While everyone’s coming out story is different, Richard Socarides’ might be one of the most unique. Richard, who served as President Clinton’s senior adviser on gay rights, explains his coming out experience in his twenties:
[My father] was the founder, or one of the founders, of the school of psychiatry that believed homosexuality was a mental illness and that it could be cured through psychotherapy. … [H]is idea was they should be treated like any other neurotic. Couple of trips to a therapist and it should be just fine.
Dr. Charles Socarides didn’t just believe that homosexuality could be cured; he was one of the most sought-after therapists for people who wanted to become straight. And for Richard, that hit a little too close to home:
We lived on the Upper East Side on 78th Street in a townhouse and his office was downstairs. So on the top level there was this kid coming out, and on this bottom level there were these people going to be cured of their homosexuality.
In his twenties, at the insistence of his sister and his therapist, Richard decided it was time to tell the very man who is known for curing gay people that his own son is gay. Watch the video below to see how Richard’s coming out experience unfolded, or Continue Reading for the transcript.
I’m Richard Socarides and I’m from New York City, New York.
My father was, his name was Charles Socarides MD. He was the founder, or one of the founders, of the school of psychiatry that believed homosexuality was a mental illness and that it could be cured through psychotherapy. And he was a New York psychiatrist, quite well-known, had a thriving practice, wrote in 1967, maybe ‘68, one of the early psychoanalytic treatises of the issue of homosexuality, called “The Overt Homosexual,” which I do believe as I recall was dedicated to me and my sister.
So it was with this background that he became quite famous. CBS News did a very, now well-known, 60 Minutes-type special called “The Homosexual” in which they filmed him in his class that he taught at Albert Einstein Medical College on the treatment of homosexuality.
Charles Socarides: Homosexuality is in fact a mental illness which has reached epidemiological proportions.
I don’t look so much like the old him, but if you look at that film a little bit you can kind of see the family resemblance, it’s kind of a little scary. My parents were divorced when we were 6 though, when he moved out and I first lived with my mom and I missed him a great deal. So when I was about 13 I moved back in with my dad. And we lived on the Upper East Side on 78th Street in a Townhouse and his office was downstairs. So there was this, kind of on this one level is this kid coming out, on the top level there was this kid coming out, and on this bottom level there were these people going to be cured of their homosexuality. His idea was they should be treated like any other neurotic. Couple of trips to a therapist and it should be just fine.
He would occasionally ask me who I was dating and I would say, you know, try to avoid it. By the time I was in law school, all of my friends, most of my close friends knew. I was in therapy at the time and both my sister and my therapist said to me, they said, “Everybody who does this, you get to the other side and it’s great, right, everybody who does this, you come out to the parent, and even if the parent is a little weird at the beginning, they realize their relationship with their own flesh and blood, with their offspring is more important than this thing and they get over it.” And that I think is like a good rule for everybody. But I was suspicious, I said, “Hmm, I might be the exception to this rule.”
But finally one day I managed to come see him in the middle of the work day to see him at his office. I sat down and said, “Dad I think this is something we’ve known for some time together but I’m gay and we have to find a way to be more honest with each other about this.” And he had a tendency for the dramatic. He was angry, but he certainly wasn’t surprised and angry, and he was kind of a little surprised. So I kind of said, “I’m going to give you some time to think about it, to take this one in” and I left. It did not last a long time and it did not have a good ending, at that moment. And I just let it sit for a while.
A relatively short interval of a couple of months in which we didn’t speak to each other passed, and then he sent me a letter. He sent me a beautiful letter handwritten, 4 pages, in which he basically said, “I’m sorry I behaved so badly. I’m sorry I got angry. You’re the most important person to me in my life and I love you and the only thing that’s important to me is your happiness and if this is what makes you happy I want to support you and we’ll just figure out a way to manage it.”
Now, that was a great moment, the letter was a great moment, but it was not always that easy going forward because he did not change what he was saying publicly about the treatment and cure of homosexuality.
When people ask me about my dad is, right, what is the first thing they say, “Did he ever try to cure you?” And it’s an obvious question and the answer is no. It literally never came up. He never once said to me, “I have an idea, I have this theory, and we can get you some help for this!”
So it was quite sad because as a kid I had a relationship that was terrific. There was a lot of warmth and affection between the two of us and we were never really able to, well, we never came close to rebuilding that. But we had a relationship that was built on honesty, authenticity, integrity, at least coming from me. So it was much better.
You know, my story is no harder nor easier than anybody else’s. It’s just my story. It is a little stranger than most. And it’s kind of like a, wow, so you know it’s just part of who I am.