I hadn’t planned on it. I thought it would likely be some time before I came out to my 16-year-old daughter, whom I’ll call Katie. Her older brother and sister knew, but with Katie, it was different. She is still in high school, for one thing; for another, my relationship with her had been strained for some time. She is the kind of child who tends to keep everything inside instead of talking about it, and I definitely felt that she had some baggage with my name on it. Lastly, Katie has made certain comments that made me think that she, of all our older children, would be the least accepting of my coming out as a gay man.
So, I hadn’t planned on it. But some things happened over this past weekend that caused renewed strains in my relationship with my wife. (Readers of this blog will recall that we are in the process of separating and plan to eventually divorce; I am currently sleeping in a spare bedroom in the basement and have been for over two months.) Because of this renewed tension, I decided the time had come to talk to my daughter about the state of our marriage. She is the oldest of our children still at home, and I knew that she would have to be blind not to see the handwriting on the wall. She deserved to know the truth – at least about our marriage, if not about me.
And so, I told Katie that my wife and I are effectively separated, that we plan to physically separate in a few months, and that our intention is to eventually divorce. As expected, my daughter started to cry, and though I had expected it, this didn’t make it any easier to deal with. I knew the situation between my wife and me had been weighing on her; it couldn’t help but have. She said she wasn’t surprised, but of course, hearing the “D” word is traumatic for a child, no matter their age or how much they think they already know.
Based partly on my own experience as someone whose parents split when I was a teenager, I knew that all sorts of things were likely running through her mind. I tried to address some of the more obvious ones. I told her things would be better in the long run; different, but better. There were more tears. I told her that her mother and I had considered separating 15 years ago, but had managed to keep things together. But we had now reached the end of our road; we simply couldn’t try any more.
I tried to elicit some sort of feedback from Katie so that I could gauge how she was doing. I told her she must not worry, that she must come to me with any questions or thoughts or concerns that she might have. But I felt a resistance, her holding back. I probed a little more and she commented on how much I seem to have changed in the past months. I tried to address this without going into the whole “gay” issue, but I knew that things weren’t right.
In the end, I took my cue from her comment about me changing, as well as a couple other things she had said and decided, reluctantly, to come out to her. As it happened, this made all the difference. At first, there was a look of shock on her face, but this look quickly subsided and was replaced by one of gradually dawning comprehension. I went back to the beginning, telling her how I have known since I was a boy that I am gay, explaining how desperately I had tried (successfully) to keep that fact hidden all through my teen years and beyond, telling her how joining the church seemed to me at the time a way in which to leave all that behind me. I recounted how experiences on my mission had shown me that I hadn’t left it all behind, that it was still very much a part of me. I explained how I struggled before marriage, how I had told her mother about my same-sex attraction and that we had decided to go ahead and get married. I discussed what the Church used to teach back then about homosexuality and how it counseled marriage, assuring men that homosexual feelings would eventually go away.
But, of course, they didn’t go away. I talked about how I had committed myself heart and soul to my marriage, how I had packed away huge parts of my Self when I got married. I said that, looking back on it now, I could see how the repression of my true self had led to much unhappiness that affected not only me but also my wife and my children, including her.
Eventually, I came to President Packer’s talk and the effect it had had on me and how it had led me to once and for all reject all the self-loathing to which I had subjected myself for decades. I tried to impress upon Katie, above all else, that being gay is not a choice; rather, it is something one is born to or born with, and it cannot be altered or wished or prayed away. It just is.
As I talked to her, Katie grew calmer. She said at one point that this "explained some things," though I left that one lie and didn’t ask her to elaborate; but whatever it was, I could see that it was a good thing, as Katie’s demeanor continued to grow calmer and more accepting.
I now come to the main reason why I decided to share this experience. At this point in the conversation, I told Katie how much I was looking forward to her getting to know the real me, rather than the cardboard cutout that had been unhappily and desperately trying to fulfill his role for years as the model Mormon (heterosexual) father. I talked about how incredibly creative, artistic and talented Katie is and how I’d like to think that she inherited at least some of that from me; but she had never been able to see this side of me growing up.
Now, I told her, I looked forward to a real relationship with her, an authentic relationship that is based purely on who I am as her father and who she is as my daughter. No outside expectations, constructs, “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts.” Just her and me. Daughter and (real) father.
And this is the reason I have shared this: because coming out has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me and for those whom I love – to live life authentically (I use this word deliberately, even though some feel it is overused), to have real relationships that are open, with huge swaths of me not hidden away. This is the recurring theme of experience after experience for me since coming out: to be whole, to be real, to be me.
It was at about this point that Katie started to cry (again) and threw her arms around me and said in my ear, “I’m sorry I’ve rejected you all these years. I love you! You’ll always be my dad!” She drew away from me and I looked deep into her eyes and spoke directly to the person behind those eyes and said, simply, “I love you.” It was probably the most authentic moment ever shared between us, one that I hope will be only the first of many. For this, I am grateful.