My daughter is the one who first told me about Schitt’s Creek. Do you really think I’ll like it? I asked. It seemed a silly premise for a TV show, an over-the-top rich family losing their money and moving to a motel in a small town.
“I promise you, Mom,” she said. “You’ll love it.”
When her grandfather came out to me in 1975, he was the first gay person I’d ever known to be gay. I was a naïve 24-year-old whose only images of gay people came from the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area news stations.
It was a heady time. Images of nude men in public with colorful boas and chains wrapped around their necks in the early years of San Francisco’s gay pride events were “other” images to me then. That is, until my father revealed to me that he was gay. Or, rather, when I pushed him to admit he was cheating on my mother (with women). Little did I know how my world would be upended when I asked the question.
I feel shame and regret now in retrospect in how I reacted back then. The cultural images at the time made me squeamish. I didn’t want to picture my father the way gay men were shown on the nightly news. I didn’t know then what I know now, that at the beginning of the gays rights movement, those men were the bravest of them all. They were literally risking their lives.
My image of my father, gay or straight, has always been one of a modest, highly-refined man. Of course, he may have adopted his modesty as a result of living nearly his entire life in the closet. And the men in the parades may have been highly-refined men, too, just letting go at a party. Or not. But it shouldn’t have mattered to me. If I’m honest with myself, though, it did.
And then comes Schitt’s Creek, the highly popular sitcom on Pop TV. Eugene and Dan Levy, the father-and-gay-son co-creators, portray gay couples and heterosexual couples exactly the same way. They share the same struggles, awkwardness, insecurities, and sweetness. “Gay” is not the theme. Relationships are.
If Schitt’s Creek was on TV when my father came out to me, I think I would have had an easier time imagining him in a gay relationship. He had them, but in secret since he remained closeted and married to my mother for 65 years. His secret affairs may have looked like David’s and Patrick’s on Schitt’s Creek. Or maybe not. But at least I wouldn’t have only one image of gay men in my head, an image that frightened me as a sheltered girl who grew up in a small town on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Until Schitt’s Creek, I couldn’t admit these things to myself. But now, because of the show, I can fully imagine my father in a relationship with a man.
In revealing the shame I felt 45 years ago, I’m now the one who has come out to myself. I’ve uncloseted a part of my my own hidden self, reflected in my reaction long ago, thanks to this not-silly show. It’s the best feeling of all.
Thank you, Eugene Levy and Dan Levy. You hit just the right note for me.
My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir is scheduled to be released in Summer, 2021.