Owning My Story
It was the 1986 super bowl and the Chicago Bears were playing some other team as my family sat down to watch the game in our house in the Chicago area. I was 6 years old and this is the one and only football game that I remember being turned on in my house during the 18 years of my childhood.
I remember there was a player referred to as ‘the fridge’ and I am sure I asked a variety of questions about the game, but the main thing I remember about that Super Bowl was doing a puzzle with my dad. I have always loved doing jigsaw puzzles and they are definitely still something I enjoy doing if I must endure watching a sporting event.
I am sure the game was only turned on because of the pride in our city and because it would be a subject of conversation among friends and coworkers at my dad office. But the fact that I did not even know who won the game until someone told me years later, is a good indication of how little actual interest either of my parents had in the event. In my family we preferred sports like figure skating and gymnastics.
In my house we enjoyed fine arts, and sports like figure skating and gymnastics were more artistic. While I could tell you almost nothing about football, basketball or baseball of the 80’s and 90’s, I could talk to you about figure skaters of the 90’s! But as I grew up and began trying to date, I rarely met men who shared this same love of ice skating and distaste for football.
What I did not know until my early 20’s, was that the father I had grown up with, and understood to be an example of a straight man, was actually a gay man who had been shamed into trying to be straight for 25 years. My parents had been profoundly fearful of our sexuality and I had made it through high school having been on exactly one date and kissing exactly one boy.
My father never talked about women. He never made comments about a woman being attractive or things that a man might look for in a woman. He certainly didn’t like that it was the 90’s and by that point we were living in Seattle and the grunge scene made all my jeans with holes in the knees acceptable attire. But that was about his own sense of style that simply differed from my own. I did not understand that he was teaching me nothing about my own femininity, and my mother believed it was his role to teach his daughters this.
I left home at 18 believing my father was straight and trying to approach dating with that as my example. At 21 I would naïvely allow a man into my home and end up being raped, shattering my ‘purity’ that was so important to the evangelical Christian world where I was raised. By this point I had started drinking and begun my 10 year dive into addiction that was fueled by confusion around faith and underlying depression.
I am now 41 and have been in recovery for 10 years and spent countless hours working with a therapist. What I have come to understand is that my understanding of men was skewed as a child because of the lie my family lived under. Had I known my father was gay, then I would have been able to have an understanding that I might be looking for some things that were different in the heterosexual partner I would one day seek. The damage came in believing that my father was an example of a heterosexual man and I found myself way more drawn to gay men and found many straight men unappealing. This obviously was not great for my dating life.
It also meant that I tended to not know how to relate to straight men, except on the level of physical attraction, and that led to many poor choices that one day culminated in my work as an escort at the end of my addiction.
I do not want it to sound like I am trying to blame my father for any of the poor choices that I made through the course of my addiction. I am also certain that there are factors other than my dad’s closeted status during my childhood that played into my addiction and poor decisions. However, my point is that the effort my dad made to make himself be straight for the church had consequences on us as children. I have heard the saying ‘sin splatters’ and I think the sin of conversion therapy has the ability to splatter on a far larger scale than the evangelical church can begin to understand.
I love the life I have today and am thankful for the ways my experiences allow me to relate to the pain of others. But I do not want to see others go down the same dark roads I have walked. While I cannot separate myself from the reality that I would not exist if not for my dad’s attempts at conversion therapy, I can say I do not think what happened in my family is evidence of what God desires for THEIR children. I believe God wants THEIR children to have love and acceptance for themselves exactly as THEY made them and not try to be anyone else simply to please another’s outdated patriarchal views.