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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

I never got to come out to my father. And it was only after his passing that I came to learn that he knew about the ‘elephant in the room’, he had simply never asked me and I had simply never told.

The first time I found out that he knew about the elephant in the room, was in the summer of 1989. My mother was visiting London from Nigeria, and one afternoon during a heated telling-off from her, she said ‘so I hear that you are now following men around’.

I asked what she meant and she mentioned that when my father had visited London the year before, my uncle who I had been living with, had told him that I did not have a girlfriend and that there was this boy who had been calling me regularly.

I remember being angry that my father had spent weeks with me in the same apartment and had never queried me about this boy. He had simply travelled back to Nigeria and told my mother to come ‘handle it’. It was not a pretty aftermath for my uncle and mother. Implying that I was gay was the worst thing anyone could have said to me at that point in my life. I was heavily into the church, firmly in the dungeon of denial, overwhelmed by shame of being different and to say such a thing to me was to experience my wrath.

As it so happened, the ‘boy’ that was being referred to was someone I had met on the train going into work one morning. We got talking and he invited me to his church, and a week or so after, I went to his house – where we read the bible together… (honest!) Looking back, I was certainly very naïve about the whole experience and remember innocently retelling my conversations with the guy to my uncle. He might have been gay, it was a subject matter that never came up. Even as he gave me a back rub as I left his place one afternoon, gay was not something that crossed my mind. It was 1988, I was 20, and at that time I had never met an openly gay person. It was simply stuff I had read about in novels and in the story of Sodom!

What I came to understand years later, was that my uncle had invited my father to speak to me about what might be going on with the boy and somehow that conversation did not happen. I had numerous conversations with my dad after that, but I never brought up what he might have heard about the boy, and he never asked.

The second time that I came to learn that my father knew about the elephant in the room, was a few days after I came out to my mother in the summer of 1996.

I was curious to know whether she or my father had suspected that their son might be gay and had asked her. In addition to retelling the incident about ‘the boy’, she said that after I had left home, my father had been clearing my stuff to get some extra storage space. In the middle of it, he had come across a gay themed novel amongst my things. He had shown it to my mother, saying something like ‘you need to speak to your son’. Even though him finding the book had happened many years before the friendship with my bible-reading friend, my parents and myself had simply played along in denial, them not asking and me not telling.

Although I never did come out to my father, he has been instrumental in my ongoing journey of coming out as a same gender loving man. One of the things that I realized when he died was that I had never showed up as the True Me in any of the conversations with him. I had been struggling so hard to be the person that I thought he wanted me to be. The version of me that I felt would be accepted and loved. And I abandoned myself in that process. I had shortchanged both of us.

It is where I was at that point in my life, and I don’t have regrets about it. I am now able to look at that time with self compassion and understanding. I had been bruised, was in pain and in the name of self-preservation, I had needed that false self to get through the day. Nonetheless, it was still a shortchanged relationship, because out of fear, I had never shown up.

My father died in January 1995, and his death made me realize that I could not take life for granted, for no one knows what tomorrow will bring. It was the first time I had lost someone close to me.

I came to learn that I could not wait for life to be perfect before going out to pursue my dreams and living the highest expression of my life. At one point in my life, I did have a fantasy of what coming out would look like, but over the years what I have come to know is that, coming out is simply allowing myself to be seen.

My sexuality is a core part of my human expression, and I bring it with me to all meaningful encounters and experiences. It does not define me, but it is an important aspect of my human expression. Yes, it will be nice for me to be affirmed, embraced and accepted following those moments of coming out. But I now know that I have no control over the outcome, what I do have control over is on how I choose to show up.

What I also know is that I have a choice in what happens after I show up. For if someone refuses or is unable to see me, or wishes me to be different from how I have shown up, I now know to question whether I want them to be a part of my life. I am able to say this having lived a lifetime with my false self.

I am able to say this because not coming out to my father continues to ignite my desire to live an integrated and congruent life, and to fully show up in my encounters.

Ade Adeniji

3 thoughts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

  1. Whoa, powerful story. Very moving. So strong the walls we put around ourselves and our kids, the ways we can dodge life, its messages and messengers. The ways we see what we want to. Sounds like your dad knew before you that something was up. Sounds like he tried to respond in ways that kept him comfortable. Stories are powerful things. Thanks for sharing yours.

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