Coming Out

Advice on Coming Out to Your Kids From Gay Dads Who've Been There

We surveyed gay dads who have come out to their kids later in life to share their top lessons and advice.

“Take it back!"

You'll often hear those three words come from the mouth of a child. Usually they're in response to a playground tease, the common kind of slander — four eyes! metal mouth! — that kids get over fast. But when California dad Steve sat his three sons on the living room couch, the news he had to share was of much greater consequence. So when his 11-year old middle son burst into tears and shrieked those three words, the reaction pierced his dad's already-anxious heart.


Steve had just told them he was gay. And there was no taking this back.

Tales about coming out often focus on the experience of a child telling his or her parent. Those stories are important. But every day, disclosures move in the other direction: dads will have to tell their children that their father is gay. For those men, many of who became parents during marriages or long-term relationships with women, the process is just as difficult. Age doesn't always do much to quell the nerves of coming out, and when parents reveal themselves to their children, they are often fraught with all the fears of a trembling adolescent: of losing love, of being forsaken, of being deemed a disappointment. For at least a fleeting moment, the parent is as scared as a child.

There is no right or wrong way to come out to your kids — and in fact, the approaches are as varied as the men that employ them. To help shed some light on this difficult process, Gays With Kids disseminated a survey to compile information on when, how and why dads came out to their kids. After amassing dozens of diverse responses, it was clear how different every experience is.

Some respondents were as young as 24 when they came out to their children, others as old as 48. (And we all know plenty of dads who came out well after that too.) Some came out to their kids as toddlers, while others broke the news to sons and daughters in their twenties. And there's no doubt that there are a multitude of post-coming out struggles. For some dads, it's figuring out how to date as a single parent. For others, it's learning how to maintain a civil relationship with an ex-wife.

But regardless of the circumstances, the end results wind up pretty consistent. In essentially every case, dads were glad that they made the choice to come out, and the reactions were almost uniformly “positive or mostly positive." Were there hiccups? Sure. Did it take time for some relationship rifts to heal? Occasionally. But dads generally have no regrets about taking that big step — even though it's one you can't take back.

What should you think about as you're planning your own coming-out to the kids? We spoke to a number of survey participants to get more specific details on their stories, and though no two journeys are the same, each revealed a unique lesson to take away.

Lesson #1: If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?

Steve with his three sons

It's an oft-articulated key to parenting: "Lead by example." That extends to coming out. Kids will follow your cues, and it will be much more difficult for them to accept that their father is gay if he hasn't truly come to terms with it himself.

"You really have to lead by example, and you can't do that until you're fully comfortable with yourself," says Steve from California. His three children were aged 10, 11 and 13 when he came out to them, a full six years after he divorced their mother. She found out first, but it was important to Steve that he be the one to tell the kids; it was important that he showed his trust in them. "It was important for them to hear it from me," says Steve. "They needed to know that I wasn't hiding anything."

His middle son may have initially begged the dad to "take it back," but Steve's comfort with his sexuality helped his kids come to terms. "I don't make it a big deal, but I also don't hide any part of my life from them," says Steve, who was comfortable bringing around gay friends and, eventually, a long-term boyfriend. Today he even runs his own blog, gayfathersblog.com, to share his experiences. "For me to be able to speak about these things showed them that I was comfortable with it."

And now, so are his kids. "When they got to high school and started dating, they had no problems telling their girlfriends that their dad was gay," says Steve. "And that showed me that they were comfortable with it too."

Lesson #2: Test the Waters

Frank with his children

The question "what will they think of me?" is one that is sure to race through the mind of any dad on the verge of coming out to his kids. Here's one way to anticipate the answer (and, thus, prepare a response): Find out what they think of others.

"We were on an overnight trip to San Francisco, and as we drove up I started asking them little questions," says Frank from Pomona, California. The divorced dad of two was ready to come out to his kids, but he wanted to get a sense of how his kids perceive gay people. "First I asked them, 'Do you have any friends who are gay?'" Sure they do, answered his then-10 year-old son and 8 year-old daughter. "I asked them, 'How do you feel about it?' And they'd tell me. Then I asked, 'How would you feel if one of your parents was gay?' They didn't even blink. They thought nothing of it." And then he dropped the non-bomb.

"Because I'm gay." In response, his kids had only one request: That if he met someone special, they could meet him. That's a far cry from the kind of reaction many gay dads anticipate to their coming-out. Feeling out your kids' comfort with gay issues allows you to tailor the way you tell them — and, assuming they're comfortable with gay people in general, a dad can logistically connect those dots to his own disclosure. (It'll also help quell any cold feet syndrome you might be experiencing.)

