Phil: Hey, this is Phil aka Corinne.
Alex: and I’m Alex Berg. And you’re listening to
Both: The I’m From Driftwood Podcast.
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Brian: My name is Brian Hartigan, I’m from Staten Island, New York.
I came out late in my life, about 30 years old. And reason being is I had gotten married and I had children. I had come out to my ex-wife and my brother and my sister and my father, my cousins. Everybody was very accepting and understood, however, there was still an issue that I had which caused me to be very anxious which was, when do I tell my children? At the time they were five and four and clearly that was not the appropriate time to inform my children of my being gay.
And I would speak with my ex-wife about when we would feel it was appropriate to tell them and we just couldn’t come up with an answer.
At the time we were living in New Jersey and the governor of that time, Governor McGreevey, actually went on news, up at the podium and on the news channels and basically told the country that he was a gay American, which was a really positive step for people who identified as being LGBT because it showed yet another individual in a high-profile position actually coming out and putting their foot down and saying, “I’m gay.” And there are others that will hopefully be able to come out as well and be gay. And as a result of that, coincidentally, the next day my ex-wife called me and basically said my daughter and son were asking about what “gay” means because they heard that Governor McGreevey said that he’s a gay American. And I said, “Well, what did you tell them?”
“Well, I told them to ask their father.”
So I said, “Listen. This is a perfect opportunity right now for us to sit down, talk to the kids, make them understand what gay means, and it’s a great opportunity for me to inform them that I’m gay as well.”
And so we decided we’re going to have dinner. Our usual Saturday–Friday dinner, after work and school. And they came over, we had dinner, we had dessert, it was time for dessert and I said to my kids, “Guys, I understand you asked Mommy what does gay mean.”
“Yeah, the governor said he’s a gay American. What does ‘gay’ mean?”
I was like, “Well, do you have any idea at all what it might mean?”
“Okay, well, did anybody else tell you that the governor was a gay American?”
And it was like the perfect witness on a witness stand, all I got was “yes” and “no” answers. I was trying to get them to talk so that they can try and share with me something they have, so I was like, okay, let me approach this from a different angle.
“Okay. What ‘gay’ means is when a man likes to be with a man.”
And they were a little confused by that, they didn’t know what that meant.
So I said, “You know when you go to the baseball fields and you see the mommies and the daddies, that’s a man with a woman? Well, a gay man is a man who likes to be with a man, not with a woman. And a gay woman is a woman who likes to be with a woman, not a man.”
So it was starting to register and I could see it in their eyes they had this “aha!” moment, like “I think I get it, I think I get it.”
So I said, “So, the governor is a gay American. And Daddy is like the governor. So what does that mean?”
And my daughter with her pony tail up in her hair, she’s looking at me with confusion and kind of a little mysticism and she looked at me and said, “You’re the governor?”
And it was hysterical. My ex-wife spit her tea out, she was drinking tea. My son looked at her and said, “No, duh Kel, Dad’s not the governor.”
And I just started to laugh and she started to get a little upset. And I was like, okay, maybe I phrased that question the wrong way. “So Daddy is like the governor because Daddy is gay and Daddy is a man who likes men.”
And then they looked and said, “Well, is Mommy a gay American?”
“No, Mommy is a woman who likes men.”
Then they started asking, “What about this one? What about that one? What about this one?”
I’m going through my head, “Yes. Maybe. I think so. Absolutely not.” So it was a really, really funny conversation and, you know, we sat there and they asked a little bit more about like, “Well, what does that mean? Are you going to be with a man your whole life, etc, etc” and I answered the questions as best as I could. And essentially 20 minutes later, my ex-wife left, it was my weekend with the kids and we were coloring on the floor in coloring books, playing video games with my son, our typical, regular Friday evening. And over the years, flash forward 10 years, 11 years now, I have two of the most compassionate, incredible children that every day make me more and more proud.
