A woman holds a rainbow flag at a vigil in Orlando. (Photo: Getty Images)
A woman holds a rainbow flag at a vigil in Orlando. (Photo: Getty Images)
A woman holds a rainbow flag at a vigil in Orlando. (Photo: Getty Images)

OPINION

“I am a lesbian,” I told my brother after Orlando

Broken-hearted and suddenly brave, Tanya Byrne came out to her brother last Sunday shortly after hearing about the 49 fatalities at Pulse

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By Tanya Byrne on

The trouble with hearts is that they’re fragile things. I used to think that mine was like a rubber ball, that it would always bounce right back, but now I think my heart is more like a leather bag that gets softer with age. 

If anything, our hearts break more easily and for different reasons. Not just for the ones who don’t love us back, but when our parents pass and friends move on. We feel each loss, perhaps not as keenly as that first heartbreak, but we still feel it. We even feel for complete strangers. I often wonder what 15-year-old me would think if she saw me crying over something on the news, if she’d ask me, “Don’t you have enough to worry about already?”

Maybe that’s growing up, maybe we know too much. We know love and loss, what it is to fail even though we tried so hard and wanted it so much. We know how it feels so when we see someone else going through the same thing, we’re immediately with them, going through it as well.

But sometimes something happens that is so horrible – so big and loud and horrible – that we can’t understand it. And it breaks our hearts in a more permanent way because the loss is so great and the repercussions so devastating that it changes our view of the world and our place in it.

Like what happened in Orlando.

Those people in Pulse – the friends and couples and soon-to-be-couples – were much younger than me, and they were brave enough to let themselves love who they wanted to love

I first heard about Orlando last Sunday morning while I was getting ready to meet my brother. I half-heard something on the news about a shooting but I wasn’t paying attention, too concerned with getting my puppy to stay still long enough to put her lead on. Having spent an unreasonable amount of time perfecting my eyeliner, I was late, so I turned the radio off and ran out of the flat into the drizzle.

Ordinarily, I would pay more attention to a headline like that, but I wasn’t just late, I was also distracted. You see, that was the day I’d decided to come out to my brother. I’m out to pretty much everyone else but I hadn’t been vocal about it on social media because I still hadn’t told him. I didn’t tell my mother, either. She was a strict Catholic and Guyanese (Guyana is the only country in South America where homosexual acts are still illegal) so I never quite summoned the courage. Then she passed away and it was too late.

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So that Sunday, I was going to tell my brother. I had it all planned. We had a rare half hour alone in the car, free from his sons crawling all over him or his dog wanting to play fetch so this was it. The familiar excuses cluttered my head – It’s too soon since Mum passed. He’s stressed out enough as it is – but I ignored them because the truth is: there was never going to be a perfect time for me to say to my brother, “Hey, how’s it going? I’m a lesbian.” But before I could say anything, the news came on the radio. The first story was about Orlando and as soon as I heard that it had happened in a gay club, it felt like I’d been winded. 

Everyone deserves a safe space like that and if you don’t understand why, be grateful that you’ve never needed one

It must have been obvious because when my brother asked if I was OK I told him that I was fine, but I wasn’t. Not at all. I wanted to get out of the car and run but I kept thinking about the people in that club and I couldn’t move. (Later, I’d hear the story of Eddie Jamoldroy Justice texting his mother while he sought refuge in the bathroom and not be able to stop crying for an hour.) I’m almost 40 and I was too scared to tell my brother that I was gay, my dear, sweet brother who supports everything I do, albeit with a sarcastic comment or three. Meanwhile, those people in Pulse – the friends and couples and soon-to-be-couples – most of whom were much younger than me, were brave enough to let themselves love who they wanted to love. People celebrating their 10th Pride swapping war stories with those at their first. Even the people who, like me, weren’t out yet, who went there that night because they thought they’d be safe. Pulse was their sanctuary, somewhere they were free to do – and be – whatever they wanted without having to worry about their family finding out or losing their job.

Everyone deserves a safe space like that and if you don’t understand why, be grateful that you’ve never needed one.

The rush of grief that followed was overwhelming. People held vigils and donated blood and money. They tweeted and prayed and told people where to go if they needed to talk (try here and here). It made my heart – my slightly battered, 40-year old heart – feel brand new, because this was my community. The community I joined when I finally said those words to my brother, “I’m gay.” And for the first time in a long time, I feel safe.

@tanyabyrne

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lgbt
LIFE HONESTLY
Gun crime

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