What HBO’s GIRLS Got Right About Having a Parent Come Out Later in Life
When Hannah’s father, Tad, said to his wife, “I’ve been thinking lately that I’m… gay,” I wanted to turn the TV off and never watch Girls ever again. A sense of fear came over me that I assume most people get when TV writers get the privilege of telling your story, their way. My father came out when I was eleven years old, and I have not seen any accurate portrayals of that experience from the child’s point of view in the last twenty years of television.
But I continued to watch as Tad confirmed, “I don’t think — I am.” I was pleasantly surprised at how the topic was handled. Here are the five things Girls got right about what it is like to have a parent come out after being in a straight marriage.
1. Telling the story from Hannah’s point of view.
Except for a few episodes of Transparent, there are no characters on TV who have had the opportunity to show what it is like to the be the child of an LGBTQ parent, specifically one that comes out later in life. In our culture, we focus on the parent and at times the straight spouse, but never the children. The children are a delicate matter, because no one wants to suggest that in any way being an LGBTQ parent has a negative impact on their offspring. For this reason, parents often dominate the narrative on LGBTQ parenting. But Girls correctly shows that just because you have issues in relation to your parent’s coming out, it does not mean you are homophobic or making a comment on LGBTQ people’s ability to parent.
2. Hannah does not always take it well.
Hannah is obviously pro-gay rights. Her best friend, Elijah, is gay. But it is a different story when it is your parent and you are finding this information out well into your twenties. Everything Hannah knew about her parents and their relationship is called into question. There are moments where she tries to help her dad with his new life, calling in Elijah to train her dad on how to dress and fit in with gay culture. But at the same time, she is not ready to accept this as the new normal. It takes time to process. Coming out of the closet is not always a shining victory the moment your foot exits the door, not for you or your family. And that’s okay.
3. Hannah has a hard time getting empathy from other people.
There is a moment in the episode, “Daddy Issues”, where Hannah confides in her friend Cleo about how she has been having a difficult week after learning her father is gay. Cleo’s response is, “So your dad is gay. So what? My friend Thomas has, like, four dads, so you need to check your homophobia.” Cleo is a teenager, but still, when I saw that response it resonated with me. Often times, people have little empathy because for them, queer stories are trends. And they got over the “gay issue” many years ago when they were so addicted to Will & Grace. But for those of us who are actually living queer stories it is a different experience. Especially when a parent comes out later. There are feelings of betrayal, shame and being deceived by your parents and life itself.
4. Hannah questions her own sexuality.
In the episode, “Queen for Two Days”, Hannah goes down on a female yoga instructor at a retreat she attends with her mom. Hannah cannot finish the act, supposedly because the sauna is too hot. While they do not come out and say it, I find it precarious that the one episode where Hannah is seen with a woman, is right after her father has just come out as gay. Having a parent come out later, puts into question our own sexuality and how fluid or permanent it really is. How can my parents be married for so long and then one day…? How do you actually know if you are gay or straight? Could I just wakeup one morning gay? Well, Hannah tried it and realized it’s not that simple for everyone. It is not a choice.
5. Hannah blames her mom for ruining her idea of a normal family.
In the finale, Hannah tells her mom because she married a gay man, Hannah has no idea of what it is like to be in a “normal” family. There are two things here, the tendency to blame the straight parent for not figuring it out sooner and feeling as if not have two heterosexual parents hinders our own inability to create a “normal” family. Our society has drilled it into our brains that every family needs a mom and a dad. And that we learn everything from them and their romantic relationship to each other. So what if your dad has been gay the entire time? For a child who has a parent come out later in life, this is a major question. What does this mean for me and my ability to be in romantic relationships with the opposite sex? Can I create a “normal” family? While, to those on the outside who want to champion gay rights and families, this should be obvious, it is a different story when it is your life, your “creation” story.
I cannot tell you how relieved I have been over and over again to watch Girls get it right. To have the courage to say, it is not easy to have a parent come out later in life. It does not make you homophobic. It makes you human. I am proud of my father and glad he is living his best life. In the end it has been better for all of us. But of course, time and distance has given me the ability to see that and say it without hesitation.