The unexpected joys of learning from my younger gay brother

 The author is shown with his younger brother Marcus (foreground) on his 21st birthday. (Image courtesy of James Jones)

The author is shown with his younger brother Marcus (foreground) on his 21st birthday. (Image courtesy of James Jones)

Through the month of June, we are asking LGBTQ readers to submit essays about experiences in their lives that have brought them pride, happiness, and triumph. Email speakeasy@whyy.org to contribute.

Traditionally, you are supposed to learn from your older siblings. They are more mature, have experienced the world, and have acquired knowledge that can make your life much easier. However, sometimes, learning goes in the other direction.

In the past few years, I have come to learn a lot about being an out and proud gay black man from my younger brother.

My brother Marcus and I are separated by eight years, and we’re almost complete opposites. I’m shy, and he’s brutally outspoken. He has his own unique edgy style, whereas I’m a preppy cutout from a J. Crew catalog. On family vacations, he’s the adventure seeker, climbing unknown heights in a parasail, while I’m on the ground exploring a local museum and learning about indigenous cultures.

But in other ways, we are not that different: We share the same dad, are devout members of Beyoncé’s BeyHive, and we both are gay.

Growing up in different households, we did not get the opportunity to see each other regularly. Perhaps, that is why I did not know right away that he was gay too. I embraced my queerness while I was in college, 200 miles away from home. When I came out to my parents during my senior year I gave them the space to come to terms with my sexuality, which consequently meant we did not talk about it for a few years, including with my brother.

As he tells it, he knew I was gay since he was in elementary school, but it was something that we did not discuss until he came out to me in 2013, when he was still in high school. I was the first person he told. The revelation did not catch me off guard, because my friends who observed us at home would say over the years, “Your brother is just like you, James.” What was most surprising, however, is how he came out with such certainty about who he was and what he wanted for his life.

His coming out was unequivocal. He knew he was gay and was presently in a relationship. Comparatively, I came out at a much later age than he did, and when I did, I said what many gay men say at first when they are scared, that a part of them was still attracted to women. Furthermore, my first real relationship with a man was not until I was in graduate school. In many ways, my brother’s teenage years was very similar to his heterosexual peers, who could freely date out in the open. Whereas for me and other gay men I grew up with, we had a delayed adolescence and often had to experience our first sexual encounters in secret and often with shame.

A part of me is a little jealous of him and his cohort. I assume that they did not have as much internal indecision about their sexuality as they have come into their own at such a young age. Yet, I know coming out is never easy, no matter what generation you belong to. I have spent my twenties growing out of and into myself and painstakingly trying to feel comfortable in my own skin. Perhaps I could have learned these lessons much sooner about being myself if I studied my brother as closely as I did my coursework.

james jones and brother
The author is shown with his younger brother Marcus in the foreground, the first of many selfies on their annual family vacation in 2015. (Image courtesy of James Jones)

He is unapologetic about who is. You can see it in his strut and in his streetwear. He knows his worth and guards his dignity. Just try to intimidate him, or me for that matter, and you will get the clapback of your life. Indeed, this is where I excel as the cooler head in tense situations. Nonetheless, I am in awe of the young man he is becoming.

I know for him growing up was not easy, and it often meant having to live in my shadow. But what he probably does not know is how envious I am of him. He lives out his life courageously and has a bravery that comes from living authentically.

What I have learned during the last decade of my life is that there is a joy that develops from living out your own truth. It is a lesson that my brother has already mastered.

To be sure, there are still teachable moments I get to have as the “big bro,” his favorite name for me. For his 21st birthday this year, I got to take him on an introductory tour of the Gayborhood, where we shuffled between a half-dozen bars.

We have gotten much closer since we have both come out. We attend concerts together and trade tips on how to snap the perfect selfie. We go get pedicures, where I unconvincingly pretend to be the younger sibling. And we mundanely trade aspects of our daily lives through texts.

One of the unexpected joys that I have of being a gay man is sharing it with my brother.

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