The Other Side of a Coming Out Conversation with My Dad

Mar 25, 2011 No Comments

If you asked me six months ago, I would never have expected that I would be in the place I am now.  Six months ago, I felt broken and betrayed. Regardless of whether this was fair, it is how I felt. I now feel differently. I want to take you through this process with me by telling you my story of self, regarding an issue close to my heart: gay rights. Last year, my story of self concerning this issue revolved around my friends who came out to me when I was younger, and how this deeply impacted my sense of ally ship.

My story of self is different now. It changed on Father’s Day when I was called home from Berkeley, under the guise of going to dinner in honor of my Dad. Instead, my younger sister and I were called to the kitchen table for a family meeting. After side stepping the exact issue for about ten minutes with stories from the past, I could tell from where the conversation was going and that my father was gay.  So I asked him. He said yes, and I burst into tears.

There I was, on the other side of a “coming out” conversation. It was something that was ultimately familiar in my life, but I was not expecting this conversation. What made it difficult was the fact that my parents had known for most of their 25-year marriage but had remained married. That was what I could not bend my mind around. It is a situation entirely inaccessible and one that I am willing to bet will become historically obsolete. This situation happened within a specific historical context: that my dad came of age before Stonewall, before Will and Grace, and was told, even by counselors here at Cal, to “not be gay.”

After marriage, you would think the next logical step in this situation would be divorce. Although this would manifest itself in my life in very real and physical ways, I craved this “normalcy” because it was socially logical – “Dad’s gay, my parents are divorced.” I could at least explain that to people in a couple of sentences.

After my Dad came out, I did not talk to him for six months. Our relationship had changed. I was angry that my parents had kept this from me for 21 years. I was angry that this meant I was even further away from any sense of normalcy than I had previously had growing up on the fringe of my sister’s anxiety disorder. I was angry that my dad had a boyfriend outside of my parent’s marriage. I was angry for my mom even though she was not angry herself. Lastly, I was ashamed of myself. I never thought I would be THAT person in a coming out conversation, the one that does not want to accept that a loved one is gay.

The reason I was upset is complicated. If I could somehow detach myself from the gay issue I would, but I cannot, which makes what I need to say hard. I by no means have a problem with homosexuality and I loathe the images and words of hate often spewed about the LGBT community. On some level though, I can understand why people get so upset when they find out a family member is gay. I can’t speak for all instances, but I think that sometimes, what is viewed as anger is really fear. Fear that maybe your son or daughter may not have the fullest breadth of opportunities afforded to them in life, which they would as a heterosexual. For me, it turned my world upside down and changed my whole history. I had grown up in a heterosexual nuclear narrative and held my parents marriage as the ideal. Now it was the antithesis of anything I wanted for myself. I felt like marriage and my family was a lie. I wanted my dad, as his counselor told him, to not be gay.

I was in a bitter, angry, and broken place for a long time. I did not have the language or tools to express my alienation. I hated when my friends talked about their families and how excited they were to see their parents. I dreaded seeing mine. I did not want to go home for Thanksgiving and was terrified to spend the four weeks of winter break in a place that did not feel like my home anymore. I took my anger and pain out on those closest me, especially my best friend. The fact that he stuck around while dealing with some hard truths of his own is a testament to his strong heart and the bond we had built in spite of everything.

With the help of some thoughtful and compassionate people in my life, I tried to grasp at tools to help me process this “coming out.” While they were a significant support, what needed to change, was not my parents’ marriage, but how I dealt with and related to their situation.  Furthermore, I needed those six months of shock and grief to get to the place where I am now, which is hard to accept. I know I was processing a lot, but I was not a person I knew.

What pushed me into a better place was the fact that I spent some of my winter break with a friend whose parents have been processing a divorce for the last three years. She was still so bitter, hurt, and angry at her dad, and she was unwilling to change.  I knew that I did not want to be in the same place three years from now. Furthermore, my dad is the reason I am at Cal and going into my final semester here without him in my life just felt wrong- like something I would regret forever. I do not want to have those kinds of regrets.

So, I forgave him for lying and am working on forgiving myself. This story is one that needs to be told because there are not many out there. This is a situation I wish on nobody, but it is my life and I must face it. I am not angry, hurt, or betrayed anymore – mostly just disappointed. Disappointed that we live in a society that told my dad he was not good enough and still tells my dad that today in blatant ways. Disappointed in a President that is a triumph of civil rights himself, but not yet a stanch champion of them.  I am disappointed in myself for rejecting my own father and mother and what they had built for me. Their love is unconditional and I told them mine was not.

What this process taught me is that even those with the best intentions fail you and sometimes that person can be you. I have a stronger and more nuanced connection to the LGBT community and faced difficult truths about my family and myself.  Now, I just hope that my unique story of self can help me reach people, and affect change like the change I had to affect in myself.

* This is published anonymously out of respect for the fact that my Father is not yet out entirely to our home community

Spring 2010

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