It took me back to my own coming out (Picture: Andi Crown/Eli Matthewson) I walked through the front door into my flat, stormed into the lounge where my housemates were all watching TV and sat on the floor in front of them. ‘I just had one of the wildest moments of my entire life and I feel like my brain is about to combust,’ I declared. ‘Are you OK?’ ‘I’m good,’ I replied.
‘I’m actually really good. It’s happy news. ’ But my face probably did not scream happy.
I was a little stunned. That’s because – almost 10 years after I came out to my family in 2010 – a new gay had entered the arena and it was the person I probably least expected: my father. It was 2018 and we had been out for dinner at the reliable roast chicken place I always take my dad to.
We’d driven home in his red Subaru Impreza listening to his Neil Young Greatest Hits CD and then he reversed into my driveway. So even just this evening, all the evidence pointed towards him being a straight man. As a child, he bought me hot wheels, hoping I would inherit his love of cars.
He also took me to rugby and cricket games at the big stadium in Christchurch, encouraged me to take up guitar and took me to church sometimes twice in one day. But I had to put those preconceptions of him aside when he opened up to me, smiling through what I’m sure was a blend of fear and release: ‘I’ve realised that I am gay’. The tree does not fall far from the apple, it seems (Picture: Caitlin Murray) It took me back to my own coming out.
I thought I was on the older side when I started telling people at 21. Throughout my teens, I’d been busy singing about church in the youth group band, and I’d been to a high school where the two outwardly queer people I saw seemed to be having a pretty hard time. Even in the theatres I spent most of my spare time doing Shakespeare, musicals and theatresports; homophobic jokes were rife and heterosexuality was assumed.
All of my acting teachers were extremely camp men who inexplicably had wives. I guess maybe their experience making those marriages work helped keep their acting technique in practice. It only took a few months of living in a bigger city, learning acting full time and just one trip to a gay bar (bizarrely the last place I ever kissed a girl in a serious way) before I was ready to accept the true gay Eli.
I paced out telling my friends and family at home, and dad was the person I left till last. He gave me the strangest response of anyone. He went white as a sheet and didn’t say anything.
At the time, I thought he was angry – that he was maybe praying for it not to be true. I realise now there may have been a lot more going on. He didn’t talk to me for 24 hours, but then he took me out for a pasta dinner, and from that point onwards was as supportive as he could be.
I’m not my dad’s mentor and I don’t think he’d want me to be (Picture: Eli Matthewson) While my coming out was not too hard for my family to deal with, I would imagine the impending onslaught of raunchy gay stand-up might have been a little more difficult. I’d only been doing stand-up for a few months, but once I decided to bring my sexually into my act, it quickly became my funniest stuff. It was the gear that got me noticed in a sea of straight men complaining about being single.
As a result of repressing the truth of who I was throughout my teens, once the floodgates were open and I was ready to talk about it, my material went deep through the gutter. My geeky observations about Pokemon were quickly replaced with what many critics would refer to as ‘too many’ jokes about lube. I also went hard against Christianity, as I felt like it taught me to keep my gayness hidden and lamented my family’s expectation that I would marry a nice girl and get some kids pumped out.
Initially, there was an impulse for me to keep my gayness quiet. I said that I was gay, but that wouldn’t change who I am. Cut to me a decade later wearing mesh shirts at comedy galas, never not having painted nails and being in the first same-sex couple on Dancing With The Stars New Zealand.
My dad said the same thing to me that night in the car – that this wasn’t going to change who he was. But it did, and it has been amazing. He’s become so much more open and when we have our regular dinners, we talk about things I previously would have been so nervous to discuss with him.
To be honest, my dad’s a way better gay then me (Picture: Caitlin Murray) I’d been too terrified to discuss my relationship with the church with either of my parents, but now we will always chat about our difficulties with Christianity. He’s immersed himself in my world, knows all of my friends well and attends so many of their comedy shows that I’m sometimes worried he’s more of a fan of them than me. We have more jokes together and talk way more often.
To be honest, he’s a way better gay then me. He heads out on every Pride march, he champions every LGBTQ+ cause, he’s worked in Uganda with a gay youth charity, and he even met his partner singing in a gay choir. I’m not my dad’s mentor and I don’t think he’d want me to be.
I also don’t want to credit myself as the one who left the closet door open for him. More: LifestyleHow feelings of joy and gratitude can co-exist with pain and anxietyWoman has part of her tongue removed and remade from her leg after mouth cancer diagnosisThe Big Happiness Interview: Simon Alexander Ong reveals how to super-boost your energy Both my parents raised me to be whoever I wanted to be, and the parts of Christianity they focused on were openness, acceptance and loving everyone from every background. While me doing jokes on TV comparing my sexual preferences to 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner might have encouraged him to be more open, it was him and my mum who raised me to be open and accepting as well.
The tree does not fall far from the apple, it seems. Eli Matthewson appears in his brand-new show – Daddy Short Legs at the Edinburgh Festival from 3-29 August. You can book tickets on the website here.
Headshot picture credit: Andi Crown Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James. [email protected]
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