Letters to My Brother

Letters to My Brother

When 18-year-old Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, he became an overnight symbol of the fight against cyber-bullying and homophobia. Here, his older brother reclaims his memory from the headlines and pays tribute to his abbreviated life.

Tyler (left) and James Clementi / Photo courtesy James Clementi

I ’m not sure when I first realized my younger brother was gay. I think I knew he was for as long as I knew I was. I had no idea how to bring it up; it was just something we left dangling in the air, unsaid. I was open about my sexuality with friends, but around my family there was this barrier that felt unbreakable. It slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one, that I had a brother who was also gay — my baby brother, whom I had always felt protective and paternal toward. I knew I was in a position to be a confidant, a role model. But I wasn’t ready to do any of that. It would have made it much less lonely for me to grow up with an older brother who had gone through and understood everything I was dealing with — and I wanted to be that for Tyler. I didn’t start to come out to the people in my life until I was in my early twenties, so I always thought Tyler would follow the same timeline and we wouldn’t need to address the rainbow-colored elephant for a few more years. I was terrified to talk to him, accustomed to secrecy and scared I would make everything worse somehow.

The summer after Tyler graduated from high school we made plans to see Toy Story 3 together, and I looked up the schedule online. I walked into his room without knocking to ask what times would work for him, and there was that awkward moment where he realized that I was standing behind him. I realized my little brother was looking at gay porn. Caught off guard, I acted like I hadn’t seen it, and I think he was initially relieved. But from this moment, there was a growing anxiety, an urgent pull from inside myself that was compelling me to talk to him, and I knew it was time — probably way past time. I gave myself a day to stress out over the right words, the best place, the perfect time. And then I just did it.

SLIDESHOW: FAMILY SNAPSHOTS OF THE BROTHERS TOGETHER

It was the Fourth of July. We had spent the day at the movies, the diner, the fireworks. So many opportunities, and I kept chickening out. That night, I found him in the house listening to Katy Perry, and I saw that, if I couldn’t do this now, something was really wrong with me. I overthought it — because it ended up being this simple.

Me: “I’m gay.” Tyler: “Oh. Me too.”

 

It was great because we had always known, but now we could talk about it. I saw so much relief and genuine happiness in his face. It felt like the beginning. We talked for hours about sex, relationships, bars, fake IDs, homophobia, everything that had been off-limits before. I was really taken aback by how assured and poised he was, how much better he understood himself and his desires than I did at 18. It was startling, but it also fit with my sense of him as a young man, still figuring it out but grounded in his own worth and value.

Two months later, he left to start his first semester at Rutgers. I think he left excited to grow up, to live life. I was looking forward to the days ahead and the years of brotherhood still to come.

Pipsqueak,
You were one noisy kid. I remember walking inside and the most beautiful sounds of Tchaikovsky and Mozart would waft through every room. And I hated it.

Remember how I used to bang on your door and scream at you to stop being so loud? It was so unfair that I had to listen to your noise all the time — why couldn’t you just pick up a quieter hobby!? I would refuse to attend your recitals and concerts because I had to listen to you play all the damn time at home. Wow, do I regret that.

It is so quiet now. You were really talented; it was a gift. I’m not sure I ever told you that… maybe you didn’t care. It’s not like you needed my validation; I know nothing about classical music and you knew you were the shit when it came to that damn violin. I just feel really bad for not telling you how awesome you are, how much I respect your skills and dedication. I regret not listening to every note with open ears, not going to more concerts. Fuck you for making me feel bad; it’s not fair that you did that to me. But I would tell you now if I could, I really miss the noise!

Hey Ty,
So the other day I was at Barnes & Noble, trying to find a book to read since I have a lot of free time now that I can’t sleep, can’t hold a job, don’t want to be around friends or family, and pretty much need to escape my life. Anyway, I was browsing at the newsstand and I saw you. I always do. This time you were staring back at me from the cover of People. I keep thinking that I’ll look up and see you for real, the way you should be, but it’s always more reminders of the way you are. I’m sure the other customers found my anxiety attack entertaining. How am I supposed to respond to seeing you on People, though? It’s a lot to digest, you being a celebrity and all. I always knew you would make it big; I just thought you’d be around to enjoy it.

