How Do You Tell People?
Dear 9-year old self,
You just found out that your dad is gay. I know that you are feeling a bit confused and overwhelmed. After all, your parents just got divorced, and now here’s another bombshell. This seems like an announcement that will have implications of some sort on your life – but being only 9, it is hard to figure out just what those implications are. One important thing to remember is that being confused, upset, sad, or worried doesn’t mean that you don’t love your dad. After all, he is still your dad, and that’s never going to change. You’re just going to need a little time to adjust to this new reality.
I know you feel like you are the only one who has ever been in this situation. All of your friends’ parents are still married, so having divorced parents already makes you feel different, and now the fact that your dad is gay makes you feel like a real outsider. Should you tell people? How do you tell people? What do you say when people ask why your parents got divorced (because 9 year olds are not shy)? Over time (and maybe sooner than you think) you’ll be able to figure out who to trust, who to tell, and how to tell them. And you can do that in your own way, when you feel ready. Believe me, while it’s scary, your real friends will not think any differently about you, or your dad, or your family.
I know that elementary school kids can feel cruel, even if they don’t intend to be. The topic of “being gay” is one that is often humorous to 3rd graders (and I can tell you that it is because they have no idea what they are talking about). So what do you do when you hear jokes about being gay on the playground? When the word “gay” is thrown around like an insult? You might feel conflicted in these situations. Do you say something? Do you educate your peers about the fact that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of, but is a part of who someone is? Or, do you keep quiet, let it go, stay under the radar? You might feel guilty about not wanting to speak up, to defend your dad, and other people who are gay. You might feel like you are betraying him. However, you need to do what feels comfortable. You are not a bad person, and it does not mean that you don’t support your dad, if you don’t take it upon yourself to stop gay jokes forever. In time, when you’re ready, you will be able to stand up to people who make these jokes.
On top of dealing with the decision of how to tell people about your dad, and how to handle other kids at school, you also have a new person in your life – your dad’s new boyfriend. Sure, he seems perfectly nice, and even sort of funny. But what do you say when he shows up at school events? Will he start to replace your mom? Over time, you’ll develop your own unique relationship with him, and you’ll soon come to see that he, like your mom and dad, is one of the most important people in your life, and you can’t imagine life without him. So it’s okay to get to know him and to let him into your life. It does not mean that he is replacing your mom or your dad – just that you get another awesome parent!
Then one day, when you’re a little older, when you’re in a new environment (like college) and surrounded by new people, you’ll find that you no longer even think twice about telling people that your dad is gay. You’ll tell someone about your dad and they’ll say “that’s so cool—tell me more!” and you’ll realize that in fact, having a dad who is gay is something that makes you and your family unique, something to be proud of, and people are genuinely interested in leaning more about your family and your experience. Additionally, by talking about your family’s story, you’ll be educating others about families with LGBT parents, showing everyone that they are just like other families and deserve all of the same rights.
I know that it’s probably hard for you to absorb all of what I’m saying. Allow yourself time to understand what you’ve just learned. Remember that everything that you are feeling right now is okay. Know that there are lots of adults who care about you, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it. But for know, just know this – you have an amazing and loving family, and everything is going to be okay.
Your 28-year old self