Imagine thinking that all it takes to eradicate love is to say, ‘I’m gay.’

Imagine thinking that all it takes to eradicate love is to say, ‘I’m gay.’
It is very difficult to accurately describe the terror, trepidation and insecurity that accompanies a “coming out” moment. Especially if that “moment” is to a parent. The only way I can describe it is: Imagine all the things your parents love about you, all the things they admire and all the things they are proud of when they talk about you to their friends.

Me and dad, many years ago.
Me and dad, circa 1973.

And imagine feeling that there are two words you might say that could destroy all of that.

Two words that could ruin a history of “trying to do good,” a lifetime of “trying to be a good guy” and a childhood filled with “trying to gain mom’s and dad’s approval.” Imagine thinking that all it takes to eradicate love is to say, “I’m gay.”

That’s how I felt.

I came out of the closet to my father, who is a former marine, 22 years ago this month. And what is surprising to me, when I read this letter more than two decades later, is that I remember the feelings and the fear almost like it was yesterday.

I have now reached the age that I have been out of the closet longer than I was in. But the fear that accompanies coming out to parents often is built up over years and years. It is incredibly intense. It is insidious and ferocious and creeps into every crack and crevice of your being.

And this is how it went…

I was basically a decent guy. Oh sure, I was most likely a bit more self-absorbed and selfish than I’d like to remember, more ambitious than is healthy and more desperate for approval than is realistic. But that probably just made me a typical 21 year old. The kind of 21 year old my parents, when it came to the good stuff, probably said, “Jack is a good kid,” and when it came to the not-so-good stuff, I was probably quietly excused with, “Oh well, that’s just Jack.”

I had just finished college and was about to start law school. I was, for the most part, someone my parents could be proud of. And yet, when I handed this letter to my father, folded up and sealed in an envelope, I was shaking and tears were creeping down my cheeks. Tears I had promised myself I wouldn’t allow.

All I could think was, “Will everything else about me that my dad is grateful for suddenly be irrelevant once he knows I’m gay?” I told my father to read the letter and said that I would come back in an hour. And without a word, I left him standing in the entryway of the house I grew up in and left. And to this day, I have absolutely no memory of what I did for the next hour.

Dear Dad, continue reading (next page)

September 1, 1992

Dear Dad,

I’ve tried to write this letter so many times over the last six months (in fact this is the third draft of this one). It seems, however, that every time I do, the words just don’t come out or it’s not the right time for me or it’s not the right time for you… I realize that I no longer have a clue as to when the “right” time would be. Actually, I think I’m just waiting for it to be easy and I know that is not going to happen.

What I need to tell you is that I’m gay. I think you may have already guessed. You may have guessed a long time ago. I don’t know. There are tears running down my face as I write. Why? Relief? Excitement? Fear? Probably a bit of each. I’m so worried that this will change the way you see me. I’m worried that you are jaded and influenced by society’s attitudes towards gay people. I’m so scared that assumptions and stereotypes and fears will take over and nothing will be the same between us anymore. What could possibly be going through your mind while you read this? I’m so afraid that you will feel betrayed, hurt, embarrassed and angry. You have a right to those feelings, to an extent, but you need to wipe out all the stereotypes you carry, erase all the rumors you’ve heard and realize that I’m the same person I’ve always been.

Mom has known since she surprised me by showing up at graduation in LA. I had planned on telling you both at the same time when I was ready. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. When she was there, she could tell I was happier and I guess I was talking about new friends and that I was more comfortable with myself, etc. She asked me directly and I have come too far to lie. We stayed up late in my apartment talking about it and she had many questions, but made it clear it did not change how she felt about me. In the wee hours of the morning, though, I woke up and heard her crying. I went to her and started to tell her, “Mom, it’s ok. I’m happy to finally be honest. You don’t have to cry.” She said, “No, honey, you don’t understand. I’m crying because of all those years you had to hide this while thinking I might not love you if I knew the truth.”

I hope you don’t feel resentful, although I guess I’d understand if you do. Ironic that I pride myself on being so open and honest about how I think and feel and, yet, I’ve hidden this part of myself from you. I hope you realize that the reason I’m telling you is so you can be a complete part of my life. I don’t want to have to censor myself around you or not tell you about the people I care about or, more important, about the people who care about me.

So, where do I start? In third grade, I sure as hell didn’t know what to call it, but I remember knowing I was different. In junior high, I tried to deny it. In high school, I made a conscious decision never to tell anybody as long as I lived. Can you imagine the feelings a fifteen year old has deciding not to tell anyone something so intimate about oneself…because the world thinks it’s disgusting? I knew the world thought that this part of me that I could not change was revolting to people. All I wanted was to be accepted and all I saw was this huge part of me that would forever deny me that feeling. I grew up knowing I was something the world, at best, mocked, and at worst, loathed.

