Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Story That Needs to be Told

Two people have asked me recently about in a round-about way about my brother and/or why I post vehement messages of support of gay rights on my Facebook page often. While I don't think I need a better reason than the good ol' Golden Rule, like most, the events in my life have shaped how I feel.

My brother Jason was gay. He was always different, although we didn't realize it the way you would now that it is more accepted in our society (it is better now, I think). He was five years older than my sister and me, and was really a great older brother. We should have realized then that it was odd that he helped us cut and dye our Barbie's hair and liked to organize stage productions of "Grease" (1 and 2), and produced and acted in a live sitcom he created a la Partridge Family called "The Beckwith's"....A lot of times I was the dog, but I am over it. Yes I am. Really. I am.

When beard trimmers and markers go wrong..

While we were pretty Brady Bunch-like, Jason and my Dad had a tough time connecting on a man/boy level because their interests were so far apart, but not for lack of trying on my Dad's part. I was more of that person, since I caught salamanders and frogs while Jason cooked and Stephanie hid from the frogs. We had a pretty great childhood, so don't go there. Jason was very well known for singing and acting, and graduated high school "promised" a girl. Yep. You heard me. With the not-an-engagement-ring-ring. He was very popular with girls, which should have been another huge and glaring indicator. There were always rumors he was gay, but since he was always dating someone...

Any opposite sex escort taken to an event in an effort to give a homosexual person the appearance of being out on a date with a person of the opposite sex.
Half of the women on the red carpet at the movie premier were not real dates, but beards.

After High School, he toured with a musical group called Up With People *, during which his girlfriend broke up with him. She was still in school and he was traveling and performing all over the world (awesome!). It was pretty typical for the break up to happen at that age, and I think she probably realized what was up. He was devastated by the break up. I think the break up signified that he knew he could no longer travel down a path that wasn't his. He wasn't so great at facing things, so this was a tough time for him. I suspect he also found that when he left Wyoming, there was a whole world and many of the UWP cast who were having the same feelings he was, and FINALLY, he fit in somewhere. Still, he struggled with coming to terms with who he was and tried to fight it. He was still "in the closet" at this point, at least as far as we knew. 

* Up With People is a great organization and will not, I repeat, will NOT make you gay. Unless you are already gay. The end.

After his touring year he left Up With People, a mistake I think. He went downhill from there and really struggled with drugs and bad relationships over the next 4 years. I was 5 years younger and went from thinking he hung the moon to being very disappointed in his drug use, lack of responsibility and continued lying to my parents, who didn't seem to comprehend the drug use, especially my Dad.

At one point I told my parents I suspected the money they were sending was going toward drugs and that I thought they should stop helping him. My Mom knew, but I don't think my Dad ever stopped trying to help him. I was about 16 years old by then, i guess. I was ultra responsible and possibly a little uptight (Read: SUPER uptight). I was worried and I wanted him to come home so we could assess him in person, but he kept saying he couldn't. We all knew he was gay but my Dad (who probably knew too - ignoring reality apple didn't fall far from that tree ) so during a phone call I finally said we knew he was gay, please come home. (He seemed genuinely surprised that we knew. Again with the reality - my Mom had thought it for years.) He came home alone for a visit, but he was a hot mess. He had a new partner who was also trying to straighten him out, who was off-putting on the phone and seemed not to realize that we were struggling with all of this too. This partner likely saved his life, so I thank him even though he really pissed me off. It wasn't a good visit.

My parents struggled financially in those years of the oil bust and I was very angry at my brother for making their struggle harder, by not paying car payments, continually needing money that was likely not used for dental bills, rent and other excuses and the CONTINUAL LYING. I was pissed at him, done dealing. I stopped talking to him. He wasn't invited to my wedding. This was hard for my parents, and I spent a lot of time being angry at my brother since they couldn't be. I was a bitch about it, and I am sure I added to their stress over the matter. Apologies.

Onion: I'm furiously angry! Grrr...
Jason: Palm Springs! Mimosa, please..

By then, he was still with his life saving partner who had moved him from AZ to CA to get him away from some of the influences that plagued him. I think he may have had to stake him in the back yard for a time in order to keep him from returning to his former life. Jason prospered there and we started talking. No more hard drugs, good jobs, they bought a home and had two dogs. Finally he was at peace with who he was and thought he deserved a regular life. My sister and I went for a visit in 1997, the first time we had seen each other since he had left Up With People.

