A Letter to Bill’s Children About Their Father’s Homophobia
There are soon to be five of you; your father’s path need not be your path.
It is possible one of you may grow up to be something other than what would fit into your dad’s view of acceptable sexuality. At the least, you will meet people who don’t, and may be inclined to shun or abuse them because of your father’s teachings.
I’m here to tell you it’s okay to disagree with him.
I encountered your father online a few months ago. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write this letter. I had to gather some stories, stories that were hard to hear, and hard to relay in this letter. It took time for me to work out what I want to write. I’m still not sure I’ll say it right.
But I must say something, because your life might be at stake.
It’s not just Bill’s children I’m speaking to. Any young person whose sexuality puts them at risk from their family I hope to help. Because, you see, you don’t have to be alone. You are not alone.
I going to share stories of six people I spoke to who grew up in families who didn’t accept their sexuality / gender identity, along with their advice on how to survive it. And it’s not just them who offer help, but entire communities, both in person and online, you can access to seek assistance if your home life is troubled.
One thing I learned in these interviews is that children who grow up with men like Bill as a father are often sheltered and don’t understand what’s happening to them, so I’ll offer a brief explanation. There is a common term “LGBT,” which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.” Humans are complex beings and it goes beyond a single acronym. You can start learning more about it here.
The important thing to know is that sexuality doesn’t stop at “one man, one woman.” There is myriad variety, regardless of what some holy books state. What’s more, you may have been raised a certain gender based on what’s between your legs, but it feels wrong to you.
But it’s not wrong. It’s who you are. And yet, if you’re growing up in an environment where it’s dangerous to express who you truly are, you need to protect yourself. That’s why I’m writing this letter to you. I want you to be safe.
To Bill’s children: If you are LGBT, I fear you can expect a troubled home life. I say this because of this post he made on Facebook a few months ago:
Note the question that followed: “You’d beat your child if the child was gay?”
Bill’s reply was “I would…..however I won’t have to. I currently have 4 kids and one in bound…..I raise them right.”
Bill thinks a heavy dose of the Bible will prevent homosexuality, but religion is a common theme in the interviews I conducted, and it didn’t prevent any of them from being LGBT. That’s not how it works.
And Bill doesn’t just hate gay people. Here is a post of his from last May about transgender:
It’s important to know that, if you are LGBT, you’re not failing God, and you’re not failing your parents or your community. This is the way you’re made. But, you may need to hide it.
These stories help explain why.
THE PAIN OF LOSS OF FAMILY
Lives in the U.K.
I grew up in Belfast in a protestant family that was extremely conservative. Religion played a big role in this. They believe homosexuality is something that should be punished by death.
I knew I was attracted to men by the time I was 12, but growing up I’d never heard the word “gay” and didn’t understand what homosexuality was. There was only one world view I was exposed to. Until I was 20, I thought being gay was something that could be “fixed.”
My parents learned I was gay when I was 14. I was caught watching gay porn at school and the headmaster called my parents. There was lots of screaming and physical punishment that went on for months. They were terrified of having a gay child and were trying to “cure” me.
It became a very hostile environment. Everything I did became scrutinized a hundred times more. From that point on, nothing I ever did was good enough.
I was 21 when I left. After years of being screamed at I got angry at the unfairness of it. I started going to an LGBT group and met people who had a spare room so I could move out and not be homeless. I was still working for the family company, and I had tried “pray out the gay” therapy to become straight. But then I decided to write my family a letter saying I wasn’t rejecting my sexuality anymore; I’d decided to accept myself.
My mother agreed to meet me in a restaurant where she said they couldn’t have anything to do with me anymore. She gave me a letter in return that saying I was going to hell if I didn’t change my ways.
Lives in Texas
I grew up in Detroit with an evangelical family. I knew I was different when I was little; I was a kind and sweet kid. I didn’t know what “gay” was because that was hidden from me. You learned about “sodomites” in church, but it didn’t register what that was.
I was different. I wasn’t rough and tumble. During puberty, I wondered what was happening because I wasn’t thinking about girls, I was thinking about boys. It was something I would never try to say aloud. I felt shame.
