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Opening Up to Family

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By Emma Carr

This is Joshua Ahearn’s story.

My family has always been picture perfect; we’re the type to host family game nights, make popcorn every Tuesday, and discuss our problems and prosperities over every dinner. I have an older sister, Mandy, and a younger brother, Michael, and my parents have been happily married for almost 30 years.

Growing up, I always felt as though I didn’t fit into the expectations my parents had for me; in fact, I felt that I didn’t fit in at all. Michael hit his growth spurt far earlier than me, leaving me to sport his hand-me-downs for most of my youth. We rarely enjoyed the same cartoons, outdoor activities, or even snacks, so I ended up spending most of my time with Mandy, in order to avoid minor disagreements. 

Mandy is the best older sister anyone could ask for. Since there is a seven-year age gap between the two of us, I always saw her as a “cool teenager” throughout my childhood. She used to let me borrow her CDs, look through her magazines, and tag along with her friends. She also taught me several important lessons about growing up, thankfully far before I would ever need to apply them to my own life. 

Since my interests always seemed to align more with Mandy’s than Michael’s, my parents always struggled to find activities for us to do together as brothers. Stereotypically, he naturally excelled at baseball and loved all other sports, whereas I always squirmed my way out of oversized uniforms to run off and perform my own dance routines. Luckily, my parents quickly learned that we were very different and allowed us to explore our individual interests separately, but I think they secretly wished that we were more compatible siblings.

I originally felt as though I disappointed my parents; I wasn’t the typical son that they had expected to have. I had no love for sports, and I certainly was never going to be big and strong, but Mandy assured me that none of that mattered to anyone. She told me that my parents would love me whether I was a ballerina or a quarterback, and she always encouraged me to express myself. This proved to be more challenging than I had originally thought. 

I realized that I was gay in fourth grade. All of my friends were girls, and when they started discussing boys on the playground, I felt like I fit right in. Despite Mandy’s constant encouragement and limited pressures from my parents, I still attempted to hide this part of myself for many years. Finally, when I started high school, the lessons that Mandy instilled in me throughout childhood began to make more sense. I realized that keeping this part of myself hidden would ultimately do no good, so naturally, the first person I decided to confide in was Mandy. 

I remember sitting in her passenger seat headed home from school. Mandy always picked Michael and I up, but he often stayed behind for various practices. On this particular day Mandy and I were alone, and she offered to stop and buy us smoothies. The sweat on my hands nearly caused me to drop my cup. I was so nervous, and my mind was racing through millions of possible reactions. I knew I had to tell Mandy that I was gay, but my mouth wouldn’t allow the words to come out. Finally, right as she was in the middle of a story about one of her college classmates, my lips managed to open and I blurted out the awkward statement “I think I like boys.” She stopped talking, and rather than looking shocked, she told me that that is what she had always assumed. We laughed for a while after that, and the awkwardness immediately lifted. I felt an enormous pressure come off my shoulders, but I knew that Mandy would be the easiest family member to open up to. The lingering pressure of my parents and brother still remained. 

It wasn’t long after I told Mandy that I began to feel pressured to tell my brother and parents as well. Unfortunately, it was hard for me to think of a proper plan of action in order to do so. One evening, both of my parents and Michael were sitting in the living room discussing their events of the day. I walked in to join them, and immediately the tone of the conversation shifted. My mother constantly asked if I was interested in dating any of my girl friends, and tonight was no different. She began pestering me with the latest questions, but for some reason I was having a difficult time coming up with any answers. I felt all eyes on me, and I began to stutter and stare at my socks. After the fireline of questions finally ceased, I blurted out “I don’t even like girls, I’m gay” in the same awkward fashion that I had to Mandy. My mother was stunned. It looked as though someone told her Michael Jackson had come back to life. After the awkward silence, my parents began an extreme outpour of love. They began stressing how much they loved and supported me, and even Michael told me that he was proud. Though my parents have never been outwardly unaccepting, I was still shocked. I had not expected a reaction nearly this positive. 

Joshua (right) and his siblings. Photo credit: Joshua Ahearn’s personal archive.

Luckily, I grew up in a household where I was encouraged to blossom into my own person. My uniqueness was celebrated, and even in childhood I had many outlets of expression. I am so grateful for my sister Mandy for always being there for me, and for my parents and brother for continuously expressing their pride for me. Thanks to my family, I am finally able to be proud of the individual that I am today, and I now feel comfortable sharing that with the world.

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