I got to know my brother, Parker, when I moved in with his family my sophomore year of college.
I know, that’s a strange sentence. You see, Parker is my brother, but we aren’t actually related by blood or legal family name (his last name is Fischer). He’s my brother because we decided to be brothers. Simple as that.
My freshman year, I became close friends with Parker’s older (blood) brothers, Travis and Tylor, and I started hanging out at their family home during most of my free time. Eventually, since I basically lived there anyway, it became natural for me to officially move in. During my year and a half in the Fischer home, I became a part of their family. And Parker—and Travis and Tylor—became my brothers.
* * *
We write a lot here at SF about the benefits of creating familial bonds (here’s one example). If celibacy is going to be a plausible way of life, gay and same-sex attracted celibate folks need a place to belong, a place to love and be loved. Folding them into the lives of families—or creating new families out of small groups or housemates—is one way to provide the relational space for flourishing that all humans need.
For me, becoming a part of the Fischer family has been a primary site for the little things in life. I’m thinking specifically of the everyday physical touches and contacts that make up the substance of living, but are rarely given a second thought. Things that signal a way of existence entwined, incorporated, integrated with others. A mother may take for granted the feeling of holding her child’s hand as they walk through the mall. A brother doesn’t take much note of his sibling’s foot as it rests against his in the backseat of the family station wagon.
But these little things stand out if you don’t have them. Oftentimes Christian celibate gay folks don’t have the same opportunity for these little touches, which are anything but little when they’re absent. That’s one reason why it is so important to foster different types of committed relationships where sacrificial love and relational contact are the norm. But that doesn’t solve all the problems. Even then, there are hurdles.
For one thing, it can be awkward to discuss any type of physical contact. In our overly sexualized culture, even broaching the subject can make people uncomfortable. There are risks that people will misunderstand. But if it really is just a part of everyday life, and if it really is an area that same-sex attracted folks need to figure out how to navigate, then we need to get over it and talk. So maybe a couple of my personal experiences might prove a helpful place to start.
One of my hurdles, which I am still working on, has to do with believing that my voluntary family members actually want to share these little touches of life with me. Sure, I know they say they do, and I even believe that fact in my head. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of actual life, I’m often afraid. More specifically, I guess you could say that since I’m same-sex attracted, I’m afraid that they are afraid of me.
I remember very clearly the night I told Travis and Tylor I was gay. I had taken great care while I lived in their home to hide my orientation for fear that I might no longer be welcome. That evening, years after we had all moved out of the Fischer family residence, I drove to meet them completely sick to my stomach. I had a letter, written the day before, that I planned to read to them which detailed my experience of being attracted to guys and feeling horrible for having kept it from them the whole time I was living under their family’s roof. What would they think? Would they second guess every touch, every hug, every arm around the shoulder? Would it change the nature of our relationship moving forward?
I finished reading the letter, through tears, and waited for their reaction with my eyes glued to the floor. Travis spoke first. “Nick?” I cautiously raised my gaze to meet his. I’ll never forget his next words.
“Can I have a hug?”
Then he hugged me, and Tylor did the same. They weren’t afraid. Instead, they saw me for who I was. Their brother. Our relationship didn’t change. Actually, I guess it did. Now they knew me better, and were able to give me exactly what I needed in that moment. In that one simple act, they showed me that they were there and that they weren’t leaving. They were in it for the long haul. They showed me that they didn’t see me as threatening or gross. I was just Nick, their sibling. Only now they saw more of me, and they were still present.
My fears didn’t end there, though. Just recently, I had a conversation with Travis about how simple physical touch is so meaningful to me because, now that I live alone, I don’t have the everyday familial contact many enjoy. He expressed sympathy and genuine love in his response, and I decided it was time to take a risk of honesty. I shared with him that the times when he initiates the contact are especially meaningful to me because of my fears.
Indeed, no matter how many times I am told otherwise, I still struggle with the fear that when I initiate what would be normal physical contact between family members, it will be met with suspicion. There is always something in the back of my mind that is afraid the act will be perceived as “something more.” Sure, he’ll reciprocate, but did he really want to? Or is he kind of weirded out right now but wants to be nice? This is a trust issue on my part that I am working to overcome, but it is present none-the-less. So although it wasn’t easy, I shared this with Travis. I told him that when he initiates the contact, it tells me that he isn’t afraid I have ulterior motives, which frees me up to feel the full meaning of the act. I can enjoy being loved and can more fully love in return.
I experienced a great example of this with Tylor this last winter. I was at his house for dinner with him, his wife, and a few close friends. We made frozen pizzas—the type of dinner that family often prepares together because it isn’t so much about the food as it is about just being with one another. I was facing the counter, cutting one of the pizzas. Tylor came up to me, put his hand on my right shoulder, rested his chin on my left shoulder, and asked, “How’s it going?” That’s all it was. A simple touch and inquiry. But it communicated to me that he cared, that he desired my presence, and that he wasn’t afraid of my “gayness”. Again, I was just his brother, and it meant the world to me.
* * *
Parker found out about my orientation about a year or so after Travis and Tylor, which I guess is fitting to the nature of our relationship. See, when I moved in with his family, Parker was in 6th grade. Unlike his brothers, who are much closer to my age, the age gap was more significant between Parker and I. So we had fun and shared a great relationship, yet he was truly my kid brother.
But as the years went by and Parker got older and more mature, our relationship became—as often happens between older and younger siblings—more peer like. Our interests began to overlap and as he gained more life experience I became just as close to him as Travis and Tylor. Now he has a wife and two kids, and I barely even notice the age difference.
A couple months ago, Parker and I attended a concert together. The band is a mutual favorite of ours, and it was a joy to share the experience with my brother-friend. About midway through, they played my favorite song—a song that Parker and I often jam to together. It’s a slower song, the kind where you close your eyes and belt the words at the top of your lungs. I wanted to put my arm around Parker as we sang the lyrics with hundreds of other fans. But there was that old fear. What will he think? Will it be weird? Will he be grossed out?
I considered for a moment, told myself what I knew to be true about our friendship, and reached around his shoulder. He didn’t even hesitate. He looked at me, smiled, put his arm around me in return, and continued singing. It felt totally normal. I felt loved and felt like I was loving back. It wasn’t much; just an everyday touch of life that communicated care and belonging.
And it meant everything.