Oct 282009

I was born in 1962, seven years after my brother Paul Evan Crowley. I have no other siblings. I could never relate to my brother while I was growing up, in any sort of way. I assumed this was simply due to the big age difference. As I got older, I came to believe there was far more going on with my brother to account for his coldness to me. When I was a child, my mother claimed that when my brother and I were both adults we would become the best of friends. That never happened. Why not?

Unfortunately one of the defining characteristics for both my brother and me was that we were “uptight”. My brother had it much worse than I did, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to reverse the bad programming that makes me “uptight”. I see the same pattern in a lot of clever people; the same mental talents that are expressed in strong verbal skills are tied in with anxiety. If you begin to define yourself as different from, or superior to, other human beings due to verbal skills, then your life becomes a constant struggle to maintain this self-imagined superiority. I think this struggle was at the root of the anxiety that infected my brother and me.

My brother had other demons. He was most likely a heavily closeted homosexual. This is understandably a strong claim, and one I don’t make lightly. He never married, nor ever had any girlfriends or female dates, as far as I know. As clearly as I can remember, only three friends of his ever come over to our house. I know for a fact that two of them were gay. One of them, Tracy, became wealthy through ownership of Missoula and Portland porn stores.

I always liked Tracy, and ran into him in Seattle some years back. I even visited him in Portland somewhere in the late 1980’s. I asked Tracy if he ever had any sexual contact with my brother and he told me he did not. I believe him. This suggested to me that my brother was attracted to gay men, but was unwilling to follow through.

My brother never developed any of the stereotypical Montana hobbies such as hunting, fishing, hiking, or skiing. His aesthetic tastes ran to the French language and gourmet cooking. He would speak privately to my mother in the stereotypically “gay male” manner, yet with everyone else it was rigid, clipped, and over-enunciated.

Now at this juncture, lest I be accused of being insensitive to gays, let me state flat out that I have no problem with anyone being gay, my brother included. I suspect that if my brother could have come to terms with his own sexuality, he would have been a much happier person. Why was he unable to come out?

Probably because he was a hard-core Christian.

When one thinks of hard-core Christians, one usually thinks of fundamentalists. Strangely my brother was actually a Lutheran… As well as his religion, most of his social life revolved around his church activities.

I started out as a Lutheran myself, but I was always lukewarm. I attended Sunday school, but never studied the Bible. By the time I was confirmed, I had become more cynical about attending church services, and found them deathly boring.

I eventually became an atheist when I was about a junior in high school. This caused a major rift between me and my mother, who was also a Lutheran. Atheism was also the final cleft between my brother and me. Whereas before he was simply cold to me, now he decided to exhibit “good Christian love” by completely shunning me.

I moved to Seattle when I graduated from college in 1987. When I would return to Missoula to visit I would usually receive just a perfunctory “hello” from my brother, and that was it.

My brother was totally consumed with academic success. I think he made it through Hellgate High school with more or less a straight “A” average. He graduated with high honors in three majors from the University of Montana in fours years! He went on to get his Masters degree from Georgetown University. He then started working on his PhD. At this point his history becomes unclear to me.

He taught high school French in either Helena or Bozeman or both. This puzzled me, as I thought getting a PhD pretty much excluded having a simultaneous full time job. Between 1987 and 1997 I would ask my mother how Paul’s PhD was coming along, and I would get vague, dissembling answers.

Then things got strange. At one point my mother shared an odd anecdote with me. She said that Paul had befriended a cop in Bozeman who had taken Paul out for some recreational handgun target shooting. Sounds like healthy fun to me but knowing my brother, this was grossly atypical! The strange upshot of the story was that my mother included the detail that my brother had experienced a “falling out” with the police officer…

I imagine it goes without saying, but my parents were of the old school persuasion whereby any sort of discussion of human sexuality was utterly anathema. Montana at the time had sodomy laws on the books, the penalty being 10 years, a 10,000 dollar fine, or both. To this day I can’t bring myself to broach the subject of Paul’s lifestyle to my father…

Missoula, Montana is a divided place; being a liberal arts college town, it became a left wing Mecca within a right-wing redneck state. Attitudes toward gays are still in the dark ages for a large part of the populace. Virtually every night that I would walk across the Higgins Avenue Bridge in Missoula rednecks would yell “hey faggot” out the windows of their cars or trucks. No, I’m not exaggerating; this didn’t happen just once or twice, this was ALL THE TIME.

So I have sympathy for my brother in this way; he grew up in a sex-negative family environment, in a homophobic state where gay sex was a crime, with a hard-core religious mindset.

There is a particular attitude seen in a lot of gay men; a sort of free-wheeling haughtiness and superiority, especially toward straight men. I’ve had gay men tell me TO MY FACE that gays are “vastly cooler” than straight men. You see this when gay men accuse other gay men of being “bitchy queens”. The problem is that they can’t perceive the same haughtiness in themselves.

My brother had this in spades. An absolutely pathological, haughty self-righteousness. Couple this with a world class anal retentive personality and you have an unsympathetic character, to say the least.

When I visited my parents in 1997, I was told that my brother had fucked up his back, and was unable to work. He had moved back in with my parents, and was living in my old bedroom in the basement. This situation didn’t seem too outrageous, as he had gained a great deal of weight, which I assumed factored into back problems.

One day in late January 2006, I got a message from my father on my phone answering machine. My brother had died.

As soon as I spoke to my father, I asked him what Paul had died of. Shockingly, I was told he had died of liver failure, secondary to chronic alcohol abuse! Furthermore, I was advised that Paul had actually lost his job due to alcoholism, thus necessitating the move back to my parent’s house.

My parents were total alcohol abstainers. There was never any alcohol use in the house except for one party thrown for a bunch of my father’s legal associates. But I started drinking when I got to college, and stopped in early 1998. I totally understand the attraction alcohol has to someone afflicted with anxiety. I still struggle with anxiety, and I have absolutely no doubt my brother did too, and undoubtedly his struggle was far worse than mine. I keep a copy of my brother’s death certificate on the bulletin board beside me. Morbid? Perhaps, but it helps remind me to be healthy and happy in the here and now.

My point in all this retrospective rambling is simple: human sexuality cannot be bottled up, it must be allowed to express itself in healthy ways or really fucked-up, pathological things happen to people. Being a “closet case” is not a trivial matter. Religious fervor is no substitute for coming out.

 Posted by on 10/28/2009 Growing Up In Montana

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.