How can the daughter of a gay father move past secrets and isolation?

Q:

I stumbled on your website out of of desperation. I’m 28 years old. I found out my father was gay when I was 13, but I had to keep it a secret for nearly ten years, because my father said he wasn’t ready to tell my younger brother — or anyone else for that matter.

I was made to accept my family’s situation very quietly and had no one to talk to as it was “a secret.” I love my father and thought we had a good relationship, but lately I feel so angry. Or maybe confused. I fear that this confusion is coloring my own relationships (I’m straight, and tend to go from one bad relationship to the next). I’ve never actually spoken with anyone who has a gay parent before and think that this might help me. Do you know of any chat rooms you’d recommend?

–K.

A:

Listen up, parents. See how unfair it is to drag your children into the closet with you? See how they grow up having to sort through warped ideas about honesty, authenticity and successful relationships? DO NOT DO THIS TO YOUR CHILDREN. Spare me the “kids are resilient” blow-off speech I hear way too often from parents who expect their children to keep their secret. This “kid” is 28 and still rightfully angry and confused.

K, my heart goes out to you. Your father selfishly put you in a terrible position that compromised your right to open and supportive relationships with anyone and everyone. I can’t excuse his choices, but one time a son of a closeted gay dad told me he had more compassion for his father’s choices by realizing that, “People who are scared often act in selfish ways.”

It was wrong for your father to expect you to keep his secret, especially from your own brother. I hope you can find some comfort in the suggestion that your father acted out of fear, oblivious to the impact his fear had on you.

Kids of LGBT parents need to be able to talk about it, share with other people who know where they are coming from, and above all, not have to carry the burden of their parents’ shame. I recommend connecting with COLAGE. There is a listserve (not a chat room) for kids of LGBT parents, ages 22 and older. This list is closed to adult children only, so it is safe space for you to share your experiences with other people from similar situations.

In addition to COLAGE, I also recommend counseling. Secrets are toxic. This toxicity was always present in your life as you developed from teenager to adult, distorting your views of what relationships are worthy of your pursuit. Obviously you can’t go back and “fix” your family history. But you are a grown-up now and you have the opportunity to figure out your own criteria for authentic relationships. A counselor can help you sort through this and help you identify and stop the patterns that keep you in your cycle of relationships that are bad for you.

5 thoughts on “How can the daughter of a gay father move past secrets and isolation?”

  1. K –

    Totally understand how you feel. My dad came out when I was 11, and while a few members of the extended family knew, NOBODY would talk about it. My brother (then 5 years old) was deemed “too young” to handle the news, and so he did not find out until years later. My mom went off of the deep edge for a while. I was totally alone.

    I agree whole-heartily that secrets are toxic. Talk to a counselor, and talk to your dad. Explain to him how much you love him and that you understand he was just trying to protect you, but also how angry and hurt you are. It really helped me when I finally had a long heart-to-heart with my dad. I have also had several long talks with my brother as soon as he found out.

    As to dating, I too kept finding myself in romantic muddles and not understanding why. I found Abigail’s book to be very insightful on that subject – even though I am straight, growing up the way I did I just didn’t have the same perceptions of male and female gender roles that my boyfriends possessed. That didn’t solve everything, of course, but it did explain a lot. It helped me to be more self-aware and to figure out what I want in a man, and thus avoid some of the more doomed relationships.

    Finally, remember that you are not alone!! We queer spawn/fairy children are few and far between, but we are here. A good support network is key. For example, I purposefully moved to an area with a thriving gay/lesbian/trans-gender community living shoulder-top-shoulder with an open-minded straight community. It has made all of the difference in the world, because I feel safe and can talk freely about my family. If I can find such a community, you can too.

  2. Oh K my heart wraps around you on this one. I just outed myself to both my kids simultaneously, ages 10 & 12. There is no way on God’s green earth that I would have suffered giving a “secret” to the older one and leaving the younger grasping at straws in the dark. I had no support for this. My bi friends and the majority of my straight friends & even my gf thought it was psychologically tricky to tell them. Nope. It was the most liberating and straight forward thing I ever did.

    Shame is like some acid that drips on the foundation of the house. the truth is like a power wash. find the heart to forgive your Dad his shame.

  3. K, my heart is with you. Your story resonates with me–in my case it wasn’t that my dad was gay (he’s hetero and was married to my mother at the time), but that he was having an affair with another woman. He refused to see (and made it very difficult for me to see) how impossible a position this put me in vis-a-vis my mother.

    He has no right to ask you to keep his secret. You have no obligation to keep it. I hope COLAGE and other support groups can help you.

  4. K, this helped me soooo much. I am a mother of three children daughter 12, son 9 and son 7… their father and I divorced when I found out he was gay. He does not want to tell the children until he thinks they need to know and he is when he is ready to tell them he will do so ..”It’s not my Position to tell them” I understand him wanting to tell them but I want to be there so can see their reaction and help them. I am tired of secrets and without reading one book or blog up until tonight I instinctively know that everyone’s life will be easier once the truth be told. I know my children have probably figured it out and I know what it is like to be them… but I am an adult. Even though I still have some unresolved issues with everything I think it is so important for us to tell our children before someone else blurts it out to them. They love their father so much… I’m starting to deteriorate from the pit in my stomach of wanting to tell them so it is out and we can discuss everything. I truely believe that their father is afraid to come out of the closet . It is not about him anymore.. actually in my opinion the minute he said yes when I asked him if he was gay it should have been about everyone else in his family. My children need to know.

  5. K –
    I was so touched to read this. I’ve just turned 18 and three years ago stumbled across hundreds of incriminating files on my dad’s computer. My parents have been married 30 years and my mum has no idea whatsoever and would be destroyed by the truth. I didn’t tell anyone apart from my close friends, and everytime I saw my father I filled with anger and venom. My brother and sister (who are in their late twenties) came across it a few years before I did but live across the other side of the country.

    I was an extremely happy straight A student until this point and my rather strict parents punished me for suddenly falling behind at school, and becoming so cold when I was at home. This only drove me to become more angry and depressed, which made my grades drop further. I was going to become a doctor but didn’t get the grades I knew I could have. I have spent the past two years in a catch 22 which is just getting worse and worse and am in an absolute state of desperation.

    About a month ago I broke down and told my dad I knew all about his little secret. He entirely denied it and then went on to tell me how I should be put into an “institution” because I was being ridiculous and hasn’t mentioned it since.

    I have lost all respect for both my parents. When I am with my friends I am loud, happy and the life of the party however at home I can barely speak a sentence to my parents. I am constantly aware of the fact that I have to keep this secret and it is all-consuming.

    I feel assured that there is are people out there who have some idea of the inner torment of keeping a secret.

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