Today would have been my dad’s birthday, so it’s as appropriate a time as any to publish this blog post about how and when he came out to my brother and me as a gay man. I wasn’t going to write a blog post about it, to be honest – it’s personal. But my mum recently showed me an article about a support group for kids whose parents came out (to my incredulity) so I figured that writing this might prove useful to somebody. (I’ve also talked to my mum and brother to make sure it’s OK to publish this, as it’s their story too.)
My parents separated when I was about 18 – between completing my A-levels and going up to university. Dad moved to London (where he’d been working Monday – Friday for a while) and it was amicable; they didn’t divorce until years later, when mum wanted to remarry.
My brother and I strongly suspected that Dad was gay; when we’d visit him, we’d always meet up with his bachelor friend who lived nearby. We weren’t fazed by it; we both had gay friends (the 80s was a time when UK society was changing for the better; my generation was much more tolerant than our antecedents).
One day, my brother and I were having a beer with our mum, and one of us asked her directly if Dad was gay. (This sounds weirder than it was; my parents had always encouraged us to speak openly with them.) She fobbed us off with “you’d better ask him” but phoned him up later and suggested that he tell us, so he soon invited himself up to Birmingham for one of his royal visits.
We could see he was nervous, and he said “I have something to tell you, and I hope it’ll be OK and you won’t decide you never want to speak to me again. I’m gay”. My brother and I said, “yeah, we know, and it makes no difference. Another pint?” and that was that.
I don’t know whether he really thought we might disown him; I used to wear eyeliner and black nail polish and was in an acting group with a very out, very camp friend. But his background probably meant that he expected disapproval; he grew up in a very traditional Northern coal-mining town (and was the first Lawson never to go down the Pit) and was an adult before the repeal of the law which made male homosexuality an imprisonable offence.
But nothing changed, and everything was fine. When I lived in London, I’d go out with my dad and his husband to the gay-friendly bars. The two of them were at the top table, with my mum and stepdad, at family weddings; my mum and stepdad were at his funeral.
The hardest bit was when I drafted the eulogy to read at the funeral. I knew he hadn’t told many of his friends at the amateur theatre club he was in, or at the hospice where he was a volunteer grief counsellor (because he believed it was, fundamentally, a private matter) so I didn’t want to posthumously “out” him at his own funeral. But, equally, there were lots of gay friends attending, and I didn’t want to pretend that part of his life didn’t happen or make them think that I was in any way ashamed of it. My brother and I discussed it, and I simply said “After he and my mum amicably separated, he moved to London with his new partner, David …” and continued.
I think everybody guessed when his coffin slipped away to the sound of Abba’s “Dancing Queen”, though.
Happy birthday, Dad.