You have no control over the family you’re born into. I was fortunate to have an amazing childhood with loving and supportive parents. My sister, to this day, is one of my best friends. We’re cut from the same cloth and our similarities are uncanny right down to how we store our ketchup (in the fridge).
Undoubtedly, our lives have taken on two very different paths. My sister married a man I’ve known since the 11th grade. She’s raised three amazing sons and is the grandmother of two adorable and energetic grandchildren. She settled in northern Virginia and led what some would call a typical suburban family existence. A lot of what she’s accomplished mirrored much of our upbringing and if there was a prize for carrying on the legacy of tradition and family, she is without question the GOAT! Then there is me, the unicorn who at times, intentionally and unintentionally broke every rule. I tossed out many societal norms and released unrealistic parental expectations. The reason you ask? There was no room in it for ALL of what makes me, ME. I’ve spent a good portion of my time as an adult undoing what no longer served a purpose to fully live an authentic existence. To put it bluntly, I’ve realized that the same-gender-loving and straight folks navigate through life in very different ways.
If you’re one of the three people who read my blog (Thanks sis), you know that I moved back in with my family due to a life setback. To say that it has been an experience is an understatement. As I settled in with the people with whom I share DNA and similar physical features, I observed rather quickly that the man I became while gallivanting in the streets on northern New Jersey and New York City was completely different than the shy and awkward twenty-something my family members remembered. There is a level of ease one has when among those who know you best but for me, I knew that the life events that shaped my world were now taking a back seat. I unwillingly settled back into old versions of myself and right away I rebelled. I wanted to hold on to my core values and in an attempt to do so, saw that there were glaring differences between myself and my family members with how we approached life. It wasn’t that their way of doing things was bad, just not the same as mine. When I thought heavily as to why, I only came up with the fact that my perception of myself and experiences, as a result, was indicative of not following anyone’s template on how to live except for my SGL brothers. I love my family, but there are aspects of my personality that I don’t think they will never fully understand, and that is perfectly ok.
My circle of friends, myself included, aren’t prioritizing anyone’s needs over our own.
It’s no surprise to men within my community that we’re often characterized as living out a Peter Pan-like existence. To that, I would have to agree somewhat. We (particularly my generation) didn’t get to have a traditional adolescent experience complete with dating who we wanted to in High School etc. It was during adolescence that most of us learned to code-switch which included, having girlfriends and doing what society, our families, and religion expected of us. Although some of us have children, the vast majority do not and our life choices in comparison to our straight contemporaries are remarkably different. My circle of friends, myself included, aren’t prioritizing anyone’s needs over our own. Spur of the moment weekend trips are a thing, and decisions right down to the type of furniture in our home are based on personal preference and not the need for endurance from the wandering and sticky hands of children. Of course, it goes deeper than a childfree trip to Ikea and booking a flight but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the freedom from other’s expectations allowed me and others like myself to maintain a life in a particular way much longer than my straight friends and family. I’m in no way suggesting that they’ve never made self-affirming choices for themselves, but if they followed the traditional way of doing things, they’ve been conditioned into believing that some individual freedoms often come with an expiration date.
Gay men expect the unexpected because it’s how we’ve learned to navigate in a world where how we love is often treated as a criminal and spiritual attack on manufactured wholesomeness. We didn’t necessarily plan on the big wedding, aren’t too concerned about buying a home in the right school district, nor are we ensuring the family Christmas cards go out on time. Those are all necessary and amazing things for some, but it follows a blueprint and we possess the agency to march to the beat of our drum. Our cadence, as a result, resembles a life that isn’t considered the norm nor do we want it to be.
I’ve spoken many times about how self-care is everything. It’s the guiding force in all my decisions. When I would visit my family over the years, there was a comforting feeling that the life my sister created for her own reminded me of Home and as much as I love all that makes me the man I am, I still take pride in the joyful moments I’ve experienced which are rooted in dare I say it, traditional family values. In living with my family, however, I’ve learned that although our differences were glaringly obvious, there was a commonality between us. One of them being the realization that heteronormative living didn’t always follow a blueprint. Many of my sister’s choices were based on what worked specifically for her household and not an idealistic example glamorized by society and the media. Her life was tailored for her.
I take pride in overcoming the challenges I’ve faced while attempting to live authentically. It’s what made me stand out within the family good bad or indifferent. While embarking on the next phase of my life, it’s the lessons I’ve learned while living with them that made me grateful for the life I’ve created, the support I’ve been given through the storms, and the push I needed to propel myself forward. My sister can certainly say the same. We all, straight and gay, get to choose to be exactly who we want to be. In doing so I’ll do my part by taking refuge in the comfort of where I’ve come from while embracing the unexpected and still being very much the unicorn.