I wonder what you would think, seeing all the commotion you’ve caused. It is surreal and meaningless to see you as a mere story on The New York Times, a brief glimpse at a life with none of the detail. You were a typical college freshman, trying to adjust to a dorm room, make some friends, meet a cute guy, and enjoy your independence, and no one noticed. The headlines tell of how you were violated and ridiculed; your last moments are a cautionary tale, a scandal, something to sell and entertain.

You are on every talk show, newspaper, and blog, being held up as the issue du jour for the masses to “care about,” like they ever read you a story or wiped away your tears or spun you around in the air until you were dizzy. I wish it didn’t take you dying for your soul to know peace. I wish you could read the hundreds of letters we got, hear the thousands who rallied and marched for you, know the millions who followed your story on the 6 o’clock news. You were never alone; it just felt like it.

When you were here with me, you had no idea how important you were, and it took your death to make that point. Now you are gone. How will you know how much I love you, how much we all do? It’s not like you can read your big cover story. It’s not as though you can hear me crying.

 

SLIDESHOW: FAMILY SNAPSHOTS OF THE BROTHERS TOGETHER

Little Peanut,
I always thought that, between you and I, you were the stronger one. That’s why, as protective as I felt toward you, I never worried that much. I saw the best parts of myself in you. Of course, we looked like twins, albeit six years and a foot and a half apart. But — let’s face it — you were better. Where I dabbled (pretty pitifully) in painting, you devoted hours of every day to the violin since you were eight, then picked up the piano, and even taught yourself the freaking harmonica. Never one to be outdone, when I was biking a mile, you were unicycling two. Where I was shy, you were fearless. When I tiptoed out of the closet at 22, you were out and proud at 18.

I remember asking if you had a boyfriend, or if you wanted one, and you scoffed at me. “I just want to hook up.” That’s what you said — and that’s fine — but I think maybe you didn’t see how much more you deserved.

Sometimes I wonder who that guy was, the one in your dorm room. He doesn’t matter. You were so young, and there were going to be others. But in that moment, what did it mean for you? Were you bored, scared, over it, into it, what? Everyone knows their first, but who ever thinks of their last? I’m sure you didn’t even realize that it was the final time you’d be close to someone. He shouldn’t matter, but being the last gives him a strange importance. Did he make you happy?

You had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of baggage to work through before you could really feel comfortable with who you were. You’d roll your eyes at me and dismiss it with one of your “whatevers,” but it’s true. Libidos aside, when you told me you were only looking for hook-ups, I totally didn’t believe you. Sure, sex is amazing, but love is the best part. It was there within your grasp.

Dear Tyler,
I guess I never really told you how much I admire you, how much I wish I was more like you. We came from the same gene pool, the same family, the same town, the same schools, the same church, everything the same. But I always saw a confidence and strength in you that I didn’t
recognize in myself. Where did you get that? When I thought about where I was going to be in five or 10 years, I could never picture it — my mind would be blank. But when I imagined your future, I saw the world at your feet. You were supposed to show me up, do it better than I could. I wanted that for you. I saw amazing professional accomplishments for you, but also personal ones. I know now that you felt so alone, but Jesus Christ — you are so, so easy to love, with your kind eyes and gentle heart. I know so many people you had yet to meet that would one day love you almost as much as I do. Even after what you did, I cannot see you as a sad or depressed or lonely kid. To me, you will always be my sweet, tender little brother.

I’ve heard the story so many times: how you did it, the night you jumped. The first time, and every time I’ve been told about it, read it in a paper, heard it on TV, or dreamt about it at night, it still confuses me. I know you and I know that is not who you are. And that is never how I will think of you, alone and cold and at the end.