Inside my house was violent. I was already navigating landmines of day-to-day anxiety from abuse. I think my parents had suspicions I was gay. They’d talk about my mannerisms and single me out for abuse. One day, when I was 17, my dad was wailing on me, and I’d had enough. It was my breaking point. I sued my parents to be emancipated.
The judge scared them and the abuse stopped. I continued living with them until I was 20 when I joined the military after 9/11. My mentality was they didn’t accept gay people and if they didn’t accept gay people then I can’t be gay. Obviously, I was still in denial at this point.
I had only been with girls at this point. I felt like I could save myself from being gay. I felt like if I died for my country then I might be worth something. But my logic failed me. I was in the military for three years and it didn’t make me straight.
When I was 21 my sister, who was well-intentioned, told my parents I was gay. I was in the Middle East at the time and would call home on Sundays. My parents were really rough about it. They saw it as a choice I made.
I finally came to the realization there is no point in trying to continue a relationship with them. I tried to be their son, but it’s funny that it was their lifestyle that ended up severing ties. Their lifestyle is based on religion and abuse.
Lives in Eastern Canada
My dad and my step-mom were very strict and conservative. As an example, I was told to not ever bring home a guy who wasn’t white. The thought of being gay wasn’t even spoken about. Religion was a big part of my upbringing.
As a teen, I thought both boys and girls were attractive, but I never pursued girls because I knew it would be looked down on, so I went a little boy crazy to compensate. It was painful for me to shut down that same-sex attraction.
I kept it to myself until I was in my 20s. I was in a relationship with a guy from 19 to 26. He was an all right guy, but I woke up one day realizing I was unhappy with who I was. I lived on my own for a while and explored dating women and a light bulb went off in my head. I realized I was so much happier.
I hid it from my parents. It was heartbreaking thinking about having to tell them. They didn’t know about my first two girlfriends. “Katie,” who I’m now married to … I lived with her for months before I told my parents I was gay.
My dad told me he was disappointed. He saw it as a choice I made.
I had been close to my father growing up, but my dad and my step-mom didn’t come to my wedding. My biological mother did; she was fine with it. My brother walked me down the aisle.
I only talk to my dad once or twice a year via phone or email. It’s very strained. It’s always me reaching out. I never receive a call from him. I cry after each phone call with dad because I feel like I’m still disappointing him.
Lives in Southern California
My earliest memories, from three or four, I knew I was different.
My dad was a construction worker and as rough and tough as you can be. I grew up Mormon and anything that wasn’t masculine was negative in our house. Anything that had to do with LGBT was off limits. It was a sin. You were going to hell.
My mother was accepting of me, but growing up, she had family that was gay. She always seemed to be the opposite of my dad. My father became aware I was trans when I was in my 30s.
I learned right away growing up showing that side of me wasn’t allowed. I had to hide who I was. You had to be tough in our house. If there was any inkling of femininity in a man, you would get pounded for it. We were the red-blooded American family. My parents wanted everyone to think we were perfect.
I didn’t know who I was. I was worried I was a freak. There was no internet. It wasn’t a sexual thing, I just felt like I was a woman.
I worked out and got really muscular, and went to church more and more to change how I felt inside. I got married at 23. I was married for 20 years and we had three children. We’re still the best of friends. Without her help, it would have been really difficult.
I was 35 when I told my father.
He said I needed to save the family name; save it from shame. He said if I loved my family I would kill myself.
We got in a huge fight. Fists were flying. After that it took three years, then we started talking again. I hadn’t transitioned and he knew I was trying to get help, but he was thinking “help” meant “remain a man.” I went crazy with the working out as hard as I could. I wanted this thing gone. I did everything I could to get rid of it.
But you can’t run from this once you figure out who you are.
My father and I had become close in between our fight and my transition in 2011. But then he told me I am dead to him; I don’t exist anymore.
Lives in Illinois
I realized I was different in middle school, but there was a lot of self-denial.
There was a lot of purity culture where I grew up, so I just thought everyone had these “impure” thoughts. It was a sheltered environment. My mom got involved in a very homophobic church, and my parents really bought into that concept. They talked about how “disgusting” homosexuality was.
