Letters to My Brother

2.1.2012

By James Clementi

When 18-year-old Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, he became an overnight symbol of the fight against cyber-bullying and homophobia. Here, his older brother reclaims his memory from the headlines and pays tribute to his abbreviated life.

Tyler (left) and James Clementi / Photo courtesy James Clementi

I ’m not sure when I first realized my younger brother was gay. I think I knew he was for as long as I knew I was. I had no idea how to bring it up; it was just something we left dangling in the air, unsaid. I was open about my sexuality with friends, but around my family there was this barrier that felt unbreakable. It slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one, that I had a brother who was also gay -- my baby brother, whom I had always felt protective and paternal toward. I knew I was in a position to be a confidant, a role model. But I wasn’t ready to do any of that. It would have made it much less lonely for me to grow up with an older brother who had gone through and understood everything I was dealing with -- and I wanted to be that for Tyler. I didn’t start to come out to the people in my life until I was in my early twenties, so I always thought Tyler would follow the same timeline and we wouldn’t need to address the rainbow-colored elephant for a few more years. I was terrified to talk to him, accustomed to secrecy and scared I would make everything worse somehow.

The summer after Tyler graduated from high school we made plans to see Toy Story 3 together, and I looked up the schedule online. I walked into his room without knocking to ask what times would work for him, and there was that awkward moment where he realized that I was standing behind him. I realized my little brother was looking at gay porn. Caught off guard, I acted like I hadn’t seen it, and I think he was initially relieved. But from this moment, there was a growing anxiety, an urgent pull from inside myself that was compelling me to talk to him, and I knew it was time -- probably way past time. I gave myself a day to stress out over the right words, the best place, the perfect time. And then I just did it.

SLIDESHOW: FAMILY SNAPSHOTS OF THE BROTHERS TOGETHER

It was the Fourth of July. We had spent the day at the movies, the diner, the fireworks. So many opportunities, and I kept chickening out. That night, I found him in the house listening to Katy Perry, and I saw that, if I couldn’t do this now, something was really wrong with me. I overthought it -- because it ended up being this simple.

Me: “I’m gay.”
Tyler: “Oh. Me too.”

READER COMMENTS ()

AddThis