Coming out, again

My father recently celebrated his birthday. Well, “celebrated” might not be the correct word, but it sure happened.

He’s had a tough few years, for various reasons I don’t feel like getting into now, but let it suffice to say that a few people who were very important and influential in his life have passed away in the last couple of years, under less than ideal circumstances, and he has been stuck holding too much grief. He’s a sensitive sort and can be violently emotional and defensive. He and I don’t have an easy relationship, but we love each other fiercely. He has remained the only truly important person in my life with whom I have remained purposefully “closeted” for the last couple of years.

So, he had a birthday. It occasioned his speaking to me about things like end of life wishes, wills and trusts and other family matters. He asked me, formally, in writing, if I would consent to take over management of certain family affairs, should he and my mother no longer be able to do so. He asked if he could give me power of attorney in various cases.

My sole reason for not discussing polyamory with him since college (when he did not react very well) has been that I feared rejection, being disowned, something like that. My mother has urged me to “give him a little more credit” – give him a chance to accept me. But, I have been, honestly, afraid. I have not wanted to discuss it with him simply because I have not been ready to face the consequences, should he decide that I am no longer part of the family.

Maybe it’s silly, but plenty of parents have rejected their children this way. It was too painful for me to think about.

Yet, it seemed like a wrong and harmful deception, to allow him to assign such responsibilities to me if he did not fully know and acknowledge who I am, and choose to assign those responsibilities anyway. Which means, logically, that in order to accept that power of attorney, I needed to come out, clearly, and with no more hesitation.

The outcome would be either that he chose to keep me in his life, as his daughter with all that entails, or not.

I thought, better to disown a daughter before spending all that money and time on lawyers and paperwork.

So I sent the email. It said essentially, Dad, I will of course accept these responsibilities and do my best when and if the time ever comes. But, first, I want to make sure you know who I am, and still want me to.

The following day, he cc’d me on some correspondence with his lawyer, indicating how we were moving forward with various paperwork. So, I thought, I guess I’m not disowned.

It was extremely anticlimactic. Which is wonderful.

I wish there were something more profound for me to say but that’s what it was: anticlimactic. Yet, completely in line with how my family usually is with difficult things.

The other day, I was saying hello to my mother on the phone, and my dad broke in (he’d clearly had a drink or two) to say, emphatically, that he loved me, about six times.

He said something else, too:

I am always here, I will always be there for you, so don’t be afraid. Take every risk.

Coming out in pieces

I grew up in a very liberal town. Since I was very young, I was aware of the experience many gay kids have with coming out to their loved ones. It always seemed difficult but necessary, something you just had to do one day as you became an adult. Why would you ever deny who you were? It seemed silly to do that.

My adult reality has been a little more complicated.

I identified as bisexual for a long time, though I did not date many women. I had some experiences with and attractions to women, some strong and meaningful. However, the bulk of my dating and relationship experiences have been with men.

I’ve mentioned the idea of “passing” before and I think my mostly hetero-leaning bisexuality allowed me to mostly pass as a straight person in any cases where it might matter or be difficult. I’ve never considered it something to hide, but there is the reality there that I can, if I want to. Since I’ve never fallen deeply in love with a woman and the issue of declaring my sexuality has never really forced itself to the foreground, I’ve sort of been spared having to really deal with the issue of “coming out” in a meaningful way. In my social groups, or when the topic comes up, I have no problem saying that I’m bisexual and sharing my point of view from that side.

So what?

What I’m trying to explain is this: I’m very much aware of the privilege of my options.

When it comes to polyamory, I’ve always taken an open, “make no assumptions” approach to romance and dating, and never thought to hide that from anyone. It seemed a silly thing to hide, it did’t occur to me to hide it. In my early 20s, when I was dating a lot, I wasn’t keen on the words “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” because it implied commitment to one person, and I didn’t like that one bit. It felt wrong, untrue, and I didn’t use these words if I could help it. I lost out on some opportunities to date really nice people because they couldn’t (or did not want to) deal with my refusal to forsake all others, even in an abstract way, when there technically were no others at the time.

With Husband, we were technically open, and very liberal, anything-goes people in general, but we were not actively dating others. This made us effectively monogamous for years, in our own eyes and in those of our friends and family. Since there were no others in our lives, why correct them? Why even think about it? We were lulled into a comfortable social status and had no reason to question or disrupt it, until we decided to start dating. One thing leads to another, and we have Boyfriend in our lives now, for which we are grateful and happy.

So it happened that, even though I never made an effort to hide anything from anyone, I have felt pretty closeted in some situations, and that sucks.

I’ve come to understand from personal experience how there might be many levels of closet and out-ness. How you could be out to your friends, your social group, even coworkers if you socialize with them, but not your family.

There are levels of out-ness.

I tend to see the following levels of out-ness with things like sexuality and polyamory:

  1. Totally closeted and dating or having sexual encounters on the side, in secret, probably using the internet.
  2. Out to a very small group of people, such as one social circle but not another.
  3. Out to friends and most social circles but not all.
  4. Seemingly totally out, but actually, only selectively. This is where it gets really tricky, the tipping point. A person can seem to be out, can even be an activist for gay or kinky or poly rights, for example, yet be totally closeted when it comes to coworkers or family or certain friends.

And then there was me for an unplanned long time – totally out except for certain family members. I don’t think any of these are good places to be, but it’s a gradual journey, and I do not really fault anyone at any stage in this journey.

Coming out, at any stage, requires vulnerability and potential risks, from being misunderstood or patronized to being disowned and rejected by loved ones. I do think it is worth it, though, knowing that the more people who do come out, the more good examples there will be, and the easier it will be for the next generation, and the next.

I feel this journey is a responsibility we have to those that come next. And I feel strangely in the middle of making it, though it may be slowly, at my own pace.