My best friend since I was 5 came out when she was 12. I was told I was never allowed to see her again.
I didn’t come out to my parents. It was not a safe environment. For them, a person’s value hinged on their purity; it became suffocating. We were controlled to the point that thinking anything from the outside world would corrupt us.
I just walked away at 19. I packed my bags in the middle of the night. I told them at dinner that I couldn’t live with them anymore and the reply was, “You leave with the clothes on your back.” I was escorted out the door.
I moved in with an abusive partner just to get away. It was either that or be homeless. I didn’t have family or relatives; the religious community was all I knew growing up. I didn’t have any backup. My parents approached my work and told them they had to let me go or they’d not be friends with them anymore. They made them pick sides. My siblings were told not to talk to me.
Lives in Seattle
I’d always known I was gay, but couldn’t put words to it until I was 12 or 13. I knew instinctively I had to hide it. It was never my intention to come out to my family because it was such a hostile environment.
My parents were very religious and conservative. They went to a Pentecostal church twice a week.
I was 20 when they found out. I was home after my first semester of college, and my step-mom found a picture of me kissing an ex-boyfriend. I decided to let it all out and tell her I’m gay. She got very upset and told me not to tell my dad. But she told him three days later anyway. They were both upset and crying. I remember us sitting at the kitchen table. He had the Bible out. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a few days.
I had let religion go in college. I wasn’t interested in it anymore. Part of that was me being gay. It didn’t make sense to me. I consider myself agnostic now.
My parents said I had to do religious-based reparative therapy to “pray out the gay” or get out. I moved out and moved in with some friends who were very welcoming. I didn’t talk to my parents for a year.
WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?
The first question you may have is, how did they let this happen? And by “they,” you may be thinking it is the children’s fault. If they had just lived the way their parents wanted, they could have remained part of the family.
But this isn’t something that can be denied. Being LGBT is not a choice. And despite what many profess, there ARE more than two genders.
In terms of sexuality, this article in the Guardian explains that a combination of genetics and sex hormones in prenatal development play a role in who we’re sexually attracted to. From the article: “sexual orientation is a pattern of desire, not of behaviour or sexual acts per se. It is not a simple act of will or a performance. We fall in love with men or women because we have gay, straight, or bisexual orientations and not because of choice.”
Regarding transgender, this post explains the immense complexity of gender that goes far beyond “one man, one woman.”
Gender and sexuality aren’t things that can be prayed or electro-shocked away. These families fell apart because the parents could not accept the very natural people their children are.
FINDING THEIR WAY ANYWAY
Although the examples here are all Christian, it is not the only religion that has issues with LGBT. There are theocratic countries where being gay is punishable by death. But it’s not always a picnic in the western world either.
And that’s why the attempted suicide rate for LBGT youth is four times the average, and 40% of trans adults have attempted suicide in their lifetime, a rate that is nine times that of the general population.
But just because their families rejected them doesn’t mean stories can’t have happy endings.
It wasn’t as hard as I thought being estranged from my family. You build up a new circle of friends and they become your family. You trust these people more than you trust your own family. Life is great now. I have a good job and my own apartment. These were things that, as a 17-year-old sitting in my room in terror, never thought would be possible for me.
I’m married now and my husband is amazing. He’s a very loving man. My husband’s family loves him and they love me. When he came out his mother threw a party. They love me to the point it’s almost overwhelming. They’re Catholic but fine with him being gay.
“Katie’s” family has been so amazing. The people here have been wonderful. I consider the people here more my family than the ones I moved away from.
I haven’t spoken to my father in five years. One of my sisters is on the fence, one sister doesn’t want anything to do with me, and one sister is a huge cheerleader. My little brother is incredible. He and I have been best friends forever.
I feel incredible now. I feel normal. This life is better.
I’m not religious now. I have a wonderful partner. I did not think I would be as happy as I am now.
My relationship with my parents has improved but it’s still an elephant in the room. They’re still not accepting of me; it’s a delicate relationship. We don’t talk about it. I have a partner but they have not met him.
