Changing One Person's Mind Can Help to Change the World
My younger brother, Jesse, is younger than I am by 46 minutes. (Yes, we’re twins – but I’m still older!) Sometimes siblings are your number-one BFF, and sometimes they’re your biggest rival. Though Jesse and I are pretty much on the same wavelength now, it hasn’t always been that way.
I am a high school student and a proud queer individual. In the eighth grade, after a few years of questioning, denial, and exploration, I finally came to terms with my LGBTQ identity. A year later, standing outside our synagogue on a Friday night, I finally came out to my brother.
At first, this came as a bit of a shock to him. It’s not a topic anyone in my family was very familiar with, including myself. We didn’t talk about it much, but when we did, it was usually a very short, uncomfortable conversation; we’d change the topic as soon as we could.
As I became more comfortable with the topic myself, though, I tried to talk to Jesse about LGBTQ rights and pride. I explained why certain words were inappropriate and offensive, such as using the word “gay” as a synonym for “stupid.” A common theme in most of our conversations was him making jokes, though never in a directly offensive way. I knew it was his way of coping with what he couldn’t understand – but I still didn’t give up hope.
Eventually, my brother became more comfortable asking questions, especially personal ones. He asked why I wanted to go to pride, what different identities meant, and why people use they/them pronouns. I explained to him that my identity has given me a second family and motivated me to speak up on issues; that gender and sexuality are spectrums on which people; that it is OK to not fit in a certain box.
Still, as much as I could see my brother trying to grasp all this information, it wasn’t quite clicking. I wanted to help him understand, but I wasn’t sure by what means because I didn't even have the resources myself.
Then, one weekend last spring, Jesse and I attended a youth leadership event with a guest speaker named Kate Akerman from the LGBT Network of Long Island. We sat listening on long benches, filling a wooden lodge in Riverhead, N.Y., as she explained the definitions and differences between sex, gender, and sexuality, something I hadn’t yet been fully able to do; honestly, I was learning as much as Jesse was.
After hearing her story and crash course on everything queer, I went up to thank her – but my brother had beaten me to it. He was already engaged in full conversation with Kate. When he was done, he pulled me aside and said the one thing I had been longing to hear since this all began. He said, “I understand. I think I get it now.”
I just hugged him. I might have even cried. It was such a profound moment because it was the first time someone in my close family recognized how important this community is to me, and knowing my twin brother would be there for me, especially for this part of me, was the biggest relief.
Soon, LGBTQ topics became normalized between us, and I could talk about them like he talked about lacrosse. It all happened because a simple act was enough to change one person – and when you change one person, than person can now go on to change another life, or many. Maybe the world.
I challenge each and every one of you to live your most authentic lives with intention – because you never know who’s watching and who needs it most.