Hey Dad — I'm Here, I'm Queer, Deal With It

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As part of LGBT Pride month, Tell Me More is exploring the sometimes difficult process of informing others about one's sexual orientation. Guests and friends of the program who are either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are sharing their stories of coming out to those closest to them: family, friends, and even co-workers.


Kai Wright is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. His work explores the politics of sex, race and health. i

Kai Wright is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. His work explores the politics of sex, race and health. Jedd Flanscha hide caption

itoggle caption Jedd Flanscha
Kai Wright is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. His work explores the politics of sex, race and health.

Kai Wright is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. His work explores the politics of sex, race and health.

Jedd Flanscha

I figured there were a few ways I could come out to my family. There was the apologetic route: "Sorry, I know this is hard for you, but ... " There was the casual, minimizing approach: "Oh, by the way, I'm gay, whatever, it's not a big thing." And then, of course, there was self-righteous indignation: "I'm here, I'm queer, and you should just deal with it!"

I went with self-righteous.

I began with a combative letter to my father, an unnecessarily hostile missive that has been mercifully lost to history. His response has, however, survived. My father — a hyper-educated man who loathed being caught off his intellectual guard — met my indignation with a torrent of, well, really useful information. He advised me to read James Baldwin's novel Just Above My Head.

"It's the only book," Dad wrote, "I have ever bothered to read which depicts gay love in the same way that heterosexual love is depicted." He told me to learn more than the obvious on sexual health. He was, after all, a doctor. "Education is very good about HIV," he said, "but poor about hepatitis."

But most usefully, Dad articulated a perspective that continues to define my out, proud sexual identity today.

"My first reaction," he wrote, "was to treat this like when you said you wanted to be a running back in the NFL, but you are grown now and your decisions are more long lasting. Remember, being gay is a part of who you are, not what you are or even what you do."

He was drawing an important distinction there, one I'm not even sure he understood.

A popular rejoinder to homophobes today is to assert that being gay is not a choice — that we are born this way, as Lady Gaga tells us. I disagree.

The most important part about being gay is precisely the part we choose — to stand up and own who we are, proudly.

Again, my father put it best: "I have no knowledge or understanding of what being gay is about," he wrote, "but I do believe the best life is the honest life."

The honest life! That's ultimately what coming out is about, too. It's not about apologizing to everybody for the hassle of sexual politics or minimizing our differences from the mainstream or even getting annoyed that all of this is necessary in the first place. It's about being honest with ourselves, first and foremost. If we all make that choice, everything else will follow.

My father was already greatly ill when he wrote that letter, and he has since passed. I had moved away from home, and was enmeshed in the terribly consuming business of creating an independent post-college life. So we never talked much more about our letter exchange. I regret that deeply today, because I never got to thank the old man for showing me how to be gay.

Kai Wright is the editor of Colorlines.com, a daily news site about racial justice issues.

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