Can you imagine the pain this caused me growing up? The loneliness? The constant worry that someone would “find me out?” I don’t mean to sound self-pitying or melodramatic, but you need to know. I always knew I was different and that this difference was, by society’s judgments, bad. Imagine knowing something so intrinsic about yourself and having to hide it from everyone you love because you’re afraid they will stop loving you back. Imagine having to put on a mask everyday and pretend to be someone you’re not. Then, one day you realize that the effort it takes to pretend like that everyday has stopped you…me…from being who I really am. I stopped knowing myself. Imagine trying not to have feelings that come totally naturally to you. It was so awful. To have to hide half of who I am from everyone I love has hurt so much. I’m so glad that I’ve finally come to accept it…to accept myself. I’m who I am and whoever can’t handle it can fuck-off.

If someone told me I could take a pill tonight and wake up straight tomorrow morning, I wouldn’t do it. I like who I’ve turned out to be and some of that is because of the things I’ve had to deal with in terms of being gay. Please realize that one’s sexuality is not a choice. You didn’t sit in sex education class in junior high thinking, “Gee, should I like guys or girls. Time to decide.” Ridiculous. I was born this way. It is no more simple or complex than that. You were born straight. I was born gay. I did not choose to be gay. I’m not sorry I am (anymore), but it wasn’t by choice. Why would someone choose to be something that society can’t accept…something that makes life so much more difficult than it already is?

Dad, for me to be attracted to men is the same exact feeling and is as natural to me as for you to be attracted to women. Look at it this way: You can choose to sleep with a man or a woman. You are physically and mentally able to make this choice. You won’t, however, be physically attracted to the man. Your sexual urges are for women. The feeling is the same for me. I can and have chosen to sleep with both men and women, but it is men to whom I am attracted sexually. You can choose who you sleep with, but you can’t choose who you desire.

I hope you realize that gay men aren’t attracted to every man they see any more than straight men are attracted to every woman they see. Gay men who are friends do not automatically sleep together. Gay men are no more promiscuous, gross or deviant in their sexual behavior than straight men and women (we just get more press time about it). Ignore all the stereotypes and rumors. Most of it is bullshit. And, contrary to popular belief, you can’t always tell when a man is gay.

I hope you understand what a huge effort it takes to tell you this. I’m scared. At the same time, I respect that it may be difficult for you to accept (if it’s difficult at all, which it may not be). You may not care (ideally). You may feel really uncomfortable with it. Or, you may have guessed and dealt with it a long time ago. I really have no clue. Also, it’s not even that you “have” to know. I want you to know. See the difference? Get it?

I’ve heard a zillion different stories about parental reactions. One father cried, but said it didn’t matter. One set of parents completely abandoned their son. One mother wanted her son to be in therapy to heal this “disgusting disease.” I don’t want you to accept it like some curse, however, that you must accept because I am your son and because you want to be a good dad. I still need your support, Dad. I have friends who say they’ll come out to everybody except their families. That’s not what I want. I don’t want to have to censor myself. I don’t want to have to alter my stories so their “straight.” I want you to be a complete part of my life.

So, I’ve spilled my guts and now it’s your turn. You have to be absolutely and totally honest with me. You have to tell me exactly how you feel about this. It wouldn’t be fair to make me guess. You’re entitled to every single feeling you have…unless you ask me to be straight (but I think…hope…that you’re a little more enlightened than that). Actually, I really hope you’ll ask a lot of questions. Anything! I don’t want to hide any part of my life from you. Ask about sexual history, relationships, friendships, the truth behind any rumors you’ve heard, anything… You need to be totally open with me so that I feel comfortable. That’s one way you can support my coming out to you. If you’re angry, I want to hear it. If you’re totally disgusted, I want to hear that, too. If you are brave enough to ask the question, I will be brave enough to give you an honest answer.

Being gay doesn’t mean that I’m any different from who you’ve always known me to be.


When I came back, he must have heard the car in the driveway because when I walked in the house he was standing in exactly the same place he had been when I left him an hour earlier.

I stood there by the door and looked at him across the entryway. He just stood there, motionless, his hands at his side. He held the letter, unfolded and dangling from the fingertips of one hand. He just stood there looking at me. I stood there looking at him. I couldn’t move and somehow felt that a large part of however I was going to feel about myself for the rest of my life was about to be determined by whatever words were going to come out of his mouth.

His eyes were wet. No tears, but just barely. And in a tone of voice tinged with “what did I do wrong that you don’t already know this,” he said, “Jack. You’re my son. I love you no matter what.”

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