This is the post that I have been putting off for a year. Even as I type I question whether or not I actually have the courage to press Publish. I’ll start by getting it out and then see if I still have my nerve.
I love my brother. I want that to be its own complete thought. I hate the thought of that statement being followed by a but because what I am about to say does not negate my love for my brother.
I am finally giving myself the permission to say the thing that I have been afraid to say out loud, being in school with my brother is hard. At times things seem okay and I do not give it much thought and other times I feel all knotted up inside. The truth is this dual relationship, my brother as my brother and my brother as my colleague, makes me uncomfortable. I just want him to be my brother. Being in school together and at times in the same classes has changed our relationship and it bothers me.
To be clear, this is my issue. My brother has not once expressed feeling the same way when we have talked about it, and Yes, we have talked about it. I own that this is my stuff to work out but it is difficult. I have struggled with these feelings since the very beginning, they have changed over time though.
When I was first accepted into the program the feeling was sheer bliss. I had all but given up on college. To be accepted into a major University pursuing a degree in what I know to be my true calling almost did not feel real. Not long after I received my letter of acceptance I found out my brother was finishing his AA ahead of schedule and would be applying to start the same semester as me.
I was happy for him but selfishly I felt like my moment had been overshadowed. I also had concerns about my ability to stand on my own two feet and be seen as an individual with my own point of view. Were we going to be seen as a pair, as some kind of package deal? Not to mention he is my older brother, that is how I see him. And I am his baby sister, and Yes, that is how he sees me. I think we have both had trouble putting that aside to see each other strictly as colleagues while at school.
Admittedly I am very sensitive to references people make between my brother and I because I do want to stand on my own so badly. Here are some things that have come up that have left me reeling a few times..
A few semesters ago I walked into a class we both had together to take the final exam. I went straight to my desk to continue studying, my brother had not arrived yet. 3 or 4 of my classmates were mingling a few feet from my desk and one turned around and asked me if I was ready for the final. I replied yes but that I was still nervous. This student’s reply was Well don’t take this the wrong way but you’ve got nothing to worry about, you got your big brother coming. I wish my brother was coming in for my final.
What?!! I was offended and confused. What exactly was this person implying? What difference does my brother being here make on my test outcome? I felt like my integrity was being questioned. I had to swallow all of these intense feelings. I knew this was my issue, that I had no idea how they intended me to receive that message (because of my sensitivity it was quite possible I was taking what they said the wrong way) and ultimately this student was not aware they had triggered me.
I replied by saying that I did not understand how my brother being present was going to make me feel any better about my personal readiness for this exam. I studied on my own, I have to take the test on my own, whether I do well or not is solely on me. The student didn’t have much else to say and went back to their prior conversation, I went back to my studying.
In that same class there was another incident that took place that made me feel uncomfortable. I got married during the semester. I did my best to keep under wraps that I was getting married primarily because I rarely talk about my personal life with classmates I do not know that well. Only a few I consider friends were aware, save for one class where my professor made an announcement, (I was mortified). So I came back to this class after the wedding weekend and when I walked into class my brother was talking about the wedding with one of his friends in the program. When I walked in I shared a few minor details like the weather was nice the day we got married and then dropped the subject so as not to attract attention. No such luck. Another person in the class overheard my brother’s conversation and interjected.
This was a classmate I am not close with and who, on more than one occasion, has tried to give me unsolicited advice and made me feel uncomfortable.
She asked if I had any photos from the day. I quickly answered that I didn’t stating I didn’t have my phone on me that day, which was true. I did however have photos from other people but I was not interested in sharing them. This is my personal life and I have every right to want to keep it private. My brother immediately stepped up and started sharing photos from his phone. I felt so violated. He was clueless.
These cases where I have been made to feel extremely uncomfortable are few and far between. Other little things pop up here and there and I just navigate them the best I can.
This brings me to the present. Once again we find ourselves in a class together. Like every other class we have to break into groups and once we are in these groups we have to agree upon a topic for a project. Twice this has happened in a class where the topic is open for us to choose and when this happens I am more concerned with getting in a group that has a similar interest as myself than I am with being in a group with a friend or even my brother. For me it has never been a given that if my brother and I land in the same class we will automatically work together. His area of interest is mental illness and veterans services, mine is ethics and end-of-life-issues. I know our areas can overlap but if there is a group that wants to present on PAS and one that wants to present on PTSD to me it makes sense for us to split up.
