Jonathan's Journey: Loving Yourself Through Familial Estrangement (Part Two)

If you’re joining Jonathan’s journey now, consider reading the first part here. Jonathan has brought us through his history as a child experiencing familial estrangement, specifically with his brother Andrew. Detailing his childhood sexual abuse, we’ve continued our conversation with Jonathan to find out how he’s learned to love himself, despite the circumstances he was born into.

Following Jonathan’s move to live with his mother (and by extension, removing himself from the abusive situation that was happening in his father’s home), he was introduced to a gaggle of step siblings from both his mother’s new marriage, as well as his father’s. When asked if he had made any meaningful connections with his new step siblings, Jonathan hesitated for a moment. “It wasn’t like we didn’t get along, but at that point, the damage had already been done. I still talk to some of them sometimes, but we don’t really have anything in common. We’re all leading different lives. Some of them are living in active addiction, and really only reach out when their is an ulterior motive involved.”

As for Andrew, whatever relationship had started to build between the brothers faded away with distance. In retrospect, Jonathan sensed that Andrew was put off by Jonathan’s earlier attempts to bond with his new step siblings. Interestingly enough, it sounded like Andrew didn’t just actively isolate Jonathan as a child, but didn’t want Jonathan to be acknowledged on a real level by anyone else, either. Andrew continued to live with his father, eventually joining him in the family business. To this day, Andrew has never moved away from their home town of Windsor, Connecticut.

At the age of seventeen, Jonathan relocated alone to Florida, opting to reside with his maternal Grandmother. This would kick start an era of Jonathan’s life where he finally had the familial support he needed to grow as a person. High school wasn’t particularly easy for him, as he was living mostly in the closet as a gay teenager. “Were you bullied?” I asked. “Not necessarily,” he stated. “Not like, to a damaging point. Just the typical stuff. Being gay is naturally isolating, I think.”

Throughout our conversation, it became evident that Jonathan had a knack for words. Considering his childhood of isolation, I wondered when that control of comedic tone and charisma was developed. “So, when would you say you developed the social skills that you now obviously possess?” I asked.
Jonathan took a moment to think about it, before responding, “When you’re torn down all the time by being called things like ‘queer’ or ‘faggot,’ you have to eventually get better at come backs. I think this is true in most cases for gay people.”

Regarding Jonathan’s big coming out moment, I found out that… he didn’t really get one. “I told two friends in high school first, and they were receptive. The first family member I told was my cousin Staci. She’s like a sister to me, and always adored me. I also told my Grandmother and my mother.”
“So when did you tell your dad or brother? How did they react?” I asked. Jonathan shrugs slightly, “I never really got to have a ‘coming out’ moment with my dad or brother. They had their own things going on. They were losing the business. It was just another case of my need for family connection taking the back seat.”

Jonathan was referencing an accident involving his father’s business, which occurred shortly before Jonathan had finished high school. The accident cost his family everything, eventually leading to the closing of the family business.

Jonathan went away to college following graduating from Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers, Florida. “It was a liberal arts school, named after our 14th president: Franklin Pierce.” Jonathan laughs. “No one knows who the 14th president of the United States is.”
By the time that Jonathan was integrated into his college experience, he states he wasn’t hiding his sexuality anymore. For Jonathan, this meant he wasn’t necessarily making a big deal out of his sexuality, but wasn’t misleading people. “I was being honest with myself,” he explains, “Even if people didn’t like it, it didn’t matter. It was just the truth.” Here, Jonathan began to build the lifelong connections with friends that he maintains today.

Jonathan now resides in Ybor CIty with his husband and partner of eleven years, Mitchell. They live a comfortable life providing for their two 12 year old cats, Checkers and Oliver. Ybor City is a predominantly gay neighborhood, or as Jonathan called it, a “gayborhood.” With a rich history in Cuban-American origin and an array of LGBTQ friendly businesses, they like to spend their spare time perusing the local hot spots, like Bradley’s and Christoff’s. They enjoy thrifting, exploring nature, video games, and indulging in the local arts and music scene.
Jonathan works as an adviser at a career institute, and Mitchell is a licensed cosmetologist.

Despite the fact that Jonathan and Mitchell’s relationship is the longest relationship established in the family, Jonathan has taken note of the fact that his family members rarely ask about the state of their lives. “I mean, I feel that it’s because we can’t have kids. Despite the fact that I’m married, and we have our own lives, I just feel that no one seems to care to ask how we’re doing.”

When asked what the state of his relationship with his brother is today, Jonathan lets out a quick sigh and a slight shrug. “We haven’t actually spoken in over 2 years, but we did briefly exchange words this past winter at a family funeral.”

