Coming out has an impact on everyone around us, and particularly on our children. I asked my daughter to share what it was like for her as a child when I came out. This is what she wrote. I'm sharing this with you on Father's Day.
It was 1992, and I was nine years old the first time I heard the word homosexual. I had no clue what it meant. I remember asking my mom one day what a homosexual was, but I don't remember what her answer was. I also was not aware at that time that my dad was gay. Looking back, and now knowing that my mom was aware he was gay, I can only imagine that she was unprepared to explain the meaning of that to me. Don't misunderstand the situation. She is not at fault for being unprepared. Our whole family was unprepared for what was about to unfold. We lacked the knowledge and tools we needed to get through the next several years, mainly due to the church we were part of and society as a whole.
My parents separated just before I started grade seven. We lived in a small town near Calgary, where everyone knew everyone. Mom owned a small business in town, while dad worked in the city and was on the board of the local chamber of commerce. Pretty much everyone knew our family. You can imagine the amount of chatter when Mom and Dad separated, and Dad came out.
I started grade seven in Calgary and was pretty unsure of myself at that age, as most tweens are. Add to that a new school, making new friends in a big city, and putting together in my head what was happening to my family. At this point, I still didn't know dad was gay.
One day dad took me for coffee at a place called Grabajaba. It was known to be a gay hangout spot. We ordered our drinks and food and sat by the window, watching people come and go. I remember a man sitting at the next table and pointing him out to dad because he had a French manicure, and I was a bit baffled by that. Remember, I was only 13 from a small town and a rather strict church.
My poor dad was about to tell me something that was probably not easy to tell me, and here I was focused on a man with a French manicure that I was slightly jealous of! He finally got my attention back and said, "I have someone I want you to meet."
I got pretty excited and immediately asked if he had a girlfriend! To my surprise, he said, "No, I have a boyfriend and would like to introduce you to him tomorrow." Well, that changed things! I was actually okay with it, and I was excited to meet this guy!
Shortly after that coffee date, we went to dad's new church. He and his partner were in the choir, so I sat by myself in the congregation while they were singing. All of a sudden, I felt a whirlwind of emotions explode inside of me. I could feel the tears coming and didn't want to be seen crying, so I left the service and sat outside, crying until it was done. I was so confused. I was angry. I was sad.
Everything I had known to be right or truthful was turned on its head. The church I and my parents were raised in instilled in us that homosexuality was one of the ultimate sins, at least if you're acting on it. I don't want to go into too much detail about the church from my childhood, but it was literally brainwashing. Aside from its views on sexual orientation, it kept you so extremely sheltered from the "worldly society" you didn't get to have your own values or opinions. You had no space to explore different ideas. Everything was very black and white. I'd compare it to living your whole life with blinders on. There was no room to question anything.
So back to sitting on the step outside my dad's new church. Nothing made sense to me anymore. I didn't want my dad to be hurt or feel bad, so I don't know if I talked to him about how I felt.
I remember Dad taking my brother and me to our old church a few times after he came out. I know he likely didn't want to be there or maybe was trying to navigate whether or not he still wanted to be there, but I do think he took us to try and keep some "normalcy" for our sake. One particular Sunday, I remember them passing around bread and wine, commonly known as communion. It was a small group of about 15-20 people. Normally each person would take their bread and a sip of the communal cup and pass it along. However, this time they skipped my dad! I couldn't believe they skipped him! Once everyone else partook, they gave it to Dad to take his! I'm sure my eyes were popping out of my head, but Dad just put his hand on mine as if to quietly say, "It's okay." Well, it wasn't okay with me.
After the service was over, everyone went around the room shaking hands. None of the kids shook dad's hand. I couldn't believe what was going on. I was only 13, but no amount of blinders or brainwashing could sneak this one past me!
The reason Dad was left till last for bread and wine was a fear of AIDS. Well, he is not HIV positive but imagine how that made him feel. That's proof of what the lack of education or "blinders" can do to a person. None of the kids shook his hand because their parents told them not to before they even got there. That was the world we lived in.
To see your father being treated like a disease is heartbreaking. They gave no thought to the fact they were treating him this way in front of his own children.
On a happier note, I quickly learned having a gay dad was actually pretty awesome. We both loved shopping and decorating. He likes the same music as me… well, for the most part. Having a gay dad honestly isn't much different day today than any other dad. There are still struggles like every kid thinks they know better than their parents, and yes, maybe there were a few more bumps in the road at the beginning when I was still trying to understand everything, but that has nothing to do with my dad being gay. That has everything to do with the stigma around it. It has everything to do with the church we grew up in.
He is who he is, and he's my dad! Nothing can change that. I think we as a society have come a long way since I was 13 and just learning what it meant. I know there is more to be done, but I'm grateful for the progress that has been made.
Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!
Wilbur Turner (he/him), who identifies as gay and queer, lives in Kelowna on the unceded traditional land of the syilx peoples and has contributed on many levels to LGBTQ2S rights, both locally and internationally.