I had a singular and pure impetus for my book, Gay Like Me. As a gay man and the father of a gay son who was readying himself to move out of our home for college, I had to write a letter to him about what it means to be a gay man and what it takes to be a gay man in America. I chose a narrow lane and the structure of a letter. I needed to tell our son everything I know—everything he needed to know—as he stepped out into the world on his own.
But what could have felt academic or textbook-like would not work. Writing a letter to my son prevented me from editing out or smoothing over any of my own harrowing history or of the LGBTQ community’s. I was completely honest and held nothing back.
I took a risk in being vulnerable enough to share all the things I had previously kept from him so he would feel safe. When is it a good time to tell your child about the plague you lived through? He never knew we traveled with his birth certificate on vacations in case our parentage was ever questioned at an airport or worse, a hospital. But I knew by being fully exposed, the outcome would be far more meaningful to his life.
If I told him all of my mistakes, everything I did—the good, the bad, the secret—he would not repeat them. He would not fall into the same traps I did. While I can’t prevent him from making his own mistakes, I can hopefully save him from mine.
The most challenging part of the experience was building up my emotional stamina to revisit so many painful memories. I was mining the most difficult parts of my life – my fourth grade gym teacher calling me a faggot, my first bruising sexual experiences with young men who were filled with shame, the birth story of our premature twin boys and one of them dying.
Having never written a book before, I had no writing process. I stared at the computer and it felt a lot like my everyday life—it didn’t feel creative sitting an arm’s length away from my words. I didn’t know how best to excavate what I knew I wanted to write. Then I adapted my daily ritual of reading at dawn before my family wakes up to my writing time and ditched my computer.
My good friend, the acclaimed writer Harvey Fierstein, counseled me, “If you write an hour a day, that’s a good day.” That freed me up. I took pencil to paper, and at 5am every day, I hand wrote my love letter to being gay, to being a parent, to being in love. That quiet early morning time gave me the vulnerability required, my pencil was a more direct line from my heart to the page.
The payoff was immeasurable. I am confident I left nothing unsaid. All parents should do this for their child as they set out into this tumultuous, wondrous world.
This article was originally published on Town&CountryMag.com