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.
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.