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Because I never knew my uncle…

May 16, 2012


Because I never knew my uncle…

Sometimes people ask me why I support gay rights and marriage equality. Why do I speak up or put the bumper stickers on my car or sign the petitions? After all, I’m straight, I have two girls who also appear to be straight, my siblings are all straight, there’s no pressing need to get so involved with that.

Most times I give them chapter and verse. I talk about fairness and equality. I say I want a future with less bigotry in it for my kids. I ask them how they can justify turning their back on love of any kind, in a world that needs more love and less hate.

But sometimes if I’m sad and a little tired of explaining this fight that really should need no explanation, I tell them I’m doing it because I never knew my uncle.

Never met him. Never even heard his name.

Both my parents had brothers. My father’s oldest brother died young, fighting for Canada, and indirectly for all of us, behind enemy lines in the fields of France. Having known and dearly loved both my father and my remaining paternal uncle, I know what a loss that was. But he was given to his fate, not gladly but proudly and of urgent necessity, to keep us free. I wish I had known him, but he at least was brought to vivid life for me in the loving stories of the family he left behind.

My mother had one older brother and two younger. Growing up, I knew only the two younger ones. My maternal uncles are brilliant, artistic and athletic, with wide-ranging interests. I knew there was another brother, but my mother would only say “My older brother died young.” His name was never spoken; he was not identified on the back of childhood photographs.

When I was a child, I didn’t ask questions. As a teen and young adult, I assumed that, like her own mother’s death from tuberculosis when Mum was eight, the loss was too painful to talk about. Mum was like that, not putting her emotions out there to be seen.

It was only last year, as the Alzheimer’s first began to change her, that my mother told me the story of her oldest brother. In his early twenties, he was newly launched in his profession in a large city in Europe where they grew up. He had graduated, left home and begun an adult life. He was in fact living with a male lover.

His boss found out about it, and in the good-old-boys networking that seems to exist everywhere, consulted with my grandfather. My grandfather was an intelligent, rigidly-honest and somewhat controlling man, who wanted the world for his children, but not necessarily what was best in their own eyes. He brokered a deal, and together those two established men presented it to my uncle. Either he give up his lover and move back home into my grandfather’s house, under his father’s eagle eye, to continue his professional life. Or he would be fired from his job, blackballed professionally, and forbidden to come home at all. They asked him to choose. They gave him a day.

He chose to step in front of a train.

I never knew my uncle. Judging from the other family members I did know, I imagine he would have been brilliant, introverted, slim and athletic, with a quiet sense of humor. And he would have been gay.

If society back then had allowed him to live the life he chose, I might have had fifty years to come to know the man. The world would have gained whatever contributions some five decades of the work of an agile mind can produce. His lover, whose fate I do not know, would have escaped that moment when you hear that the one you love has chosen death. His three siblings would have had a brother, not a deep unspoken loss. There would have been less pain and more joy in the world.

So when people ask why do I put energy and emotion and time into this cause, when they want to know why someone normally as shy as I am does speak up, even to strangers, when the topic is raised, sometimes I tell them… because I never knew my uncle, but I really wish I had. Because I don’t want the children of my daughters’ generation to have the same sad reason for an aching, silent, lifelong hole in their family circle.

Today’s post, today’s participation, has the same goals. I decided to participate in the Hop Against Homophobia because anything I can do is worth the effort. Most readers who move around this hop are not homophobic, or they wouldn’t be looking at these websites. But sometimes it’s easy to take the low road, to frown at prejudice but hold our tongues and keep ourselves out of the fray. My hope is that this hop will reinforce the message that that’s not enough.

North Carolina just voted to forbid gay marriage and enshrine hatred and discrimination in their constitution. My home state of Minnesota will have a referendum trying to do the same in November. It’s not enough for those of us who are straight allies to feel complacent in our lack of prejudice. It is vital for us to speak up.

If we who have no visible “agenda” for supporting gay rights step up to the plate and put our vehement support behind equality, we become harder to dismiss and ignore.

