When I started doing standup I had not planned on telling any jokes about my father. Prior to that experience I had a long history of being a comedic actress and writer, but I never used my personal life as material. I thought it was exploitive. I’ve never been a fan of reality-based entertainment.
I also worried that people would either not care or they would be offended. I have found that people fell into one category or the other. The former are people who view queer stories as passing trends and are quickly bored. The latter, people who are homophobic or completely out of touch with queer stories.
Also, I hadn’t talked about the fact my dad was gay in a really long time. Once I no longer lived with my dad and his partner, it didn’t come up as much. And I spent most of my twenties involved in a strict Christian church, where I only mentioned it to a few trusted friends.
I spent an entire decade not discussing my dad fully. I had a serious on and off boyfriend that I never told once. And I didn’t tell my husband when I first met him either. I had gotten into the habit of keeping my mouth closed about that part of my life. So when I finally decided to give standup a try, the last thing I thought I would ever talk about to a room full of strangers was my father.
I took a comedy class where we had to get on a small stage and just talk about our day. Earlier, my dad had called me to ask me what my bra size was because there was a sale at Tuesday Morning where he was a store manager. It was funny, not just for obvious reasons, but because I was at work and worried what my coworkers would think if they heard me. I never thought there was a reason to “come out” about my dad, but in that situation, I thought, it would be useful if people knew my dad was gay. It’s still weird, but maybe a little less weird?
When I told that anecdote in class, it was like a new “coming out” for me. One where I realized there was a whole part of my life I kept hidden away out of fear of what other people thought. Fear of hatred, but also fear of trying to make myself out to be different or special.
When our comedy class had a graduation show, I told that story on stage at The Comedy Store to a room full of friends and strangers. People not only laughed, but they clapped. An unusual response for the middle of a set. It made me realize these stories were different. They were special. They were not only about my dad, but who I was because of him. A person I hid away for a long time.
Since then, people rarely know me without knowing about my dad. I have told jokes and stories on stage for the past seven years. And for the past seven years I have had the pleasure of feeling fully known.
Elizabeth Collins was raised in the South by gay men. She now lives in Los Angeles and performs stand-up comedy. You can contact read all of her Gay Dad Project posts here. You can also contact on herwebsiteor follow her on Twitter& her blog.
This month we are sharing moments when we realized how far we’ve come, read more of our ‘healing moments‘ soon.