I have a story to share and it’s not because it’s National Coming Out Day or Mental Health Day, or anything of the sort. It’s something that I have not only built walls around to protect myself, but an entire fortress. That fortress came crumbling down yesterday and I feel like if I do not share this and find a way to let it go, it is going to eat me alive. I’m also hoping this might help at least one other person who has gone through or is going through the same thing. Or even better, a parent who is making the decision on what to do with their child.
I love my parents because they are my parents. That does not mean they were good parents. They have always been model pillars of the community. They donate most of their time to others. They value appearances. However, they have one son who is still not self-sufficient at 29 years old and another son with painful and persistent emotional scars from the mental and physical abuse suffered at their hand from age 15 until he finally chose himself over their financial support at 21 years old. And even to this day, they find ways to reopen past wounds.
When they found out I was gay by breaking into my safe and reading my journal, searching the hard drive on my computer, going through my room and my car, and who knows what other insane invasions of privacy…they decided to turn to conversion therapy. There was no unconditional love, there was no support, there were no shared tears. There was a problem to fix, a soul to save, and I was the broken one in need of saving.
To date, 16 states and over 50 municipalities have laws forbidding conversion therapy. LGBT youth are already among the highest suicide rates in the country and those forced into conversion therapy are 6 times more likely to fall into depression and 8 times more likely to attempt suicide.
At times I would pretend to go along with it. Other times I was truly trying to be “straight” with all my heart and soul. To “pray the gay away.” It overshadowed everything else in my life. I could not be a normal teenager. And no one could know the challenges I was facing because my parents insisted on keeping up appearances.
I started to lie, for the first time in my life. I lied about everything that had to do with being gay. I was scared about going to another therapy session, another weekend conference put on by Focus on the Family. Most of all, I was scared of my Dad’s temper. I have been hit more times than I can count. I have been grabbed by my throat and thrown up against a wall. I have been hurled into my closet, breaking down metal shelves. I have had my face ground into the carpet of my parents’ bedroom. In my mom’s defense, she actually tried to come to my aid that last time and my Dad picked up a belt and whipped her with it. I have never been so utterly horrified in my entire life.
This continued all through high school. I would tell myself that I just had to make it to college and get out from under their roof. I moved into my dorm two weeks early and finally felt some freedom and that I could be myself. However, I was still constantly questioned and monitored. The could tell if I left campus because they checked my cell phone bill each month. I would dread holidays and summer breaks where I had to go home and be under constant supervision once more. I had to pretend to be someone I was not. After my junior year, I decided to stay on campus for the summer and take summer school just so that I did not have to go back home.
At the end of that summer, I was given an ultimatum. Miss my fall semester and attend an in-house , secure conversation therapy program until I was “healed” or he would pull the funding for my senior year of school. It was the summer before my senior year at Indiana University. He thought his money still provided him the power over my life. He was wrong. I went to my Uncle Jeff (his gay brother) for help, but when my Dad found out he threatened my Uncle’s life should he provide any type of assistance. So I went to the financial aid office. My father was devious…he had waited until just after the deadline for financial aid had passed to confront me. Luckily, there was a special program for students in situations similar to mine where I qualified to separate legally from my parents so that the school could waive the deadline. I was able to borrow enough to finish school. I did not speak to my parents that entire year. I allowed them to attend my graduation since they paid for 3 years of my education but I spent no time with them before or after.
I moved to Los Angeles at 25 and found my own life. I have been back to Indiana a handful of times, mostly passing through just for one day on a work trip or to see my best friend who still lives there. There is nothing left for my in Indiana but a reminder of the past and painful memories.
I’m not sure exactly when it was, but my father gave me a gift. It was a large wooden box with a plaque that read “Letters from Dad.” In it, was a 3 page typed letter explaining what the box was for and that I would be receiving letters from him that would regale me with stories I didn’t know, share with me his advice and wisdom, and through written word, perhaps be the father I always wanted. To this day, I’ve not received a single letter to put in my box. Instead, the box is filled with past letters that I saved from him…condemning my lifestyle, condemning my “choice,” condemning my soul.
In 2014, my husband and I got married in Kauai. My father was the only immediate family member than chose not to attend even though I invited him through a personal letter. He felt that his attendance would mislead me into believing that he supported my right to marry. I remember my mother mentioning that his bible study group asked her why she was going to Hawaii without him. When she told them her son was getting married, they were shocked. My father had never mentioned it or even that i was gay. The pretense of perfection was always more important than anything else.
In 2016, I was once again at a crossroads. We were pregnant with my son. I did not feel like my father had the right to be in his life, but painfully deliberated what would be best for my unborn son and put my personal feelings aside. I called my father and told him point-blank that I would allow his presence in my son’s life but if he ever tried to push his agenda on him or shared his feelings about my marriage, that would be the last day he ever spoke to my son.
Since then, we have kept the peace. He gets to spend time with his grandchildren and the only conversation between us is about his work. The only thing I ever hear him talk about is his work. Nothing real. And he and I have no relationship whatsoever. He stays quiet because for him to speak, would only be to remind me his views have never changed. I’m sure he believes he would anger me and then not be able to spend time with his grandchildren. So he chooses silence. And until today, that has been enough. Until now…
My mother chose to inadvertently remind me that they both take no ownership of the mental abuse they put me through. To this day, she wants to excuse my father’s physical abuse and blame it on my lying as a teenager. Not only do they refuse ownership, they have yet to apologize. And any time the topic of how they raised me comes up, she makes it about her and says, “So we were just never good parents?” No mom, when you leave lasting scars on someone…that kind of outweighs attending soccer games and providing financial support.
So that’s my truth. And today, I’m just happy to be blessed with my four beautiful, healthy children and a wonderful husband. All of which I was told that could never and would never have because I’m gay. Life is far from perfect, but I’m trying to be a better person, husband, and father every day of my life. Our time on this earth is so short, and even shorter with our children at home. I plan to make the most of my time here and letting this go was a necessary step. The positive I take from all of this is that it has made me more aware of how I treat others and how I raise my children. And I hope that when my children are older, we can have the relationship I never had with my father. And maybe one, they will even tell me what a great job I did. And THAT would be the best moment of my entire life.