Writing Truth

You will be called weak for talking about it as a man, but it takes a strong boy to overcome rape, molestation, and seduction by an adult.

It takes courage to face a world where you are born with obstacles because of your race and sexuality and poverty. But sometimes you beat the school-to-prison pipeline, you beat homelessness, and you beat the haters.

“A memoir that holds back or refuses to ‘go there’ is an insult to the reader, really. If I’ve paid to read your story, I want to experience it fully. Not some air-brushed, stiff-upper-lip version. An emotionally dishonest memoir is nothing more than a tedious infomercial for the author.”

Augusten Burroughs is bold, frank, and fearless in his search for personal truth by Jack Smith (June 8, 2018), The Writer

I had a compelling need to write the story. For myself.

Hopefully my sons will read it, plus family and people who knew me, all of them finally learning my truth.

To remind those who didn’t know me, what life was like before LGBTQ people were treated a little better; before so many strides were made in a country that professed to care for the humanity of all.

I spent decades under a narrative written by others: juvenile delinquent, bisexual, homosexual, unsuitable, divorced, absent father… All labels meant to suppress one’s potential. All labels meant to shame. And they did.

When I began free writing my story I realized the truth was a threat to those who had spent a lifetime degrading me.

My first decision would be to wait until my father was gone, not to spare him any embarrassment but because I did not want him to know the pain hidden in my secrets.

I realized after writing the initial chapters that I must also extend that same courtesy to my mother. But there is an ugliness in our history that should not be my burden alone to carry, and there is an opportunity to learn and heal by sharing.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

One family member sent a barrage of letters and email threatening legal action, unaware I hadn’t written her into my story, at-all. Her irrational fears screamed how dare you tell the truth, how dare you be gay, how dare you marry a man, how dare you live happily-ever-after… Don’t you have AIDS?

Using a once-fatal but now chronic illness as a means to demean is convenient for her, still. Her displeasure echoes of hate from our past; her homophobia now simply an annoyance.

If I were to consider anyone’s feelings it would be my sons. In writing, I confronted my failures as a father but finally understood why my parental instinct was absent.

We were close once but grew apart with wounds that never healed.

“When you are a child – and this is a message I want every parent to hear – you don’t have the language to explain what is happening to you, because you’ve been seduced, and entrapped.”

Oprah Winfrey, After Neverland (HBO, March 2019)

The trauma from my childhood and early exposure to violence and sexuality contributed to my difficulty with relationships. This is what I learned later in life and part of what I explore in my writing.

Being honest about my sexuality had consequences, as did pretending to be what I was not: heterosexual. Two letters I received – one from each of my sons – explained the effect my being gay and leaving had on their lives, but also became a driving force for telling my side of the story.

How can children learn to love their fathers when a religion tells them he is an abomination, that he’ll burn in Hell for eternity? What effect does this have on both the father and sons, and their relationship?

From “Dear Dad, I miss you very much. Are you doing fine? I love you,” at eight-years-old, to “Dear Dad, I was ashamed of and hated you for being you. The way you chose to live your life,” sixteen years later.

I’m told there are two sides to every story, and that’s true; but only I can write my truth, and don’t expect woe is me or fuck you because I’m way past that.