A letter to my homophobic sister

It is this time last year. I have just ordered gifts for my youngest nephew’s birthday. I text my sister to tell her the delivery date. We’ve never been close, but more recently, since my long-term partner and I have picked up gifts for her children every birthday, every Christmas and every time we’ve travelled to somewhere new, it’s been less tense. I’m in a good mood as I press send.

Just ordered gifts for the boy from Amazon – may be delivered tomorrow. It takes 4 AA batteries and I’ve ordered those too. X

Christmas is on the way and for the first time in years I’m quite excited about it. You see, I’m getting married in 2015, having been engaged since March 2014, and I’m really looking forward to making that commitment and seeing both sides of the family together for the first time, past differences forgotten, or at least put on hold for our special day.

…I’ve done my best to get my head around your lifestyle choices-please respect my choices in return. It is difficult enough bringing up children in this day and age and I think we are doing a good job and I don’t need to justify it further… Sick of all the shit.

Part of my sister’s reply – not the thanks I was expecting, but a homophobic attack – blinks on my phone. It’s at that moment that I realise: I’ve been living in a fantasy world, thinking that my engagement to my partner is being celebrated by all. More abuse swiftly follows.

I soon realise that my sister – the person I spent my childhood growing up with – will not be at my wedding, and will not meet a single member of my partner’s family, having shunned them previously. I am hurt. I am livid.

The boys will be exposed to everything in this mean old world but not until they have to be Greg.

I also know that I will never see my nephews again. All of the gifts for them, the support, the happy hours sharing terrible jokes – they are all being thrown back in my face.

Something major changed last year when we came down to Leeds and you filled us in re your ‘boyfriend’. I think you must sense that yourself. But more than that it has opened
up a whole can of other worms.

I’m thrown back to 2005, shortly after I first came out to my family, and a vitriolic and deeply homophobic email my sister sent to me at the time. I never received an apology for it. But I allow myself to imagine, at first, that her animus is directed solely against me and my now-husband.

I was also very upset to hear that you had expected to share a room with your ‘boyfriend’ under Mum & Dads roof. I think that is very disrespectful when clearly its something they find very hard to come to terms with. I also felt it took the p*ss that after bringing us up as Catholics that suddenly it stands for nothing.

I soon learn that her hatred isn’t solely directed at me and my partner, but also at my parents, because they love my fiancé and intend to support us and be at our wedding. As a reaction to this, my sister bans them both from her house after an evening of verbal abuse. My mother goes from looking after her grandkids three times a week to having them ripped from her life.

There is nothing new in the sentiment. My sister has, for a long time, been trying to force my parents to disown me.

And it hurts Greg, believe me, that they think its ok for me to be upset, they think its ok to chuck back everything we ever believed in to suit your new circumstances…

Last Christmas, when we should have been looking forward to an exciting 2015 with a wedding in the family, we spend the whole time trying to console my inconsolable parents. Soon we realise that grandparents have few legal rights when it comes to accessing their grandchildren. Months later my sister sends another vitriolic letter:

So mum needs a mediator before she will see me. I have politely declined. I’m sorry that she will not try to make amends.

All hope of a reasonable outcome is extinguished. I marry, having given a description of my sister to the staff at the venue, with instructions to remove her from the premises should she turn up to cause trouble. I later learn that she was out of the country on my wedding day.

My mother still hasn’t seen her grandchildren for almost a year now, and has lost hope. My father has seen them fleetingly, twice, when my sister has intimated they may be rehabilitated on the condition that they end contact with me. I wish I could help my parents see their grandkids, but the only way that will happen is if they agree to my sister’s demand.

The moral of this story is that anyone who thinks, now that the Irish have overwhelmingly voted in favour of same-sex marriage, and all parts of Britain bar Northern Ireland have marriage equality, that homophobia is a thing of the past in the UK: it isn’t. Many also think that the only victims of homophobia are gay people. This also is not true. There are plenty of victims of my sister’s bigotry in this case, most especially my parents and my nephews.

A few years ago I started writing a story told from the point of view of a rebellious young man who ends up unexpectedly connecting with an uncle he never knew existed. When I wrote it, the potential for it to be true was a concern, and that motivated me to develop it. Now, it’s taken on a renewed focus, and has help me contain the anger I have felt this past year.

My sister’s homophobia has destroyed my parents, and I have cut her from my life in the hope of mitigating the damage she has wrought upon it. But the anger at how she has treated my husband, his family and my parents will never extinguish. Seeing the pain in my parents, sometimes hidden, often overflowing into tears, throughout the last year, has been the hardest experience of my life, and it has hardened my heart into anger. Those deep wounds upon innocent people will never be forgiven.

Finally, after years of insults and mistreatment, I put together a right of reply.

Dear _____________,
Please be aware that if you throw any more homophobic abuse in my direction, it will become a matter for the police, but I expect this to be the final communication between us, and it is certainly my final word on any subject with you…

An end to contact, and a letter stating my reasons is the only chance of finding closure. Moving forward, I have my newly-wed life to enjoy, and the love and support of my husband, my parents, and also of my other sister, for whom we still joyfully fulfil avuncular duties. There is much to look forward to in the future, and all I can do is support my parents any way I can. They have been hurt by this more than I have.

How odd, though, that all this hurt and devastation is to protect my sister’s bigotry, which her children will not understand, less still share.

When I came out my sister apparently said:

Being gay’s all very well and good: but you don’t want one in the family.

It turns out it’s homophobes who rips families apart, not gay people.