Justin M. Quinn: I Want My Dad To Finally Come Out

Justin M. Quinn: I Want My Dad To Finally Come Out

Originally published on advocate.com

My father’s gay. As our nation stumbles steadily towards long-overdue legal equity for same-sex couples and their families, I’m grateful to know that doesn’t necessarily make me a rarity these days. My father’s gay. I’ve known since I was 16, when a confluence of events (his repeated “solo” trips to Key West, his membership at an all-male gym, the discovery of his Playgirl stash) forced my siblings and me to reevaluate our entire family dynamic. My father’s gay. In the 20 years since, I’ve shared those exact same words with my best friends, a few girlfriends, and a therapist who is, I’m quite certain, the closest thing I’ll ever have to an attentive paternal figure. It’s too bad I have to pay him.

I don’t normally lead with this information, but I’m not dishonest about it either. If you’re curious enough to wonder out loud how my parents have stayed married for 40 years, I’d tell you the truth: No, it’s not one of those marriage-takes-many-shapes “understandings” that’s keeping them together. That would at least be a step toward openness and acceptance. My father and mother are still married because he lies about his sexuality and she chooses to believe him. It wasn’t always this clear to me.

I’m the middle child of three. My brother and sister and I have analyzed our parents ad nauseam. We’ve had to. Over the telephone, over beers, on countless jogs, we’ve tried to make sense of our painfully confusing childhoods because we long to live genuinely. When it’s about my parents, my siblings and I speak to each other directly and hold back nothing. There is a palpable feeling of safety and trust that runs through and connects the three of us. There is also an immense sadness.

My father was abusive. That one’s a little more difficult to admit. I’m convinced that my dad knew who he was well before that long walk down the aisle in 1972 that led him into a legally binding relationship with a woman. He was trying to please his conservative parents. He was doing what he thought was right, and dare I say, normal. And although I’ve often been reluctant to call him a coward for folding under what must have been immense family pressure, I will not hesitate to stamp that word on him for the physical and emotional violence he subjected us to growing up. I’m convinced that my dad didn’t want kids before he impregnated his wife for the first time. Children know when they aren’t wanted. They might not be able to verbalize that void, but they feel it, and it shows. My grammar school teachers noticed. They could never figure out why I was always so distraught, and to be honest, at that age, neither could I.

My father wasn’t abusive because he’s gay. Of course not. My father was abusive because he had trapped himself in a life he hated, and he took his frustrations out on three defenseless kids. Coward.

When I was 16, my mother found several back issues of Playgirl in my father’s dresser drawer. He denied they were his and claimed he had come across the magazines on our apartment balcony. As you do. He was simply storing them until he had time to interrogate my brother and me about their origin. My father‘s a generally smart man. Unless he was so completely blinded by his own self-hatred, he had to have known that his teenage sons were rather obviously heterosexual. He only asked us about his stash because he told his wife he would. It was part of his cover story, and he was determined to see it through to the end. My brother and I offered up nothing more than genuine bewilderment.

I drew two sweeping conclusions from that incident, and they have since proven, time and again, to be sound: (1) My father may be intelligent, but he is also an extraordinarily bad pathological liar, and (2) He has no qualms whatsoever about using us, his children, to keep his secret. It explains a lot about his unending crusade to make his brood come off as squeaky-clean; why he had always gone ballistic when we brought home average grades or grew our hair too long or got into harmless sibling skirmishes in front of company — he used us as a shield. And whenever we threatened to poke a hole in that perfect facade, we never felt safe in our own home.

As young adults we grew stronger. For us, that didn’t mean going far from home for college. We stayed in New York City, close to my parents. We were determined to fix our family. Fifteen years ago, at the dining room table, my sister and I sat down with our mother and asked her if she thought her husband was gay. She thanked us for inquiring, told us she’d once before wondered about his sexuality, and assured us that it was nothing more than a temporary struggle that he would no doubt overcome. My sister and I shared a look as it landed on us hard — righting the ship was way beyond our capabilities.

We didn’t give up. We outed our father … to our father. I was 23 and working at my first publishing job when he called me at my desk to say he knew all about our conversation with Mom.