My daughter is running and working with Lambda group down in Pennsylvania in her school, to emphasize the LGBT presence there. My son who worked at McDonald’s and his manager came up to him and the manager said to him, “Just so you know, I’m gay.”
And my son looked at him and said, “Yeah? And? So is my father. Who cares?”
So it’s just so great to have my children not only be there for me and support me in this, but just be the individuals that they are because you lead by example. And I’d like to think that our example of what my ex-wife and I had done by telling them earlier on gives them the ability to now take that message forward to all the people that they meet in their life.
Chloe: My name is Chloe Harris and I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I had a tough time when I was a kid. I was dealt a little bit of a bad hand in regard to family and environment. I was an effeminate child and my poses for pictures were very flamboyant and glamorous. And it was very clear who I was and I was very comfortable with who I was, and it wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 that I knew and learned that it wasn’t necessarily okay to be like that. And I kind of took this side of me and I put it away.
And I spent a little bit of time when I was younger out in the Gayborhood in Philly and I remember seeing trans woman walking around and they were magnificent and I knew I wanted to be that, but I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know how to get there. I didn’t have friends that could point me in the right way.
I was a good student. I got good grades. I was a national merit scholar. But I was still troubled. I ended up going to college but I wasn’t really ready for it. And I went to Temple University, a long long time ago. And I think it was my second or third semester, I was playing rugby and I got hurt in a rugby game. I had an orbital fracture around my eye. And I had to drop out of school for a little bit. I went back but I wasn’t really into it and I dropped out. And I ended up working a lot of very different jobs but more than anything, I looked for trouble and I ran around with an increasingly rough group of individuals.
When I was in my early thirties, I got jammed up and I was in a bad situation and I made a silent pact with myself right in the middle of it. And I said to myself, if I can walk away from this, relatively unscathed, I have to change my life and I have to change everything. And I stopped hanging out with all the wrong people, I started making better decisions, I’d stopped going out late at night, I stopped drinking, I started exercising and taking better care of myself. And I had a wonderful girlfriend at the time and she got pregnant. Right after I got myself together. Ultimately our relationship dissolved, but we continued to co-parent extraordinarily well.
I wasn’t really happy. I was running a real estate business. And I thought well maybe being an entrepreneur would make me happy and that really wasn’t for me either. And I remember being so exasperated that I went to the Temple University website because I figured I had already started school there and they have to take me back, right? And I went down the list of majors and I got all the way the sport and recreation management. And I thought to myself, I don’t know exactly what that entails but I know that it’s better than what I’m doing right now. And I was very clearly not straight. And I don’t know what people thought about my gender or I don’t know if I appeared to be cisgender man, but I certainly didn’t look like a straight one.
I remember being a student and feeling like there was one thing that was missing. And I was doing a project for one of my classes and it was something like a TED Talk And my specific TED talk was about gender and inclusion and the binary and the transgender community in sports and recreation. When I was doing this TED Talk, I used these photos of me that I had taken or someone else had taken over time, because at at at certain times when I wasn’t a student, you know, I would go out as Chloe or I would just be Chloe. And I had these shots to use in the background to kind of really portray, “See this is the same person in the front and the back.”
It wasn’t until after I finished the project and I was looking at the final product that I realized that I wasn’t this masculine presenting person in the front – that this part of me was who I really am and I was that person and it was the very next day that I called the local LGBTQ medical center and set up an appointment to look into the process of transition. And it was maybe 48 hours within receiving my first medication that I knew I’d again made the right decision.
I actually transitioned as a student in the sport and recreation program. And I was really welcome and included and I was very much supported, not just by my student cohorts but also by my professors, the administration, and it was a really great experience for me.
I didn’t come out to my son right away and maybe about six months into my physical transition, my medical transition, I pulled Ryan aside and I had to talk with him. And I said, “Ryan, you know your dad is a little bit more of a Wonder Woman than a Superman.” And I could see the gears turning and he got that.
