Perspectives: Family

January 10, 2010 Print version       Other articles by this author

The beginning of a year is always a time of reflection for me. While many others are declaring resolutions, I always find myself thinking back on the previous year and all that came along with it.
Thus in observing 2009, I find that there was a common theme that ran through my life.
At varying turns, I had to deal with issues surrounding those closest to me. Whether it was in the traditional sense or otherwise, I had plenty of opportunites to examine the importance of family and to expand my original understanding of what that word means to me.

I recall hearing or reading somewhere that family can sometimes be the noose around one's neck. I think that statement has always struck a chord with me mainly because of my own experiences dealing with family but also because of many horror stories I've heard about other people's families. On the flip side, I've seen many positive examples of how strong and valuable familial ties can be.

With the exception of my parents, I don't keep in touch with much of my family. When I do see them, its only during certain times of the year such as the holidays. Part of that is due to the large amount of geographical distance between us. An even greater amount of that is because of my sexuality and HIV status. Simply put, I don't entirely feel comfortable being my full, authentic self around them. I have come into adulthood, grown up, and become the young man that I am in the absence of their presence and I've done so in a much different environment than than the area where I grew up. I left the area immediately after graduating from high school, which was intentional.

In the time I've lived on my own away from 'home', I've found that my experience wasn't altogether uncommon. Many people I've encountered and come to know quite well have had similar situations with their families. Some peoples stories haven't been quite as pleasant as mine. I know plenty of LGBT youth and adults whose parents and families have disowned them & in some cases even kicked them out because of their sexuality. The sad truth of it all is that many of us find family wherever and however we can.

None of this is to suggest that I don't have relationships with my family. The primary determining factor in who I communicate with is what I mentioned above-how comfortable I feel with them. The same cousins that I've always been very close to are the same ones I've managed to share my sexuality and HIV status with over the years. Conversely, they've shared very personal information with me that they haven't disclosed to other immediate family members. Additionally, there are aunts of mine (on my mother's side) who've learned the truth about who I am, not from me directly but rather 'through the grapevine' so to speak.

Thankfully, what I've managed to do over the years is form a close knit group of people that I've come to not only love, but trust and depend on a great deal for mental, emotional, (and sometimes even financial) support. If they need me I'm always there, and what I learned more than ever recently is that they are always there for me. Even my mother with whom I'm very close has taken notice of how close I am with some of my friends. On countless occasions, she's told me that she's grateful that I've found a group of people with whom I feel safe, comfortable and secure in lieu of the distance between she and I.

2009 was pivotal for me largely because of all the challenges I faced during the course of the year. I'm used to handling everything not only for myself, but for everyone else. Independence is of the utmost importance to me, but what I had to come to understand last year was that I can't always do it all alone. Just from a financial standpoint, I had to turn to those closest to me---my parents, my boyfriend, and a few close friends to help me make ends meet more often than I would have liked. Every time I had to ask for help, I felt like a loser and a failure for needing help and not being able to completely support myself. In a word, the year was a humbling one. My ego and pride got in the way so many times I found myself in the midst of struggle. The level of vulnerability that I was subject to downright frightened me and only made matters worse. At the time I couldn't see that I was in a private hell of my own creation. What I'd forgotten was that all of the love, support, energy that I give to others is always readily accessible and available to me. Each time I reached out to those closest to me, not only was I provided with the help I needed, but with a grace and compassion that felt nothing like what I feared would be the end result of having to ask for help or depend on others. Whether it was in the form of financial, mental, or emotional support I got everything I needed from those whom I love and whom I know love me unconditionally.

At varying turns during the course of the year, I found myself in situations involving work (& the lack thereof), financial difficulty, relationship issues, & personal/mental/emotional challenges that all rendered me virtually incapable of being functional and getting on with the business of life. Few if any of them took place one at a time. In many cases, it all happened simultaneously which only magnified much of what I was going through because it constantly felt as if I was fighting, crying, suffering, and fending off one thing right after the other. When I got one thing resolved or taken care of, there were two...sometimes three things coming at me that I had to contend with. Many of these things either directly or indirectly involved those closest to me whom I consider(ed) to be part of my support system, which only complicated matters even more. The longer I live, the more I'm able to recognize and appreciate the specific design that accompanies a great deal of life's events. To that end, I realize now that it was by design that both my parents, my partner, and the rest of those who make up that close knit group of family members are the same ones I had to turn to in those times of upheaval when I'd usually try to figure it out all alone. Whether the situations were directly connected to them (which was sometimes the case) or not, I found solace, comfort, and healing in those closest to me. For me...someone who is a proverbial loner at heart, that's a big deal.

Initially I had the bright idea to talk about family as a means of ending 2009 on the website, but as fate would have had other plans. In hindsight, I can now see why I had to wait this long to hash out all of my feelings about what family means to me. Before the recent Christmas holiday, I was dreading the trip home for some of the aforementioned reasons, and I was also coming off the heels of some family related Thanksgiving holiday 'drama' that occurred in my life and in the lives of those closest to me. My attitude at that point was in a word...unbalanced. Surprisingly, my trip home for Christmas was pleasant and enjoyable for the most part and what I found was that I received a wealth of love, understanding, support, and encouragement which was one of the greatest gifts I could have gotten this year mainly because as I just mentioned, although I hadn't altogether ruled them out, I had become a bit jaded about family and what it meant to me. Now, I feel like I've been brought back to center so to speak. As I begin this year and move forward with whatever life brings, I'm grateful for all of the manifestations of family that I've been able to experience, cultivate, and witness.

In any case, we can all learn something from encounters with our families whether directly or indirectly. I know that everyone and everything has the capability to be beautiful and ugly---and family...regardless of whether its blood or not, is no different.