The phrase “coming out” is problematic in many ways. It implies there is a norm, and people who do not identify as straight are viewed as having broken away from this “norm”. This phrase is particularly problematic when you’re bisexual. How far out must one come? And where am I coming out to? Depending on which gender I feel more drawn towards, must my head be over one line more than another? These grey areas are also present in the attitudes of others. Homophobia is a big word, and one that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly. But what about the otherwise nice people who lack understanding?
I’m still trying to imagine what my Dad’s exact thoughts were when I told him I had a girlfriend. I said it just as we arrived at the train station, where he was dropping me off. “I’m in a relationship… but it’s with a girl.” In the next few moments, I watched his face explore every realm of emotion, before it steadied into a resounding non-ness, and he replied, “Well, everyone has a path they think they need to travel.” We didn’t talk for about 6 weeks after that.
Over the next few days, I was engrossed in the intricacies of the word “think”, combined with the plethora of facial expressions, and what this meant. Finally, I asked him to call on the day I finished my exams. I had been convincing myself that it was my own paranoia making me believe his silence was a reaction to my “news”. Really, he was busy at work, or feeling a bit awkward because I’d shared something that could be perceived as quite intimate – all this, I could reason with. Telling him that I had a girlfriend felt like shouting “I have sex with women!!!!!!” loudly and very close to his ear.
The point is that I, naïvely, believed he would be completely okay with it. I picked up the phone, ready to evade the topic and normalise any distance felt from our extended period of not talking, and he responded with a list of sentences that I still reel off in my head: I’m obviously worried about you. You’re not gay. You don’t look gay. I’ve seen nothing that makes you look like you’re gay.
Coming out of my Dad’s mouth were statements I associated with people who I considered highly ignorant. The opinions were homophobic. But this someone wasn’t a person I had overheard in the street, or a friend’s friend. It was my Dad. “People only change their sexuality in extreme situations, such as prison.” Where had he learnt this? The person I’d spent the first 18 years of my life with – I was shocked.
I was born and raised in Manchester, with its Pride flag proudly flying from Portland Street. “Gay” wasn’t shocking to me, nor was it strange or curious or far away. It was pretty normal. I’d spoken to my Dad about gay rights; his friends who live on our street happen to be a lesbian couple. He’d told me about friends struggling with telling their parents they were gay. He taught me to treat people well and equally. So, where was this Dad? Didn’t he raise me? As much I was angry, and felt “he doesn’t even deserve to hear from me!” I couldn’t leave things stagnant, and I owed it to myself, my relationship, and my Dad, to try to understand his point of view. Moreover, I just couldn’t bear him walking the streets harbouring these views.
Humans love labels. It makes the world intelligible, and I think my Dad loves this possibility of intelligibility. What was most frustrating was that everything he was saying to me was not from a place of malice, it was love. In his eyes, a happy life was “normal’” and a normal, happy life was an easy life. For him, this meant university, job, marriage – between man and wife. To my Dad, experimenting with sexuality was synonymous with frighteningly alternative lifestyles that only unhappy and unstable people engaged with. Aside from being offended for all humans everywhere, this was a sorry case of misunderstanding. He was also worried about how other people would receive me. Admittedly, I live in a bubble of liberal students who often possess intentions to ‘experiment’ with sexuality (and many other things). It is, to an extent, one of the better places to be LGBTQ in the world, so why should I not enjoy it?
My Dad is not a hateful person, I am sure of that. But his world is different to mine. To me, his world has less. People should be allowed flourish in a way that makes them happy, and I believe this flourishing gives colour and beauty, which is essential. I am still navigating this with my Dad, but I am happy I told him. I only hope that the conversation with him is an evolving one, and I can successfully take his hand into my world.
Words: Ellen Miller
Image: Charlie Belle-Shaw