There was a time when I had to talk to me about my name because I’m gonna switch my name and, you know, he was 5 years old. We were watching the “Secret Life of Pets.” And there’s only two main female characters and that there’s Chloe and there’s Gidget. And I always knew that my name was going to be Chloe, but he didn’t know that yet and I thought this is a great opportunity. There’s a 50-50 chance that I can convince Ryan that he’s picked my name. Of course he picked Gidget.
I said, “Ryan, I feel like Gidget wouldn’t be a great name for me.”
And he said, “Okay, then, I think you should be Chloe.” There you go. You’ve picked my name. Great job, Ryan.
So it came time for me to do my junior internship in the sport recreation program and I was less than a year into my medical transition, and I was very nervous about going to a new place and my son used to go to this one playground rec center. And I thought why not do my internship there? Because I knew the people there and I knew I would be accepted. It didn’t take me long at the working at that internship to realize that this was the work that I was meant to do and the work that I love until today.
In my work and working with kids, I’ve found that they’re very accepting of it and they’re growing up in a different time and it’s a different society than many of us grow up. And once in a while, a kid will say, “Miss Chloe, how come you sound a little like a boy?”
And then I just repeat back to them, “Well, I’m a woman with a really cool voice. And they just go, “Okay,” and they move along like nothing ever happened. And that’s one of my favorite parts about working with kids is that they’re so accepting of who everyone is.
Now I live a life of love filled with joy and I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone else’s on the planet. And it all stems from the birth of my child and how that opened everything up for me.
Alex: So we heard two stories from Brian and Chloe about parents coming out to kids. And both of them are parents who came out to their own children as adults. Brian came out when he was 30. At the time, he was married to a woman. He came out as gay. And he didn’t know what to tell his kids who were pretty small at the time. His story has a good amount of levity in it.
At the time governor McGreevey was the governor of New Jersey who came out as gay himself on national television. And the way that Brian went about explaining himself being gay to his kids was that he had something in common with Governor McGreevey.
Alex: Which, when you’re talking to a little kid…
Phil: I – I kinda loved it actually when his daughter was like, “Wait, you’re the governor now?” He’s like, “No, not exactly.”
Alex: Daughter didn’t exactly understand that it wasn’t the fact that he was the governor, it was that they were both gay.
Phil: It’s so cute.
Alex: And then Chloe… Chloe grew up in Philly and was always very effeminite. And she recounts seen trans women walking around and thought they were just magnificent. She eventually… she had some trouble growing up when she went away… initially, went away to college, was playing rugby and was injured, left school, ended up dropping out, ended up in a bad situation and basically made a pledge that she was going to get her life together in her thirties. As she did that, she, I guess her partner at the time, she did end up getting her partner pregnant. This is before she came out as a trans woman. And really, was just the impetus for her to go back to school and to get her life together for her kid.
And she ended up coming out in her program and she tells a story about how she went about coming out to her child with the name Chloe and that they were watching the movie The Secret Life of Pets, which has two female characters, Chloe and Gidget.
I haven’t personally seen this movie and she really wanted to make her son feel like he picked the name Chloe for her. So they kind of had a conversation about it. Her son was like, “Maybe Gidget?” And she was like, “No. How about Chloe?” And that’s where they landed.
And one of the things that I loved – one piece of the story I really loved was she talked about how now, when she’s working with kids, she’s found that they’re very accepting, especially little kids. Sometimes they’ll ask her about her voice and she just tells them that she has a cool voice and they accept that.
Phil: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s pretty cool. It’s – you know, it… I think what I loved about these stories were that the… both Chloe and Brian sat down and had conversations with their children, right? Like, they were ready to answer questions. They were ready to give these kids room to have these feelings, to ask questions, to wonder, to be curious about what was… what was happening. And I think that made a difference later on.
