I had one of those rare chats on the phone to my father.
He has the most raspy of voices these days. His 60-a-day habit, mixed with the cancer he had in his throat, has significantly changed the sound of him. People have always seen my father as the Darth Vader figure of the story. Now if only they could hear him too.
If only the way he was could’ve been that black and white. He greets me with a very affectionate ‘Hello my boy’.
My father was in prison when he heard about my books. It seemed that within hours of my family and the Gypsy community finding out about them, they were already doing their rounds throughout the jail. Not being able to read, the man my father was sharing a cell with read Gypsy Boy to him.
Much of the adventure and scandal was nothing new. A few surprises I’m sure. The only thing that leaped to mind when I heard someone was reading it for him was that he was going to find out that I was gay. I think he may have already known. I think parents do know these things… somewhere lurking in the back of their minds, between repression and denial, is the knowledge that they are indeed the parent of a gay child.
My mother says she always knew. In fact, she used to shout at me from the trailer door: ‘Stop walking like Liza Minnelli!’ I guess I’ve always walked like I had two fake hips.
Jokes aside, my community flat-out does not accept homosexuality in their culture, and there is no moving on from that, whatsoever.
Sadly, old opinions still stand very strong among Gypsies, and that’s just the way of it. Gay people in my community have very limited choices. They can either live their whole lives in the closet, with the ‘is he/isn’t he’ rumour that gets the crap beaten out of them every day, or they are forced to leave and never come back. My father did his very best to beat it out of me for many years. And no matter how much he tried to, or what he did to kill it, he failed. And I failed him for not being able to change. When I was 15, I left home and I never returned.
I still find life on the outside very strange. It’s odd to be a part of a race and then have it suddenly chopped away from you. Kinda like the Little Mermaid getting her legs, but being really shit at walking.
A lot of years have passed since I left and I’m very lucky to have a relationship with my family again. At least through odd phone calls and my annual pre-Christmas visit.
My mother always worries about my calling, in case she’s not there to grab the phone from my father when he answers. It’s very clear that she tries her best to keep my chats with him short and sweet. But this time she wasn’t around to grab the phone. I’ve never felt the need to come out to my father. Firstly, because, he knew I was gay before I did. And secondly, because I know how much it hurts him. Not because he’s ashamed of it, but because in his old way of thinking, he thinks the way he treated me turned me this way.
‘How’s my grandson?’ he says with a throaty chuckle. He calls my dog, Brian, his grandson.
‘He’s really well ta, how’re you?’
‘I’m good,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry about me. Listen, your mum’s not here, but I just want to tell you… I love you. You wont forget that will you?’
It seems that without the death scene and ritual burning, me and my father have actually had our fair share of Luke and Vader moments. Believe me, I never thought it would ever end up this way.
Coming out to your family isn’t easy. They’re your blood and their opinions matter more than anyone else in the world. But regardless of that, you can’t help who you are. And if they truly love you, then that will always prevail over an ancient opinion.
Give them time. But in the meantime, look after yourself. You can’t live your life trying to appease others.
You have to take care of you.