"Today I've never been happier," says Frank. And in fact, he says, coming out has only brought him closer to his kids: They share a stronger level of trust and knowledge of non-judgment. "More than with their mother, they feel comfortable coming to me and telling me everything that's going on in their lives. They don't hide anything. They know that sometimes they might be lectured or scolded, but they know they'll never be judged."

Lesson #3: Seize an Opportunity

For some gay dads, it never feels like it's the right time to come out. So when the universe opens a door, you have to take note — and walk right through.

Of course, occasionally the openings are very, very obvious. That's how it was for Judd, a gay dad from Las Vegas. Raised in a strict Mormon household, Judd knew he was gay since an early age. When he was around 19, his suspicious mother asked him if he was gay. "I lied," says Judd. "And she said, 'Oh good. Because I'd rather that you killed someone than be gay. At least God could forgive that."

Compare that conversation to the one that Judd had with his own teenage son decades later. Judd's son expressed to his dad that he thought he might be pansexual; in a "show of solidarity," dad then came out to son. "I told him that while I wasn't seeing anyone right now, I've started to date again and when I do meet someone it very well might be a man. And that I hope that would be okay." And, although Judd says his son never wound up further exploring his own sexual fluidity, a mutual understanding was reached: For either of them, any sexual identity would be A-OK.

It's a stark contrast to the kind of conversation that Judd was able to have with his mom — although in her later years of ailing health, during which Judd was her primary caregiver, it seemed that parent-child relationship had reached a new understanding, too.

"My mom told me that if I was to meet somebody that I wanted to have a relationship with, she would support me," says Judd. He was able to hear those words from her before she passed. It seems that she too realized how important it is to seize the moment while you still can.

Lesson #4: Come Out Strong

Don, out and proud

When coming out, some gay dads try to dance around the issue. But Don didn't have a choice.

He was outed by his Netflix account.

Ah, parenting in the 21st century. The divorced California dad recalls the day that eyebrows were raised when, during family movie night, his Netflix viewing history popped up on the TV screen. "Under 'Recently Watched' there were a couple of LGBT-themed romances. The kids were like, 'Um, dad?'" laughs Don now. Well, that was one way to get the conversation going with his four children, then aged 12, 14, 17 and 18.

Don came out swinging.

"I said, 'I like guys too,'" he recalls.

After all, the kids had been asking when he was going to start dating again. "I said, I'm ready to start dating, and it's going to be guys." Their reaction was totally nonplussed. "They were just like, 'okay, that's great.'" The only stipulation: Don's 17-year old son requested that he not be introduced to dates — until, that is, things were getting serious.

It had nothing to do with sexuality. "His mom had already dated several guys, and introduced each of them to the kids," explains Don. "Then they were gone. He just didn't want people in and out of his life."

How did his kids adjust so easily? "I think the reason that I had such a good experience is that when I decided to come out, I was immediately open with everyone in my life," says Don. His kids were the first to know, but within a two-week span he had filled in the rest of the extended family and his coworkers. "It was like ripping the Band-Aid off," chuckles Don.

Maybe more importantly, it sent a healthy message to his kids. While it may sound appealing to come out in stages, requiring your kids to conspire in a secret suddenly shifts the burden to them. And it certainly sends mixed messages if you assure your kids that being gay is okay — even while continuing to hide it from the rest of the world. Storming out of the closet isn't such a bad idea.

In fact, your kids may prefer it that way too.

"So can we just go ahead and tell everybody you're gay now?" asked Don's daughter during his disclosure. Go ahead, honey. Or just show them his Netflix.

Lesson #5: Don't Underestimate Your Kids

"The biggest thing I learned from coming out is that I should never underestimate my kids' compassion."

Iowa dad Dennis was terrified of coming out. "It scared the shit out of me," he admits. And like so many gay fathers faced with the daunting prospect, he hemmed and hawed over how to make it happen — but he knew he had to now that, several years out of the divorce, he was dating again. "I mulled it over for several months, trying to think of how to have this big, important conversation."

Many dads psych themselves out. But then came the moment of truth: "Dad's dating," said Dennis to his 11- and 14-year old daughters. He got no response. Gulp. "There's more. Dad is dating a man."

One daughter looked shocked. The other looked away.

