Guest post by PhebeAnn.
My dad and I have always been close, but we have especially been so since my mum died in 2001, when I was 17, and my dad became my only parent.
I remember when I was around 12 – this would be the mid 90s – I told my mum that although I sometimes had crushes on boys, I thought I might be gay because I was definitely attracted to girls, and not just in a friendship way. My mum’s response was basically that I was too young to know and that while it was okay to experiment, she really hoped I wasn’t gay because gay people’s lives are difficult.
I don’t remember talking to my dad about my feelings at that time. After my mum’s response, I was hesitant to talk about my sexuality again. But then, when I was 18, I fell in love with my friend S., a straight woman. Falling for S. is another story, but suffice it to say, I have never been so lovesick before or since. This love was so elating and torturous that I couldn’t keep it to myself.
I remember telling my dad “Dad, I am attracted to girls,” to which he replied cheekily, “me too!” His casual answer is memorable because to him the news was just that: casual. It didn’t change anything between him and me. I’m a bit of an oddball, and so is my dad. He is the one person in my life who from the minute I was born has always accepted me for exactly who and what I am and has never asked me to be anything else. My sexuality was no different. When I told him I was in love with S., he was not surprised. He knew her well as my friend, and likes her very much. He grieved my unrequited love with me and provided a shoulder to cry on many times.
Our discussions were mostly focused on my feelings about S. We didn’t talk about labels as far as I recall. I don’t remember ever telling my dad I was a lesbian, which is how I identified at the time.
I can’t recount a specific moment of coming out to my dad as bisexual – which is how I’ve identified for the past decade – but I do recall that I started using the word with him. When paired with the fact that I was in a polyamorous relationship at the time, it caused some confusion for him and some confusion and trepidation for my then-stepmother. It wasn’t that my dad wasn’t accepting of my bisexuality; I’m just not sure that he totally understood it. But one thing I can say about my dad is that he is always willing to learn. I get my insatiable curiosity and love of learning from him.
In my second year of university, when I was 22, one of my Woman’s Studies professors (the first openly bisexual person over the age of 30 I had ever met) gave a talk on bisexuality and biphobia as part of Pride Week on campus. I didn’t attend because I had a class that conflicted, but I sent my dad and then-stepmom, hoping they’d understand bisexuality better if it was explained by someone older and more educated than me. I’m pretty sure they – at that time in their 50s – were the only people over the age of 25 in the room, other than my professor. After the presentation, my dad excitedly reported back everything he’d learned about bisexuality. And he has been the best bisexual ally a daughter could ask for ever since.
My dad has always celebrated the loves in my life with me, welcoming my partners and lovers of all genders. He also supports the queer community, attending local events, and always challenging himself to wrap his head around new identities he encounters. I wouldn’t say he understands the complexity and history of queer politics and identities the way I do – as a queer person with a degree in Women’s Studies who was steeped in queer theory for nigh on a decade through grad school – but I’d say he’s more knowledgeable than your average 60-something straight man.
A more recent time where I felt like my dad didn’t get it was last year when he marched in the pride parade with an atheist group he belongs to. After pride, we had an argument because he had worn an atheist-themed outfit. I felt that he – and much of his group – were appropriating LGBT2SQIPA+ pride and making it about atheist pride, as though atheists face the same oppression that queer folks do. While I recognize that atheists in some parts of the world are oppressed, Canadian atheists, as a group, do not experience anything like the discrimination and violence many queer people (and especially LGBT2SQIPA+ people of colour) still endure daily in our community. And to be fair, I have the same criticism for many organizations and businesses who participate in Pride: they’re willing to promote their brand – maybe with a few rainbows thrown in – but they know little about queer identities, history, and politics.
I relayed all of this criticism to my dad. I told him if he wanted to participate he should do so in a way that showed his connection to and support of the queer community: as an ally, and/or as a parent of a queer kid. Of course I know my dad’s an ally, and in the grand scheme of things, I am happy to have a parent that would participate in pride, period. But I’m not really one to let something lie when I think a productive conversation could be had.
Well, clearly, the message got through. Below is a picture of my dad at pride this year, wearing a rainbow fedora, a rainbow bow tie, a utilikilt, rainbow knee socks, and a t-shirt that says, in rainbow lettering “I’m so proud of my beautiful bi daughter.” The shirt also has a picture of me in my garden, photos of me and him together at my graduation, a picture of us working on a construction project, and a picture of us going on a hike. He’s also included the acronym LGBT2SQA+. My dad did not tell me what he was going to be wearing. When I saw him, I was a little embarrassed but mostly proud.
Later my dad told me about how he’d gone to several stores buying all the supplies for his outfit, and that he stayed up all night making the shirt especially for pride. He wanted to make sure his support was visible, that I was visible, because he knows how important it is to me. How many dads would do that?
My dad, my ally, my friend. I could not be luckier to have him.
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