I also loved – I have to pull up one quote from what Chloe said to Brian. She said, you know, “Dad is…” at the time, she said, “Dad is more… more Wonder Woman than Superman.” I thought it was so cute! It was like, really, like working on, like, speaking to him where he was at. Like, you know, he’s thinking about like superheroes.
Phil: It’s like that. It’s like, you know, Dad’s more a Wonder Woman.
Alex: There was a big, I mean, to your point, there was something really just refreshing about these stories and the way that kids in their innocence are just funny and weird and will just accept things so matter of factly. I also really liked that about Chloe talking about how now, when she’s with kids now who ask about her voice and they just accept the answer and keep it moving. You know, and I love that, like, matter of factness with kids. They’re just like, Oh, okay. You know, and I feel like there are so many adults who could learn from just that.
Phil: Oh, so true.
Alex: Oh, okay, cool.
Alex: Keep it moving.
Phil: Right. Right. But you know what’s interesting? I think it’s like, I’d like to think about this – these stories make me think about questions and answers and how, as in for adults questions and answers are – they run into problems with questions and answers. So someone asks you a question, like a yes or no question. You can say yes. You can say no. You can say all these different things. But sometimes people don’t want the answers they’re getting. So they’ll just keep it going. And that’s what’s refreshing about children. Oh, I asked you a question. You gave me an answer. We’re good. We’re good. We’re good. We can actually keep it moving because I just had… I had a question and I’ll accept your answer to her.
Phil: Like, I’m not going to now challenge you on your answer. That’s the answer. And it’s just great. It’s like, you’re right – that’s, what’s so nice – lovely about kids. Like adults will like want to debate it and be like, Well, how do you know you’re gay? Like, like how do you know you’re trans? I’m like, I think, I know. I think I got this down.
Alex: Yeah. And kids, I mean, it’s really… it’s… it’s really something it’s like, this child knows that this is all right.
Alex: How come you’re an adult and you don’t know that this is all right? What’s going on there?
Phil: Right. Well, you know, it’s.. I mean, that’s the thing. I mean, you know, they say about kids. Like, adults learn to be difficult.
Phil: They literally learn it. And when you’re talking to kids like these kids, like, you know, I think Brian’s kids were, like three and five or something like that. They just… they… they’re not tainted like that. They’re not contaminated with the world yet. So they’re just… they’re… they’re literally just asking questions and getting answers.
I mean, I get that from kids. They’re like, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
And it’s just like… it’s oh, off-putting ‘cause you’re just like, not expecting it. You’re like, wait…
Alex: “That is an inappropriate question. Oh, you are two and a half years old.”
Phil: Right, right. I’m like, okay. So let’s just do it. That aside isn’t appropriate. But like… and then you just give them an answer. I’m like, Okay, you know, like, this is what it is. This is who I am.
And they just go, you know, they twist their heads a little bit and then they like, and then they’re moving on. And then next thing you know, they’re like asking for chicken fingers and whatever else is they’re eating. You know, like all the sugary… I’m like, I got my answer. I just need my sugary food now. I’m like, I don’t care. They just don’t care. It’s like actually really cool. You know, that’s, that’s the cool thing about kids.
Alex: I mean, this is also making me think about how, and you also brought up this point that these kids were young. I feel like a lot of the stories I’ve heard about parents coming out have been parents coming out to their adult children. So it was also just cool to hear parents navigating this from a very young age. You’re right. It’s almost like these kids are more of a blank slate before they’ve been in a culture that has formed any of their ideas about how they should feel about having a transparent or having a gay parent or anything like that. That, yeah, they’re just like… they’re just like, You’re the governor? What? You know? Or they’re just like, I’m just trying to watch The Secret Life of Pets, you know?
Phil: I love it… You’re governor. Dad, when did you get nominated to the governor? That’s amazing. I love that. I think that was, like, so great.