"That's weird," she muttered.

For a moment, Dennis was sure his worst fears had come true. The girls retired to their room to process the news. But while they "started off cool, they came around very quickly," says Dennis. And now his daughters are his biggest allies: He recalls his daughter explaining a debate over gay marriage with her Christian schoolmate, and the ways she unhesitatingly invoked that her own dad was a gay man. Or the reaction he received more recently, when he broke another big piece of news: He was engaged to his partner of several years.

"They said, 'Well, it's about time!' laughs Dennis. Trademark adolescent snark, sure — but a long way from "that's weird."

"They're still teenage girls, and they can be a pain in the butt at times," chuckles the dad. "But when it comes down to the important moments in life, children offer unconditional love."

Lesson #6: Make Sure Your Kids Are Surrounded by Support

Chet with his daughter, Reba, and son, Kellar

Kids are impressionable. They soak up messages like sponges — which can make for quite a challenge in a world where gay people continue to encounter resistance and discrimination. Sure, you can raise your child in a household that promotes love and acceptance. But they can't live in a bubble, and lest good work be undone, it may require monitoring to ensure that outside influences are in line with the values you want to teach.

Chet, a gay dad from Texas, had a relatively easy time coming out — at first. He still has a good friendship with his ex-wife, and he came out to his son and daughter — then 8 and 9, respectively — by emphasizing that it was best for their mother: He didn't want to live a lie and deny them both true happiness. "What's for supper?" asked his son. Chet's daughter had more questions: "She was concerned what people might think." Family counseling helped.

The extended family, on the other hand, hurt. Chet grew up in the church — but his brother, the pastor, had him removed from the rolls. Chet wanted his kids to have a relationship with their grandparents and uncle, so for a while he would let them spend the holidays with them. "But it created a lot of trouble," says Chet. "My son would come home and say, 'Uncle says you're going to hell and I shouldn't live here.'"

This was the same son who glossed over his dad's coming-out with a dinner request. But the sway of indoctrination threatened to crush that acceptance. "My son would go away for a weekend, and it would take a month to convince him everything was okay again," says Chet. "He would lay in bed at night and cry, saying 'I don't want you to go to hell.'"

"It tortured him. It was a cruel thing to do to a kid."

So regrettably, Chet put the kibosh on keeping a relationship between his kids and their extended family. He hasn't spoken to his father in about nine years — but Chet knows it's a necessary distance if it keeps his kids from damaging influence.

Now that they're teenagers, though, it's doubtful it would matter. Chet's son is a member of his high school's GSA. And his once self-conscious daughter is now "a raging feminist," chuckles Chet. "She's hilariously outspoken, living with her mom in a rural school district where she's probably the only person driving around with a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker and an equality sign on the car."

Now that's a family that functions as an A-plus support system.

Lesson #7: Have Patience

Face it: You didn't accept your sexuality overnight. How can you expect your kids to do so?

Plenty of children — including those in many of the aforementioned families — will barely break stride while processing a parent's sexuality. But it's true that some will hit a hiccup. And if that happens, time might be the most important thing you have on your side.

Take the story of Brent, a gay dad from Tennessee. He was married for 20 years — growing up in a Southern Baptist family had repressed his ability to recognize his sexuality. In fact, he once rejected his own brother for being gay: Brent forbade him from visiting his kids, and when Christmas cards arrived "from uncle and uncle," Brent would be quick to clarify. "I'd tell the kids, that other guy's not your uncle," he says.

Of course, all that resentment was symptomatic of his repression. Brent eventually came to understand his true sexuality slowly and in stages, at first through the safe and unintimidating world of cyberspace. Beyond restrictive confines of religion was a limitless space where he could connect with other gay men through message boards and online virtual worlds like Second Life. He came out to his wife and they tried to work things through via counseling, but divorce wound up inevitable.

And so did the need to tell Brent's son, 18, and daughter, 15. It happened in the office of a family counselor, at the counselor's suggestion. In case it was upsetting, the kids "wouldn't attach the memories" to their home — and in this case, that may have been a smart move.

"Things got a lot worse before they got better," says Brent. His son took it particularly hard. "There were times when I'd take him out for dinner, and it was like I was sitting there by myself. My daughter did the same thing, though her swings weren't as violent as my son's."

To get through it, Brent used the two oldest tricks in the parenting book: unconditional love and patience.

