DEAR KELLY: My brother is two years older than me, and we are both in high school. I’m a sophomore, and he’s a senior. This year he decided to take independent studies during the year so he isn’t at school anymore. Everyone at school knows my brother is gay. We couldn’t be more different, and I really don’t understand him too well. I’m not gay and play sports, and he’s not into any of the same things, but he was a pretty popular guy. .
People ask me all the time if he left school because he’s gay. How do I answer? No one really bullied him or anything, but everyone knew he was gay. Some people made comments about him and he just got fed up with all of it, but I don’t want to tell people that because not everyone was mean. I don’t want people to ask me who did it or what they said. I don’t know what to say and it bothers me every time someone asks. I’m tired of being known as the “X, the gay guy’s brother.” I just want to have a day without people asking about my brother and why he doesn’t go to my school anymore.
Any advice on how to reply?
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DEAR BRO: Sometimes less is more.
Your answer should be short and simple. No long explanation needed. When someone asks why your brother left, just say, “Because it was the best thing for him.” If more questions follow, you simply say, “I don’t know. It was a decision between him and my parents.” Then either politely change the subject or walk away.
Have you asked your brother what he wants you to say? Perhaps he will have a good reply or give you something to say that feels both respectful and appropriate. Maybe he wants you to direct the people to him so he can explain why he left or perhaps he wants you to tell people something specific. Regardless, I think you should check with him first and see how he feels about the whole situation and what should be your reply if someone asks.
You seem annoyed that people are asking about your brother. Are you sure that some people aren’t asking because they like your brother and are concerned about him? Perhaps some of the inquiries have nothing to do with him being gay, but rather people who liked him and wonder what happened? Be cautious of judging peoples’ motives until you know why they are asking. You are assuming people are asking because he is gay when that actually might have nothing to do with it.
Side note: You mention being tired of being known as the “gay guy’s brother.” Most people associate people with who their families are. It is not meant as an insult but rather as a way to connect people. Some teens are the “coach’s son” or a “teacher’s daughter,” “cop’s kid” or the “pastor’s kid.” While you see it as a negative label, others may see it as a way to connect you to your brother since he was a popular student.
If you are struggling with your brother’s sexuality, I strongly encourage you to reach out and talk with a professional. Find a safe place to talk about your feelings and to process how this affects you. Some people find it helpful to go to support groups through the national organization Parents, Friends and Family or Lesbian and Gays. They have many local chapters that offer educational material, resources and peer support from people who understand what you are experiencing. You want to be sure that you aren’t passing along any conflicting feelings toward your brother that could affect your relationship with him in future years. Learning to accept our differences is part of what makes us tolerant to meeting new people and expanding our horizons. The world would be a very dull place if we were all the same. It’s the diversity among us that makes it such a fascinating place. Make sure that while you may not understand your brother’s sexuality, you show him support and unconditional love.
Today’s news quickly gets replaced when something new happens. My guess is that people will stop asking soon and move on. In the meantime if people ask about your brother, switch your perspective and take it as a compliment. People noticed he was gone from school and were concerned what happened to him. His presence at school is missed. It could be worse – he could have left and no one noticed. People notice because people care.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.