“Good. I’m glad you know. And I want to tell you something … all we want is for you to be yourself, Dad. We’ll be here for Mom if you need to take some time to figure things out. Just let our family be what it truly is, no matter how off-kilter that may look. It’s OK.”

He couldn’t do it. My mother accepted his weak admission of occasional “bisexual tendencies” and turned her head back toward the sand. The lies survived. And that was so strange to me. He knew we knew, but he had crafted too much deceit to stop. He was on automatic.

I moved away. Yes, my intimate circle knew the whole story and that helped, but we kept it from our extended family in an act of complicity that I’m still uneasy about. My parents, reverting to their roles, continued right on pretending. My father enabled my mother to be in denial while she enabled him to live a double life. When I’m exhausted, I sometimes think they’re perfect for each other. I moved away because it can’t be healthy to be in on such an all-encompassing masquerade starring your childhood tormentor.

Last fall I got a call from my sister. Had I noticed that Mom was acting belligerent and antisocial?  Sure, I said, but her marriage is a sham. Who wouldn’t be angry?  I don’t give my mother a pass — she failed to protect us and is willfully oblivious to so many wrongs — but I tend to see her side more often than not. My sister finds it easier to back my father now that he’s in his mid-60s, frailer, and noticeably miserable. With a lot of professional help and a hugely supportive partner, I’ve tried not to hold so tight to my parents’ lives. They are a mess, but they are adults, and the mess is their choice. I’ll see them once in a while, but I will not participate in any conversation that asks me to prop up their lie. This is what I tell myself. And I try to follow through. My success rate fluctuates. My sister has three daughters. It’s important to her that they know their grandparents in some capacity. My mother’s recent nastiness was threatening that bond, and so we took it upon ourselves to do what she can’t or won’t: We brought up my father’s sexuality one more time.

My mother played dumb (again), my father confided in me that he wished he weren’t gay (again), and my brother, wisely, stayed out of the whole deal. Ultimately, my sister and I encouraged them to see a couples counselor even though they were never much of a couple to begin with. I feel like I’m parenting my parents. They went to two sessions together before my mother decided she’d rather not face the truth.

My father still goes. Twice a week. Whether it helps or not, I have no idea; nothing has changed on the outside. The facade still stands. I think one of the saddest things about my dad is that he’s spent so much energy and effort hiding himself — he’s been so needlessly self-involved for so many years — that he’s failed on an epic level to ever get to know his children. And that failure keeps him blind to where he’s lucky. He asked me rather solemnly the other day (no doubt encouraged by his therapist) if I knew there was an emotional aspect to being gay. That broke my heart. Not only because we’ve been trying to embolden my father to come out for well over a decade, but also because he was so oblivious to my life, to the circles I socialize in, to the friends of all sorts that mean so much to me, to the person I am … he’s so oblivious to the life I’ve tried in vain to share with him that he needed to ask me a question whose answer would be glaringly obvious to anyone who knows me even mildly. His question broke my heart because it insinuated that my father doesn’t understand love, not for himself and not for us.

That’s when I knew that he might never do it. He was stuck in a dark room of his own construction, and I had to divorce myself from the notion that he’d someday be brave enough to use the light switch. I knew I had to let go and move on for good. I hope that distance gives me more steady days than angry ones; more days when I can wish my father the best and my mother strength as I continue building something of my own.

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10 Comments

  1. Dennis Macaulay
    June 26, 06:10 Reply

    I cannot understand this! Pardon me if I am being insensitive but WHY GET MARRIED AND HAVE KIDS WHEN YOU CLEARLY DID NOT WANT TO?

    See how this man has spent an entire life time stewing in lies and misery! This is messed up on so many different levels.

    Ask yourselves this question (to some KDians here), is this the kind of life you want to live?

