Here at The Gay UK this month it’s all about Coming Out. We’ve spoken to two parents about their experiences of Coming Out to their children. Both of these parents were concerned about the impact of telling their story on themselves and their family and asked for their identities to be protected. So throughout this article pseudo names are used for both the parents and the children.
The second is Paul, a 51 years old father from London, England. Paul has two now-adult children his son David, 25 years old and his daughter Janet, 23 years old.
Tell us, how did you Come Out to your children?
It’s very complex. My ex-wife, the mother of David and Janet, and I had been unhappy for about 5 years. I had met somebody who at the time was just a friend, but he wasn’t the reason my ex-wife and I separated. It was actually she who said: ‘Look I think it’s time we separated.’
I didn’t protest too much, as I knew we had both been unhappy, and I had the support of someone else – who happened to be male. I moved out of the family home and went and stayed with him. I rented a home on my own, and we saw more of each other, then a year later we bought a house together. We wanted somewhere big enough for the children to come and stay. It was very important for me that I could see David and Janet.
The children were gradually introduced to him as a friend. It always crossed my mind – do I tell David and Janet that he was my partner or do we just go on? David and Janet just accepted him and they liked him, they felt included and it felt like a family unit. They were happy because they felt loved and that’s what children want.
Over time, our circumstances changed, we had a series of stressful events happen to both of us. We lost the house and ended up renting a small house. We just grew apart and eventually split up. I got a lodger in to help pay the rent. This lodger also happened to be gay. He had a boyfriend and all was good.
Then about a year later, I met this chap who was twenty-seven. I had dated one or two other men before, around my own age, but the lodger didn’t like this chap and tensions resulted in my asking the lodger to leave. I gave him his month’s notice. David at this time was travelling abroad and Janet was at university.
The lodger left without paying me his final month’s rent, which came as no particular surprise. But then I noticed he’d stolen something – a DVD player. I texted him asking him to return the item but got no reply
The Police came, took my statement and made contact with the lodger, and it was then that the lodger texted Janet, my daughter, along the lines of:
“you’ll want to know your dad’s the stereotypical gay, get c*ck at any cost and has had a string of over 60 boyfriends. I would think twice about sleeping under your dad’s roof because he’s a psychopath who’s likely to stab you.”
The lodger contacted all my friends on Facebook and told them the same things. I had to get a harassment order, but by that time the damage had been done.
I didn’t know any of this until I got a call from my ex-partner who said: ‘You’ve got a real problem. Janet knows everything.’ The ex-partner explained what had gone on.
I didn’t have any contact with any of them: David, Janet or my ex-wife for three weeks, it was horrendous. I didn’t know what was going on in their heads. It was awful.
My ex-wife eventually invited me round to dinner to break the ice; things are much better now.
What were you worried about before you Came Out?
The opportunity for me to tell them in my time was taken away from me in really brutal circumstances – and I still feel very bitter when I think about it. I have always been worried that my children may judge me, and that it would somehow make me less of a parent. I had always had a brilliant relationship with both my children, and didn’t want that destroyed.
How old were your children when you Came Out to them?
David and Janet were 24 and 22 when my ex-lodger decided to tell them about me. I still haven’t been able to discuss any of this with them.
Has it made you closer to your children?
I’ve always been a very hands-on dad. When they were younger I was probably the principle parent. I was the one who always went to parents evenings, took them camping, we used to do a huge amount together. We have always been close.
Have any of your children told their friends or partner about your sexuality?
When Janet told her friends, they were really sweet. A lot of them said: ‘Oh I always knew your dad was gay. Don’t worry about it.’
David, my son, has gay friends. He’s very non-judgemental.
I’m very proud of both of them.
Have they spoke to you about how they felt when you Came Out to them?
When it all happened Janet was very bitter and angry. She felt I’d lied. She felt that she’d been stuck with this problem while David was travelling.
Janet has said since that they knew that I was gay, and that my ex-partner and I had been a couple as well. It was the shock in the way that they were told.
David’s response was very touching and moving. He was still away travelling when it all happened and his response was: ‘Just make sure that dad is happy.’
David has met my new partner, introduced as a friend. But I have no doubt that he will have put two and two together.
They’re fine now but we’ve never talked about it properly. I think it will come to a point where I have to talk about it with them. I don’t know what they are thinking and that’s the difficult thing. But they talk a lot about my ex-partner. It’s almost as if they think that that’s acceptable but I’m not sure that anything else is yet.
Did you access any sources of support before or after Coming Out to them?
I had two sets of counselling: one from the GP and one from GMI Partnership. GMI Partnership offers sexual health and sexuality counselling and is run by volunteers. I had an amazing woman counsellor there who helped me enormously.
I still find it difficult at times. I don’t call myself a ‘gay dad.’ I’m just a dad.
What advice would you give to other parents thinking about Coming Out to their children?
That’s a really difficult one because everybody’s experience is bound to be different. I still haven’t found my own particular answers.
Thank you Paul, for sharing your story.
Published by: The Gay UK on Sunday 29th September 2013.