My Gay Brother Brought Me to GO

A GO writing intern embraces the community her ostracized brother never found.

Although I identify as straight, I decided to intern at GO Magazine; admittedly in part because I attend a liberal arts college and have spent a lifetime loving The Ellen DeGeneres Show. But the real reason I sought out GO is because of my brother, Nick. Of course, my brother isn’t a member of GO’s core readership. He’s not a lesbian, he doesn’t live in an accepting area and, at this juncture in his life, probably wouldn’t know what to do with a copy of “the cultural roadmap for the city girl.” Yet, GO, with its community-oriented coverage of LGBTQ celebrities, nightlife, news and more, portrays a world—one of pride and acceptance—I wish Nick could have experienced growing up. 
 
When Nick’s sexual orientation became undeniable, my father demanded he leave the house forever. Having a gay son was not something dad could justify to his buddies at the driving range. Nick was only 17 and had yet to finish high school. The exchange was not all that different from when dad gave away my pet lizard. Dad grew weary with tending to the animal’s upkeep and, without a word, gave it to a nearby Petco. It should have come as no surprise when he did the same thing with my older brother.
 
Nick didn’t go to Petco, of course. He moved into an apartment and started working down at the harbor as a longshoreman. Our house was at the top of a neighborhood called Rolling Hills Estates and looked over the port town of San Pedro, California. From our roof, you could see the men unloading freight from docked cargo ships. I’d sit and watch, oblivious that one of them was my teenage brother.
 
Our father was Nick’s primary custodian. Where his mother went, I’m unsure. These separations are difficult, I’m told: Who gets the end tables? The French press? The children? With our eldest brother in college and me at my mother’s all week, Nick had no one at home to empathize with him. The family was intolerant of what they viewed as even the first stereotypical signs that Nick might be gay. Nick wanted to dance; he was hurriedly signed up for hockey. Nick wanted to read all day; Dad gave him a Playboy. Nick let me paint his nails; Dad scrubbed his hands until they were raw. Though little boys who let their sisters paint their nails clearly don’t become gay as a result, to our family, these were all “symptoms” that must be nipped in the bud. It wasn’t just our father who wanted to scrub the sparkles off Nick’s fingers, but the whole Rolling Hills community. With a Bush sign on each corner and American flags hanging from every house, it was clear Dad wasn’t the only one who ­wouldn’t be attending Nick’s ballet recitals.
 
 
Through elementary school and middle school, Nick became very angry and problematic. He’d get into fights at school, shoplift and ditch Communion, which, for our clan, was a reprehensible crime. Dad wrote this off as adolescent boy rebellion. Our father, a Naval Academy alumni who thinks global warming is a conspiracy and golfing is the only practical form of therapy, was not one to consider the root of Nick’s problems. He took him to our pastor but, regardless of all the “Hail Marys,” Nick’s “issues” refused to resolve. 
 
I was only 10 when Nick left. His absence was articulated in a number of obtuse ways. I was told things from, “Your brother doesn’t want to be a part of this family anymore,” to, “Nick is traveling and we can’t get in contact with him.” Perhaps we were kept apart during those years because the family feared Nick’s so-called “condition” would spread like lice in our childhood home, and my other siblings and I would soon be gay, as well.
 
My first summer home from college I got in touch with Nick. I drove to his apartment and asked him if he would tell me what happened. The reunion proved neither profound nor enlightening. Our conversation was strained, overly formal, and at times awkward, like we shared no DNA but were strangers making forced small talk while waiting for the train. Nick has not found himself—or a community that accepts him—since being kicked out. He never even explicitly told me he was gay, only made allusions to it, like a strange condition too hairy for discussion in polite conversation.
 
The enveloping pride I feel just from the GO of­fice is something my brother has never experienced. He seems to not know there are nightclubs, and festivals, and parades, and maga­zines all celebrating his identity. Nobody wants to wipe the fingernail polish off his hands anymore but instead, heap it on in any and every color. I wanted to intern at GO to help people like Nick understand that the world they were rejected from is not the only one out there. GO and community staples like it can be so formative and uplifting in these people’s lives. My hope is that someone growing up in a household like mine will read our magazine under the covers at night and at least know there’s a place waiting for them—and it is strong and proud and downright glamorous. 
 
Madeline Cash is a non-fiction writing major at Sarah Lawrence College. She currently serves as an assistant editor at GO.

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