As you go through this hop you will see all kinds of stories, meet all kinds of people, with one common theme. Discrimination and hate are not acceptable. We must work together to move out of the darkness. Write, speak, vote. When your neighbor says something about “Those gays have no right…” don’t just let it slide. When your pastor claims God’s support for oppression and bullying, speak out about God’s love for all of his creation. When a college student talks about the hassle of going to vote, remind her that her own rights, and her status as a thinking participant in her own government, are at stake too. Sign the petitions, be vocal, be seen. Bigotry is everyone’s problem and everyone’s shame. We are better than this.

What part of love don’t they understand?

As encouragement to readers moving around this hop, those of us participating are offering some prizes. In my case, three people who comment either here or on my Goodreads blog before midnight on May 20th will be chosen by the trusty names-in-a-hat method to receive one ebook of their choice from my backlist (or a copy of Home Work when it comes out later this summer.) Your comment can be as short or as long as you like. Then click on this link to get back to HAH home base and find another blog to visit. We’re all in this together. Thanks for coming by.

76 Comments leave one →
  1. KimberlyFDR permalink
    May 16, 2012 11:32 pm

    This is a very touching post and I want to thank you for taking part in the hop!

  2. May 17, 2012 12:48 am

    Beautiful, sad story, sweetheart. It really struck a chord in me. I wonder how many of us have a similar story in our families that we still don’t know about.
    Thanks for doing the hop.

  3. suze permalink
    May 17, 2012 2:37 am

    A touching story – I wonder how many of us have similar stories in our history and dont know about it

  4. garnetyuna permalink
    May 17, 2012 3:27 am

    This is such a beautiful, sad story. It’s so touching and it brought tears in my eyes. It’s so sad what happened to your uncle and because of that you never had the chance to know him. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kaje.

  5. Sammy2006 permalink
    May 17, 2012 3:48 am

    Oh Kaje….thank you. I cannot say more than that–just thank you my friend–and don’t enter me in the drawing please–just wanted to stop by and say I am so proud to know you!!!!

  6. May 17, 2012 3:56 am

    This is such a beautiful, sad story. It’s so touching and it brought tears in my eyes. It’s so sad what happened to your uncle and because of that you never had the chance to know him. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Kaje.

  7. Emiiana25 permalink
    May 17, 2012 4:11 am

    I’m very sorry for your uncle it’s truly sad and I don’t understand why anyone feels the need to meddle in private life of other people. Thank you for sharing this Kaje.

  8. Andrea permalink
    May 17, 2012 7:02 am

    Thanks you for sharing the painful story of your family, it brought me to tears.

  9. May 17, 2012 8:24 am

    Oh, your poor uncle! 😦

    I WILL be voting against that @#*(!) referendum in November. GRRRR.

  10. sheri permalink
    May 17, 2012 8:55 am

    I sign every petition I can, I speak up in support I don’t care who I offend by standing up for rights of LGBT. I myself have faced the discrimnation and I won’t stand by and let anyone else face it without support.

    I hate that the generations before us were taught to be so close minded. My uncle lives his life closeted because his mother won’t accept him.

    • May 17, 2012 9:52 am

      Sheri – that’s sad about your uncle too, because it has constrained his whole life. (I know someone like that too.) The costs of this prejudice are often hidden.

      I now have one second cousin married to her wife in MA for a decade, and another living with his husband in Canada, which would have been not just unthinkable but illegal in my uncle’s day. As disheartening as the NC and MN initiatives may be, it is getting better.

  11. Danny permalink
    May 17, 2012 10:15 am

    That is a really sad story. What I can’t understand is when people say God is against same sex relations etc, if He didn’t like it so why do we GLBT community. He is the creator of all life. The people who say that really don’t know Him at all.

  12. May 17, 2012 10:23 am

    Wow, Kaje, it’s hearbreaking.
    Thank you for sharing. I’m sure your uncle would appreciate your effort.

  13. May 17, 2012 11:04 am

    oh…how sad. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

    raynman1979 at yahoo dot com

  14. May 17, 2012 11:07 am

    Oh wow, what a painful story. I am sure it was difficult to share but thank you

  15. Crissy M. permalink
    May 17, 2012 11:15 am

    Wow! I should have had a box of tissue around for that story. I don’t know you or anything other than this story about your uncle but I can’t imagine he would be anything other than proud of you.