  2. Teflondon
    June 26, 06:43 Reply

    First thing that came to mind while reading and after reading this is simple ‘Hypocrisy’

    The son is analysing and judgmental all through on his father. While he is screaming to the high heavens how hypocritical the fathers and even mothers life as been. How about he looks within also, did he for a moment try to put himself in his fathers shoes? Is his own life perfect afterall? Did he even leave some shreds of benefit of a doubt that his father could be a bisexual man? If he is bisexual I don’t get what the fuzz is.. Most bisex will eventually get married anyways.
    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not in support of the father also mainly because according to the article he was a coward the lowest of which was lying to his wife that his sons own the porno-mag (did you notice the Mag was a women porno mag which also strengthens the idea that the man might be Bi and not a full Gay).
    All I am saying is that, Ild have understood if the child wrote this as a teenager but he is now an adult and I expected a certian level of wisdom and understanding towards his parents now he is an adult.: people do stupid things for love. Why blame the mother? Instead of being supportive. His mother will not be the first or the last to do that. a lot of Nigerian women look away from their cheating husbands, they have reasons. No matter how that might sound.. But who are we to judge when we aren’t in that particular persons shoe..
    Let me not write an epistle.
    But like I said earlier all is see over this piece and the writer is hypocrisy (on both sides) and a judgemental son (rather than an understanding son) being bereaved by his past.
    Either way it’s not my cup of tea (Organo gold to be precise) because I’ll marry (as a gay man or not I don’t know yet) and have kids and I’ll have problems in my family like every family does but I’ll live happily because I know I made that decision because that was what I wanted.

    • FlyOnTheWall
      June 26, 07:11 Reply

      Chai How one person manages to contradict himself in one comment always leaves me confused! Auntie mushin you need to adopt a stance on these things, stop blowing hot and cold.

      Auntie for all the money that you have and all the exposure you have you dont know that playgirl is a magazine that parades pictures of naked men!

      Think very clearly before posting a comment, it will help you!

  3. handle
    June 26, 07:28 Reply

    The last sentence in your comment is exactly what the son is talking about. He is not bashing the decision of getting married but the idea behind it and the impact it has on the people involved, knowingly or unknowingly. And yes your last comment scream “selfishness” without taking into account how “your decision” would impact those you will be dragging along unknowingly.

  4. handle
    June 26, 07:41 Reply

    I have a friend who came out to his wife and kids after 16 yrs of marriage. Led to divorce but now he couldn’t be any more happier with the kind of relationship he has with his daughters and the acceptance of who he is.

    Men in general have been dealing with the “feeling of being trapped” for centuries with extra marital affairs, alcohol and dishing out physical and emotional abuse on their family. It’s a circle whether its lack of acceptance or marrying the wrong person(subjective to the man’s expectations), they have found a (normal) way to cope. And Nigerian women has accepted this as the norm(I know my mum did).

    Point of this is it takes a mental toll on everyone involved. Spare your future family this headache.

  5. Ace
    June 26, 14:31 Reply

    Wow! I think the father handled his sexuality and marriage wrongly. I am pretty sure not all MGM put their families in such endless emotional turmoil. Yes, he was a hypocrite and all but must that translate to being a horrible father? I guess we all handle our emotions differently.

  6. Direct
    July 01, 08:44 Reply

    What a horrible, self-indulging son Justin M. Quinn is to spend so much time and effort writing negative articles about his father and mother, and then publishing them for the world to read. He claims to be concerned about his parent’s wellbeing, and yet actually, through his actions, doesn’t really seem to care at all about them. Rather, it seems he’s trying to punish them via this article to, in his mind, settle past scores.

    It is obvious that Justin is self-absorbed and only cares about himself, yet he spends the entire article criticizing his father for only caring about himself. In psychology, that is called projection.

    In short, Justin seems to be using his father as a scapegoat to criticize things that Justin probably hates about himself. He claims to not be bothered by his father’s sexuality, but he clearly is, or otherwise he would not have written about it. That his parents choose to keep things private is their choice and it is a pity that Justin needs to punish them so much that he has decided to publically out them in this article.

    The author would do much better to focus on his own well-being and happiness and less time trying to focus on punishing or changing his parents. If Justin could forgive his parents for their mistakes, it would do him a great deal of good, but it doesn’t seem that he is prepared to do that.

    If, as he claims in his article, he is not a gay man himself, I dread the fate of any children that Justin M. Quinn might produce himself down the line and what he might choose to do to them.

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