Dear Carolyn:

I’m 17 and moving away next fall for school. My older brother, who lives on his own, came out to our family 18 months ago. My mother (very religiously conservative) has “kicked my brother out of the family,” to use her words. She told him he was not welcome at any family functions.

My brother refuses to be kicked out. He shows up at family gatherings anyway, often bringing his partner. He also stops by the house sometimes to see my sister and me, and when Mom tells him to leave, he just smiles, tells her he loves her and then ignores her. He has told her repeatedly that “revoking his family membership” isn’t within her powers. He told her to revoke the law of gravity while she’s at it.

I’m tired of my mom’s constant complaining to me about my brother. I think she’s wrong, but I’ve stayed silent ’cause I still live at home, and the one time I suggested she might rethink things, she went into orbit.

My friends say I’m a coward not to defend my brother. I love my mom and I love my brother, but I’d like to get through the last of high school in peace. My mom might kick me out if I take a stand.


Your brother is an impressive human being.

He’s being true to himself, firm but loving with your mom, attentive to his sibs, crystalline in his imagery — be still my writer’s heart — all without being punitive toward the mother who rejects him for who he is. Wow.

My opinion of your friends . . . not so gushy. When their parents blackball their gay siblings and they have to decide between owning their beliefs and potentially losing their homes, then they can judge you.

Your brother and your friends neatly illustrate the difference between courage and bravado, respectively. One speaks up, and the other goads someone else to.

Now, your kick-out risk is debatable, since your mom hasn’t succeeded in kicking anyone out of anything, though maybe she just hasn’t figured out how yet.

But your story suggests your brother came out to your parents when he was already on his own, or soon to be. So this person of obvious courage also made the calculation that antagonizing the source of his nurture, food and shelter wasn’t the savviest move. I mean, what are the chances he first realized he was gay 18 months and a day ago?

You need to make a calculation now similar to your brother’s. That’s not to say you need to declare your truth the moment you leave the nest. It just means you have to balance what you believe against what you need and feel — and do that knowing you’re the one who has to live with the consequences. Literally and figuratively.

If it helps, your choices aren’t limited to either selling out for shelter or defending your brother. When Mom complains, for example, you can take a cue from your brother and say, “Mom, I love you and I love [Brother],” then excuse yourself to do homework/dishes/whatever.

You sound like a pretty good egg yourself; there’s no one way to assert that, and the only right way is the right one for you.

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