I doubt you’ll remember the finer details, but I told you I was gay after an episode of Jeopardy. It was a winter night five years ago, and you were cracking some rather distasteful jokes about a particularly flamboyant contestant. I decided then: I didn’t want you to make fun of people who are like me. I wanted you to like me.
You brushed it off and told me it was a passing phase. I accepted that as progress.
See, back when I was figuring my sexual orientation out — I was in high school, struggling through my teen years to understand what it all meant — I never thought I’d be able to come out to you. You’re a stoic, introverted Italian guy; my friends all thought you were in the mob, and most of them were afraid of you. I was, too. You never showed acceptance, or even tolerance, toward gay people. I remember when we were watching a news report on the legalization of same-sex marriage, you uttered: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I thought you would disown me. I often wondered if I could forgo the entire coming-out process. Some days, I hoped you might not be alive to learn about this part of me.
It took me seven years to work up the courage to tell you, and then it poured out all at once after Alex Trebek signed off — that I was different, that it pained me to know how you felt about people like me, that I just wanted you to accept me. We haven’t talked about it since.
Your silence wasn’t a surprise; you and I never talked much about our feelings. You were raised by two strict European parents who taught you to show no fear, and so you built up a rugged exterior to wear like armour. You fought kids at school because you skipped a grade and were the small one; you had to show you could be tough. You were a physical labourer most of your life and you threw yourself into your work, letting out your aggression with your tools. Growing up, I only saw you cry twice: when your uncle Sam died suddenly, and when you had a kidney stone.
Instead of talking about feelings, you operate in roundabout ways. You tell your friends how proud you are of your kids, knowing that the proxy praise will get back to me. You buy Mom household tools, not flowers, because you know she likes practical gifts, things she can use to take care of tasks independently. And you teach my girlfriend (even if you won’t refer to her by that title) the right way to hang up picture frames in our new apartment; you even bought her a drill. There are no words necessary for your love here. Your actions are enough.
You were the only person in my life who didn’t set expectations for my future. When I was young and a tomboy, family members tried with all their might to get me in a dress, to be a better girl. You didn’t care. When you bought a T-shirt emblazoned in muscle cars for my brother, you bought me the same one. You never told me what path to take, instead encouraging me only to study and pursue a career I would love. And you never dreamt of having a son-in-law, of walking me down the aisle to meet a man on the other end. You only wanted better for me: for me to have what you couldn’t, to work a job that wouldn’t take a toll on my body like yours, and to be happy.
I realized that’s how you are. Encouraging me to find my own way, to be my own person — these are things that built your identity. And once I acknowledged that, I realized you were actually accepting me for who I am, and my identity.
So, you don’t talk about me being gay, but I noticed you stop cracking jokes about gay stereotypes. You’ve commented on how upsetting you find news stories about injustices against LGBTQ2 communities. You’ve asked me about my time at Pride. In a way that’s inimitably yours, you’ve grown to love the person I am — no exchange of words required.
I used to be uncomfortable, wondering if we would ever have an awkward exchange about my impromptu coming-out during our usual weeknight game show viewings. Now I find comfort in your silence, because in that silence is a mutual understanding. Thinking back to those fears I had in high school of telling you my secret still gives me a dull ache in my stomach. I can’t imagine a life where you didn’t know this part of me — or never had a chance to know it at all.
So thank you. You’ve given me a life where I am free to be exactly who I am, and you’ve embraced my identity. You’ve welcomed my partner into your life. I know you’re proud of me, something I never thought was possible. Just know that I am grateful — you don’t have to say a word.