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Early Gay Liberation Movement at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 1971-1978
Lambda Line

Just the Other Day
I Was Telling My Father I Was Gay

The Personal is the Political

I told my father I was gay because a) he was going to find out about it whether or not I told him; b) it was liberating and c) when he found out through other sources, which he inevitably would, I wouldn't know about it and would be less prepared for the likely explosion. So I was "very courageous" and wrote him a letter, not being courageous enough to be there and tell him in person (this letter writing was getting to be a habit with me).

Then I was very courageous and waited for him to call me, not being courageous enough to call him first.

He wrote me a letter first. In it, he said he didn't believe me.

He called me in the dorm about a week later. My roommate, Kyle, took the call, knew I was nervous about a call from home, though he didn't know why, and said with a wry and twinkling look of "uh-oh" in his eyes, "It's your dad."

I made Kyle leave the room (to his chagrin) and squeaked out a hello to my father.

"When are you coming home?" he demanded, in question form. The tone in his voice was ominous.

I feigned frivolity and said I'd just been thinking about it. "Maybe in a week or two?"

"I want to see you," he said.

I didn't particularly want to see him, but I knew I had to. "Well, I suppose I could come in two weeks." Two weeks. That was just like tomorrow.

"Good."

We said goodbye quickly. I was very uncomfortable. This was not going to be easy.

As I said earlier, he would have found out I was gay anyway; several months' previous, another friend in my hometown and I had been discussing my new gay identity in life and she was in the process of her own life crisis at that moment (lots of soul searching goes on when people first move away from home, it seems). Unlike my course of action, she turned towards fundamentalist religion to solve her problems, and read the Bible and discovered I was a horrific sinner in need of a good soul saving. Not satisfied in knowing this alone, she felt the need to inform her younger sister of my situation. Soon I heard rumors that the younger sister went to the town hangout and cried and sobbed the story of my gayness out to many of my hometown peers, and, being that this was such juicy news, within days the entire village of 2000 people had heard I was gay. Even though my Dad lived 16 miles away, it would be only a short matter of time until he would be informed of this. It behooved me to tell him first. By spring I had evolved to a point where it didn't matter so much what other people thought, even if my father was a scary thought. And I was frankly getting quite damned angry about the way everything worked in the world and how things were so unfairly set up to suppress gay people (among others). Other than being born, I had done nothing to deserve what had been doled out.

At times during the next several years I can remember it was mildly amusing to experience the reactions this knowledge of my "deviance" from the hometown norm had on specific people (not everybody of course) who would run into me when I had made one of my periodic, but fewer, visits back. I was a rebel with a cause and an observer with a future pen. Small towns may have some advantages in support and lifestyle for those who grow up there and don't deviate from their prescribed norm; for the rest of us they can often turn petty and spiteful.

Being the good son I was just a few weeks before the letter to my father, and because the issue of my gayness and his reaction to it just wasn't going to go away no matter how much I might wish it to, I went home two weeks after the call from my father, just as I had promised. The whole scenario was surreal. I walked into his apartment in West Burlington, he'd made vegetable soup (because you always feed the kid when he comes back home) and he put two bowls of soup down on the table. One for him, one for me. I tried to eat about three spoonfuls that I didn't really want because my stomach was in knots and he didn't eat any of his, and by the third spoonful he, who was not touching his own bowl of soup, exploded.

It was a mighty rage. It was full of threats and anger and a face redder than I'd ever seen it.

He threatened my life, he threatened the life of my dead mother. He threatened me if I ever told any of my mother's relatives (He said nothing about his side of my family, strangely enough, though I guess that's because he used them for support and they already knew this situation). He quoted me the family doctor who had told him it was "impossible for there to be a 19 year old homosexual" and this doctor might only believe it if I were "40 or 50 years old, if even then" and my dad told me I was going to visit that very doctor and I was going to get this fixed even though there wasn't really anything wrong because I wasn't that way but if I was there was nothing that could be done about it which is why it wasn't true.

I told him I was not going to visit the doctor if the doctor was that stupid, and if he tried anything at all he would never see or hear from me again. Period.

The car I had been using for trips between school and home was still listed in his name for ownership so he took it away. He demanded to know what those other queers, "the limp-wristed ones," were telling me to make me think I was "this way."

I answered calmly as I could to everything he screamed. I had prepared for this, and of all my fears the scenario happening was the closest in reality when it happened to what I'd feared. I gave him a gay history lesson. I quoted statistics, I did everything possible that was logical, but of course this was not a discussion that had any logic and it was pathetic on one level even to try to be sane; he was reacting purely on emotion and through his own preconceptions, and knew no other way to react. Being supposedly rational was the only course I could figure out to follow at that moment until he finished his tirade.

The only slightly humorous thing I can remember from the explosion was once for a few seconds when he paused and almost boastfully said, "I can see you've learned everything about this just like you do with everything else you do." That moment was really odd.

Soon he stopped screaming and I could take no more so I fled down the road to New London to be with people who were my age who were there to provide that evening's support through this latest episode in my soap opera of a life.

I went back to school (I think on the bus…) and decided to screw off my classes. I stayed enrolled because the dorm fed me. I played basketball from eight in the morning until ten at night. I'd started a major in music my sophomore year and soon disclosed my whole situation to my piano teacher, Marion Barnum, who called to see why I was missing lessons and who assured me everything would be ok because "he was my father…"

Marion was kind of a space age teacher in a terra firma world. She belonged in a university where music was more appreciated. She viewed Iowa State as an unfortunate cow pasture in her career, I would dare to say. When I told her I was gay, I guess in order to reassure me and make me feel OK about myself she simply blurted out, "Oh, everybody in music is a homosexual." I made the mistake later of relating that sentence to my father. Despite having grown up a lot in six months, I was still young, and I didn't always have good sense. Telling him she said that was a big mistake; things were highly explosive still and exploded more often than not every time he phoned me.

Angry with the entire cosmos, Dad came to campus a few weeks later in spring quarter and screamed at the Department of Residence and at Marion and at my advisor in the music department and at a professor of a music course I was taking and probably at anybody else who would dare to listen to him that day (I think he went up and down the hallways in the music building!). He felt they should force me into going to classes he paid for (which makes much more sense now than it did then when I wished him dead) and he screamed that he had been tricked into sending me to this place that had turned me queer. And I think he inferred my very straight roommate from my hometown must also be one of these vile creatures into which I had metamorphosed.

He was mighty wrong about a lot of things.

It was tedious undoing his day on campus. I had to go to the Department of Residence and explain my living situation, and the head of the place said there was "nothing the university could do about 'this sort of thing' anyway." I saved my roommate Kyle's reputation from horrid further speculation about his 'manhood' while I was there, too. The bureaucrat seemed to raise his eyebrows more at the thought Kyle and I weren't sexually involved than he might have if I'd fed his fantasy, since he obviously he had preconceived notions about our relationship put in his head by my father before I arrived to talk to him.

Marion Barnum called me up from her studio in the stars the afternoon after she got to meet my fun father, and she told me, quite contrary to her earlier advice, "[Dennis,] I really think you and your father should stay away from each other for awhile."

Glad to see you know when you're wrong, teach! You know, I so wish there'd been a hidden camera in her office that day; I'd just really like to see what it was that happened there.

—Dennis Brumm

Intersecting Symbols Line