Long Without a Tribe

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There must be others like me. Where are they?

It took me more than three decades to even ask this question.

A few years after my dad came out to me, 1977

The journey began on Father’s Day, 1975, when I asked my dad if had ever been unfaithful to Mom. He’d always been a shameless flirter.

I was 24.

He stunned me by answering a different question, one I’d never have thought to ask. Yes, he was unfaithful. He was gay, too.

Instead of getting counseling, or looking for others in my situation, I’d join my father in his emotional closet for the next 36 years.

Of the 76 million children born during the post-WWII Baby Boom, I am one of perhaps hundreds of thousands of children born to gay soldiers returning home from the war to their straight wives, nine-to-five jobs, and an average of 2.5 children.

Yet it didn’t occur to me that my family wasn’t alone in our dilemma, or that I might be a member of some tribe.

In the gay half of my father’s double life, which he led during his 64-year marriage to my mother, he found his tribe. Like him, many of the men lived in the shadows. Many were married to women. Most connections were one night stands. Some remained friends.

One man my father loved. He was the only one I met.

Mom discovered Dad’s sexuality in 1957. At the time, she was 33 and the mother of four children aged 3-8. I’m the secondborn.

The only person she ever told was her priest. He assured her it was a passing phase, and that she just needed to concentrate harder on her marriage.

“Didn’t you evenattemptto talk to your girlfriends when you found out, Mom?

I could hear the condescension in my voice.

“Oh, no, honey,” she said, sharply. “I’d have been too embarrassed.”

I wasn’t self-aware enough at the time to see that I might well have pointed my finger at myself. We’d both done the same thing. We’d both secreted Dad’s secret once we knew it, Mom for the rest of her life.

It was only while drafting my memoir in my early 60s that I began to ask the larger question.

Am I really all alone in this?

I started my search in 2011 at the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center located inside the San Francisco Library. I asked the assistant for directions.

I’m looking for memoirs written by children of closeted gay parents. Can you point me to the shelf?”

He shot me a blank look.

“Why don’t you browse while I check my computer,” he said.

It seemed the prospects were bleak. He’d find only one, the graphic memoir,Fun Home,now an award-winning musical. As a child, author Alison Bechdel long suspected her father was gay, though he never came out to her.

Two years later, I foundFairyland, though author Alysia Abbott‘s father lived an openly gay life from the time she was two.

I attended a book reading at the GLBT Center in San Francisco. Victoria Loustalot read passages from her book, This is How You Say Goodbye. Her formerly closeted dad died of AIDS when she was only eleven.

I still haven’t found another book written by a Baby Boomer that closely mirrors my family.

After the book reading, though, I found Amie Shea, founder of The Gay Dad Project. She was my first tribe member. Though our stories aren’t identical, we’re both half-gay, as she says, the offspring of a gay father in a straight marriage.

Our small but growing tribe now numbers half a dozen. We meet a few times a year in my San Francisco home.

Soon after finding my tribe, 2011

We use air quotes and we giggle, at first nervously so, at references to “the roommate” or “the friend” or “the uncle,” those not-quite-truthful phrases we all heard growing up.

Our shared dialect and easy, open repartee comforts us all.

Our collective healing is furthered by engaging in public LGBT activism in ways our closeted parents could not.

We share a common dream, too.

We dream of the day when no child will grow up speaking our dialect, the dialect of the closet.


Read more in Laura HallMy Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming soon to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.

Read more on our December topic ofFinding Community.

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