While I was ok with the gay lifestyle, I will admit I was a little nervous about what it would actually be like to stay with a living and breathing gay couple. I am from Wyoming after wasn't like I had ever really been exposed to it.
Wow, thanks for meeting us at baggage check...

Jason and partner Victor picked us up and we immediately started laughing hysterically like we were back in the day, sneaking cigarettes on the snowmobiles and saying "douche" a lot. Victor stared at us in awe, these people who had been so recently estranged and frankly, seemed like assholes. My sister and I were both married, and it was obvious that they, as a couple, were really just like us. They didn't stand around and make out in front of us, just like we wouldn't have in front of them. They argued about their checkbook (a lot) and made fun of each other (Jason called Victor's look "70's Bathhouse gay" and he had a point.) They bickered in the car. They argued about dinner. Victor was kind of annoyed at how noisy we were being while he tried to drive. It solidified how I thought I felt about a gay lifestyle not being so different from anyone else's.

My parents never talked the fact that Jason was gay. I understood it, but I didn't like it. They were accepting in private, more as time went on. Local people jerks would ask us "Is Jason Married?????? (they knew) and my parents would hem and haw about not finding that right person yet or whatever. I started just blurting out "no, he's gay...but you knew that, right?", to much sputtering of beverages. My parents did not appreciate this much, and I will admit I was being petulant because I was annoyed that people who knew damn well he was gay would make my parents uncomfortable by asking. Rude.

But the the thing I realized by being rude was that was when I said he was gay and asked if they already knew, most admitted they DID know, and then we had a nice pleasant conversation about Jason and his partner of many years. They were actually very accepting once we were honest. I realized that by acting like we needed to hide it, WE made it appear we agreed it was something to hide. When we were open about it, so were others. It was a much more positive experience. Like having a gay coke and a smile.

My brother and Vic joined us in middle America for my Granny Grunt's 80th birthday celebration a few years later. My husband and I picked them up at the airport, or vice versa, I forget. They immediately wanted to stop for drinks in podunk Missouri, so Special Agent liked them immediately. He surmised they were a lot more fun than my sister and her lame-ass husband (we don't miss him now that he is former, either). 

It was a little tense, thinking about the elderly folks of the bible belt having to mix and mingle with a real live gay couple and we were all a little afraid of how that might pan out. But again, we were pleasantly surprised as shirt-tail relation referred to Victor as my brother's "roommate". They knew too, and once again I was reminded that:

a) being gay is not a new concept brought forth in the 70's
b) Everyone (I mean all y'all) have some gay people in your families

That Latino roommate of Jason's is a keeper!

It was a great trip, and sadly would be the last time we would all be together in person. 

My brother died in 1999. I was pregnant with the first wisecracker at the time, and he was the first person in my family who knew about it. I am glad I told him early. He died of cryptococcal meningitis, which was related to HIV. He said he did not know he was positive, although he had told me he had been getting tested every six months. This was a lie, Jason was still not able to be realistic about being gay and the need to be tested often. I hate this. I would be mad at him if it helped at all. But being mad at a dead person is futile.

It was horrible and awful and there wasn't a damn thing we could do about it. My Mom and I went to CA on Christmas Eve, knowing full well we were not on a rescue mission. Special Agent brought my Dad a day or two later, something I will love him for until the end of time. Special Agent deserves props for being the manliest of men, who isn't afraid of a couple of gay guys, or to take charge of a scared and worried Father in law who desperately needs him to. And then to take said Father in law to a bar in gay town because they both really needed a drink. 

On Dec 29, we discontinued life support and let Jason go. He was 29 years old.
The Onion, Jason and Victor
(see the 70's gay mustache? Do ya?)
1997-ish, San Francisco

I feel that the root of Jason's death was his inability to deal with being gay in a completely open way, which started in Wyoming, in his childhood, in religion, in society. Not my parents fault, as they accepted him wholly, but the arena of people and culture who saw his differences as something he should hide from. Of the many after school specials dealing with self esteem, none of them dealt with what to do when you didn't fit the sexuality mold.

I think Jason's shame for not being "normal" led him to drug use, lying, and a more dangerous and risky lifestyle than he might have if he could have just been himself, grown into his life, and tried to be happy. He got there, but about 15 years too late, and not without damage that would eventually be his undoing. 

