Abraham Dies. Jacob and Esau. Prophecy of Conflict. Abimeleck – The Constant Fool. Stolen Birthright. Stolen Blessing. A Dream.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.”
Genesis 28:20-21 (NIV)
Jacob’s Dream by William Blake (c. 1805)
When you look at your 22-year-old brother, and he’s wearing jean shorts cut up to his mid-thigh and a deep neoprene V-neck tee and he’s tousling a hand-weaved hemp bracelet between his fingers, then suddenly you realize there is a race between the two of you to come out to your parents first. You see, there is an unspoken rule in the multi-gay-children-born-to-conservative-parents world: the first son to come out is a disappointment; the second one is just a dick. My brothers’ early eccentricities evolved into a more outright flamboyance during his college years – his quirky humor became aberrantly outrageous, and his sparkling persona took on the energy of a constantly traveling showboat. But besides these amusing superficialities, his rhetoric and demeanor deepened. He began voicing concerns over more “left-wing” causes, such as the AIDs crisis and universal healthcare, and suddenly, he had doubts about some of the standards of behavior set out in the Bible. My parents viewed this as a direct result of his college experience, but in reality, it was probably just a natural release of pressure. His personality always contained these facets, and now he was just opening the valve. No need to calibrate anymore; he was among friends.
My brother came out to me on the eve of his college graduation. He asked if I preferred gin or whiskey for the pre-grad party that evening, then he asked if I was dating anyone, then he told me he was bisexual, and then he took a shower. He seemed eager to drop the bomb and then run away so he did not have to witness the potential destruction. I was left to strike up conversation with his roommate – this beautiful Yugoslavian woman with a raspy voice.
I said: So my brother is bisexual.
No, she replied, He’s gay. He just doesn’t want to disappoint you.
Too late. This was a huge disappointment. My brother was unaware of my budding sexual debacles, and while I always knew he was gay, I never wanted him to be confident enough to come to that self-realization. I now realize the cruelty in this attitude – that I actually desired my brother to squelch his sexuality so the pressure would be taken off of me and my transient appetites. For the rest of the night, I wouldn’t make any sustained eye contact with him, wouldn’t actively celebrate his graduation, wouldn’t really talk to him. He assumed the obvious – that I disapproved of his sexual preferences and that his admission had stunned me into silence – but the truth was far worse. I resented it, and I resented him for learning to be open about it. Suddenly, our relationship had an inherent competition. There was only room for one queer son in this family, and that honor appeared to be shifting towards him.
Back in the Bible, Abraham dies, and we join his ailing son Isaac on the brink of death himself. He marries Rebekah, and with her, they bear a pair of fraternal twin boys who are in a competition of their own. Esau beat Jacob out of the womb by a hair – thus granting him the right to the family bloodline and birthright – and yet God sets forth a vow that the older (Esau) will end up serving the younger (Jacob). This is a shocking prophecy for the times as it completely undermines the structure previously set forth for determining rightful heirs. Eldest sons carry the family name. End of discussion.
The story continues with a dramatic turn of events that unfurl the contents of God’s foresight. First, Esau sells his birthright to Jacob in exchange for some stew when he is particularly famished. Then, due to some dissatisfaction over Esau’s choice of wife, Rebekah and Jacob conspire to steal his blessing from the almost blind, almost dead, almost senile Isaac. She dresses up her seconds-late second-born son Jacob, douses him in the scent of the burly Esau, and leads him into his father’s tent. Isaac falls for it. He gives his blessing to the wrong son. Jacob – the younger son – is now the rightful heir.
The Bible finally dishes up its first bit of Telemundo-worthy melodrama with this story, and while the nature of the conflict may seem antiquated to some, the idea of the family birthright still carries deep, yet admittedly altered, importance to many modern Christian families. Wives still adopt their husbands’ last names; dowries are still paid; men still run households. And sons are still meant to acquire their fathers’ best qualities and build upon them, so that they may one day lend their name, collect their dowry, and run their household. It may seem ridiculous to those born outside the Christian faith, but these traditions are far from dead. And for my family, these traditions were more like religious rites, and the pressures to adhere were massive. Somebody had to carry on the family name. My sister couldn’t, and my brother wouldn’t. My brother’s honesty had guaranteed my continued deception. He had beaten me to the punch. He had cloaked himself in a sequin gown and doused himself in the musk of perfume and was now shuffle-stepping off over the rainbow. And the only one left in the tent with the almost ready, almost hopeful, almost fulfilled father was… me. It was left to me. After all, the second son to come out of the closet – to ruin that lineage and to destroy all the plans and to embarrass the family by being the second one and to negate the birthright, the tradition, the blessing, the name – that second son is such a dick. I would never be able do that to my parents.
After his conflict with Esau crescendos and then drops, Jacob wanders away from his family to find a suitable wife. After entering a strange new land, he falls asleep on the ground and has a prophetic dream. He sees a large stairway that bridges Heaven and Earth with angels ascending and descending. Then God appears and establishes the terms of his newly acquired blessing. This land now belongs to Jacob, and all will be blessed through him. Jacob awakens and makes a feverish vow. “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking,” he says, “…then the Lord will be my God.”
This prayer struck me as odd at first. Firstly, Jacob’s loyalty is conditional, second only to God’s protection – a big no-no, I assume. Secondly, and more importantly, it is potently vague. Watch over me on this journey. That is all encompassing. It is wonderfully generic. It feels warm.
Not make me strong.
Not make me fatherly.
Not make me love a woman.
Just watch over me.
God, I love that prayer. And I love that it comes from such a lying, deceptive, jealous, human man.
Watch over me Watch over me Watch over me
I just love that.
For additional reading, check out this Huffington Post article about a new study on gay brothers and genetic links in homosexuality.