As far back as primary school I remember having a sense of otherness. It started with being from an ‘alternative’ sort of family. My parents and their friends are mostly musicians. And my mum was always a bit of a hippy. I never lived it down when she spent a summer collecting me from school barefoot. Apparently not wearing shoes is a big deal to small children.
My parents always celebrated us being different. They encouraged my sister and I to be ourselves and be unique. I am thankful for that now, I’m thankful that they taught me to think independently of my peers. At the time, it resulted in a lot of bullying from other children. And sometimes there was almost a pressure for me to be unusual. I was taught that being like other people was mundane.
When I was 10 and my older brother started sexually abusing me, that created a whole new otherness in me. I remember thinking about it when I was with other people; wondering what they would think of me if they knew. It felt like I was the only person in the world this was happening to. I was disgusted by myself and assumed that anyone else would be too if they found out.
That all got a lot worse when my parents discovered what had been happening. It intensified those feelings. I didn’t want them to know that about me. I started to feel like a stranger in my own home. Not because I didn’t know my family, but because I felt like they didn’t know me.
The abuse wasn’t spoken of. I had all these huge feelings and experiences that I was completely alone with. And I was so frightened that nothing would be the same again. My family wouldn’t be the same, wouldn’t be whole, because of me. At that time, I took on the role of the ‘problem child’ in my head. I felt that because I was a problem, and because of what I’d done, I had become unlovable. Suddenly, I could only belong with my family if I forced myself to be something I wasn’t. I forced myself to seem OK, to seem normal, so I could feel as though I still had a place with the people I loved.
Being gay didn’t help with feeling different. I struggled through my teenage years wondering why I didn’t seem to be like other people. It was strange, seeing them all have relationships, wanting one, and not being able to make it happen. I had a lot of male friends, and did a lot of experimenting with boys, but it never felt right. It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t be looking for a boyfriend. I just felt like there was something wrong with me.
It wasn’t until I was 21 that I realised I was gay. Having my alternative, hippy parents, I assumed there would be absolutely no problem with this. I was very wrong. My parents responded badly to the news. As I struggled to understand what I was learning about myself, I once again struggled alone. My parents couldn’t get past their own issues around my sexuality to be able to offer me any support.
After I came out, I felt massively rejected by my parents. Things slowly got better, but for a long time my girlfriend wasn’t able to visit the house and it wasn’t OK for me to talk about her at home. My siblings had relationships and their partners were always instantly accepted and welcome. I once again was the different one, the one who didn’t belong. Being in love, missing my girlfriend who lived hundreds of miles away, and not having the chance to even talk about her was more than tough.
Finally, I cemented my black sheep status when I had my breakdown two years ago. My mum was more accepting than my dad, who basically ignored the fact that I was ill. He was ashamed of me. And probably fearful of what I would say about our family history. Explaining to his mother about my being in a psychiatric hospital; the best he could manage was telling her I was ‘stressed’. Again, it wasn’t OK for me to just be me.
My dad visited me only once in my three month hospital stay. It was excruciatingly awkward. He didn’t know what to say to me. He was clearly nervous. It was horrible because I was in a desperate place, and the man who was always so protective of me growing up felt like someone I didn’t know anymore.
I made that all worse when I cut my brother out of my life. Up until about 18 months ago, I had forced myself to have a relationship with him, because it was what my parents thought was right. It was what they wanted. But seeing his face, hearing his voice, smelling him – it all made me sick. After months of being tormented by memories, flashbacks and nightmares, I decided that I needed to make sure I never had to see him again.
Since then, I’ve referred to the letter I wrote him as being a metaphorical grenade I threw into my family (you can read it here). And I fully mean to deploy that analogy. Having caused this explosion, I feel like the perpetrator – even though I was the abused child and he was the violent attacker. I am the one who has chosen to wreck the family unit. We would all still be together if I could’ve only managed to contain myself.
But I can’t handle that. I can’t live my life trying to transform myself into whatever other people want me to be. It is intolerable. My feelings are intolerable enough when I am open about them, so I don’t know how I even survived so many years of swallowing them down.
Being the black sheep is painful. Feeling outside of something I used to feel a part of is sad and lonely. I get jealous a lot. Especially now my brother has a baby. It’s hard to let go of the urge to return to hiding myself in order to belong.
What I have to remember is that the choice was one of life and death. I couldn’t have continued living my life in the way I was two years ago. It’s likely I would’ve ended up killing myself. I had to make those changes. And now I have to find a way to really believe in them, to believe that they are steps towards a better future.
Photo: Aly1963, Creative Commons.