When Andrew’s daughter (Jonathan’s niece) was born, Jonathan was ecstatic to send a care package. When months passed without any word on whether the package had arrived, he was informed by his mother that it was received. With no indication on whether Jonathan was going to be permitted to be apart of his newborn niece’s life, he has decided to limit the effort and emotional real estate that he was willing to spend on a family member that wasn’t being receptive. It was, at some point, revealed that following a disagreement with his mother, Jonathan sent a heated message regarding his relationship with his brother to his mother. Making matters worse, Jonathan’s mother showed the text message to Andrew, all but solidifying against any chance that the brothers would reconcile. “If you don’t care about me and my family, that’s fine. You’ll never have to hear from me again.” Jonathan quoted the gist of what his last message from his brother was. Jonathan pauses for a moment before continuing, “I think about it every day. I think about my brother every single day. I wonder if he thinks of me as often as I think of him, but we’re cut from the same cloth; we’re both very stubborn.” Ultimately, Jonathan expressed that he would like the communication between he and his brother to open again, but he doesn’t hold his breath while waiting for that to happen.

Following an incident where Jonathan was able to address his pent up resentment with his mother, he has noticed a flip in her behavior. Things are slowly beginning to get better, as Jonathan’s mother is more inclined to ask Jonathan about the specifics of his lives, including the validation that his marriage is just as important, with or without children involved. When I asked if Jonathan would consider having children, he told me that although he was open to the idea, it wasn’t apart of Mitchell’s life plan. He mused on the fact that he came from a broken family, and Mitchell came from a loving home. “I think it would be nice to make up for lost time by being a great parent to children, but what Mitchell and I share is more important than any ‘what ifs,’ so that’s not in our cards.”

Jonathan has been on antidepressants on and off throughout his life to help cope with the aftermath of his childhood isolation. He stated that he has struggled with interpersonal relationships because he’s so used to things going his way. “I was by myself for so long, it can cause me a lot of anxiety when someone tries to do something that differs from ‘my way.’ Luckily, Mitchell has been so helpful and understanding as I overcome this.”

Jonathan and Mitchell on their wedding day.

Jonathan regards Mitchell as easily the best thing to happen to his life. With eleven years under their built, Jonathan recalls how they met. “He was working at zumiez, and I would go there a lot. I always felt that he was catering towards me, so I invited him to a Halloween party. He actually declined because he was already invited to another one, but shortly there after, he found me on MySpace– this was right before MySpace crashed and burned.” Jonathan explains, laughing. “We’ve been inseparable ever since. When I tell people I just want to hang out with him all the time, I mean it.”

Jonathan goes on to describe their recent ambitions as a couple into the polyamorous lifestyle. I found this particularly interesting, and wondered if Jonathan’s drive for as much healthy love in his life had anything to do with his lack of such as a child. “I definitely think my childhood plays a part of it,” he confirms. “Polyamory is definitely more common, at least in my experiences, in the gay community, specifically with men.” He continues, “It isn’t the way that TLC will portray it. It’s a valid form of emotional expression. There is the added stress of adding another adult with actual feelings to the mix, but it’s more beneficial to our marriage and our lifestyle over all.”
Although they haven’t found the success they’re looking for yet, Jonathan reports that it’s been an overall positive experience. “We’re at the healthiest point we’ve ever been in, as a couple.” Jonathan states, in regards to his marriage with Mitchell. “I don’t get jealous watching another person lust over my husband. That’s vice versa. I like it, it’s a turn on.” Jonathan laughs.

When asked what the response of his community to his polyamorous lifestyle has been, Jonathan states that even the gay community has responded to it negatively sometimes. Having received remarks from his peers that it isn’t fair that he has two lovers when “they” can’t even get one, Jonathan responds with “I don’t want to sound like a bitch, but if you can’t get even one boyfriend, that’s not my problem.” Jonathan laughs. “If there is something wrong with you, there is something wrong with you, you know what I mean? Work on yourself.” Overall, this has led to some very helpful narratives in where Jonathan was able to bring people around to understanding that differing lifestyles isn’t a threat to anyone else’s relationship situation.

When asked what message Jonathan hopes his story conveys, he states: “You’ve heard that phrase ‘it get’s better,’ right?” Jonathan smiles, “that’s not what I’m saying. Sometimes it doesn’t get better. You get better. You have to find a reason to get up in the morning and live it day by day. Fulfill your own fantasy. When I was in Connecticut, I had a fantasy of marrying a man and living somewhere that there was palm trees,” he side bars for a second with a chuckle, “mind you, I was seeing L.A., not Florida, but hey, it counts.” He continues, “I knew I would live in a city where I could be myself… We live to chase our dreams, so chase your dreams. Don’t let anyone or any experience hold you back from creating your own life, finding your own family, and just being you.”

As our conversation came to a close, I found myself emotionally drained by the details of Jonathan’s experience. As someone who comes from a large blended family, I thought about how I would have identified and established my own personality had I not had their influence. For what could have spawned an incredibly lonely and tragic life, I deeply admired Jonathan for his personal drive to better his situation. What Jonathan said about situations not always getting better, really affected me. You get better.

If you’ve struggled with childhood sexual abuse, familial estrangement, or the social negative side effects of coming out as a member of the LGBTQ community, please know that we are always here for you. You can e-mail us as GirlPrecarious@gmail.com for support and resources.

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