You are youth, potential just beginning to unfold. You are blood, my connection to the past, and my hope for the future. You are beauty, fleeting and marvelous. I know there was pain, and I’m sorry for that, but you were joy, too. Your voice, your smile, tiny hands clinging to mine. I will never let go.

A Mom Almost Talks to Her Gay Son

By: Gay.com
5.10.2012

The Non-Normative Conversation:
A Mom Almost Talks to Her Queer Son

Words by The Mothership

I was looking for a parking space in West Hollywood the week before Gay Pride.

“Mom, what’s Gay Pride?” said my eight-year-old daughter, Shannon. I guess she’d read the signs while I was trying to park.

“It’s a big party for gay people,” I said.

“What’s gay people?” asked her brother, Danny, who was five.

Whoa, I thought. This is a Formative Moment.  This is One of Those Discussions They Remember Forever and I am without a thought in my head. How strange.  I have plenty of long-time gay friends, I’ve lived in West Hollywood—I’ve even done summer stock!  I should know what to say.

“Well,” I tried. “Boys who are gay like boys better than girls, and girls who are gay like girls better than boys.”

There was a long silence from the back seat.

“Mom, are we gay?”

Truth is always good, right?

“Well,” I said. “I’m not. But you might be.”

You can cringe if you want. I completely understand. To this day, I’m not sure if I gave the World’s Best Answer or the World’s Worst Answer, or if I just said something stupid. But then that describes all of parenting—you’re never really sure if what you say or do is good, bad, harmful, lame, ridiculous, or might actually make an impact and turn these moldable little creatures into magnificent human beings.

The parental paradigm, in other words, is always shifting.

So when I got the email from Danny, now in college, that started, “Well here’s an email for you, potentially surprising (probably surprising), maybe totally predictable, but read all of it, and understand that things will be different once you read it!” was I surprised? Yes. No. Maybe a little.

Dan apologized for coming out via email. His father had been visiting him at school and he told him the night before. Now Dan wanted me to know. He wrote, “Something about the ‘coming out’ proclamation

seemed totally unsuitable for me, so I never wanted a grand statement. But I think the reality is, this kind of relationship is effectively non-normative, and there is no social apparatus for talking about it (at the beginning) normatively.”

Uh…

Normative (Adjective)
1: of, relating to, or determining norms or standards <normative tests>
2: conforming to or based on norms <normative behavior> <normative judgments>
3: prescribing norms <normative rules of ethics> <normative grammar>

The boy always did love his vocabulary. But I saw he was right. I wanted to find a common language with my son. I wanted to talk about it, normative or not, but somehow like that day in the car, the words just didn’t come as easily as I thought they should.

So Danny and I took refuge in the language of academia. And Google chat. And text messages. Sometimes I think that Danny is impatient with what must feel like my slow grappling with this information. When I asked him if he told his sister, he wrote, “Yeah, yeah. I will. The whole point is to not make it a big production.”

“It’s kind of a big production,” I wrote back.

“I mean,” he responded, “it’s just like there’s not a societal apparatus for having non-normative sexualities. Your difference has to be announced, which is problematic, and useful, to be sure, in a political way.”

And then the killer: “There’s something symbolically violent about the identity game. IS THIS PERSON SO-AND-SO, I TOTALLY KNEW IT.” And then, even more damningly, “Which, for the most part, is done by traditionally straight people, done from a position of stable gender identity.”

That’s me. Stable gender identity. I suppose I have something that Danny, at this point, does not. And even pre-“announcement,” I totally knew he was gay. And I felt so very traditional, almost embarrassed, when I read those words.

A few months ago, I asked Danny if he wanted to come home for spring break, maybe even bring his boyfriend, Scott. (“I prefer partner,” Danny responded, which was refreshingly earnest non-gender-based early-twenties enthusiasm for the current relationship, which will undoubtedly go on forever.) During his previous two years of college, Danny had always politely refused. But this year, he emailed, “You know, I think I would.”

I told Danny I would like to give a party.

“That might freak Scott out,” Danny wrote.

