On Father’s Day, Amy Adams explores how coming out to her dad first strained, and then strengthened their relationship.
There is a picture in my father’s house of two dancers. The piece was at the centre of an installation by the art duo Faile, and presented by the New York City Ballet in 2013. It shows a tattooed blonde woman in a red dress kneeling on the floor, embracing the bare legs of a ballerina. It is a striking depiction of female love and lust, and it holds the central position in the hallway of my conservative Christian father’s home.
Any LGBTQ person will tell you that you don’t just come out once – you do it over and over again. Every time you open up to a new friend or family member it feels like jumping off a cliff. Even when it’s someone who you know will love you anyway, who already suspected, even if they are LGBTQ themselves. There’s a point you reach when the other person knows you’re about to say something important, when you know you can’t turn back but somehow you can’t let the words out either. There’s a liminal space where almost anything could happen. Then you jump.
And every time that person smiles, and nods, and comforts you, or squeals, and hugs you, and then gets mad that you didn’t tell them sooner, it feels like a parachute opening. You’re safe this time, you can enjoy the ride down – the view is breathtaking, why were you ever nervous in the first place?
When your feet are back on the ground, you remember why. Next time, there might not be another parachute.
Of course, it’s not always so dramatic. Sometimes they’re little jumps – switching the word “partner” for “girlfriend” when talking to a colleague, or holding hands in front of strangers in a restaurant.
For me, the biggest risk was telling my dad. We have a fantastic relationship, but we’re too similar for our own good. We both get to work half an hour before everyone else, because we’d rather wake up early than sit in traffic. We make the same bad jokes at the same inappropriate moments. And, critically, we’d rather do anything than tell each other about our feelings.
I came out to my stepmother a whole week before I could be honest with my dad. Living proof of the inaccuracy of fairy tales, she was nothing but excited for me. I had expected her to help me form a plan, but I could never have anticipated that she would be clapping her hands and bouncing in her seat.
My dad took it harder – I don’t blame him for that, he was raised in a strict religious and homophobic environment but he loves me enough not to let that get in the way. He couldn’t say that he was happy for me though, just that he would never want to lose me. That was enough, it’s more than a lot of people get, and life continued much as it always had from that point on.
A couple of months later, I opened the front door and was greeted by the picture – Les Ballets de Faile. The house has quite a lot of art, but this very beautiful, very queer canvas was given centre stage.
“Does Dad know it’s about lesbians?” I stage whispered to my brother later that evening.
“We’ve decided not to tell him.”
It became a bit of an inside joke. More comfortable now in my queerness, and out to almost everyone, I loved to tell the story of my dad’s slip up. If that comes across cruel, you should know that we’re talking about a man who was devastated when he accidentally rented A Single Man, believing it was a spy movie, and instead left pondering Colin Firth’s existential crisis as a grieving homosexual professor in cold war America. This picture perching brazenly atop the stairs was nothing short of hilarious.
Time passed. I graduated, I got a job, I moved house twice in nine months. And last Christmas I was visiting home when I brought the picture up again. It was a lazy joke by this point, but my brother looked at me with surprise.
“Didn’t I tell you? Dad knows exactly what it means.”
“It’s for you,” he said. “[Our stepmum] told me. He bought it because he wanted to let you know that he accepted, you know, who you are.”
And it all began to make sense. Of course my dad knew what he was doing – no one who collects contemporary art could miss the meanings behind them. If nothing else, he would have researched the piece before he bought it. I mean, come on – one of the women is literally looking up the other’s skirt.
Sometimes we have to find other ways of making the leap. Sometimes when you’re looking someone in the eye, the words you need to say just aren’t there, and that’s okay. There are other ways of telling someone how you feel. Offer them a cup of tea, let them take the biggest slice of cake, check their tyres before they drive long distance. Just don’t let your love go to waste.
Thank you, Dad, and happy father’s day.
NB. I sent this piece to my dad before publication, out of respect for his privacy. He came back with the following two notes:
“Firstly you should know that, while that picture is 99% a message to you, it’s in that exact position because it’s also a message to everyone who walks through the front door. Secondly, the joke’s on you because it was hilarious watching you all squirm.”