It’s hard to explain what it feels like to meet another ‘kid’ for the first time. A sea of uncontrolled questions usually flow out, “Did you know?” “When did your dad come out?” “Did he have boyfriends?” “How about your mom?” The past five years have been filled with these moments. The uncontrollable questions that pour out when I look into the eyes of other people who are, for the first time, un-shelving this side of themselves. When I first met Laura we stood on the street talking for a few hours. The museum was closed, the book reading we both came to attend was long over, but there we were outside of the GLBT history museum on Castro Street in San Francisco asking and answering the uncontrollable questions: “When did your dad come out!?” “What about your mom??” “Did you ever know?”
It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t know these people. I don’t forget the hole or the feeling of being weird or knowing that my family was different. It’s just that there was always this certain part of me that felt shelved, like an outsider. No one on TV had parents who divorced while one of them came out. No one in the news shared this experience and certainly no one (that I knew of) in my life had lived this. I had accepted that this part of me didn’t really have a place, that most people would never truly understand. Instead I chose to concentrate on what I had and remained thankful for the truly wonderful people in my life who were supportive. The ones who listened while I tried (and often cried) looking for the words to explain this part of me.
I think the first person I ever met was at a holiday party in 2011. She said something about being ‘half gay’ and I laughed out loud and exclaimed, ‘ME TOO!’ A slight awkward pause lingered as we sized each other. I had never heard anyone else use that phrase, a phrase which to me helped explain what it felt like to have a gay dad and straight mom. I wondered if it meant the same to her. It always felt like the straight half of me fit in somewhere, it was something people could contextualize and understand. The other half of me existed somewhere else because gay men didn’t marry women. Or have kids. Gay men lived in big cities like San Francisco and New York. They floated down the streets wearing rainbows and tight silver booty shorts. To me they were free in their far away urban settings. When I was growing up being gay wasn’t something to be proud of. I can’t imagine how it felt to grow up when my dad did – when being gay was illegal, immoral, and a classified mental illness.
I don’t remember who admitted what the term ‘half-gay’ meant to them first. Maybe it was me, maybe it was her. It doesn’t matter. After our mutual confession the questions (over)flowed, “What about your siblings?!” (She had none.) “What about your mom and dad?” (They were still best friends.) “Have you met ever met anyone else?!” Our stories were very opposite, and yet I felt this insane connection. I had NEVER met someone else outside of my siblings like me. NO one else had ever understood the gay side of me and the child of divorce part of me. That night I told her I wanted to start a club, a ‘gay club’ for others like us.
When I knew my dad was gay I thought about the other kids. I wondered how many other kids were growing up in families like mine. Families with secrets and dysfunction and no place to talk. I wondered what those kids would grow up to be. Were they mentally stable or did kids like me end up in mental institutions or living on the streets? I wondered if unhappiness was genetic and I promised myself that I would not to end up like my parents. I vowed not to re-create the family pattern I was born into. I promised to live my life as a strong, independent, SINGLE person forever. I hoped somehow this plan would make me normal. Whatever normal is.
A few months after that holiday party I met Casey as I was presenting this project, The Gay Dad Project, at a Pflag meeting in Napa, CA. For months I exchanged emails with the chapter leader and she had mentioned there was a young woman who would ‘really like to meet me.’ No words could have prepared me for how powerful that meeting would be. As I bumbled through a presentation on the project and my life I kept coming back to Casey’s face as she nodded the words, “Me too.” At one point in the presentation Casey’s husband said, “I feel like you are describing my wife’s life.” Again, I could hardly believe what was happening. After the meeting cleared the three of us talked. The same questions … “Did you know?!” “When???” “How!?” and “Me too.”
For me it’s a sense of belonging. A deep, intense sense. I don’t have to try to explain my feelings or my experience, I don’t have to explain myself. (!) These can people simply nod and say, “I know.” or “Me too.” Today I feel more complete as a person, than I did five years ago. I no longer have a deep, dark gaping hole. The phrase, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ feels more applicable to me now than ever before. I have found people who get this side of me. People who finally understand it from the inside and because of them I am able to unpack and process all of those years spent all alone. I am stronger. I have a team of sisters (and brothers) whose bond is unspoken. We know each other’s struggle, even if our stories are drastically different.
If I had to give myself a shape I would say that today I feel circular. I still worry about being misunderstood, I am still working through some of the emotions, but I no longer feel incomplete or divided. My sides two sides connect now because the gap has been bridged. It’s as if all the sides of me now have people who understand. I feel incredibly lucky – lucky not only for the people who share this lived experience with me, but also for the ones who stood by me as I trudged through all those dark years desperately searching and trying to understand. I am starting to feel like I belong somewhere, I think I might finally be finding ‘my place’ in this world. Finally.