Derik Cowan

February 1998

Changing Tides

I've never really understood why so many things in my life seem to happen around the new year. I guess it has to do with the fact that every time the calendar says that a new year is about to start, people begin to look at their lives and wonder if this is really how they want to live. Perhaps it's that the shorter days and lack of sun get to people enough that they act rather than spend a lot of time deciding to act. Whatever the reason, I've noticed that over the past few years the bulk of major events in my life seem to happen in December or January, and this year has decided to not be an exception.

Although I've been mostly cut off from my parents for the past three years, I have had an off and on email contact with my father. In early December, he emailed me that my mother had filed for divorce. I was shocked and not really sure what to think. I knew that my parents had been having troubles in their marriage before I came out, but the family emergency that resulted from my coming out -- their disowning me/their loss of their son -- seemed to have brought them together. I think it had, for a while, but it wasn't enough of a patch to last, and I think they felt the need to present a unified front for me in spite of their troubles. But beyond my surprise, my feelings were very mixed. On the one hand, I had always felt that if my parents divorced, my dad and I would eventually find a way to reconcile our differences and resume some form of relationship. On the other, I was (and still am) worried for my dad. Having been through a family split already and witnessed others within my family's social circle, I know that the general reaction to a divorce or family breakup is for everyone to side with the "victim" of the experience and isolate the "guilty party." Knowing my mom's skills as a spin doctor, I have little doubt of who will be the "innocent party" and who the "guilty party" in my parent's divorce. I know what it's like to lose one's entire circle of close friends all at once through no fault of your own, and I don't want to see that happen to my dad.

The divorce proceedings are scheduled to be settled in March, so until then I won't know how accurate my worries in terms of my father's well-being are concerned, but I do know that my long held feeling that a separation of my parents would lead to my father and I reconciling was indeed accurate. Upon receiving my dad's email, I sent him off a note expressing my support for him, and since then we have been in fairly regular contact. But this too was problematic for me. When I was thrown out by my parents three years ago, I would have been very eager to resume my relationship with my father, but a lot of things have happened since then. On a practical level I've moved across the country, so improving my relationship with either of my parents would play little role in my actual life. But there were other issues, too. As time goes on in any separation, both parties begin to have some stake in it. For my father, it was clear that the advantages of ending that separation were greater than the disadvantages. But how did I feel?

There are many ways that a gay youth who has been disowned by their parents deal with that experience, and none of them are perfect. There are any number of emotions that need to be dealt with -- anger, loss, hurt, humiliation, and sorrow are just a few. Some people deal with those emotions by wallowing in them, but for reasons of my own, I did the reverse. Since I felt that my personal stability depended on my being able to get back into school and finishing school even without my parents' support, I blocked off the large part of my emotions until I had my own practical arrangements were settled. When I finally did get around to dealing with them, I never faced them head on, but rather subverted them--using them and expressing them in my creative and political life. They gave me lots of personal material to cull for performance work, and they heightened my drive to work on gay youth issues, trying to find a way to help gay youth who found themselves in the same situation. In time, these ends began to dominate my focus in life, and as that became more and more true, I began to find a greater stake in being able to claim my position as someone disowned by his parents for being gay because it seemed to bolster my arguments and points of view. In an odd way, I began to believe that reconciling with one or both of my parents could weaken my position, and it took a number of extended conversations with various friends pointing out that in fact it was clear that I had a large number of unresolved issues concerning my father and my relationship, and that those issues were too important to me to let my anger with him and my worries over my effectiveness in espousing my personal beliefs to get in the way of a possible reconciliation.

There was still one issue that remained, however, and that was a discussion of my main issue from the start of my separation from my parents. When I was disowned, I knew it wasn't a matter of lack of love on their part, but rather a lack of respect. They didn't respect me to know what was right for my life, to understand my own personal experiences, and to make my own personal decisions but rather wanted to run my life for me. When I wouldn't let them do that, they kicked me out, and as a result I wasn't about to consider any reconciliation until I knew that respect was in place. This confirmation came from my dad in January in an email where he admitted that he hadn't respected my right to make my own decisions on my life and said that he did now, and moreover he recognized that as the problem in my relationship with my mother. That hurdle crossed, all that remains is to announce the good news. My father and I have for the most part reconciled our differences and commenced working on building a new relationship.

It's odd how quickly things happen. My parents found out I was gay and disowned me in a whirlwind weekend over three years ago, and then suddenly out of the blue I'm reconciling with my dad. I'm sure the process will be slower and perhaps more painful than I'm anticipating or have so far experienced, but overall I think it's for the best. Which brings me to a final and in some ways totally unrelated issue.

I've been writing for Oasis since its inception two years ago, and for all intents and purposes it has been a rewarding experience. Nonetheless, a lot has changed in this time. I've gone from being an underage college student recently disowned by his parents to a 22 year old college grad making his way in the work a day world and rebuilding his relationship with his family. Over the past two years, I've felt that my personal experience has been moving away from the typical gay youth experience of today largely because I'm becoming less and less of a gay youth (OK, so I fit the bill for another year according to most gay youth organizations I know of, but still...) and as a result I've been having more and more trouble trying to find topics that I want to write about. So I've decided to make a change. No, I'm not going to quit writing for Oasis, but I'm changing my format from a primarily feature column format to more of an advice column. This'll take care of two problems for me: it'll give me something to write about, and it'll give me a chance to respond to the email that I get and never have time to answer. So, if you've got something you've always wanted to ask me about an article I've written, a view I've espoused, or an experience I might know about, email it to me and you'll finally get an answer.


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