10 lessons I learned from having a lesbian sister (Rappler.com)

FAMILY LOVE. The author (leftmost) says unconditional love defines a truly "modern family."

(First published on March 12, 2014 in Rappler.com)

My sister came out to the family when she was in her teens – although she says she knew as early as 5 or 7 years old that she did not have a girl’s heart. It took a while for our family to accept and adjust to this reality even if the signs were there very early on: Kens over Barbies, cars over dolls, crying whenever she would be asked to wear a dress, challenging guys to “one-on-one” on the basketball court instead of entertaining suitors.

My mom would say that she was just “boyish” and “athletic” (which was true because she was a star athlete in her youth). My dad thought she would “outgrow” it by the time she would have gotten her period. I, on the other hand, was pleased because she was the fairer, prettier daughter, and I wanted her to “be a boy” so that I could “eliminate the competition” in the family. Meanwhile, my brother was pissed because he was supposed to be the only boy in the family.

It’s been around 20 years since that time, and our family’s relationship with my sister has taught us many things. I wish to share some of them here in case it helps others who are processing their own “modern families.”

1. Your inability to process and accept reality is reflective of your issues, not hers.

From what I remember, my sister was very confident about coming out. She knew who she was and what she wanted, and she was simply stating her truth. I was the one embarrassed to accept it. My feelings then oscillated between pity and disgust – simply because I didn’t know any better. I was at an age where labels and public perception meant so much, and it hurt me to have a lesbian sister on top of coming from a “broken family.” (This was the early 90s, when such realities were still taboo in the Philippines.)

I didn’t want to have the label “dysfunctional” attached to me and my family, so I faced the facts with a lot of anger. In the end, my anger hurt me and my ability to be loving more than it did her.

2. The sooner you can accept the truth, the sooner you’ll understand what “family” is really all about.

My siblings and I are lucky to have been raised by fairly liberal parents – especially my mom, who had traveled the world and had been exposed to life’s realities at an early age. I think she was the first to accept my sister’s choices, and she chose to still love my sister with open arms. It didn’t mean it was easy or that there weren’t any issues and fights in between, but the love and acceptance were there. That example of my mom showed me what family is really all about – you’re not just a group of people bound by blood and genes; you’re there to accept and love each other no matter what.

3. Love is love.

Speaking of love: seeing the relationships within my family, and seeing my sister and her (many) partners through the years also showed me that love is not (and should not be) gender-based. Love is love – it’s either there or it isn’t. A heterosexual relationship can have just as many issues as a homosexual relationship. If people want to cheat and/or be assholes in their relationship, they will cheat and/or be assholes. If people want to be faithful, they will be faithful. I’m sure some quarters don’t agree with this, but if love is truly unconditional, then it will know no boundaries.

4. Children are more “gender-blind” than adults and will accept their parents just the way they are.

My sister has a 14-year-old daughter, and where the adults have been quick to question and judge, my niece has been nothing but loving and loyal to my sister. Sure, they have their fair share of mother-daughter issues (who doesn’t?), but my niece has shown us how fiercely she loves her mom – no matter what. I guess it’s a testament to the kind of loving family environment in which my niece was raised, which I again credit to my mom’s own example of unconditional love and acceptance.

5. She makes for a great travel companion.

Now on to the “more fun” stuff. My sister and I, being a freelance writer and a freelance photographer, respectively, have had the privilege of traveling together to cover foreign events. Because my sister is the chivalrous kind – and maybe because I’m the older sibling – she offers to carry my luggage, give me the more comfortable seat, and generally make sure I’m okay when we’re moving about. It also means that I get a free bodyguard because she’s quick to block any jerk that tries to make a pass at me. And because she’s generally funny and loves being a clown, she makes for great entertainment even during the most exasperating of travel mishaps.