His story isn't unusual, you can hear the same from almost every gay person around. Hiding, lying, pretending...from an early age. Jason pretended, even to himself that he was being tested for HIV and might have been diagnosed and gotten the cocktail and still be alive today if he hadn't continued to hide in some way from the true reality of the risks he faced. It breaks my heart and frustrates me all at once.
This post surfaced partly due to a friend Jason went to high school with asking me about his death last week. She had "heard" a lot about it, but never really KNEW if he had died of AIDS/HIV. This girl's dad was my Dad's very close friend. My Dad's very close friend has no idea how my brother died. Even in death, we were still hiding the details, and only listed meningitis as the cause of death in the Obituary. I disagreed with this choice, but I also realize that everyone is not as accepting as I am. There were many who were afraid to shake hands with us after they knew we had been at his death. 

:-( Uneducated, ignorant asses.

As far as not being in agreement on the lifestyle and sin, I can accept that religion and the bible dictate that homosexuality is wrong. I am not religious so that doesn't weigh heavily with me, except to say that according to the Bible, God made every one of us just as we are. But for those who are worrying about other people's so-called sins, I say  "Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone.."

We grew up as Methodists, and regularly went to church until my teens. The shine wore off over a few incidents and I could never accept that it felt like it was more a place of judgement than of community and acceptance. I saw even good churches do things I felt were not in the spirit of care for others.

My brother's partner was a Catholic, so they subscribed to a lot of religion, even in their own way. When my brother died, we had a hard time finding a local minister who was willing to perform his service, further sealing the deal that religion is not a path i wish to travel.

I don't think anyone chooses to be gay. Who would choose such a difficult path? I believe it isn't an option that someone suggested to you, a bored experiment, or because your Dad didn't spend enough time with you, or because as a girl, you played too many sports, etc. We are who we are, when we are born.

I have several gay friends and feel that there could be members of my family and social groups who may end up being gay as adults. I hope that those who are on that path can feel all of the ease and love possible and tolerance of something not quite the same, but not really that different. I hope acceptance will help them have a better start to an alternate lifestyle than my brother had. 

I think the world is getting better at this, and I am glad.


Anonymous said...

#1: I love you. I'm crying as I say those words so I really mean it. I-love-you.

#2: THANK YOU for sharing your story, which is in many ways the story of so many of us. (Insert- sister/nephew/cousin/friend/self)

#3: The world is getting better because of understanding and sharing the light. Again, thanks for sharing-did I mention that I love you?

The Onion said...

I love you too, whoever you are..


Danger Boy said...

Wow. I want to thank you for sharing this. People need to hear it. I get so, so tired of people who profess to be loving, forgiving, insert name of religionists here spout the anti-gay crap. Actually, the anti-anything crap. Faith should unite us, not seperate us.
This is why I bounced to a more open spiritual path, myself.
The timing of this post is amazing to me personally, as I just finished reading Traveling Light by Katrina Kittle, which is a novel dealing with the same topic. I don't recommend it; there are a lot of tears in the pages.

TCA1974 said...

Hello Onion:

So glad you shared! As always your blog makes me have may emotions, I laugh, and know I have shed a tear, your brother was a great person and yes many knew he was gay and may people judge, I hope I never did judge as you say there are many people who are afraid to be themselves (as I am pretty sure I have a brother that is gay, as he still has said nothing he is almost 44)anyway I love all your blogs! Thank you and keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story, Stacie. Although Jason is missed dearly, it sounds like he loved and was loved deeply. Also, by you sharing your story, I know other people going through the same experiences of prejudice and intolerance will be comforted. As for religion, I believe the true essence of God is love and compassion. It sounds like you and your family have an abundance of both. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful story.

Mrs. Tuna said...

What a great tribute and memory to your brother. He hard to recognize the differences in others, but being gay is not a "lifestyle", people are born that way. I pray for the day that one day they will be treated equally, allowed to marry.

Nicki said...

This was wonderful. Truly wonderful. Heartbreaking, yes, but such an important story. I think the world needs this.

You're a great writer.
Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

When you see into another person's struggles for the first time it has a profound effect...but this was truly amazing. By being strong enough, principled enough and open enough to share your and Jason's story you really do make the world a better place. I'll share this with my friends who are struggling to understand- it just says it so much better than anything I have ever heard. Thank you for being you.

