I started writing my family stories with intension around 2010. The contents were grounded in what I kept secret for most of my life: my dad was gay.
My kids were rounding out elementary school and I was having a hard time weaving my dad into my family’s social world. It became tricky as my kids became more aware of the discriminatory climate of their own social world. My daughter came home disheartened with stories of homophobic slurs on the playground and my son was rattled after a boy at camp warned that if you had a gay relative you had to be careful because they might rape you.
I’ve lived a lifetime dodging and hiding conversations about my father. It has been exhausting to cover up and have spent far too long doing so.
When I began to write it was cathartic to peel back the confusion, hurt and angst of all that comes with being a gay man’s daughter. I initially thought I would speak up and become more open for my children. I wanted to make a change for them, so they could better navigate what it was to have a gay grandfather. After long stretches of writing I realized I was doing it for me too. It was I who grew up when there weren’t open forums or platforms to discuss my gay father, because psychologists in the 70’s and 80’s recommended my mother not discuss my fathers sexuality with me and my siblings…because it would be too hard on us.
Much has changed in my lifetime and I am overwhelmed by how far we have come regarding LGBT rights. It is true many are comfortable but there still remains the need for a conversation. People still need to hear: words can hurt and common decency is important. There is still the need to hear the struggles of what it is like to stand up for yourself in your own family, that gay life is a necessity different than conventional wisdom that says it is a choice.
I long struggled with a dad who was different than mainstream peers fathers or religious ones that thought being gay was a sin, in the Midwest where I was raised. It took me a long time to unravel hurts, feeling an outsider because my dad was gay. Our society needs to hear stories like mine, a gay man’s daughter who feared friends and co-workers wouldn’t except a dad she loved simply because he was gay. Over the years I have shed a river of tears trying to map why my father was gay, sure he had chosen a gay lifestyle over my family and me. This mindset came from the homophobic and intolerant world I lived in in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
And then there is the HIV/AIDS component.
I lived through the shame of what this meant, how it was the ultimate gay shame. HIV/AIDS secretly shook me to my core when it was on my familys doorstep and in our home. I was terrified this would label my family therefore I used the movie Philadelphia to educate myself on what might happen to my father. By the films end I was devastated, couldn’t contain my tears and couldn’t leave my seat until everyone had left the theater.
Today much of our youth can’t grasp the struggle that came with the deadly virus. They don’t know of the epic loss or that it still lives and breathes today because there is no cure. The numbers of infected are astounding: 33 million worldwide, 1.2 million in the US, and 1 in 7 do not know they are infected. Shame piles onto shame and discrimination is often delivered as result. The conversation must continue to help society understand so many are still at risk.
Our world has come a long way with tolerance but the political landscape shows that loving whomever one wants can still be a gamble. We may not agree with one another but we are all connected. I worried for way too long about what people would say or do to my family should they find out my father was gay. This past summer I was devastated by the mass shooting in Miami. My father could have been in that club or in any number of situations similar to that. The LGBT community is comprised of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandmas, and grandpas. They have family members that hurt when you hurt them.
I tell my family stories because for decades it was hard for me to swallow the hate, and because the pulse of those memories still live inside me. I want to march for those who have been brave enough come out of the closet and those who have yet too. I do this because our countries national emblem, E Pluribus Unum, is defined as: Out of many we are one.
No one should feel like a second-class citizen and everyone deserves a seat at the table — this why I write, share, and speak up.
Read all of our posts for the month of February on the topic writing here.