Last night our instructor mentioned she would give us time at the end of class to form our groups. I planned on talking to a few of my girlfriends who were not sitting right next to me about what topic they were going to go with so I could decide if I wanted to work with them or other people I know. In particular my friend who I am continuing the community work with is in this class and I looked forward to possibly working with her again if we were on a similar page for topics. When the time came to choose groups my brother signed me up for a group he wanted to be in without even asking me. I turned to speak with my friend and then heard my name called so I turned back around. I asked what they (my brother and two other classmates) were talking about and they said who else we (I was being included in this we) want in our group. I explained I wanted to speak with my other friend before I commit to anything and my brother immediately said We are a package deal. Implying to the two other people in this “group” that if I don’t agree to this grouping he is leaving too. While I am dealing with all of this I turn back to speak to my friend to find she has already joined a full group. Oh well.
I am not in anyway disappointed in the group I am in. I am working with people I know to be truly great and am excited to work with. I don’t like that the decision was made for me though. My brother sees us as a package deal, I don’t. I would never speak for him, I would never move forward on something that requires his consent without that consent. Things like sharing his phone number with classmates (he has totally given my number out and if you have been following this blog for any length of time you KNOW how I am about my phone), or signing me up for a group without my consent.
It is so hard. I have clear set boundaries that work for me and he does things to violate them which then puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to say no to someone when he has already spoken for me and said yes.
We have talked about some of these issues before and it was my hope things would improve and in some ways they have but in others there has been little change.
The title of this post comes from something that happened in class this week. Our group was working on an assignment and in this assignment we had to discuss why major league baseball does not allow women to play (for the sake of this post this is a VERY dumbed down explanation of the assignment). I held back and did not say much at first because I knew I was triggered and I did not want to be spouting off my feminist ideals. I know not everyone agrees and I did not want to distract from the conversation. That was until our group was going to answer the question by saying women are not allowed to play because men are stronger and therefore built better for the sport. It was all I could do to hold back an audible gag. We do not have to give a feminist answer if my group members do not agree with it but as a feminist I will not stand behind a sexist answer either. I am part of this group and we all should agree on the answer.
Two of my group members were men (one was my brother), they did not seem on board with my explanation which had to do with our patriarchal society. Another group member did not seem to know much about sexism. It was just me and one other female trying to explain the feminist point of view so we could attempt to find a middle ground. What came of it was my brother calling me a Wet Blanket because I essentially pissed all over their progress. If I hadn’t been in their group they would have just used their sexist answer and not had to debate it. I know he was joking but I am not your sister here, I am your colleague and I know I am making a valid point, or at least I thought I did.
When we discussed our answers as a class the female in our group who does not understand sexism went rogue and shared the sexist answer that two of us did not agree with. My professor grimaced when my classmate shared our answer.
Look, I don’t want anyone to be told they are wrong, for me this is not about right or wrong, it is about sharing education and understanding discrimination.
With that being said, I am not going to lie it was supremely validating to here my instructor explain to the class that we live in a patriarchal society etc etc.
Between my group not being able to agree on an answer, me knowing I felt triggered and being called a Wet Blanket by my brother I had no idea if I was right for even bringing up the feminist stuff. I didn’t want to force my personal views on others but I am also not willing to associate my own name with sexism.
The whole incident was just another small injury to mine and my brother’s relationship, whether he realizes it or not.
This is the post I have not had the courage to write. These are the words I have not had the courage to say to ANYONE but Todd. These are the feelings I have been trying unsuccessfully to suppress that are now leaving me no choice but to hash this out with my brother once and for all.
It will be fine. My brother and I can have a heart to heart, we have so many times. We had NO relationship growing up and formed an amazing bond as adults. A bond that came with an open door policy about discussing our issues. These things are still hard to say to someone you love though.
I need space to be me. Please do not speak for me. Ask for my permission. Ask what I think/feel/want/need, do not assume. Please share with me what you think/feel/want/need so I am not left guessing. Understand that it is important to me that I own my identity. I am not just someone’s wife, or daughter or sister. We are not a package deal but that does not mean we do not support each other.
The fact that I am at a place now where I am even considering sharing this is good. It holds me accountable. I have to speak to him now because this cannot be floating out in the world without his knowledge.
I love my brother. That statement stands alone. My feelings and everything I have shared does not take away one ounce of the love and admiration I feel for this amazing man.