  16. Louise permalink
    May 17, 2012 11:24 am

    What a sad story! Thank you for sharing it.
    I grew up in a miniscule village in the south west of England. It wasn’t until I was a grown up that I found out that the two men who were dear family friends that I knew as Frank and Harold were in fact a couple and were together until death. 50+ plus years together. I now live in the US near San Francisco and now know a lot more same sex couples. 🙂 My stance has never changed. Love and equality for all!

  17. Trix permalink
    May 17, 2012 11:29 am

    This one broke my heart. But I know your uncle is proud of you for this, wherever he is.

  18. Tami B. permalink
    May 17, 2012 11:31 am

    Such a sad reminder of the many people whose lives are cut short way too soon because the prejudice and lack of acceptance of others makes them hurt so very much. Lets pray that more hands are extended in friendship each year instead so these stories can end.

  19. Avalie permalink
    May 17, 2012 11:39 am

    Thank you for sharing such a painful, sad story.

  20. May 17, 2012 12:45 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story, brought tears to my eyes. I’m sorry you never got to meet your uncle, and I know he would have been proud of you proud of this post.

  21. Jennifer permalink
    May 17, 2012 1:17 pm

    That’s such a sad story. Like others have mentioned I’m sure your uncle would be proud of what you are trying to do.

  22. Cole permalink
    May 17, 2012 2:00 pm

    Thanks for this story, not only because of the importance of everything you said about affecting change, but also because I feel like I understand your stories better now, maybe where the importance in the words come from — and that is something special. So thanks for sharing.

    • May 17, 2012 2:16 pm

      I appreciate everyone coming by. And I’m sure my experiences do inform the way I write. I also come from a long line of educators, including that grandfather who was a professor of mathematics, so perhaps sometimes my stories are also looking for that teachable moment (especially my YA stuff.) Hopefully not at the expense of entertainment. I believe that fear comes from the unknown and the unfamiliar, and I hope in my writing to increase familiarity 🙂 But it is those of you who live GLBTQ lives every day, out in the open, simply and visibly as part of our society and our world, who do the most to move us forward.

  23. May 17, 2012 2:26 pm

    wow. so sad. I truly WISH people knew how to love! And Yes, I think fear comes from the unknown!


  24. Cornelia permalink
    May 17, 2012 2:37 pm

    It so sad to know he couldn’t have love as anyone else yet this discrimination still goes on today

  25. Ashley E permalink
    May 17, 2012 2:47 pm

    Wow, Kaje… I can’t even imagine the… tragedy of that, of making your son choose and… Well, thank you for stepping out and sharing with us today. It’s an encouragement.


  26. Julie permalink
    May 17, 2012 3:19 pm

    Thank you for being a part of this hop and for sharing the story of your uncle.

    juliebites at gmail dot com

  27. Gigi permalink
    May 17, 2012 3:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Such a sad story.

  28. yganoe permalink
    May 17, 2012 3:58 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing your story…

  29. Caroline permalink
    May 17, 2012 4:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. It’s hard to think people would force that sort of ultimatum on anyone, to think that it still happens is heartbreaking but with the honest words of yourself and the other HOP writers it gives all of us the hope and confidence to speak out and make a difference. Thank you

  30. laurie g permalink
    May 17, 2012 5:16 pm

    thank for sharing that story. i am sorry that happened to your uncle, it’s shame that he was forced to make such a choice. it must have been real hard

  31. Mary permalink
    May 17, 2012 7:06 pm

    Very sad, but lovely in away. My Uncle also choose to be how he was and not what people wanted him to be. He is very miss in our life!

    • May 18, 2012 9:52 am

      That’s a loss for your family; I hope the next generation will not have to make such a choice and can be who they are and still remain within the family circle.

  32. Vicki permalink
    May 17, 2012 8:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. You honor your Uncle in the writing that you do.