"Whenever I saw them, I always made sure to say 'I love you,'" says Brent. And that's paid off with progress. Today his son is a workingman and their relationship is "a million miles better." He's truly come around. His daughter has come to terms, if perhaps not quite as far along. She's still religious, studying at a Baptist seminary, and maintains some reticence.

"I'm still not sure about the marriage thing," she responded when Brent mentioned that the option may soon be on the table for him and his partner. Maybe she's not sure yet — but there's reason to believe that time could change that.

Whatever the future holds, one thing will always remain the same.

"Remember," he advises others. "No matter what, you're still Dad."

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Gay Dad Life

Son of Gay Dad Pens Article in Vice About Accidentally Finding Out About His Father's Sexuality

Julien cried when his father first came out, a moment he's always regretted. But he's found multiple opportunities to show his support since.

In an article for Vice Netherlands, Julien Goyet speaks about the experience of learning about his father's sexuality by accident, when his younger brother heard him repeatedly saying the word "gay" on the phone. When his dad confirmed it was true, Julian says he burst into tears. Though he was just a young boy at the time, it's a moment he's nonetheless always regretted.

"Through the years, I've often asked myself why I did that – why I couldn't have been more understanding. Maybe it was because I realised then and there that it would mean my parents were never getting back together."

Julien continues by saying he's thankful for the multiple opportunities he's had since to make up for that moment.

"Thankfully, four years after he came out to us, he told us about a secret boyfriend he'd had for a while, and we were nothing but happy for him," he wrote. "I can remember the moment he showed me a picture of his partner. It was a Saturday afternoon and he'd called me up to his office in the attic. I went upstairs and found my father behind his computer. On the screen appeared a picture of a handsome man, sitting in a cafe. "That's him," he said, with what I'm pretty sure was pride in his voice. It was weird to see the man my father had fallen in love with – he was handsome and cool, and, thankfully, I didn't feel the urge to cry this time. My father, now more comfortable in his sexuality, asked if I wanted to meet his partner."

With his mother remarried to another man and his father happily partnered, Julien concludes by saying, "now, I have two stepdads. We all celebrate Christmas together. Now and again my father and I have dinner at a restaurant in Amsterdam where burgers are named after drag queens, and he sometimes sends me selfies when he's partying at the Pride parade. I once tagged along with him to his favourite gay bar, where I met all the friends he's made there over the years. It's a place he comes often, and I had no idea it existed all that time. I'm happy that's changed."

Read the full moving essay here.







Above all, I wondered what it would be like to see my father kissing another man. That's happened a couple of times now and it actually feels just the same as when you see your own parents kiss in public – incredibly awkward but also kind of sweet. I'm happy he feels free to do so in his own home now. It's like he's been liberated. Now I wish he had done all this a lot sooner. But he told us he didn't want to confuse us, and he would have gone about it the same way if he had had a new girlfriend. "A divorce, a new stepdad, your father coming out – it all seemed a bit much for you kids," he said.

Now, I have two stepdads. We all celebrate Christmas together. Now and again my father and I have dinner at a restaurant in Amsterdam where burgers are named after drag queens, and he sometimes sends me selfies when he's partying at the Pride parade. I once tagged along with him to his favourite gay bar, where I met all the friends he's made there over the years. It's a place he comes often, and I had no idea it existed all that time. I'm happy that's changed.

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Former NFL Player Jeff Rohrer, and Father of Two, Comes Out as Gay and Marries Longterm Partner

Jeff Rohrer, a father of two teenage boys via a previous relationship with a woman, is the first NFL player to marry another man.

Allen Zatki

Retired NFL linebacker Jeff Rohrer, who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1982 to 1989, recently came out as gay and married his longterm boyfriend last month. In an interview with the New York Times, Rohrer discussed his sexuality publicly for the first time.

"If I had told the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s that I was gay, I would have been cut immediately," Mr. Rohrer said. "It was a different world back then, people didn't want to hear that."

Rohrer was previously married to a woman, with whom he had two teenager children, 15-year-old Isabella Rohrer and 14-year-old Dondillon Rohrer. His son is currently following in his dad's footsteps by playing on his high school football team.

"I'm sure there's going to be some people out there who have a negative reaction to this," Rohrer told the outlet, adding, "and I'm fine with it."

Mostly, though, he says the reaction to his coming out as been positive. In an interview with CNN, he said, "I have two teenage kids, everybody is extremely supportive."

Rohrer met his now husband, Joshua Ross, back in 2015 while he was still in the closet. "And if not for Josh," he said in his Times interview, "I'd still be in there."

