Stephanie Cenedella, Contributor
Born in San Francisco in 1965, I came into this world as my parents where breaking apart, as my father was coming into what felt right – being gay. Within a year they returned to their hometown of Davenport, IA where divorce was imminent. Young, confused, and desperate they had no place to turn. San Francisco was in the midst of coming out but the rest of the world looked upon gay life as taboo, it was absolutely the case in Iowa.
My siblings and I initially lived with my dad; yet within a year my mother pulled herself out of the shock of it all, and began to carve a life for us. I bounced between parent’s lives, spent the following two decades living in a conservative church-going community where gay life was mocked and thought sinful. Around the age of 13 I knew in my heart my father was gay, but didn’t dare breathe a word to anyone for fear of negative fallout. Dad’s longtime roommate was his lover, his partner. I held these secrets, grew knots inside me for several years until a boyfriend on a date confirmed it all true. That was 1982 and I was beyond devistated.
I turned on my father, in my twisted teen way, and rejected him in ways I knew would effectively hurt him.
Somehow I learned to cope, but continued to keep family secrets stuffed deep inside without whispering a word to anyone. Two years into college I found the will to give my father a second chance. Beyond the hurt and confusion there was too much to love and too much to lose.
After college, a marriage and divorce all before 25, I moved to Chicago to start my life in Wrigleyville; the neighborhood on the edge of boys town where I studied gay life and pride like I’d never seen. Outside of this safe haven for men was the ugly shame of the dreaded AIDS virus and the stigma it brought. Then what I feared most happened, my brother shared our Dad was HIV Positive.
Dad was one of the lucky ones who suffered spikes of up and down health scares but responded to a cocktail of drugs that extended his life while he watched many beloved friends die.
In my 30’s I married again and birthed a family. I did so knowing the one I grew out of affected the one I was growing. My mission was to be honest. In early 2000, I saw the world soften, but still rigid on its portrayal of gays. In our home we spoke openly but in public I watched Dad stiffen up, watched as he armored himself for sideway looks of judgment. I couldn’t help but follow his cues; felt it was the honorable thing to do.
Now I’m advocating for a communal conversation, for everyone to get a seat at the table.