  33. Tame permalink
    May 17, 2012 8:26 pm

    I read this story earlier this morning, and it brought tears to my eyes. Words can’t express how sorry I am you lost your uncle before even getting a chance to get to know him, and love him for what joy he could bring to your life. I hope we never have to read such stories again, but the world we live in, we have to work toward love & understanding every minute of every day, and breed acceptance and true agape love, which leads to beauty & peace.



  34. CJean permalink
    May 17, 2012 8:41 pm

    I was unspeakably saddened by the story of your uncle. I hope telling his story, and knowing we share your grief, eases the shadow on your heart.

    I support GLBTQ rights because I think it is also the responsibility of those who are not GLBTQ. When persons within a group speak up against a wrongdoing, the oppressors go deaf. People who are not of the group MUST stand next to them and say “LISTEN, WE DO NOT ACCEPT THIS”. Anytime you say a discrimination is okay, you say all discrimination is okay.

    • May 17, 2012 8:53 pm

      One thing this day has given me is a sense that my uncle lives again in some small way, because all of you read about him and felt his pain in the impossible choice, and acknowledged his life. Which has made this blog hop a truly unexpected gift to me. Thank you all.

  35. May 17, 2012 9:34 pm

    Heartbreaking but all too common, I’m afraid. I speak out when possible but I am near the end of my life and hope with all my being for a better world for my grandchildren.

  36. May 17, 2012 11:32 pm

    Exactly. I love how many times in this hope the words have been taken right out of my mouth! Thank you for being a part of the hop!
    bellaleone4 at gmail dot com

  37. Foretta permalink
    May 17, 2012 11:55 pm

    I too am straight and find it very important to support GBLT rights. I was so sad to hear about another state deciding that it was a good idea to encourage and make discrimination legal. That was a sad day. I am so sorry to hear about your uncle. So Sad. I have always been supportive but it was not until I was older that I became vocal about it. I grew up in a family that really didn’t have an opinion (that they stated). I know my mom had a lesbian friend but we never really talked about it. Then at the age of 13 my cousin came out and my conservitive aunt had to accept that the granddaughter that she was raising loved differently. It took a little bit but she has become very supportive. There has been set backs but with gudience and eduction she has I think become very supportive… and vocal about it! Thank you for your support. I wish more people regardless of sexual orientation would step up and speak out!!!

    • May 18, 2012 9:57 am

      It’s always hopeful to read about someone who has made the journey from bigotry to acceptance. This is why I admire the people who come out and live openly as GLBTQ. I believe the thing that moves us forwards fastest is not advocating and protesting (although those are important, especially to influence politicians and votes.) But it’s finding out that person you know and like is gay that will shift opinions most, as in your aunt’s case. It hurts to know there are GLBTQ kids whose parents and family don’t make that transition fast enough to save the loving family relationships.

  38. May 18, 2012 1:02 am

    A beautiful post which had me reaching for the tissues. Thank you for participating.

  39. May 18, 2012 1:23 am

    Really inspirationnal post. I will start speaking up more often outside of my immediate family…

  40. May 18, 2012 1:27 am

    Your post was inspirationnal for me. I don’t speak up as much as I wish I did…I do when it’s hateful comment, but I tend to ignore the more subtil comments of intolerance…I won’t anymore.

    contact at mchoule dot com

  41. May 18, 2012 6:36 am

    Thanks so much for sharing that, Kaje *hugs*. It’s sad that there are still people today who see no way out of the darkness and take their own lives because of discrimination. This shouldn’t be happening.

  42. sylvan65 permalink
    May 18, 2012 7:43 am

    Love and acceptance begins at home, unfortunately so does hate and ignorance. It’s that whole “double edge sword” thing. On the up side, I like to think that for every horrible story like this, enough people learn a lesson from it to make a difference. Thank you, Kaje!

  43. sylvan65 permalink
    May 18, 2012 8:03 am

    Love and acceptance begin at home, unfortunately so do hate and intolerance. I had a nephew who would by now be 21 if these particular intolerance’s were not still so prevalent. On a brighter note, I like to think (hope) that for every horrible story, enough people learn a lesson so as to make a difference. Thank you Kaje!

