By an Elon Faculty Member
It was Christmas in the year 2000, meaning the dot-com bubble hadn’t burst just yet. But my bubble burst when my DAD (he signs his emails this way) announced that he was gay. Didn’t I get the memo?
1) He watched foreign films early on Saturday mornings and never sports on Sunday.
2) He cut my sandwiches into stars, squares and other shapes to make my boxed lunches more interesting.
3) When I need a Halloween costume, he could whip up a clown hat taller than me in no time.
4) We practiced how I could enter a room and announce, “Boom.” [look around] “The shock of just knowing you’re alive.”
5) He ironed my clothes.
Nope. To me, these were not gay stereotypes—simply indicators that I had an awesome DAD. My father engaged with me in many creative and thoughtful ways throughout my childhood. He taught me how to ride my bike. How to cook. How to think. How to write. So, when, in my mid-20s my parents sat us down to explain why they would be getting divorced (even though we were technically Catholic=more confusion/doubt/insanity), I was dumbfounded. Shocked. How could I not have known?
Then I got scared.
My parents lived in the small, predominately Christian, Southern – and often segregated – community I grew up in. Would someone physically harm my father or burn my house or something? What would my friends and their parents think? What did I think? And how would my Mom – who relied on him during 30 years of marriage – cope? Was she going to move in with me now? Sheesh. In the first few years of my “adjustment,” I fielded questions from men I dated: “Does this mean you’re gay too?” Observations from my friends: “Well your Dad was always a little different.” Suggestions: “Maybe he could go to one of those camps where they make you straight again?”
I do not see my father’s sexuality as a “choice.” And I don’t expect that as an ally I will fully understand what it is like to be anything other than a straight woman. I cannot pretend to walk in DAD’s shoes. I don’t announce to my classes that my father is gay. I don’t usually wear rainbows or protest or picket things. I’ve never really been comfortable with the word “queer.”
But today, I truly feel that having a gay DAD is a gift. I know what it means to be an ally, because I know firsthand what it means to defend someone I love. To listen to a grown man’s struggles. To embrace a new future. To see our world differently. I am a better person and daughter today. My job as an ally is to do whatever I can to make a safe and equal world for some of my closest friends and many of my respected peers. I can walk a path with my students if they need me. I can share my story. I can listen to others with compassion. And although I might sometimes stand more privately than some, I will always stand proudly—now with two DADs.