What is it like having a child come out? Mark Swaim-Fox, the director of the Cleveland chapter of Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit that teaches students about social justice issues, stood by his 15-year-old daughter's side as she came out as a lesbian last year. This week, Swaim-Fox joined two of his best friends and his son to compete in the Gay Games in support of his daughter.
I think my daughter is one of the most remarkable people I know. I would do anything in the world for her. She knew she was gay in the seventh grade, but she came out to us toward the end of her eighth-grade year. We were sitting down together and she said, ‘I’m gay, but I’ve told you already.’ She was dropping these hints that she was noticing girls, and we weren’t picking up on it.
I cried, not because she was gay, but because I missed it; because this is so important and it’s part of her identity, and because we love her and we’re so close. It was a really tender, sensitive moment. My first instinct was a parental one. I said, ‘I don’t want you to be hurt. I know there’s still homophobia out there.’ Not wanting my daughter to be a target is really serious for me, and my wife and I both struggle with those things. My next instinct was, ‘Oh my gosh, what can I do to support you?’
We’re really being conscious about our language and really asking about her love interests like we would with our son. Nothing is really different. We’re just making sure on a day-to-day basis she knows that we love her.
I feel I’m not a father of a lesbian; I’m a father of my daughter. I think she’s got such grace and maturity, and we’ll support her when she’s in trouble and we’ll share her joy when she’s excited — no matter what.
The PFLAG meetings we went to helped a lot. There is something communal about other parents sharing stories together that help. It’s not a gay-straight sexuality thing. It’s just about paying attention to our children and what they need and making sure they can be whoever they are. — as told to James Bigley II