My dad made me gay. Definitely. Maybe. At the very least, his inability to see me as a person and not some “thing” to control and practice his tired, hand-me-down, Church of Christ values on damn sure expedited the process. Thankfully, I get my fix of tenderness from my mother, who delights in my dreams and who loves me unconditionally. At age five, I moved to Atlanta, GA, and was raised there with my younger brother and other members of my maternal side.
My dad and I were never tight. There wasn’t a foundation for that. He’s been estranged from me for the bulk of my life and usually states away. I can count the number of times I’ve seen him on one hand, each instance with its own unfavourable memories. However, even without my father’s daily influence in my life, the lingering thought of his approval stuck with me. As a child, it never occurred to me that I had the power to self-identify or be someone who could investigate the world for herself beyond prescribed religion and other limiting doctrines. I didn’t know that I could have my own moral compass. I did, however, pick up on his cues of what it meant to be “normal” and “right.” And, as much of who I was and what I believed didn’t match my father’s point of view, so I settled for silence instead.
In fifth grade, I discovered that other girls were more than just pretty. I’ll always remember how perfect my first crush, Taylor, was. She had rich cocoa skin, warm chestnut eyes, and a big white-toothed grin. She sat across the room from me in Mrs. Cooper’s class and I always made sure to get up and sharpen my pencil near her. I’d find her at recess to jump rope and play hopscotch with the other girls. I got my first phone that year and waited up late, until I could call her on three-way with friends for free. I knew these feelings were more than friendly, so I kept them to myself.
During my teen years, I didn’t think of my father much until, out of the blue, he would call. Like on my 16th birthday when he had the audacity to inquire if I was still a virgin. How about an update on my favourite colour, sir, which was no longer yellow? What about all my accolades and honours at school?
I was sexually active, and by then I’d even kissed a girl or two. But I knew that if he knew all of that, the conversation would include an entirely different kind of shame, so I kept the details sparse and responded with, “something like that.” Despite my best efforts, my words still inspired a scolding about how “true love waits.”
In my mid to late teens, I began to question if Christianity worked for me. I knew that on my maternal side, my family was generally open-minded and far more liberal, I just wasn’t sure of how much I could push the envelope, especially when it came to my sexuality. I kept my thoughts to myself. Much of my adolescence was closeted, but with my father’s physical absence in my life appearing permanent, I decided to become a bolder version of myself, so I came out fully in my early twenties after I moved up north for graduate school. My coming out didn’t include my dad or anyone on my paternal side, though they did find out eventually, due to the social media of it all.
I fully came into my queerness when I moved to New York. I was fresh meat in a new city, the city — running amuck in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. I found myself on the apps and opted for the “I’m open to dating everyone” button, and I had a time. I thought I might be bisexual at first, but eventually I settled into the label I use today: pansexual. To me it’s easy, I want to connect with other good humans, no matter their gender. My move and new mindset was incredibly liberating. I finally allowed myself to indulge and enjoy life as the sensual weirdo that I am. It was in New York that I realised the sovereignty I lacked before. My dad’s words morphed into opinion clouds that I could zap in my mind at a moment’s notice. I no longer felt that his way was law. I refused his half-assed efforts—the emails, and DMs—before anything else. I protected my peace.
And pushing my father out of my mind brought me closer to the love I feel for my matriarchal childhood. I am grateful to my holy trinity; my maternal grandmother, mother, and aunt who raised me in love. When I told my grandma that I had a girlfriend, she replied with, “You ain’t gonna miss dick?!” in her southern twang with an artful smirk. I was pleasantly shook.Times had truly changed.
This judgement-free guidance and my own self study and healing journey held me when I saw my dad two summers ago, twenty years later from the last time I’d seen him in person. I got a blanket apology where he showed genuine sincerity for not being there. When he went to hug me, I hugged him back, accepted his apology, and left it at that.
In his two decades of absence, I’ve been able to unpack how our relationship affected my mental health, overall wellness, and perception of myself. And I’ve come out the other side, stronger for my journey. These days, I feel full and whole being out and proud. I know how to forgive, love from a distance if I need to, and go where genuine love is supplemented, knowing that it begins and ends with me.
My dad’s absence may have been the catalsyt for my exploration, but I’m happy to report that today, I regard my queerness as my own.