But you know, I think – I love the idea of people saying, okay, talking to her kids and going, “Oh, so you know someone’s gay. Like, well, how do you feel about that?” So they’re getting a gauge on how a child might feel about that before they come out to know where they stand and, you know, so they know maybe how to approach it. And then the other thing is like, I think what Chloe and Brian did brilliantly, it was like, give these kids an opportunity to ask questions. Like, really give them a space to ask questions. I think that’s when you can run into issues if you’re like… come out, like, do it, and then let them ask questions. They’re going to be confused and may not understand. They may need to be walked through it a little bit. I think if you… if you give it that level of attention there, you’re not going to be like dealing with like, Oh my God. Like I should’ve… like I tried to run from it and now it’s come down the road to meet me. It’s like, no, you’ve got to do what your mix is.
Alex: The other thing, too, is that it just made me think about how a lot of times parents are supposed to have all the answers and parents are supposed to be like superheroes in their own right. And that parents are also going through their own… their own stuff and their own struggles and their own identity and trying to figure it out themselves. And so I also just feel like this story really unpacked how these two people were, like, also having to grapple with their own identities on top of raising little kids, which just seems, like, you know, there’s a lot there.
Phil: There is. And you know, when you think about, like, coming out to family and friends and like, as an adult is one thing, right? Because I mean, obviously with your family, it’s a little different, but like, let’s say a friend. Like, if you lose a friend that’s not great, but you you’re going to survive, right? But when you talk about a child that you’re tied to, right, that you have to have a relationship. It’s – that is a scary thing. Like I could see Brian was very nervous about coming out to his kids because he was like, what does this mean? You know, how… how are they going to take it? Are they going to still see me as their dad? You know, and with Chloe, is Ryan going to see me as his mom, as a mom to him? And it’s just like, it’s a different level of anxiety that is attached to it.
Alex: One of the other things this story brought up for me is it feels like the experiences that both of these parents had… so much has changed over time. One of my dearest aunts is a lesbian and she came out, I think, in the eighties and at the time it was so – she risked it all. I mean, and it cost her so much because it was the 1980s. Because she was like a working class, South Philly person. And it just didn’t happen in South Philly, you know? And… and she’s someone who I admire so much because I also really think that she paved the way as being like the first out gay person in my family. And really, I’ve just heard so many stories of the terrible things she had to endure and the difficulties of that time.
And of course, all of these… these difficulties still, I think, persist across the community and depending, you know where you fit in as an LGBTQ person. So I don’t want to minimize that. But I also feel like to a certain extent, Brian and Chloe’s experiences feel of the past decade or two, just because of some of the social progress that we have had in terms of pointing to the gay governor of another state or even being embraced by your college program, you know, after you come out as trans.
And so I also think, probably, I would imagine just the experience of being a parent and coming out to your kids must be a lot more helpful. Or, I mean, I feel like I’m hesitant to use the word easy because I feel like it’s never easy, but just to know that your kid is maybe in a peer group where these issues are more acceptable. It is more acceptable to be queer or trans. Necause I feel like, you know, hopefully it’ll get… continue to be less burdensome, I think, to… to be an older person coming out to their family.
Phil: I mean, I actually have a friend who I feel like – he’s queer and, you know, has kids. I feel like his kids are so bored by his queerness. There’re literally, like moans of like, Oh Dad, you’re queer, whatever. So… like, it’s so boring. Like they don’t care and it’s like they could care less. And they’re like, Also don’t burden me with this. Cause it’s like, why are we talking about this? It’s like, literally, like, we’re like, they don’t even want to hear about it because they’re is this an issue?
Phil: And that… and that is progress. Rude as it is, it’s progress. They don’t care. They’re just like, I’m over it. I don’t wanna hear about your queerness. Like, who cares? But it’s also because we have a lot more visibility.
Phil: Right? So it’s like, we’re… we’re talking about, we’re seeing trans people on TV and in media, which is wonderful. Obviously more gay people. Like it’s just… like it’s visibility is… plays its role in this really sort of like in these mysterious ways, sometimes that we know it’s important, but then we see it. Then when we see something like that, we don’t even realize it’s tied to that. It’s tied to like the fact that there’s more of us that people see.