    • May 18, 2012 10:00 am

      I’m so sorry to hear about your nephew. My sympathy to you and your family. This should not still be happening. I do hope his story and my uncle’s and all the rest do encourage us to speak up and work for a time when intolerance will be rare and unacceptable across society.

  44. Layladawna permalink
    May 18, 2012 9:29 am

    This was a beautiful post and such a sad story. I’m so glad that I’m reading posts from this hop or I would never have gotten a chance to read it.

    burchills AT gmail DOT com

  45. May 18, 2012 9:30 am

    A truly heartbreaking story. What a loss to your family and society. Tragic.

  46. Michelle permalink
    May 18, 2012 9:54 am

    Well said…I wish I was as eloquent as you all. I cannot understand how a human being can hate someone based on who they love. There is no logic…
    chellebe at comcast dot net

    • May 18, 2012 10:03 am

      I would love to see logic become a major player in how humans think, but sometimes it’s hard to find. But to hate because of love does seem singularly inappropriate. I remind myself we now have married gay couples living with all the rights of hetero couples, at least some places. That would have been unthinkable in my uncle’s day. There is progress.

  47. Anastasia K permalink
    May 18, 2012 10:34 am

    A beautiful post Kaje but also sad, I hope in the future no one will have to makes such an decision!

  48. May 18, 2012 10:54 am

    I hope that every small action counts. As the publisher of a magazine for women, I receive dozens of press releases every day. This week I received one from the North Carolina Commerce Dept. announcing their Tourism Day. Normally I would have deleted this automatically but instead I responded by saying how sad it is that so many gay people will probably feel unwelcome in the state. Yes, there is so much straight allies can do and I hope to step up often in the coming months, both personally and through my magazine. But there are chances to take tiny actions like this all the time, and I hope that at least one person in that NC state office will think about how their action regarding gay marriage has the potential to affect their bottom line if nothing else.

    • May 18, 2012 12:22 pm

      That’s very cool, and the kind of thing I think we need to take the time and make the effort to do. It won’t change a determined opponent – I think only personal experience does that – but for those who are wavering, going along with what they are told, doing what’s expedient, making them think about the costs and consequences in new ways has to help.

  49. May 18, 2012 2:26 pm

    Another story that is bringing tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

  50. Joan permalink
    May 18, 2012 3:10 pm

    Thank you Kaje for sharing this very sad and personal story. I admit I often let the stupid comments slide thinking they don’t matter as long as no actions follow the words. People are usually just thoughtless.
    After thinking it through I made a resolution to be more proactive in the future.

  51. Carnell permalink
    May 18, 2012 4:40 pm

    Thank you Kaje for sharing this with us and for being part of this hop 🙂

  52. May 18, 2012 5:11 pm

    Kaje, I’m so sorry that you didn’t get to know your uncle. Thank you for this lovely post and for sharing your story. I so appreciate your voice and all you are doing to help bring about change!

  53. Peggy permalink
    May 19, 2012 12:14 am

    Your story is very touching, thank you for sharing it with us.

  54. Rhonda Wolf permalink
    May 19, 2012 9:01 am

    Thanks for sharing your sad story about your uncle.


  55. Amy permalink
    May 19, 2012 2:22 pm

    Thank you for sharing what I’m sure is a painful memory. I’m sorry you didn’t get to know your uncle but I bet he’d be proud to see you taking a stand to make the world better. (((hugs)))


    • May 19, 2012 8:02 pm

      I appreciate all of you coming by and reading this – it is a legacy of sorts for my uncle. And particular thanks to everyone vowing to be more proactive in the future. We will make progress together.

  56. May 19, 2012 5:26 pm

    The resolution of your uncle’s story is heartbreaking: he stepped in front of a train. I hate that this felt like the best option available. Wherever he is now, I am sure he delights that the family legacy is changing, through you, to tolerance and love. The curse is broken.

  57. May 19, 2012 7:43 pm

    I have two brothers who are both gay. I know we are so very lucky to be living in this day and age where it is more acceptable (not totally, but more acceptable) to love whomever you choose. Both my parent’s and extended family have all been wonderful to my younger brother’s. Your story touched my heart. Simply knowing his story keeps his memory alive both in your heart and in those you have told.

