Despite the great strides that have been made in securing equality for the LGBTQ+ community, 'coming out' remains a challenging and at times distressing process for many. Cadent employee Louise has personal experience of being there for a loved one through this process. Read her story.
The early days
There are 12 years' difference between myself and my brother, so in effect I was kind of known and regarded as his “second mother”. Right from get go, he always confided in me and came to ask me a lot of those “awkward questions” (you know the ones that you could never ask your parents as it would be too embarrassing). We have always been (and still are) a very close family and I have been one of the lucky ones I guess to grow up having a stable, loving childhood.
From being extremely close for my brother’s junior years, it became quite upsetting that over a period of years (especially towards the end of his secondary school) we slowly started to drift apart. I suppose I didn’t notice it as much at first as we were both at different times of our lives on different journeys. I had not long met my husband and I was busy with moving in to my new home, getting married etc. and he was finishing secondary school and starting University, but there became a point in time when I realised that I didn’t appear to know my brother anymore. He became distant, very secretive, always taking calls on his mobile outside of the room. He had gone from a son/brother who always wanted to be with his family to someone who wanted to be left alone. He became snappy and appeared to be angry with the world and especially my dad whom he clashed with on many occasions through his late teenager years into his early twenties. Whenever I tried to ask him questions about his life, or what he was up to, he would never really go into detail and would answer in a vagueness that meant I never really did get an answer to my questions. After a while I stopped asking and accepted the status quo.
As the years went on with him now well into his Uni days, mum and dad (but mum in particular) used to have many conversations with me around the fact that he had never been in a relationship. Mum just wouldn’t let it go and the same answer used to come back from my brother every time. “I’m just focusing on my studies, enjoying being with my friends. I don’t need to be in a relationship at the moment.”
This kept mum at bay for a while but again as more years went by my parents then started to question his sexuality. “Do you think he might be gay?” This then went on for quite some time and became a constant topic of conversation with my parents behind closed doors to me but escalated one day with Mum asking him outright on a bus (yes – a bus!) “Are you gay?” (My brother and me can laugh about this now but this is most definitely NOT the right way to ask someone in your family about their sexuality). Many a time I would pacify my parents by telling them to let him be and if he is gay, he will tell us in his own time. I think we all already knew the answer, but we carried on with our lives and waited for the day that he would reveal more.
That time was around 4 years later when he finally came out to me at the age of 23 while walking my then 6-month-old daughter around Sutton Park in Birmingham. When I reflect back, this was such a special moment and walking in the park, surrounded by nature, without having to look facing directly to one another was the perfect way to have this conversation.
My brother was clearly grappling with his emotions at this point. He became very nervous and was finding it difficult to speak. He said that he needed to tell me something that he had wanted to tell me for a long time. At that point I knew instantly what he was about to say. I let him speak (uninterrupted). I carried on walking, looking straight in front of me (as did he) and actively listened to him finally say the words out loud that he was gay.
Having finally told me, he was very quick to ask me how I felt. Did I still feel the same way about him? Did I still love him? I remember that at that point the relief and happiness I felt inside was overwhelming and I burst into tears, threw my arms around him and said “What I feel is that after a very long time I am finally going to get my brother back!" After the initial tears and endless hugs, he went on to fill me in on the gaps in his life that I had missed over the years. Not only that day did I find out his sexuality, but I also found out about the boyfriend he had been seeing for the last 2 years, the fact that he played for the Gay National Football team and how he had been travelling around the country every weekend playing in matches and had not just been in our local town with his Uni friends (which he had told us). He had been lying to us all and he hated every minute of it.
It’s difficult to explain the emotions that I felt that same evening after having this conversation. One half of me was so pleased that he had finally decided to come out, that the secrecy and distance between us would now be over and already I felt that close sibling bond slowly coming back. But the other half of me felt very hurt, I felt betrayed somehow and angry at him for keeping from me this whole other life that I was not a part of, that I knew nothing about. I thought that we were close and how could he lead this other life, with a boyfriend of 2 years that I didn’t know? Why didn’t he feel he could have told me sooner? I thought we were close, I thought I knew him – but now I felt that I didn’t know him at all.
I also felt a great sense of guilt that he had dealt with all of this by himself, that I hadn’t been there for him when he may have needed me the most. That I was probably too wrapped up in my own life that I missed the signals/signs and that ultimately, I had let him down as a sister. I was therefore determined to make up for the time lost and to win back (in my eyes) his trust in me – which is why I reluctantly agreed to his request for me not to tell our parents until he was ready for me to do so.
