Closet Case (or how to come out to your dead father)
Listen, Bill, no one should be surprised by this.
Yeah, it took me 32 years to realize I was a homosexual. Yeah, I realize that’s kind of late. And, sure, all things considered, this isn’t that important. The oceans are rising. Everything is on fire. Nazis made a comeback. Your grandchildren that you’ve never met are already feeling it, and their grandchildren better figure out how to find clean water in a pinch.
In the grand scheme of things — it’s not important, Dad, that I figured out that I was gay. But here we are.
To be honest: I never wanted this. I never wanted to come out. Being a straight white guy, as you know, is kind of awesome. No one really fucks with you on the street. When you talk, people are conditioned to listen. You never have to cover your drink.
I never got called faggot in high school (only in my head, to myself). I never got the shit kicked out of me. Everyone (and in retrospect, this is what I was going for) just thought I was a crusty hippie-punk who did everything in his power not to seem attractive to the opposite sex. All the girls I had crushes on, I knew they didn’t like me that way — and that was kind of the point. It took me a long time to realize that I kept falling in love with these women that I don’t want to have sex with. It was easier to put on this front of being rejected than it was to actually pursue an actual relationship with an actual person. My spouse, who is studying to be a therapist, would call this ‘deflecting.’
You died before we could ever really have the talk. You weren’t a stupid man. I think you knew. Your son that had zero interest in the sports you loved so much. Your son who would cry at every movie. Your son who was more interested in getting high and playing guitar than finding a girlfriend. My sister, we all knew, was the son you never had. God knows what the hell I was to you.
Dad, I’ve had sex with five biological women. If I was a better person I would find them and apologize, but I know I never will. In the same way that alcoholics (and you can relate here, Bill, so pay attention) contact the people that they wronged, maybe I should find them and explain. The confusion. The panic. Those flaccid moments — this doesn’t usually happen! — where, try as I might, I could not get anything to work. It’s a Specific Emotion for me, a cocktail of panic, shame, and a pathological need not to inconvenience or embarrass other people.
Have you ever seen a Gay Male Bottom, father, try to have sex with a straight college girl? Trust me on this: it’s kind of hilarious. My spouse, who is studying to be a therapist, would call this ‘using humor to block embarrassing memories.’
There are gay men that are proud of who they are. They should be. I grew up envious that they could be who they were without having that block, that voice inside that told them to be silent and shut the fuck up. Lately, I’ve been blaming the old neighborhood outside of Philadelphia. Maybe that’s the reason: being surrounded by affable drunk Catholics who casually made fun of the gay men that were barely on television in the ’90s. The Guy Talk during games in the backyard. Don’t be so gay, you limp-wrist queer, get the ball.
The proud gay men deserve their parade. The proud gay men deserve marriage. The cowardly of us though, who are too afraid of even admitting to themselves what they really are…what do we deserve? What do I deserve?
Maybe I could blame Mom, who caught me with a neighborhood boy when I was seven, who told me that it would be a hard life if I was a gay, that there would be pain and struggle. Maybe I internalized this. But I can’t blame her. Who would want their son to be gay in America?
Maybe I could blame my uncle, the one who was addicted to prescription medication, the one who my stepfather called a faggot outside of the restaurant we would go to, as an extended family, once a month. Maybe that’s it. Seeing him, rightfully — because of the general awfulness, not the homosexuality or the addiction — get ostracized. Maybe I didn’t want anyone to equate me with him. I didn’t want Mom to hate me the way she hated her brother.
Maybe I could blame West Chester. Maybe, after getting blackout drunk and going down on a man six years older than me, I could have felt some relief in knowing, in that visceral sense that a cock in the mouth will give you (don’t get squeamish on me, Bill), that I was gay. Sure, it was technically statutory rape and sure he kept pouring me drinks and sure his car was small, but hey, I was flexible back then. The next day all I could feel was that Specific Emotion. None of my friends were gay, no one else admitted to it, just the kids that couldn’t help it. The ones we all laughed at.
I spent the night at my best friend’s house and I didn’t want him to know. But he knew.
You would’ve been okay with it, eventually. This might be something I just need to believe about you.
Had you lived, and I had gotten to know you, maybe I would’ve known for certain what kind of a drunk you were: abusive or negligent. Instead, I watched you get wasted at The Ground Round and yell I am Captain Buzz on the Buzztrain! before making my sister steal a pint glass from the bar. You, the man with 40 best friends, the Best Uncle and the Favorite Son, it’s hard to know what you would have thought about me and my life. Living here in the Pacific Northwest, getting as far from my past as I could physically go.
Let me list some regrets, Dad. I should’ve come out in high school so I could’ve learned what the rest of this community knew. I should’ve built solidarity. I should’ve at least come out in college when I fell in love with more than one man. I should’ve had sex when I studied abroad, no one knew who I was after all, instead of drinking in pubs, alone, praying for a man to hit on me.
Let me tell you about the thing I have never regretted.
This is how I met my wife: after college, 22, I got a job in a bookstore and started dating my manager. Within a year we were living together and within two years I sold a lot of my stuff and moved to Pittsburgh. True love, Dad, is moving to Pittsburgh right in the middle of your 20s. There was something special about her though, Bill, something that hooked me right away. She felt different than any other women I had ever been with — different than the bisexual local I lost my virginity to; different than the other bisexual from the Caribbean I was obsessed over. I fell in love with my wife for a very simple reason: she’s a man.
This is how I met my husband: we held each other as we fell into a Beautiful Nightmare together. He came out as trans six months ago and all of a sudden we have had to explain ourselves (or at least felt the need to explain ourselves) to family, friends, and the collective ghosts that haunt us (hi Bill). And now, here we are — he’s a little more private than I am so it’s been a little strange — with a ‘40s-style prison spotlight on our personal life like this. Before it was an Easy Lie, two straight people. Now though? What are we?
Two gay men. It’s very easy. Just two gay men, Dad. My spouse, who is studying to be a therapist, would call this ‘telling the truth.’
You’ll be happy to know, Bill, that I’m still madly in love. We’ve been together for a decade and we’ve been married for six years. It took your previous father-in-law dying and me spending my inheritance to move across the country, it took maxing out a credit card for my Year of Therapy, and it took realizing that I would probably offend those affable drunk Catholics who made up the background noise of my upbringing. It took me being 32 and not giving a fuck what anybody thinks anymore.
I finally got here though. I like to think you would be proud.