The Defiant Marshmallow said...

Followed advice from The Loaded Handbag and came here. I always do what she tells me.
Your story here that needed to be told is touching. Not a word I use a lot or in a cavalier manner. Very touching. And strong. Makes me wish I knew your brother. Most of us only hope to have those we leave behind remember us and honor us like you have done.

Well done.

Anonymous said...

Stacie, I am without words. That is a truly rare occasion. My heart is broken, and reborn again. Thank you.


Victor said...

Stacie - In case I haven't told you lately: "I Love You, Sis" It has been over 11 years since I lost my Jason, not a day goes by that he slips into my mind. I am the Victor in this beautiful story. Truth be told, Jason saved MY life - this irresponsible, sexy, funny, caring young man taught me the meaning of life, how to love, how to laugh when the world didn't. I GREW UP DURING THOSE SEVEN YEARS!!! We watched every penny before we bought our house - I wanted to go to the Warm Sands Villas in Palm Springs once more, nope, we had to buckle down and be satisfied with the Budget Host in beautiful downtown Barstow, yes, of Route 66 fame! We did meet another gay couple on their way home from Las Vegas, but, that's another story...
Thank you, Stacie, of course, now I have to run down to Walgreens and buy another little bottle of Visine! :-) I LOVE YOU, SIS!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this warts-and-all story. I also have a brother who's gay, and after a lifetime of being a Methodist, have decided to leave the church over its policies and inaction on behalf of lgbt people.

I blog regularly on this topic, and I will link your story, as well. Thanks again.

hed said...

I read this via Studio 30 and it was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking and heartbreaking.

Thank you so much for letting us readers in on a part of your life, and for standing strong in what you believe.

hed hed above water

Lauren said...

I'm here as a result of Bonnie's post, also raised Methodist in a conservative part of the country, and I'm the bisexual little sister who left the church due to its beliefs about me and my sexuality. I cannot thank you enough for sharing this story and putting a little faith back into my soul. I am so sorry for your family's loss, but I feel confident that your courageously honest telling of his story will do many people a world of good. I know it has for me.

The Onion said...

Thanks for all of the kind words. :-)

Jason Hughes said...

Wow, Stacie--so powerful. It *is* obvious the love you and your family had for one another. Thank you for being one of those families--they seem all to far and few between, even in today's growing-in-tolerance society. Losses of a sibling are severely traumatic--my partner lost his younger brother to drug use at a very young age, and he still has days when he just needs to cry over 15 years later. I can only imagine the emotions you wrestled with when writing this, when hitting "publish," when waiting to see what the world thought of this unfiltered chronicle...

Hugs to you, and to Victor (and his mustache...) :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was riveted throughout, and love Vic's mustache.
I'm sorry your brother felt his true self was something that needed to be hidden, and that secrecy led to your losing him.
Ignorance, cruelty, passive aggression towards gays is bullshit.
So many people need to hear your words. I will be passing them on.
Came from Write on Edge.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you. That is a beautiful piece and a tribute to your love for him.

Not Just Another Mother Blogger! said...

I have always felt that any religion that says that any of God's creations are wrong in any way is not a religion worth following.

Thank you for a very insightful and provocative post!

Anonymous said...

Stacie.......what a powerful tribute to your brother and family!! We all go through some kind of rocky stage in our lives, and only the ones that truly love each other make it through. I knew the minute I met your Mom, the heart of gold she had and that you girls also had the same heart. I called her my Gillette Mom, for she was always there for me when mine was so far away......and I Love her Dearly to this day for that. I am so glad you and Jason were able to reconnect before his death, and that Victor is still a friend of yours. I honestly believe the people who truly experience such dark and horrible days are the only ones in life that truly appreciate the goodness here on earth, for we have to go through hell to truly appreciate anything above it. Way to rise up and love your brother for who he is, many a people can take a lesson from that!!! Bt the way, I noticed you wrote this on May that Jason's birthday? excellent blog....Thank You! Love to you and your family and Miss Sandy! Anonymous Emily

Anonymous said...

Damn, I swore I read this was posted on May 26....... Where did I see May 26th.....:). Any who, excellent story, thank you again, Honesty is the best policy, even when we hate to hear the truth.

The Onion said...

It was May 20th. Good guess.