6. I get a stylist and a wardrobe critic in one.

My sister is the stylish kind, and she’s great at deciding what goes best with what. She’s even done my hair and makeup on some occasions, which is great when you don’t have the proverbial gay best friend to do that for you. Since she also looks at women with a guy’s eye, she can tell me straight up if a particular look doesn’t work. But because she still (sometimes) thinks and feels like a girl, she’s sensitive enough not to blurt out anything about my weight.

FAMILY LOVE. The author (leftmost) says unconditional love defines a truly "modern family."
FAMILY LOVE. The author (leftmost) says unconditional love defines a truly “modern family.”

7. She may act tough, but she’s a softie, too.

My sister can be a toughie, but there are times when she reminds you (or you remind yourself) that she’s still a girl. There are still some things that affect her the way it would affect any girl, and there are still times when she gets all “Mother Hen-ny” on the people she loves.

8. Just because she looks like a guy doesn’t mean she doesn’t get PMS.

I always kid my sister that her period is Mother Nature’s way of reminding her that she’s a girl. She gets the mood swings and the cravings and all these other PMS-y things the way any biological female would. That said, be more sensitive around her when it’s the time of the month.

9. Whatever she may look like, a sister will always be a sister.

Even after she stopped being “competition” to me in the looks and boys department, my sister and I continued to be like cat and dog. We’ve had our fair share of big wars and little skirmishes, but love and sisterhood would always prevail, and we would always find our way back to each other. The most important thing that I learned from my relationship from my sister is that, while we may never have braided each other’s hair (we pulled them, more often that not), may never have talked about boys, and may never be able to completely understand each other, we will always be sisters – with that inexplicable bond that will stay with us forever.

10. Forgiveness will heal even the deepest, most painful wounds.

My sister and I have had a most unconventional childhood (to say the least), filled with enough traumatic experiences and painful lessons to last us several lifetimes. We’ve faced betrayal in the face several times, and we’ve had to deal with a lot of anger and bitterness in the family. It has taken decades to get over these issues, and there are times when we still find ourselves in a process of conscious healing. Through it all, what has saved us is forgiveness – of others, of each other, of ourselves.

If unconditional love is the bedrock of each family, then I think forgiveness is the first necessary ingredient of that love. None of us is perfect – we know that all too well in our family – but because we were all willing to forgive, to love, and to move on, we’ve become a stronger family, capable of even so much more love than we thought we could give. – Rappler.com

Author: Niña Terol

Niña Terol describes herself as a "communicator, connector, idea curator, and changemaker." A writer at heart whose 16-year career has spanned the public and private sectors, including roles in marketing, non-profit consulting, creative enterprise, publishing and media, politics, and corporate communications, she now heads corporate affairs for the Manila office of one of the world's largest and most trusted names in integrated marketing communications. Niña has written for a long list of magazines, dailies, and websites, including CNN Travel, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Rappler.com, and Inquirer.net. She has also written and edited a number of books published by such institutions as the World Bank-Manila Office, the Asian Development Bank, the National Youth Commission, and a few others. Also a public speaker and trainer at heart, Niña has spoken at prestigious events such as TEDxManila (2010), Pecha Kucha Manila (2010), Ignite Manila (2010), the Social Good Summjit (2012), and the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP) Summit (2013). She has also taught live lectures and webinars, and been a panelist and thesis adviser, under the Certified Digital Marketer (CDM) program of the International Institute for Digital Marketing (IIDM). Niña graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications degree, minor in Hispanic Studies, from the Ateneo de Manila University, and obtained certificates in Internet Marketing and Professional Blogging (under scholarship) at the Asian Institute of Management and the European Journalism Institute (under scholarship) from Charles University, Prague, the Czech Republic and The Fund for American Studies, Washington D.C. When she's not working, writing, or speaking, Niña is running, practicing yoga, promoting sustainability and mindful living, trying out all sorts of dark chocolate, and planning her next plane ride. She blogs at www.littlerichgirlblog.com and www.betweenplanerides.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @ninaterol.

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