I had this sense that we were all in it together: Me (the product of a purposeful one night stand by an out lesbian), my A.I.-produced younger brother, and all the kids whose parents came out when they were 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, whatever.
It didn’t matter how we got there. It was Us against the Fundies, I thought. Family vs. Family Values. Maybe I had some sense that the older you are when your gay parent comes out the harder it is likely to be for you. I will admit to that. But it was only recently that I saw the clear illustration of the difference between children whose parents were out vs. those who are closeted. The longer one waits, the worse it is. Come out, come out, wherever you are. Because, if we as a society are really working in the interest of the children involved there is plenty of evidence to support being proud and happy,and children whose parents hide their identity for years end up feeling betrayed and disappointed.
Cut to me being on this listserve for adult children of gay parents, sponsored by a favorite non-profit of mine, COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everwhere). So far, I’d kept a place on the sidelines of the virtual exchange. It seemed to function primarily as a vehicle for giving and receiving support, a place to seek advice and safely vent while finding common ground. Since, even there, my situation was unique, I’d kept quiet. I’m 30 and was raised by a group of lesbians in San Francisco. My parents were all out before I was born and I’ve been blessed to have as mothers four of the most amazing women on earth. Consequently, I had never dealt with my parents coming out or any of the turmoil that comes with it.
When I finally felt the need to chime in, I wanted to make sure that it didn’t come off like I was bragging, as though to say, well, my family’s so much better… but to address some of what I’d been hearing in the stories being shared. There seemed to be a common narrative of angst over the destruction that their parent’s coming out wrought on their “normal” family. I get that- though I have no experience as such, I can see how having your reality turned upside down would be a frightening and disappointing experience. In particular, one woman’s version of events — in which multiple disclosures from her father revealed a positive HIV status and a very unhealthy lifestyle as well as a new orientation — must have been hard to accept.
Still, I wanted to put out there that these are the dividends of shame and secrecy and ultimately we need to blame our bigoted society, not our parents. If it were not for a culture that is so homophobic that people feel the need to create whole lives to hide their true identities, they’d not be put in these situations. People who repress their real nature for years often have serious issues like addiction, and internalized homophobia -which you’d expect must be a factor in staying closeted for that long and probably complicates their sense of self worth. I know many people have succumbed to self-destructive behavior for similar reasons. I hoped these adult children might find a measure of compassion for parents by looking at it through this lens.
So I wrote a letter to the listserve saying as much. To the lady who had complained that her relationship with her dad had changed for the worse. I basically said: Can we hold them accountable for their behavior- expect them not to be assholes or abandon relationships/parental duties? Of course! To the person whose dad was dating someone her age, I rhetorically suggested, is it generally embarrassing when parents date radically younger people? Definitely! Just as much for the kid whose newly divorced dad shows up with a bright red Porsche and a college coed in the passenger seat. But also added that it could partly be that the years when he might have otherwise enjoyed the company of hot young beefcake, more appropriately perhaps (although it is partially ageism that leads us to feel this way), he was full of guilt, shame, and fear, and was keeping his identity a secret. Now he might just be trying to make up for lost time, make up for all the years when he had to pretend to be someone else. The same way people who are denied a childhood for some reason often try to make up for it as adults, with occasionally bizarre and inappropriate results.
Imagine denying who you are for decades at a time –I challenged my peers. I am by no means saying anyone doesn’t have a right to their feelings, including anger, but I caution placing blame on the heads of those who have been victims of cultural oppression. If you are angry that they were dishonest, think about why they felt the need to keep it a secret. What was at stake for them? Their jobs, friends, standing in the community? Your love, potentially? It is hugely scary to come out, especially that late in life when the chance to build an alternative life might have passed them by, how unhappy must they have been, for years, to make them brave enough to do so now?
In my life shame and secrecy have played no part and I have huge gratitude for that. When we give up our secrets and hatred as a society no other children will be put in the position they have been. This is my wish for the future that people won’t have to hide their true selves and consequently won’t have to betray those closest to them when they can no longer repress themselves. But to fight against our homophobic culture we must start by forgiving those who have been victims of it. Getting perspective and cultivating compassion is a first step.
What I was trying to say was- If y’all can accept your gay parents and create a new, more inclusive “normal”, that will be part of building a more just world. One where your situations will not repeat themselves.
I felt like they should know.
