When my father’s gay identity emerged, mother decided to “keep the peace” and hold our Midwest family together. I grew up in the post-war era of hope and procreation. As the Beatles’ burst onto the American stage, the availability of the birth control pill led to the free love movement. But no one knew how to talk about sex. We avoided controversy, and Sunday school teachers told children, “That’s none of our business now is it?” Keeping the peace meant not talking about hot topics, like how much money dad made, the neighbor’s dangerous tendency to overdrink and drive, or the well-known affair the banker was having with his secretary.
Keeping the peace was a cultural shame avoidance strategy. If we didn’t bring up topics that embarrassed us, we didn’t have to feel shame. If we kept our opinions to ourselves as we were told to do, we could avoid shaming others. Keeping the peace made psychological room for positive feelings while repressing stronger or more negative ones.
In this week of LGBTQ Pride and National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11), I celebrate those who refuse to keep the peace about their sex and gender orientation or identity. Because keeping politely silent and being at peace are very different. While my mother fictionalized our family, she found little internal peace. My father was not truly at peace either, living with mother while desperately carving out time to be with his male partner. I found it hard to get close to him with this large secret between us. Keeping the peace can erode the soul and roadblock loving relationships.
I know why they did it. They needed to stay married in the culture of fear and shame that surrounded them. Mother needed his income to supplement her work at the library. He needed his job at the University. Being “out” could have put his life in danger. He would have lost his kids, and the thought that I had a pretend straight father is far better than the thought that I’d have been cut off from him altogether. Door slammed shut, no dad at all.
Many individuals and families still keep peace, avoid shame, and have a more secure life because they remain in the closet. People of color rightly assert that coming out in America is a white privilege. The double stigma of racial oppression and homophobia too often makes it hard to find peace within the closet and life-endangering to come out. Silence is one of oppression’s disguises.
Pride events allow those of us who are safely out of the closet to speak up. Our voices are desperately needed. This week President Trump nominated Jeff Mateer to the federal bench. He is a rabidly anti-LGTBQ Texas lawyer who spoke at an ultra-right conference in 2015 with Rev. Kevin Swanson. Kevin preaches that there is a “Biblical mandate of the death Penalty for homosexuality” (Wikipedia). They don’t read the same Bible I have studied and preached from — the one about loving neighbors and setting aside judgment. We cannot afford to keep the peace while fear and hatred grow.
“Keeping the peace” is not true peace. True peace involves personal, familial, social and spiritual integrity. True peace gives us all freedom to tell our truths, and to claim our identities.
It took a lifetime for me to come out of the family closet, as I have done in my newly released memoir, "My Father’s Closet." While covering it all up, the family lived in a cloud of fear and shame. Uncovering the full truth about my father’s sexual identity has led me to soul satisfying peace.
The Ashland Public Library is hosting an event for Pride Weekend from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, called “Out” Family Pride. Join with others who are tired of keeping the peace and ready to build true peace within our families and community as we embrace and affirm sexual and gender diversity.
The Rev. Dr. Karen McClintock is a psychologist and United Methodist clergyperson. She is a national speaker and consultant about human sexuality issues and adjunct faculty at Southern Oregon University. Her books can be reviewed at karenmcclintockauthor.com.
—Join the conversation: Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at firstname.lastname@example.org