In his interview with the Times, Ross said that several friends had questioned him on how he felt taking on the "extra baggage" of being a stepfather to Rohrer's two children.

"Baggage? What baggage?" Ross said, adding "We are adding two beautiful children to our wonderful modern family.

Congrats to the newlywed dads! Read the entire New York Times interview with Rohrer here.

Single Parenting

Coming Out to His Wife Was Painful, Says This Salt Lake-Based Dad of Four. But it Started Him on a Path of Authenticity

After Kyle came out to his wife, with whom he has four children, "she listened, she mourned and she loved," he said.

Kyle Ashworth has four kids from a previous straight relationship. After ten years of marriage, he came out to his wife. "It was the most painful and wrenching experience of my life," said Kyle. "In the cold morning hours that coming-out-day in March, I began a journey of authenticity and honesty." Today, Kyle is 36 years old and ready to live his next chapter. But before we get to that, we need to look back at what led him to where he is now: an out and proud single gay dad.

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The study also found that over half of gay dads have avoided certain social situations in the last year for fear of experiencing stigma.

According to new research by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the vast majority of gay men and their children experience some form of stigma. The findings are based on a survey of 732 gay father across 47 states in the United States.

More gay men are becoming fathers each year, and have more options for doing so than ever before: including adoption, foster care, and surrogacy. However as the study's authors write: "Despite legal, medical, and social advances, gay fathers and their children continue to experience stigma and avoid situations because of fear of stigma. Increasing evidence reveals that stigma is associated with reduced well-being of children and adults, including psychiatric symptoms and suicidality"

Almost two-thirds of respondents, or 63.5%, reported experiencing stigma based on being a gay father within the last year. Over half, or 51.2%, said they have avoided situations for fear of stigma, in the past year. Importantly, the study found that fathers living in states with more legal protections for LGBTQ people and families experienced fewer barriers and stigma. Most experiences of stigma (almost 35%) occurred, unsurprisingly, in a religious environment. But another quarter of gay dads said they experienced stigma from a wide variety of other sources, including: family members, neighbors, waiters, service providers, and salespeople

Surprisingly (or perhaps not?) another source of stigma cited by the study originates from other gay men. "Gay men report suspicion and criticism for their decision to be parents from gay friends who have not chosen parenthood." The study also says gay dads often feel "isolation in their parental role."

The study concludes, "Despite growing acceptance of parenting by same-gender adults, barriers and stigma persist. States' legal and social protections for lesbian and gay individuals and families appear to be effective in reducing experiences of stigma for gay fathers."

Read the whole study here.

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Gay Dads Featured on Cover of Parents Magazine for First Time

Fitness guru Shaun T. and his husband Scott Blokker are the first gay dads to be featured on the cover of Parents Magazine

I literally never thought I'd see the day. Literally.

Gay fathers on the cover of Parents Magazine! Gay fathers being celebrated in a "main stream" publication about being parents. Gay fathers!

I don't want to get overly dramatic here, but this is a milestone. A massive cultural milestone.

Sure, gay dads have come a long way in being accepted in our popular culture, but to my eye we've never been on the cover of a big popular parenting magazine celebrating our parenting skills. As if we are the norm.

We are now - thanks to Parents Magazine.

This is a particular milestone for me because I have a bit of a history with the magazine and with parenting publications in general. My first job out of grad school was in brand marketing at Johnson's Baby Products where I did indeed run advertising in this particular magazine. Back then though we only featured married, straight couples. There were no other kinds of parents to feature back in the day! And if I'm to be really honest, they were generally white, married, straight couples.

I distinctly remember one photo shoot where I forgot to put a wedding ring on the "husband's" finger and we had to reshoot it. No photoshop back then!

Now admittedly this was before I was a dad and before I was out, but as the years went by and I embraced my own journey as a gay dad, there were no role models or pop culture markers to say that I (and other gay dads) were accepted. There were no Andy Cohens publicly making baby announcements. We were alone on our parenting.

It was hard. There was a constant barrage of straight parenting norms that constantly reminded us that we were different.
Not any more! Being a gay dad, or any dad, is now simply being a parent. A good parent. A loving parent. And we have Parents Magazine to thank for the reminder and endorsement, with hopefully more to come.

And I can't help but think, and actually know, that this kind of normalization will inspire the next generation of gay dads who will simply accept, without hesitation, that fatherhood as a gay man is a real, accepted, and normal option.

Bravo!

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