Dad might reject me – as any member of PFLAG can tell you was not an unrealistic possibility.

But Dad and Mom were/are extraordinary parents – and Craig an extraordinary brother.

When Mom and Dad received my letter they telephoned, assuring me of their unconditional love. Craig wrote me a note which, if my on-going search proves futile, I will regret not having kept. The main point of it, however, has stayed with me. Craig let me know that he understood – everything. He also, as I have written before, did what big brothers so often do. He tried to assure me of his protection, which came in the form of an experience-based warning, of sorts, to watch out for the superficiality and the occasional cruelty, although I doubt that was the word he used, that sometimes characterizes gay life. (I am quite certain it was not such a dire warning, and I may be projecting my own experience into his gentle notes of caution, but I still remember the feeling of gratitude for his words as it had already been an uncomfortable few years while I tried to lead a double life.)

Life went on, for better and for worse. When Craig tested positive for HIV, at least four years before I did (which, in my case, was in 1989), Craig was already experiencing the love possible in intimate relationships. I, on the other hand, never took those sorts of chances. Meaningful relationships, other than some sincere friendships, eluded me (if I did not avoid them first). Some of the reasons may be sufficiently imagined elsewhere in this blog.

At the time Craig was settling down with Claude, we had both left, or were in the process of leaving, full-time employment for health reasons. While AIDS itself never came quite as close to directly killing Craig as it nearly did me, not that I know of at least, he was soon to have a lot of trouble with angina, requiring many angioplasties over the years, and then – last year – quadruple bypass surgery. Would he survive? We all certainly had our doubts. But survive, and thrive even, he did as he not only worked on perfecting a third language, (Spanish, after English and French), but even preached a sermon in Spanish at the induction of a minister to a Spanish-speaking church he had been attending.

Amazing.

Unfortunately another health issue was gradually, perhaps more quickly than we could fathom, eroding Craig’s mobility – polymyositis. The more I read up on it the more Craig tried to convince me that it was not HIV-related. (The reading from the Mayo Clinic leads me to believe otherwise and my HIV specialist had certainly heard of it when I mentioned it to him.  Craig didn’t want me to worry.)

The disease made getting out of chairs, and other things many of us take for granted, increasingly difficult for Craig. He had very recently begun to use a cane if only, as I had experienced, to slow people around him down a little. He and Claude had sold their beautiful walk-up, in the heart of the Plateau area of Montreal, and bought a fully-accessible apartment across from Parc Lafontaine (which Claude has moved ahead with as planned), as of June 1 with a beautiful view of Sherbrooke Street and the Jacques Cartier Bridge.

They were being very pro-active.

Then Craig fell and, as my entries from April 27, 2007 and on attest, we soon lost him. It is difficult, sometimes, not to imagine the terror he might have felt from the time he stumbled until his head hit the pavement. It will do me no good to think about that.

Craig and I were our own persons. But we were brothers – gay brothers (even ‘sisters’!) – and the gift that he was, to a family which provides me with so many gifts, only seems to gain in value each day now that he is gone.

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6 thoughts on “A gay brother’s gay brother

  1. I`d like to provide you with an alternate title if I may be so bold, Kenn.
    A GAY BROTHER`S GREAT BROTHER!

    Kenn said: Ahh…you’re so sweet Jamie. Thank you!

  2. Kenn,Your writing is so eloquent that I actually feel my soul and insight expanding as I read.
    I was looking at old photos last night and came across your family photo.In that photo taken in the museum you look so much like you Dad,but I`m sure others have told you that.
    In one of your recent blogs you mentioned you were giving up your gay card while you deal with grief.I think I may have borrowed it,because I have really begun to question the comments,insults,”jokes”,etc that come out of peoples mouths on an everyday basis .
    I guess my support was “in the closet” but now I`m out,thanks to you.
    I will give it back though.

    Kenn said:

    Jamie,
    You’re giving me such a lift. Thank you! My gay card is completely transferable and you are free to use it any time! Yes I am often told I look like Dad and, when I used to wear my hair longer, an argument could be made that I looked like Mom, too. More important than looking like them is to love like them, which I try to do.
    I am touched that I have you in my corner, so to speak, and if I can broaden anyone’s horizons then I am privileged to do so.
    xx oo

  3. Kenn,based on what I`ve heard and read about some parents that reject their children because they are gay,your parents did what should be the norm but I gather it isn`t.They just continued to love and support.I`ve had so many arguments with people who have told me “I guess we would just have to accept it”.I can`t even figure out what that means.I think rejection by parents says much more about them than the child.It is unfortunate if they learn too late that who you were yesterday before “you were gay” is the same person you are today.
    You sound a bit more up and I hope you`re taking care of yourself.
    Looking like your Mom is ok too.
    I`m enjoying your photos.What an incredible building!

    Kenn said: Thanks again and, yes, today has been a good day so far. Brushing up on what I’ve learned about grief reminds me that there is no “normal” so I am just trying to accept life in the moment.

  4. You asked in a recent post that people leave a comment when they visit. I chose to leave it here because like you, I am gay and have a gay sibling. My brother is eight years older and has been HIV+ since 1987.
    I was very moved and saddened to read your account of how you lost your brother. My brother is still alive, and you have reinforced for me how important it is not to lose him.
    All my best to you, and I will hope for renewed strength and continued progress toward peace for you.

    Kenn said: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I just received your comment and have to leave the computer centre I’m writing from but I promise I will write more when I have the chance.

    I am SO glad you connected with me and commented here

    Kenn said:

    Hey again Bigg,

    I tried to leave a comment at your site but I no longer have a blogger account. Are you with the new version of blogger? I thought they allowed “Other” users to comment.

    Thanks again for writing. It is great to know someone who fully relates to something I might be experiencing!

  5. Kenn,
    I am just getting used to the new blogger, so I may have my settings wrong for anonymous comments. I really like your blog, and will be rummaging through your archives in the coming days.
    All my best,
    Bigg

    Kenn said:

    Thanks for writing Bigg.

    Your comment came just at the perfect time. I’m going to go down to City Hall and check out the flag-raising after feeling like total crap a few minutes ago.

  6. My gay brother came out several years after me, in the early 80s, even though he was older than me. We were very different, but I eventually joined him on the West Coast at the end of the 80s, and took care of him until he died in 1991. I wish I honored him better but I used his identity in several frauds as I sank into alcoholism and drug addiction, from which I finally emerged in late 2004, after a stint in prison.
    He’s now the “star” of a screenplay I’m writing which explores this fairly common syndrome AIDS that hits pairs (and sometimes trios) of gay brothers but is virtually unknown in mainstream media.
    Anyway, I’m happy to discover a new blog I will definitely follow. Do check out mine: http://www.marcolmsted.com/blog

    Kenn said:

    Marc, how great to hear from you! Obviously I can relate to so much that you’ve been through. Writing a screenplay sounds exciting. (I’m hoping to weed through here, keep writing, and cobble together a book.) 🙂

    I look forward to reading through your blog (I’ve bookmarked it and will link to it in my blogroll as well.) Thanks so much for writing and, yes, I have seen the gay brother thing before and, as survivors of the 70s and 80s, is it any wonder gay siblings have HIV/AIDS? Looking forward to keeping in touch!

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