A Conversation With My Brother & His Girlfriend Part 1

Last year, at seventeen, my brother Pawan started to date his first real girlfriend. When he first started talking about her, he mentioned that his new girlfriend’s sister was also a lesbian. He said, “I think you know her. Her name is Johanna.”

Johanna was one of the first openly gay “activists” I knew. She was a year older than me, and she, Maggie (another “out” lesbian at school) and I talked about starting a Gay Straight Alliance at West High. It would be the first for the Madison school district.

Pawan and Leslie have been together a little less than a year now. They are both musicians, both in love for the first time, and have known one another since elementary school. They started dating when they were seniors in high school and are social people who love to have fun.

It’s a “traditional” American story of two teenagers with lesbian sisters.

I couldn’t resist having a conversation with them about the ban, about both of them having lesbian sisters, and about being young these days. What I didn’t expect was the depth of topics that resulted from our conversation. Not only did issues about voting, apathy, culture, civics, and the ban come up, but their ability to reflect on themselves and how they have been influenced was incredible.

Here is the first part of our conversation:

Leslie, Do you remember when your sister came out to you? How did that affect you?

Leslie: I don’t really have memory of her coming out. My family had a lot of lesbian and gay friends so when my sister brought home a girl in high school, it just seemed normal.

I was in the 5th grade when my sister had her first girlfriend. I remember lecturing kids who used the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory term. It was this burden of awareness. Johanna was also active in things like the ‘Hit Squad’ that went around to schools to educate people about HIV/AIDS, so it wasn’t just having a lesbian sister, but having an active sister who was a lesbian. It brought more importance to the issue, and taught me that it can not be ignored.

Do you remember when I came out to you, Pawan? How did it affect you?

Pawan: I don’t remember exactly when you came out, but I do remember sitting around the dining room table with you and Daddy. The experience was similar to Leslie’s. We grew up around all types of people from around the world and also had family friends who were gay. I was pretty young; I think I was like 8 years old. I just thought it was normal and Daddy seemed okay.

I remember we talked about how Mommy would take it. Daddy was worried that even though she is welcoming of friends who were gay, she might be hurt. She grew up in a totally different cultural setting in Nepal. We know now that she is very loving and already knew you were gay before you told her. It didn’t change anything.

But what I remember most was realizing it wasn’t just about you being gay—it was also about understanding cultural differences. Not like other cultures, like our Nepali culture, are less accepting, but it’s different.

The other thing is that you were passionate about working for equality. It stressed that gay people are just people. You put all of your time into it that I realized that it was something I should care about and embrace.

Were there any other issues that were brought up because your sisters were gay?

Leslie: I realized that not everyone understands LGBT issues. People asked me if my sister was still gay--like it was a disease that would go away. I grew up in a pretty liberal environment so things like that woke me up. But talking to people helps.

Did the civil unions and marriage ban have the same effect on you?

Leslie: Yeah. All of a sudden there was this really important issue we had to take care of. I’m still processing it. There is no reason to say one person can’t marry another person they are in love with and are ready to marry.

I can sympathize with how people believe that the institution of marriage is one man and one woman…conventional thought. But if you stop to think about how banning gay marriage affects marriage between a man and woman, it doesn’t make sense. Men and women will always get married. Many will get divorced and re-married.

Gay people getting legal benefits are not going to change that. My sister and her partner have been together for 5 years and she is only 26. They’re having their commitment ceremony next year at the farm. There are men and women who know one other for just months and get married.

Pawan: I knew it was an issue because you were working to end or creating something. We were raised to believe in acceptance of family and fairness. To help one another.

You always worked on both race and gay issues, so I realized it’s not just about one thing—it’s about human rights for everyone. The commonality is about denying rights to people based on race, sexuality, gender, and all those things.

How do you think your friends feel about this issue?

Pawan: Nick’s parents are conservative but because my experience will affect his I think he would vote “No.” But the thing is, most of the kids at West High are liberal, for whatever reason. I mean we don’t just hang out with liberals, we hang out in terms of interests and personality. There are Republicans we hang out with.

Leslie: I think the thing is, if my friends vote they will vote “No.” But the kids at school don’t make it their business to know. I think they are more concerned with what’s on their i-pod than what’s on the ballot.

Tomorrow I will post some pictures and the second half of our conversation. I will also include information about absentee ballot voting for students who are moving from Wisconsin to go to college.

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