My partner’s family is completely accepting. His brothers and sisters are very loving. It’s like a surrogate family. It makes it easier, but it’s sad to me that my parents never wanted to meet my partner. They wouldn’t come to the wedding if we got married.
ADVICE FOR THOSE IN NEED OF HELP
The first bit of advice involves using secrecy to stay safe.
- “You might have to feel like you’re hiding who you really are. It’s okay to protect that because once it comes out it can be painful for your family. Until you feel like you’re strong and safe, it’s okay to keep that inside.” – “Willow”
- “If you have to find a place inside you that no one can get into, find that place. In a hostile environment, where there is no way out yet, your safety and security is the #1 priority.” – Freddie
- “We’re taught to revere our parents, but sometimes they just don’t know what’s best for is. It’s not bad to disobey your parents to protect yourself. You’re not trying to hurt anyone.” – Kaelyn
- If you’re in an unsafe environment it’s okay to stay in the closet until you’re old enough to make it on your own. I knew eventually I would get out of this, that I just had to do my time and I could get through it. – Jesse
You also need to find a support group:
- “It’s very difficult to be on your own. There are places you can reach out to. Friends and family members who, at first, you might not think would support you. Talk to people.” – “Willow”
- “If you’re a minor and you’re in danger, speak to your counsellor or a teacher or even a police officer. Don’t suffer through it. Get help from an understanding adult.” – Freddie
- “Realize there will be people who you always thought would be in your corner who won’t end up being there for you, but there will also be those you never thought would help you who will be there for you. Some will pull away, and some will come in closer.” – Wendy
- “Find a mentor or someone who will listen and help you. There are organizations you can reach out to.” – Kaelyn
- “Coming out in a difficult situation like mine is impossible to do on your own. You need financial and moral support. There are plenty of groups who want to help, you just have to find them. The group I found I went to Google and typed in ‘gay young people Belfast.’ There are groups like that in every major city. In rural areas, there is the internet where there are forums and support groups online. There are Facebook pages. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. I was so indoctrinated that I went to the LGBT youth center three times without going inside because I had been taught it was full of evil people.” – Levi
One website you can go to right now for support is www.thetrevorproject.org.
But be careful in your browsing if you need to hide your identity from your family. Make sure you won’t be walked in on, and learn how to clear your browser history. If you are in danger, you must be cautious to guard this secret until such a time as it’s safe to come out.
Regarding coming out to your family, Levi created a video of advice on how to safely do so.
If coming out goes badly, if your parents don’t accept you, it’s not on you. And you can still have a happy future in front of you.
“I don’t think I’ll ever see my parents again,” Freddie told me. “That may happen and it’s okay. Blood isn’t always thicker than water. You meet other people in life who you choose to be your family. You will find people who will make room for you and you will make room for them. Biology wants you to go home; you will miss your parents. But sometimes you have to realize that home is not safe, so you live as a refugee. There are people out there who will love you in a way that is enough to get you through.”
EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT LGBT
If Bill is your dad, or you have a mom and dad who believe the way Bill does, I will repeat that their path need not be your path.
Hatred of LGBT is often passed down from parents, usually via religious teachings. If you are in a community where such religion plays a significant role, it’s not necessary for you to reject it outright and in so doing lose your entire community. While there are those who disagree, you can pick and choose from religion what works best for you.
The world is changing, and you don’t need to carry all your parents’ ideals with you into the future. You will meet people in life who are LGBT, and it’s not right to hold hate in your heart for them just because you were taught their identity is sinful.
You can break the chain of bigotry in your generation.
IF YOU ARE BILL
I know we exchanged some harsh words on your page. I’m not going to do that here. I just want to you think about the stories in this piece and consider if your beliefs are worth losing a child forever. You can’t change them. You can’t beat or pray their identity out of them. If they’re LGBT, then they just are, and you can either accept that, or lose them.
It’s okay to ignore that part of your faith. It’s okay to keep your beliefs close to your heart, but place an asterisk next to the part that tells you to hate and reject your own children. Here is what the asterisk might say:
*I love my children, and will never reject them for being LGBT.
James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com, and a contributor to Men’s Health, Women’s Health, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and NPR.