Telling the rest of the family
This went on for 6 months and was clearly a very difficult period in time for me, having to continue to listen to mum and dad's statements/assumptions that he was gay and having to play along with the fact that I was still in the dark and didn’t know – whilst at the same time I was now meeting his longstanding boyfriend, meeting some of his new friends in the football team and being kept up to date with his actual whereabouts at the weekend. As the time went on, I thought about how I had felt betrayed and hurt by his “other life” and how I was now also adding to this by being involved in keeping that betrayal going. So, after a lot of encouragement and reassurance from me, my brother agreed to tell mum and dad.
We had a long discussion about how best to have this conversation and who should do it. It was clear that having to come out to other people whom he loved, friends and family etc., was such a big thing to him, a milestone/mountain that I guess he didn’t feel ready to climb by himself.
This is where I was finally able to repay him for (what I believe) was the time I let him down. Over a period of time and at his request, I was the one who told mum and dad on his behalf; I was the one who then told other close family relatives, and I was the one who eventually about 12 months later told his childhood friends (all of whom had already known/guessed and were willing and waiting for the time that he would finally come out). I was there for him throughout all of this and experienced the intense emotions that he went through just before and after each set of people (whom were so important to him) were told.
So, 8 years on, where are we today? Well, my brother and his partner are still together, happy, and are in the process of buying a house together. We are completely back to being the close family unit that we once were, Mum now has “inherited another son” (in her words), my daughter adores her two favourite uncles and is spoilt rotten by both of them and me and my brother have never been as close as we are now.
My advice to others
From telling my story, I wanted to reflect and share what I have learnt and what hints/tips I would give to any other sibling or family member of a person who may be coming out:
- Think about the language / statements that are used within the family unit. Without realising it you may be discouraging your loved one from opening up and coming out. For example, phrases like “When are you going to get a boyfriend/girlfriend?” are not helpful, as already you are labelling the gender of the relationship you expect them to have.
- Don’t pressure the person into telling you their sexuality (and definitely DO NOT ask them outright on a public bus!) – they will tell you in their own way, when they are ready…each person’s ‘coming out’ journey will be unique to them. Some will find it easy and comfortable to do, others (like my brother) will find it very stressful and scary.
- When they do eventually tell you, make sure that you actively listen, giving them time to tell their story without interruptions (if at all possible). Don’t cut them off in deep flow or rush to finish what they are saying. Take into consideration the emotional work that has gone into them disclosing their sexuality to you. Rather than focusing on all the questions that you may want answering, focus instead on them and how they are feeling and provide any words of reassurance or emotional support necessary for them to feel comfortable. Your response and behaviours will be crucial to their ongoing ‘coming out’ journey.
- Be prepared that they may not want to tell everyone at the same time and, however difficult, honour their wishes and accept that this may be a good thing. Sometimes individuals may need to develop a support network of family/friends who are accepting and supporting and slowly build this up over time.
- Offer your help and support with “coming out” to other family members and friends. Don’t just assume that this is something they would want to do themselves. Everyone is different, but my brother wanted my help with this but didn’t know how to ask. In the end I offered, and this was such a great relief and support to him in what was a very difficult time.
Finally, reflecting solely on where I started this story and it being about a ‘Sibling’s perspective’ – It got me thinking about how a sibling relationship is so important in the ‘coming out’ journey.
Research suggests that the sibling relationship is one of the longest lasting of a person’s life and they are often perceived as providing companionship and can play a crucial role in the family’s life when it comes to influencing of decisions. Researchers have also indicated the significance of the sibling bond and systematic support when looking at stressful experiences such as coming out. I remember reading an article about how it is one of uniqueness and relatedness. ‘Uniqueness in the sense of it being unlike any other relationship in a person’s life and relatedness highlighting them in being the closest clone to ourselves that we have’.
In conclusion, I guess the moral to my story is this: Don’t ever underestimate the value of the ally of the sibling and how influential that can be in someone’s coming out journey.
Pride at Cadent
We have an established internal Pride at Work community, which is central to our commitment to support LGBTQ+ colleagues, customers and stakeholders. We have increased the visibility of Pride at Work through written content and live virtual ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, ensuring that the LGBTQ+ community’s voice is heard throughout our organisation. We have also invested in trans awareness training, to educate colleagues about how best to support the trans community. Look out for our continued content and insights during Pride Month 2021, and our very first Pride festival attendance later in the year.
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