Alex: Yeah. I mean, I also liked just how, in general, these two stories use pop culture as that jumping off point to have the conversation. I mean, not in the same way, because it wasn’t like, I mean, with the Governor McGreevey instance, it was, like, here is a gay person in the media. Let me use this as the jumping off.
Then also, like, Secret Life of Pets. How cute, just to be like, I’m going to use these characters, like, this kid relates to. So I think I totally see how pop culture and visibility can be like a jumping off point for people to have that frame of reference.
I do half-remember – and I’d be curious to hear your experience – like, I went to school with some kids who had out gay parents and whose parents it was known widely in school that their parents were in same-sex couples. And they were really bullied, like, for their own parents’ sexual orientation. And so I guess I was heartened to hear in these stories that maybe that wasn’t as much of a challenge for… for these particular families. Although I can easily imagine that it’s still a big problem.
Phil: Like, We’re talking about how hard it is for the parents coming out of these kids and not even thinking about the fact that you’re right. Like, sometimes kids are given a hard time for that… you know, for the parents and that’s… that’s something that I didn’t even connect with that as we were hearing these stories. I wasn’t even thinking about that.
Alex: And I guess it depends also like where you are and now there’s all this research about how Gen Z is like the queerest generation ever. So, you know, we know… we know the kids are doing good,
Phil: The kids are doing great, actually. There’s going to be so little use for, like, how to come out to your kids. They’re like, “Whatever! We’re all queer.”
Alex: They’re like, Leave me alone!
Phil: There’re literally like, Leave me alone. And also like, if you talk about your queerness one more time, because it’s so disinteresting – sounds so disinterested by it, like, stop it, stop it. You know what I thought was also adorable in Chloe’s story. I love how Chloe was like, okay, I’m going to give Ryan the option of, like, choosing my name, even though Chloe was like, I’m Chloe.
Alex: I am Chloe.
Phil: Right. And was like, of course he chooses the other name. Is it Gidget or Chloe? You all going to be Gidget! And she’s like, “Oh, Brian. I don’t think it’s a great name for me. How about Chloe?” “Okay. You be Chloe. Okay. Fine.” I thought that was really cute. And again, just using something that… that was interesting to him to make the point of like, I am… I am Chloe. And like, You helped me. You helped me find that. That was, I thought it was so beautiful how she brought him into the process. I was really loving that.
Alex: Yeah. That is such a good point. I… I love that. And I also feel like, you know, we never get to hear, like, these stories in a way I feel like could be a playbook for other parents who are trying to navigate these situations. ‘Cause it’s true. It’s like, I don’t know, maybe this is the first story or among the few stories I’ve heard of parents who really, like, were able to integrate their kids into their coming out process in, like, a really proactive way. And… and there’s something amazing about that. ‘Cause I feel like most of the stories you hear – or at least growing up, like the stories you would hear or see, especially in like TV and movies would be people came out in their families that like ruin their families, period, the end. And like, that was it.
And, and so, I don’t know. So maybe it’s like, you know, expand people’s horizons if they were trying to figure out how they should come out to their families or something, like, they have these, these examples to look to.
Phil: I’m From Driftwood podcast is hosted by Phil aka Corinne…
Alex: And Alex Berg, and is produced by Andy Egan-Thorpe. It’s recorded as a program of I’m From Driftwood, the LGBTQAI+ story archive
Phil: Its mission is to send a life-saving message to queer and trans people everywhere: You are not alone.
Alex: I’m From Driftwood’s Founder and Executive Director is Nathan Manske. It’s Program Director is Damien Middlefehldt.
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Phil: This program is supported in part by public bonds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs…
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Phil: Additional funding is provided by the Humanities New York Sharp Grant with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Alex: Thanks for listening, y’all.