    • May 19, 2012 8:05 pm

      I am so glad your brothers have supportive family. Every positive story is affirmation that we will make it to a world where my uncle’s story will be vanishingly rare.

  58. Diane A permalink
    May 19, 2012 8:12 pm

    What a story, and so sad, but thank you for honoring his memory by sharing it.
    Hearing stories of suicide nowadays breaks my heart still, but like you, I hope the positive stories will take us to a place where the negative ones will be the exception, if not non existent!

  59. StormyMonday permalink
    May 20, 2012 4:36 am

    Thank you for sharing your uncle’s sad and very touching story! It’s really heartbreaking! I wonder how many families have a similar history? Nobody should have to feel like there was no other way left to them! And it still happens in this day! This HOP is a great idea to inform people and raise their awareness towards all aspects of LGBTQ issues. I hope more people will realize that it’s not enough to live by a “live and let live” attitude but that it’s important to support LGBTQ causes more actively.

    stormymonday (at) gmx (dot) net

  60. Lena Grey permalink
    May 20, 2012 6:08 pm

    Indeed, what part of love don’t they understand? I got into a discussion of sorts on Mother’s Day with my younger sister. We were discussing Gay rights and, gay marriage in particular. She reminded me that everyone who disagrees still have a right to their opinions. I SO wanted to say not if their opinion is hurtful, but, to keep the family peace, I didn’t. There’s no winning with her and my parents I’m afraid, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Thanks Kaje!

    • May 20, 2012 7:03 pm

      I’m impressed that you keep trying; it’s hard but so important with family and close friends because they are the ones you’re most likely to influence. They do have a right to their opinions, and to express them, and even to do so when the opinions are hurtful (as long as they don’t use hate speech) because that is the principle of free speech. But you also have the right to point out that it is bigotry and it is hurtful and cruel to people who have done them no harm and that it is unworthy of them. All you can do is keep trying. Thank you for that.

  61. arella3173 permalink
    May 20, 2012 9:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    Most importantly, Thank you for being a part of this blog hop.
    You know.. I often ask myself, Why do people make it their business to think about a complete stranger’s love life? WHY, for the love of all that is holy WHY does it matter that a man is attracted and in love with another man or a woman to another woman? I really, truly don’t understand why anyone would put it up to vote or spread their hate over someone they don’t even know. Or how they could just turn on a family member when THEY KNOW THEM, how they are inside, yet, throw that knowledge away the moment one of them says I’m attracted to someone of the same sex. I don’t understand THAT concept.
    I’m glad I’m not an Ignorant fool, or I’D have to kill myself to alleviate myself from my own stupidity.
    I truly hope, from the bottom of my heart, that this blog hop has lessened the hate of a person out there.


    • May 21, 2012 12:13 am

      It is hard to understand how people can put prejudice and doctrine above friendship and love for someone they have known, especially a family member. I do hope this blog hop renews all of our determination to do better and that our efforts spread, like ripples on a pond, into the places where they may make a difference.

  62. May 20, 2012 9:55 pm

    Hopefully soon they will realize that people can love who they want to love!

  63. May 21, 2012 12:15 am

    I want to thank everyone who stopped by during these four days and commented. You are still more than welcome to read and comment, but I will draw for the free books from the people above this point (and those on my Goodreads blog.) I will post winners tomorrow.

    I was amazed and delighted by the number of people this blog hop has attracted. My online count here was over 800 views in the four days.

    Most people doing this hop are not in need of reminders to avoid homophobia themselves. My hope is that this hop reinforced our determination to make a difference. That it reminded us of why it’s important to speak up, to write, and to work for the day when being GLBTQ will be just another part of a person’s description, like being blond. To work for the day when it isn’t cool to use homophobic or trans* slurs or treat someone differently just for being GLBTQ. For the day when gay couples have all the rights that straight couples do.

    I’m touched by the people who were moved by my uncle’s story, and by those who shared their own stories. Thank you all.

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