My youngest brother is my best friend. He is also gay. From the time he was a little boy, I always knew something about him wasn't like all other boys.
Even though I didn’t know what sexual orientation was, I noticed clear differences between my older brother and my younger brother as far as mannerisms, activities they enjoyed and friends they kept.
I’m not saying my brother being gay was the reason he liked to wear my Mom’s mink coat and high heels — he isn’t a drag queen (which I would totally support if he happened to be one).
He was just always more inclined to play with us girls in realms of dress-up and other activities socializations deems "girly."
Once I was old enough to understand what being gay actually meant, I knew that Clyde was gay. I think I was about 11 years old when I knew, but he didn’t come out until he went to college.
When he decided to come out, I couldn’t even feign surprise -- I’d known so long that it was just a relief to finally hear him say it out loud. I was so thrilled for him.
When I was younger, I didn’t realize how much Clyde's sexual orientation actually affected me as a human being. He helped me learn so much about life and about the world because he was “different," but not really different at all.
Given the video footage that came out last week of a young man coming out to his parents only to be violently abused both physically and verbally, I thought it of the utmost importance to share how much I've learned and grown as a direct result of having a gay brother.
And while that video broke my heart and shook me to the core, it only furthered my already steadfast conviction that we all have the right to love whomever we want to love and that what makes us human greatly surpasses the restrictive confines of sexual preference.
With that being said, here are five things that my gay brother taught me about unconditional love, life and acceptance:
1. I learned that compassion and understanding are distinctively important
Growing up with Clyde swelled up my heart to the size of a beach ball. I developed a thing for “the underdogs” at an early age. I included everyone so that no one felt left out.
You can't be a happy person without having a deep sense of compassion for others.
2. I learned to love people for who they are, not for who they choose to love
I adore my brother no matter his orientation; I only want him to be a happy, healthy person and to know that I love him more than anyone in the world. I accept my friends, regardless of their choices about love, hair color and religion.
I’m so open to new people and to new experiences because of the openness I learned from loving and accepting my brother. "Strange" and "foreign" aren't words in my vocabulary.
3. I learned to defend those who can’t always defend themselves
I was always the first person to protect people being bullied. My brother wasn’t out of the closet yet when we were in high school, but I was instinctively his defender from close-minded, awful people. I wanted to be everyone’s defender.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am very extroverted and have zero trouble speaking my mind. If someone is doing something and I have a problem with it, I won't keep my mouth shut about it.
4. I learned that love is love
And it’s just as simple as that. Love is love, no matter who or what you love, as long as you do love.
Love is a beautiful, mysterious thing and it comes in all shapes and sizes. As long as you have the ability to love, you can do anything.
5. I learned to own my identity
As I watched my brother struggle to discover his identity and accept himself, I learned to own my identity, as well.
It was a beautiful thing to watch Clyde finally own his sexual identity and come out of the closet -- and it was magical to watch him learn to embrace and love himself as he is.