I never had a sister. Do you, or did you? I often wonder what it would have been like. I just had one brother. That was fine, but I always wondered how different it would have been with a sister. With a brother, there was always a sense of competition that came along for the ride. I actually shared a room with my brother from the age of 0 to 16, something I would surely not have had to do with a sister! At 16, he went off to college, leaving me the next 2 years to luxuriate alone. The extra space, along with the absence of testosterone, perspiration and irritation, made the farewells short, “Bye, Felicia,” without an ounce of regret. I am clear that he left me and our room behind with the same amount of sadness!
The next decades were fine, but I think I really missed out not having a sister. My brother actually passed away last week. That old spiritual passes through my mind, “Sometimes I feel like a brotherless child.” I am so lucky to have hundreds of brothers and sisters in my logical family. I’m also happy that the luck of the draw provided me with a boy and a girl rather than two boys. But this is about sisters.
Never actually having had one, I have lots of preconceived ideas I have made up about what a sister is like. Please do not spoil this for me with stories of your own that may burst my bubble! My perception is that there would be no real competition—not of the ridiculous male type of, “I’m butcher than you.” I lost that one every time. He played football, I played in the orchestra. And after I came out, I can just imagine we would have been like real sisters. Coming out with one brother? Well, that’s for another column—or several novels.
I feel like a sister has your back in so many ways: always there to console, dish when necessary and totally support you in every situation. I think a sister is that person who encourages you to step out and grow, tells you when you messed up, and passes judgment on all of the people you ever consider dating—or even befriending. A sister would always tell you how handsome and sexy you were, and that all of the boys (or girls) were crazy for not falling all over you.
Brothers also want to be acknowledged for every tiny thing they do. They are not all that funny. Sisters are very funny, and because there is no pretense, no layers or walls built around them, they allow for vulnerability. A sister does 90% of her “work” in private. Her reward is watching you succeed and be happy. When you arrive at happy, she smiles from behind the scenes knowing if it weren’t for her, it wouldn’t have happened at all.
That described our sister and chorus member Ryan Nunez. Ryan left us all too soon—during our concert “Paradise Found,” on March 31. He was 39 years young.
You can replace the name Ryan in the subject of every sentence above and you would have only half of who Ryan was. She was the best brother—or sister—a man ever, ever had. And here’s the remarkable thing about it—and the lesson for all of us—no one knew that she was being the very best sister to so many people, all at the same time.
It wasn’t important for Ryan to let everyone know the countless good deeds he did every single day. Encouraging. Loving. Kicking people’s butts—mercilessly. Taking no prisoners in calling people out; using the humor of shade to slap folks around. He called everyone, “Gurl.” It was, “Gurl, get your act together.” Or, “Gurl, get your ass to rehearsal.” Or, “Gurl, he’s not good enough for you anyway.” Or, “Gurl, just keep singing even if you don’t like the music Dawktor Teem picked this time.”
So, Ryan was our Sister Gurl.
Ryan never intended to do drag. But that was to change when he learned that the Divas, a small group of singers, raised money for FAN, our Financial Assistance Network that provides scholarships for singers. He was hooked. He joined in the fun at the annual Dragathon as Cinna Monroe Besos and later as Just Us Sodamayor, Supreme Court Judge! He personally raised over $10,000, and helped the Divas raise tens of thousands of dollars. He found his passion—singing, helping others and raising money for scholarship so all of his brothers, oops, sisters, could sing without worrying about any financial hardship.
On his death, the tributes flowed in from far-flung places all over the world, His life touched countless people—and the fact that he left this life while doing what he loved so passionately. Some of the tributes came from city supervisors as well as California senate and LGBTQ groups from Europe to Mexico. Here are just a few:
“Ryan was a messenger of peace and compassion.”
San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang
“Ryan exemplified what is best in our country.”
California State Senator Scott Wiener
“Ryan set an example that we must all aspire to.”
San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell
“His spirit and passion for the chorus were second to none.”
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.
This past week, the Divas, our incredible team of singers responsible for raising all of the scholarship funds used by SFGMC for its singers, changed the name of FAN, the Financial Assistance Network. From now forward, it will be simply called RYAN’S FUND!
We will all miss him desperately. Ryan was our sister gurl, angel and our heart. He was the best sister this brotherhood—and I—ever had. Death is obviously a part of life. One might think you get used to it—everyone does it. But that is far from the truth. Ryan’s death has shaken us to the core. We will sing again—soon—but it will never really be the same.
Bless you, dear Ryan. You have taught us all, once again, what it is to selflessly serve our fellow man. May we always remember your example and be a sister to someone who needs that lift or that kick in the butt—all in your memory. Sisters (and Brothers) forever.
The song, “Everything Possible,” reminds us all: “The only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.” Ryan left love all over the place with his words and his deeds. We will miss him.
Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.