Jesse is a gay dad. He's also a son. And like most sons, he wanted to make his father proud — even if that meant dating a woman.
“My dad found out I was talking to this girl, and he started coming back into my life. It was the greatest feeling in the world," says Jesse, 28.
By that point, the Gainesville, Florida native had already come out to his parents. But it wasn't implausible that he might be dating a woman. In fact, it was a woman who inspired Jesse to come out: his ex-wife, with whom he had already had two children. When their eight-year marriage was ending on troubled terms, Jesse's then-wife threatened to out him to his parents. “She knew that I had encounters with men during our marriage," says Jesse. “She held it over my head for a long time." Until the day when Jesse realized what he had to do: He had to leave. And he did. He told his family on his own terms.
It wasn't easy. “I come from a very Southern family," says Jesse. He remembers being 10 years old, sitting at his uncle's dinner table, and being told what would happen if one day he ever brought home a "queer or a n*****."
“'I'll shoot 'em.'"
Luckily, the reality of Jesse's coming-out was better than what he had feared. His mother was fine with it. (She said she always sort of knew.) His brother? Not so much — though he's since come around. Jesse's religious grandmother broke down in tears and offered to pay for counseling — but she quickly changed her tune once Jesse invoked Christ's ultimate message of love and forgiveness. Some hurdles aside, coming out was “the best moment of my life," says Jesse. “My ex-wife could no longer hold it over my head."
And yet now, a couple of years (and a couple of boyfriends) later, here he was: dating another woman, in part because it seemed to be helping his relationship with his father.
“My dad was starting to come around more, so I tried to do the quote-unquote 'normal' thing," says Jesse.
Ultimately, he and the woman would call it quits – and this time, it was on friendly terms. But it wasn't before the relationship brought about a very important thing: a son.
Today Jesse has a unique situation: He's young, openly gay, and the biological father of three children through two women who happen to be his exes. But while he may have traveled a circuitous and sometimes challenging route to embracing his sexual identity, he's arrived at a happy place. Now a successful chef, Jesse found unlikely inspiration in the stories of an older gay patron at his restaurant. “He's a good friend, an older gentleman in his fifties. He didn't know about me, but I heard from him the history of how hard it was for him to come out, back in the day."
“He gave me the strength to come out," Jesse continues. “It kind of blew him away when I told him, but he's guided me along and gave me a lot of advice."
Sort of like, well, a dad.
Jesse, meanwhile, has guided his kids through what it means to have a gay dad. And what does it mean? Not a heck of a lot. Though coming out to his two daughters, 9 and 11, following a Miley Cyrus sing-along in the family car was “the most difficult thing I've had to do," it's been pretty smooth sailing.
“They love their daddy," says Jesse. “They don't care. There are still kids out there that are going to be bullies, but it's 2014 — things are a lot more open now." Still, he admits, he'd be unlikely to hold hands or kiss a boyfriend in the parking lot while, say, picking them up from school. “We are in Florida, and there's a lot of very religious people around."
Times are indeed a-changing, though. In fact, Jesse's father is dating a woman who herself has a gay son. “She's kind of helped him come around on things," says Jesse. “It's helped him go, 'It's okay. My son is gay.'"
We're proud of you, dad. Both of you.