Gay has difficult role in traditional family

When my sister first told me that she is gay three years ago, I didn't know what to say. She had lived with a woman for nine years and had several girlfriends after that. I knew them all and even saw my sister kiss one at her graduation party.

But, I was still surprised.

Mostly I was surprised that she told me. We come from a formal Mexican American Catholic upbringing. The roles in our lives have always been clearly defined. You grow up. You get married. You have kids. You make the family the center of your world. Mainly, you are a "good girl."

We learned these things by watching our mother, aunts and grandmothers. They gave up everything for us. My mother and aunts were told they couldn't go to college because it wasn't something that girls did.

I had trouble with this growing up, never having the desire to get married and have kids, but this was nothing compared with my sister. None of the cultural and religious expectations that we grew up hearing applied to her. No one ever talked about homosexuals unless it was in a joke or an anecdote.

I didn't think that my sister was a lesbian because everyone would call her girlfriend her "friend," so it was convenient for me to think that was all that this woman was. I didn't know anyone who was gay or know anyone who knew anyone who was gay, so why would my sister be?

If you ask my friends if they know anyone who is gay, they will say yes, and they will say one of them is my sister. They acknowledged it before I did and before my parents.

When my sister came out to them they pretended it wasn't true that it could be cured. Eighteen years later, it is evident that it probably won't be and that she will not change. That doesn't mean that anyone will talk about it.

At family gatherings, I am always asked if I have a boyfriend. My brothers are asked if they have a girlfriends. And my sister is asked how her job is going.

One of the hardest things about the lack of acknowledgment in our family is that one of the biggest parts of her life is denied, she told me. It is like it does not exist.

She was with her first serious girlfriend for nine years. When they broke up it was not a big deal with our family, just like it wasn't a big deal when my brother and his best friend stopped hanging out. But if they had been a married male and female and gotten a divorce everyone would have been there for her. Since this wasn't the case, my parents just tried to forget until she began dating again.

I would love to be the one to stand up at the next Sunday dinner and say "Hey, lets talk about how my sister is gay." I think about it at Christmas, Easter and at weddings. I want to say something, to break out of this tradition of silence.

But the fear I once had in asking my sister whether she was gay is the same fear I have about telling my parents that I know.

Yvonne Condes is a journalism senior and a reporter for the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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