“He’ll deal, “ I wrote back.

“Who would you invite?” Danny asked suspiciously.

“People,” I responded.

“I might not book something yet,” Danny said. “Scott might be totally embarrassed.”

Some general talk about plane fares followed, then “Scott is voicing his anxiety about being thrown a party” and then a plea for money to buy “suit things” for an upcoming interview.

Another message appeared on the screen: “Scott is attacking me for mincing his words. He, in fact, WANTS a dinner party, thus…throw a party!”

I hesitated before sending the invitations. By calling Scott “Danny’s boyfriend” am I making an “announcement”? Turning the event into a “production”? Where are the rules? Where’s the handbook?

I finally settled on “special guest, Scott,” figuring it was about as neutral as I could get.

Immediately, Danny emailed back, “Why is Scott a special guest?”

“Why not?” I answered.

“It’s a little weirdly ambiguous is all, I mean,” he wrote. “I guess our relationship will be news that night!”

The party was a huge success. People either figured it out, or didn’t, or were just glad to see the young man who was once the chubby-cheeked little boy that they knew and loved. But when one friend offered to take Danny and Scott out clubbing in West Hollywood, Danny told me, “I don’t know about that!” Danny was only willing to take his new self so far. The living room was fine—more or less—but Santa Monica Boulevard? Not so much.

And here’s the odd thing, or maybe it’s not: Danny and I have never once spoken in person about his new—ah, what? Identity? Orientation? Newest personality that Danny’s trying on for size? In all honestly, I’m a little worried to talk about it. Gay or straight, it’s not easy to negotiate the ground rules with a newly formed adult. As much as I’m not sure what my role is, I’m not sure he knows what his role is, either.

A few days ago, while I was at work, Danny sent me a message with a link to his newest college project website. I clicked on the link and QUEER CULTURE: ART, STABILITY AND CHANGE in very large letters popped up on the screen.

“Look, everyone!” I said with pride. “It’s my kid’s newest work!”

I told him it looked fantastic.

And he told me that meant a lot.

We stumble on.

Images: Photos.com, for illustrative purposes only.

 

When I read this article it reminded me of this book published in 1975 by Laura Z Hobson “Consentint Adult” – a series of letters from other and son on him coming out, and how impacts on the family.  There are 37 years of history between the book and the article, but in some ways I must ask has society really moved on?

Why should society be inclusive?

As you may know Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans History Month is celebrated every year in February. During 2011 and 2012, the focus of the Month has been sport.  But inclusivity is not just restricted to sport and the month of February.

A report from Canada has shown that workplace barriers persist for LGBT employees. Respondents cited three factors that affected their career advancement and the formation of critical relationships in the workplace: a lack of awareness regarding LGBT issues, discriminatory behaviours, and exclusion from important connections with others. LGBT women reported less positive relationships with their managers than LGBT men and non-LGBT women and men did. LGBT employees at organizations with diversity and inclusion programs, policies, and practices, as well as those with broader talent management programs, were more satisfied and committed, described their workplace as more fair, and had more positive relationships with their managers and colleagues.   (Building LGBT-Inclusive Workplace)

In Equality Britain they site the following:

Equality Britain believes that individuals have the right to be free from prejudice and discrimination.

Fairness and equality is not just a “good thing” but imperative in a changing and complex world.

It has been proved that by valuing diversity, organisations bring benefits to the people they work with and their local communities, as well as to themselves.

A diverse organisation draws upon the widest possible range of views and experiences, so it can listen to, and meet, the changing needs of its staff, volunteers and partners.

So where is this article leading?  Well on the 20th June the marriage of X-Men hero Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle is set to take place the the publication Astonishing X-Men #50, published by Marvel Comics. (Polari Magazine)

 

Why is this an important landmark; well inclusivity is about recognising differences and including them within all areas of society – and this is just as important for all areas of writing – if the LGBT community is seen to be visible and incorporated within natural things and traditions of society then we are included and accepted and homophobia and bullying will cease!