By: Selina Boquet
One bright, peaceful day, I was effortlessly frolicking through a field of daisies, the wind in my hair, petals at my fingertips, the sun drenching my upturned face when suddenly, I heard a strange sound. It was a rhythm, so faint I had to stop and listen. It was getting louder. It sounded so strange and out of place…my cell phone. Someone was calling.
I sat up out of my lovely dream with a jolt, gasping for air and blindly answering my phone. Before I could even say hello, reality instantly hit my body. Like watching a movie in fast forward mode, flashes of San Francisco, the road trip and all of the walking we had done that weekend was summed up in one tired, mumbled word, as I put the phone up to my ear. Ouch.
“Hello?” I managed to utter, still trying to separate dream from reality.
I’m not sure how I got that nickname from my Dad. It used to drive me crazy, but now it’s endearing. Some things become more precious to you as you grow up. At least it’s better than the nickname they had tried to place on me. I had one little potty accident at the store when I was about six years old and they started calling me “Li li a la tee tee”. I turned into a little green hulk whenever they called me by that name.
“Hey, I’m flying in on Southwuhwuh on flight woahwoahwaoh. Do you have a pen?” English was not quite making sense yet at this point. Then, a faint knocking at the door. Am I being woken up from another dream?
“Dad, hold on, I think someone’s knocking at my door.” I stumbled to the door and winced at the bright sun from the outside world.
Surprise. The kids were home early.
“Mommy!” I was bombarded with hugs as a somber-faced baby daddy looked on.
“Can we talk?” was his profound request.
Really?! Right now? Why NOW?! Can’t you see that I just woke up? Besides, I hate that question at any time! Difficult and awkward conversations always follow.
“What? What do you want to talk about?” was my confused reply as I tried to keep my composure. With one hand, I unsuccessfully attempted to tame my sleep-induced Mohawk and with the other hand, I rubbed my eyes to see if I was hearing correctly. My hair sprang back into its upright position as he stated,“I want to apologize.”
Great. Gay Boy wants to talk about his feelings. Can’t close the door in his face after those words. Besides, this might be interesting. He might have had a change of heart.
Sigh. “Come in.”
I finished grabbing my dad’s flight information for his nearing visit, and sat down to talk with Omar. He explained that he had never had a chance to apologize for all of the pain he had caused me in our marriage and in the break up. He said that he’s not trying to get me back; he just wanted to know if I had forgiven him. I replied that I had forgiven him for the past, yet the present was still very unpleasant, especially with the way that he hated me and all gay people. When he replied with his usual response that he doesn’t hate me, he just doesn’t agree with being gay, I decided it was a good time to break the more than obvious news to him.
“Omar, you are gay.”
“I’m WHAT? Now how do you figure that? How do you know?”
“Ummm…the biggest clue would be the guys you slept with before and during our marriage. Besides that, you can see it in the way you walk, talk, and dress. You are gay. There’s nothing to be ashamed of and the sooner you can accept that the happier you will be.”
“Wow, I’ve never had this conversation with someone before! I’m not gay! I’m attracted to women and if I was attracted to men, I would fight it with everything I have.”
“I know, and that is exactly what you are doing.” I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation at this moment. I wished my head was clearer. Coffee. I needed coffee. Instead, I talked on. I went into a lecture on authenticity, acceptance, and the joy of living in the truth and loving yourself for who you are. When I finished my speech, I observed his confused expression.
“I hear what you’re saying but I’m having a difficult time following you,” was his earnest reply. Perhaps it was a combination of my sleepiness and his denial that was making my communication unclear.
“What I’m trying to say is, Omar, you’re gay.” We both laughed at my blunt repetition. I was surprised by his relaxed mood. Maybe he is changing. Maybe there is hope. Being able to sit down and have a civil conversation was a big transformation from the beginning days of our break up three years ago.
Back then, our interactions consisted of him peering at me from behind bushes, and driving slowly by my house late at night. Once he even broke into my house to steal a picture of me with my girlfriend at the time and threatened to send it to all of the parents of my students. Considering the fact that most all of our interactions over the last three years had been regulated by a judge, this simple, relaxed conversation was truly a break-through. I know that he’ll come out of the closet soon and I choose to see his improved attitude as a step in this direction. We’ll just wait and see if he remains this friendly when he finds out that I’m sending the state after him for the child support he owes! Until then, I’ll just enjoy the increased level of peace in our required current interactions. Sometimes the universe throws us the smallest of miracles at the most unexpected of times.