Monday, 22 June 2009

Canto Twenty-Eight

Dear B__

When I intercepted my uncle’s email, informing my father that the news had reached Australia, his expression implied that it had been the first ejaculation to drool from his brother’s tongue once he had returned home.

'Don't mean to alarm you mate, but Robin's just got back and he's saying your boy's come out as gay'

I pictured him discharged the gossip dolefully in an East London accent lamed by a slight Australian drawl - “Mav’s boy, you know, the one who’s packin’ on a few pounds. Turns out he’s a poof”

I am no closer to my uncle Robin than the Earth is to Pluto. I had only one memory of him prior to the events that took place three years ago; yelling at me not to touch a toy train belonging to his daughter in case I lost ‘the bits’. I suspect that his tolerance for nieces and nephews expired after my sister was born, and simply couldn’t be bothered to get to know my brother and I. Beyond the medium of birthday cards and gift labels hastily taped to boxes of Boots brand body spray, I have no other recollection of him ever referring to me by name, let alone acknowledging my existence.

When he migrated to Australia, he inherited the archetypal role of ‘the uncle living overseas’ whose phone-call at the annual Christmas gathering is a focal point of the evening’s entertainment. I never learnt the reasons for his flight, except implications that it was a desperate bid to withdraw from the battlefield of responsibilities that come with having six siblings and a widowed mother. For several years, the only notion one ever had of his existence came in the form of home-made desktop calendars – substituting seasonal greeting cards – featuring a photograph of himself with wife and children bearing smiles like wedding outfits; bought for the occasion, and never used again.

When another of my uncles followed his example and immigrated to Australia a few years later, they secured themselves many months of coverage when bitterness between their wives escalated into a holy war. The hostilities became so complex that even Thucydides would have struggled to stay ahead.

Of my mother’s five brothers, I know nothing of Robin besides what I have pieced together from fragments of overheard telephone conversations and emails that have been left unattended, most concerning the war in Perth and other battles. The portrait I developed was one of a corporate atheist with the psyche of a school boy, devoted to materialism and interested solely in making others aware of his luxurious living conditions. His brief return to England for the Christmas holiday, publicised as if it were the final public appearence of an acclaimed celebrity, confirmed my suspicions.

The family was in the midst of a crisis. Money was needed from all seven siblings to correct an error that, if not treated, could have resulted in my grandmother loosing her home. My mother and aunt intended to ask Robin for his contribution in person when the inevitable Christmas gathering came around. But Robin was more content in giving a seminar on Australian tiger prawns. The crisis had to be averted without his assistance, and a wind of bitterness still sweeps the deserted arena.

It was during this visit that he learnt of my sexuality. My father received the email from my other uncle in Australia within a matter of days. My earliest suspicion was that it had been the work of a gossipmonger bent on stirring strife. I suspected that bird of ill omen to have been a certain fork-tongued cousin, a known sower of discord and reaper of venom. Then I suspected her step-father, a preacher of biological processes and homophobia; my aunt could have easily passed that intelligence onto him unintentionally, and he – still harbouring bitterness towards my parents from a previous drama – may have seen it as his opportunity to strike back. My already intense hatred towards them both threatened to boil over, even if I could not prove my suspicion.

It may have been far simpler. He may have guessed from some of my mannerisms. He may discovered the copy of “Another Gay Movie” among my video collection. He may have accidentally picked up my phone and seen the text messages from my [then] boyfriend.

The truth – of which I am still ignorant - no longer matters. He found out, and as soon as he returned to Australia, he told the rest of the family out there. It wasn’t his business to know in the first place, and it certainly wasn’t his business to tell them. For all he knew, I may not have wanted them to know. That he never took that into account demonstrated to me the extent of his ignorance – and proved what my parents had known all along; that he possessed no notion of respect for the wishes of others.

If Robin – the very last person I ever intended to tell of my private life – knows, it is likely that a majority of the family now know too. Thanks to him, the door to a private corner of my soul has been torn from its hinges, and exposed to the threat of gossip. I have no wish to be like my venomous cousin, whose private life receives regular front-page coverage at family gatherings. Having spent a large fragment of my life being whispered about and made the centre of unwanted attention and rumours, it would make a nice change not to feel the same exposure and nakedness among family members. For tearing away my armour, and killing my simple wish to keep my private life concealed, Robin will never have my forgiveness.

When discussing the matter with others, I am told that my indignation is a sign that I am not ‘proud’ of who I am. My response to this is simple; I have no reason to take pride in my sexuality in the same way that I have no reason to take pride in having ten fingers. I don’t want others to know because they have no reason to know. I choose not to make it a public issue because it needn't be one. The world does not need to know, especially uncles who can’t remember my name. I don't want the wider family knowing because I know it'll become the subject of gossip - and unlike my cousin, I take no pleasure in knowing that I am being whispered about.

It spoke volumes that the email implied Robin had spread the word of my sexuality from the moment he arrived home. Since he clearly did not care for me enough to even acknowledge my presence during the weeks he stayed that Christmas, I wondered why he was suddenly excited by the knowledge of my sexuality enough go out and spread it like an anecdote of pub trivia. Perhaps it was no different to his boasting over his financial success and Australian Tiger Prawns, a little branch of his pride – this time, under threat of being torn away and burnt.