It’s a fact: our families shape us. We spend our early years in wonderful awe of the world we have come into; we soak up everything around us and create our perceptions of the world based on what we are told, see and hear. Then as we grow up, our own experiences add a new layer of beliefs and truths about the world and ourselves, which follow us and determine our feelings and behaviours.
As gay men, the relationship we have with our families can be a complex one. Many a family has been torn apart by a son or daughter coming out. I have met several men who were completely rejected by their own parents for being themselves, and expressing it. Of course, these are extreme and (luckily) rare cases – yet they go to show how non-acceptance of individuals leads to negativity and the breakdown of some families.
Yet this non-acceptance does not always come from the family itself: it can also be internalized within us. We live in a society with a history of hatred towards anything outside of the norm, and a background of sexism, racism and homophobia. Although times have changed and the world (especially the UK and London in particular) is becoming a more tolerant and integrated place, at a subconscious level such widespread negativity has had a damaging impact on a lot of gay men. Many, including myself, have had to struggle with the nagging feeling that they are not right, that they do not fit in, and that they cannot be themselves. And if we do not fully accept ourselves, how can we expect others to?
As such, being gay can have an effect on the way we feel, on the way we communicate, and on how we interact with our siblings and parents. I have recently realised for example that I pushed my family away throughout my teenage years and my early twenties. I wasn’t accepting myself, and therefore I could not accept my family for who they were. At the time, I blamed them for not being the family I thought I should have, for not having the relationship with them I would like, and for not being the kind of people I wanted them to be. Why? Because it was easier to blame them and to focus on their own failings and defaults, rather than face myself and my own.
MY OWN STORY
Indeed, since the age of 15 my twin brother and myself started to grow apart. We went to different high schools, studied different degrees, and started hanging out with different people. At the same time, my communication with my parents and other brothers (twins as well) hit a low point. In reality, I was struggling with who I was, and could not accept or understand my own gay thoughts and feelings: I wanted to be left alone.
Over the next decade these subconscious feelings remained, and got in the way of any normal interaction I could have had with my close family, and even with my twin. My drama-free coming out at the age of 21 was a milestone, and gave me a hint of what I would realise a few years later: that I had come from a truly loving and accepting family. However, at the time I was only just beginning to understand myself, and was deeply lacking in confidence, self-love and acceptance. And so I carried on my years of drifting, of feeling lost and unable to be or express myself.
It wasn’t until I met Tony at the age of 25 and started my own journey of self-discovery with him that I finally began to see clear. I realised that my behaviour towards my family had evolved not from them, but from our misunderstanding and miscommunication. And I understood that the only person that could re-build a loving relationship and open communication with my family was myself.
And so I made the conscious decision to try harder: to call them more often, to demonstrate my love for them at every occasion, to appreciate them and to connect with them at a deeper level. Over the past two years, I have expressed my darker secrets, my thoughts, my feelings and emotions to them, sometimes in writing, sometimes in person. And they have listened with unconditional love. They have accepted every single part of myself, with no judgment whatsoever. It wasn’t always easy; my old, dark feelings sometimes crept back and stopped me from being myself. However I have persevered, and things have changed in ways I thought unthinkable a few years back.
At the same time, through my own self-acceptance and self-love, I in turn learnt to accept them and to love them unconditionally. I learnt to appreciate what I have, and to be grateful for what I have been given. And I have discovered what amazing people they are. I am extremely proud of my parents, my twin, and my two younger twin brothers.
My twin got married a few weeks ago. Throughout the last few months, our family has been drawn closer and closer as we got together for a Stag weekend in Budapest, a pre-party at our home in France and the official wedding in Wigan. I believe the whole process was very healing for all of us. As we united as a family once again we came to understand our love and affection for each other, and how we have matured into loving, fun and warm individuals. For me, there is no easier way to express this than by showing you a video we filmed for the bride, while away on the Stag weekend:
My family has now become a very important part of my life. I feel grounded, safe and secure in the knowledge that I will always have them to support me wherever I go and whatever I do. I have also realised that I want to someday start a family of my own, and have started to look forward to the future family get-togethers, each with our respective partners and children.
YOU HAVE THE BEST FAMILY IN THE WORLD
I wrote this article partly to express my joy, love and pride at being part of such a special family, and partly to inspire other gay men to re-connect to their own. Until a few months ago, I never realised how special my own family was. And I never appreciated how deeply my own actions could influence our development and unity.
It is because of experiences like these that I am so happy and proud to be a part of The Velvet Journey. The learnings and discoveries I have made over the years of coaching with Tony have helped me create a life that is truly fulfilled in every sense. And I am extremely excited to be able to help bring his method, his awareness and his love for others to a wider audience.
I believe that anyone can improve his or her own relation with her parents and siblings. For sure, it may take time, effort, patience and forgiveness. But it is worth it. Love overcomes anything in the long run. Communicate with love, show your appreciation, and express your feelings. As you accept and love yourself you will learn to accept and love everyone around you, for exactly who they are. And what if they are not as accepting as you would like? Accept and love them regardless, and be patient. Be grateful for what you have been given: they have helped shape you, are a part of you, and therefore deserve your love.
As one of my younger brothers said, we have “the best family in the world”. However, you do too. So take a minute to think right now how you have affected your family over the years. What could you do today to improve your relationship with them? What steps can you take to expressing your love for them and showing them your appreciation? The grass isn’t greener on the other side; it is greener where you water it. So fill your watering can with your own love, and pour it over your family, your friends and above all, your dreams.
Will Pike – October 2012