I would like to start this blog with a brief history of Ryan's family. And for those of you who did not already know my younger brother, Ryan Keith Skipper, I would like to introduce you to him. Ryan and I were only separated by 4 years but our lives were in many ways very different. We were both raised by the same loving parents and during our childhood we shared many of the same experiences.
We were part of the new nuclear family which no longer is comprised of a mother, father and 2.2 children. Ours included a mother, step-father, father, step-mother, step-siblings and many aunts, uncles and grandparents. One of the more positive sides to a divorce can be the new relationships that are formed that transcend blood lines. These relationships can give new meaning to the phrase "blood is thicker than water". The melding of all of these families had a very positive effect on Ryan and me.
Where to start? So growing up in Central Florida seemed to be a fairly normal process to me. As far back as I can remember Ryan and I were celebrating holidays together, going on family vacations (mainly to Disney World and the beach) and following our parent's guidelines related to living well and getting an education. The holidays always consisted of way too many "pop culture" gifts in the form of He-Men and GI-Joe action figures. The most adventurous family vacation was a 1,500 mile drive to Canada from Winter Haven. Until this trip we were unaware that freezing temperatures were possible in mid-July.
Polk County always seemed to be a very normal place to grow up. I say normal with the inference that it was a place where everyone was free to be themselves and continuously learn about the world. Our parents sent us both to public schools and we were a lower-middle class family so I don't feel like we were coddled or sheltered from our surroundings. I truly believe that Polk County is a good place and that certain individuals should not define the character of a community. I am hopeful that this community can redeem themselves for the lack of outrage over the horrific death of one of their citizens for who he was.
On a side note I was let down recently when students at a Performing Arts high school in Polk County were told that they could not perform the "Laramie Project" on school grounds because the play was too controversial. Matthew Shepard's death is a very controversial topic. It happened nearly 10 years ago and people are still being murdered today because they are gay. Isn't it time that we address this 'controversial topic' with our children and discuss how to prevent these events from happening again? I was happy to see that the students did hold an independent production with the help of some recent graduates.
So Ryan and I grew up playing organized sports, mainly soccer and baseball, and getting into the kind of trouble that either of us could talk or smile our way out of. Ryan and I were very similar in that we were never short on friends. We both had many 'best friends' and as a result our parents were obligated to make many extra lunches for the neighborhood kids.
The difference that I mentioned earlier is that Ryan was gay and I am straight. I will not lie and state that this was never difficult for us to deal with during adolescence. Adolescence is probably the most awkward and confusing time in any one's life. Pimples, hormones, standardized tests, etc. So now imagine Ryan's additional and overarching dilemma of being gay in small town, USA. I only say dilemma because of the pressure that some of those in society place on gays to be straight. As if it is a choice. But Ryan met this challenge head on and was brave enough to come out while he was in high school. Looking back on my time in high school I do not recall one person that was openly gay. I have a good friend that fled Polk County because she was not comfortable expressing her sexual identity there. So four years after graduation my younger brother was a pioneer at the same school. That is pretty damn admirable.