I’m coming out
It became a test of sorts: How would boyfriends react to my dad being gay?
‘I have to tell you something,” I muttered to my boyfriend, who sat across from me in the dining hall of his upstate New York university. I had taken a long bus trip to visit Dave for the weekend, and he was about to return the favor the following week by traveling to my father’s house in suburban Boston, where I lived while attending college. It was the first time he and my dad would meet.
I gazed out the windows at the brilliant fall foliage and took a deep breath. It happened to be “Coming Out Day,” according to signs plastered around campus. Well, I had some coming out of my own to do.
“My dad,” I continued, “um, he lives with another man. He’s gay.”
“Oh.” Dave paused. “OK,” he said, looking relieved. “I thought you were going to break up with me or something.”
In retrospect, my hesitance seems silly, and not just because Dave broke up with me a few months later -- and came out himself not long after that. Today, some 10 million people have at least one gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender parent, according to the advocacy group Colage. Cultural references for this kind of conversation abound: The lead character on the hit TV show Glee has two gay dads, a fact she openly reveals through a family photo taped in her locker.
But back in 1992, I didn’t know anyone else with a gay parent, with the exception of Tracey Ullman’s “Francesca” character on her sketch-comedy show. Francesca, a gawky teenage girl who lives with her father and his partner, takes a straightforward approach to introducing them to dates (“This is my dad. And this is my . . . William”), even if the boys don’t always understand. “I get it,” says one confused suitor.
“You guys live together, right? Like The Odd Couple!”
My boyfriends were a little more savvy. And as time passed, I got more comfortable with coming out to them; one even became my husband. His parents made a touchingly awkward effort to understand my “different” family. My mother-in-law earnestly mentioned her hysterical gay hairdresser at least once per visit and squealed with delight whenever The Birdcage was on TV. My father-in-law, who leaned to the right, rolled his eyes when his wife spoke of her hairdresser, but did his best to accept us. They were genuine in their flustered attempts at embracing what was foreign to them, and I loved them for it.
Still, my marriage to their son didn’t last, and I soon found myself coming out to yet another boyfriend. It was early in our relationship and I wanted Devin to meet my dad, who was visiting from Florida. “I just hope he doesn’t work for the Company,” Devin joked (a reference to Meet the Parents). “No,” I replied. “But he does play for the other team. And he’s my best friend.”
So he met my dad, who invited him to accompany me on my next visit south. Devin doesn’t rave about The Birdcage, but he greets my father and his partner, Frank, with a big hug every time he sees them. He drinks martinis and watches old movies with them. And two years ago, he earned himself a reputation among their circle of friends.
We were at a club in Florida for Frank’s birthday party. A slow Elvis song came over the speakers and Devin took me in his arms. We were surrounded by more waltzing couples -- men and women, women and women, men and men. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around. It was my father’s friend Bob, a small man in his 70s. “May I cut in?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “I’ve been waiting for you to come dance with me.”
“You?” he laughed. “Honey, I want to dance with him.” He pointed at Devin. I shot my boyfriend a look. Are you OK with this?
“See you later,” Devin smiled at me, grabbing the older man’s hand and guiding him across the floor. He looked down at Bob. “Shall I dip you?” he asked.
“I’ve been upstaged,” I told my father as we watched them waltz away. We laughed until we were red, and I rested my head on his shoulder. All around us, couples twirled under the twinkling lights. Francesca would have been proud.
Jessica Cerretani is a freelance writer in Boston who is working on a book of essays by children of gay parents. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.