In 1978 a small group of men — fathers who were trying to reconcile their attraction to men with their responsibilities to their families -— came together to form Gay Fathers of Toronto. The group is now one of the longest-running gay support groups in Canada.
Today the group is coordinated by Paul Carr, who married a woman at age 23 and had three kids over the course of the 33-year marriage.
“Coming out is a complicated process for most people,” says Carr. “For a married man with children it is even more complicated because the decision impacts other people in very different ways.
“Most fathers are terrified of the consequences, often having no one else to talk to. Knowledge that others have travelled this path, often successfully, helps rebuild self-esteem, confidence and makes him aware of options for his own and his family’s future.”
Carr, who’s been with the peer-led support group for 12 years, says men who come out after years of being the father in a straight context can face issues that seem outdated to other queers.
“The first issue is overcoming their internalized homo-phobic beliefs,” he says. “Most of them have suppressed their desires for same-sex relationships for a long time and have ideas about themselves and homosexuality that were learned many years ago. These also include outdated ideas about laws and courts that used to rule against gay men, almost automatically.
“They also have to determine if they will remain as part of the nuclear family or if separation is inevitable. Divorce is never easy. Most men loved their wives when they married, and many still do. The impact on the wives is profound and contributes to the man’s guilt. They worry about how the children will respond and fear that they will reject future contact with their father. They worry about the impact of being outed at work, fearing that it will destroy their careers and maybe contribute to the financial strain already complicated by separation.
“And finally, for most men, it is a huge adjustment to be dating again, and dating men is a whole new world.”
Carr says he wants people to understand that coming out doesn’t make the life and the family that came before a mistake.
“Having children — even marrying [women] — was not crime, a sin, a social error or even necessarily an avoidance of one’s sexual orientation,” he says. “Being a father is as much part of our true selves as being attracted to men our true selves.”