I flipped through the songs on my iPhone until I found one by Blink 182. I belted out the words as I drove on Interstate 20 towards Atlanta. I was returning from my nephew’s baptism in a surprisingly good mood.
For the past few years, every time that I had attended a family event, I returned feeling stressed and depressed. I was frustrated with this because I loved my family and couldn’t explain the feeling of isolation and sadness I felt when I was around them. I usually returned home with a lessened desire to keep the commandments. Christmas alone usually caused a month’s worth of emotional turmoil.
But as I flipped the next song, I found that I wasn’t experiencing those feelings this time. I thought about what was different. The main difference was that it was the first family gathering since I came out. I came out because I finally accepted myself for who I was and I had a renewed confidence that I hadn’t experienced for a long time.
My family treated me the same as they always had (which was a good thing) and I enjoyed playing with the kids and talking with the grown-ups. Not long before I left, one of my brothers came up to me and said with a grin, “nice purse you got there.” He motioned down to the small bag that held my mother’s digital camera that I had borrowed.
“What?” I said, looking down at the bag. “Oh, it’s mom’s camera.”
“Looks like a purse to me,” he said, grin widening.
“Whatever,” I said, mildly annoyed.
“It’s really small and cute,” he continued. My irritation flared. What was the deal?
In an instant I realized why I was annoyed. When I was around my family in the past, I found myself slipping into the attitude that I had during high school: I must always project an image of straight masculinity. My annoyance had nothing to do with my brother. In fact, whether intentional or not, the message he was sending to me was, “just because you are gay doesn’t mean you are immune from my teasing.”
I smiled. “This is nothing. The man-purse I normally carry is way bigger.”
He laughed. He didn’t care about the bag at all. He was my brother and I was his.
I switched the song to “Hysteria” by Muse and started singing at the top of my lungs to keep myself awake as I drove through the dark. Soon I would crest the hill and see the Atlanta skyline glowing ahead in the distance. My family was behind me.
Just like they’ve always been.