Thursday, January 14, 2016

Jack Freedman, Whose Coming-Out Letter to Dad Went Viral, Is Dead at 45

Sad to report that Jack Freedman, whose 1992 coming-out letter to his "tough, ex-Marine dad" went viral 22 years after he wrote it, died on Dec. 31 after a brief illness. A mutual friend noticed Jack had posted he'd be staying in on New Year's Eve because he had the flu, but sadly he passed away that evening. Jack, who was beloved by friends, family and colleagues alike, had a long and successful career as an entertainment lawyer, having worked for the likes of Turner Broadcasting/Cartoon Network, Paramount Television and DreamWorks. He was also in the process of writing a book.

His family and friends gathered to celebrate Jack's life this week in Irvine, Calif. In lieu of flowers or gifts, his family has requested donations be made in Jack's name to -- fittingly -- The Trevor Project, which can do HERE.

In memory of Jack, here is the full text of the letter that touched so many of us and is the reason I connected with him online. He sent it to Andy Towle in 2014 with the following note:
I told my tough, ex-marine father I'm gay exactly 22 years ago this month. This is how it went… I have been told over the years that I should publish the "coming out" letter I handed to my father in Sept of 1992. I have always brushed those comments away as just being compliments by people who care about me. Finally, however, I decided to post it on Facebook and the responses…both public comments and, even more so, private messages, astounded me. More than ever, people kept telling me, "This could help gay kids and parents of gay kids. It doesn't seem all that amazing to me, but I'm not a publisher…so what do I know. The post, with the letter I actually gave to my father so long ago, is at this link to my Facebook page. I am happy to share it if someone who knows more than I do (i.e., most people) thinks it could help even a single kid.
RIP, Jack.
September 1, 1992
Dear Dad,
I’ve tried to write this letter so many times over the last six months (in fact this is the third draft of this one). It seems, however, that every time I do, the words just don’t come out or it’s not the right time for me or it’s not the right time for you… I realize that I no longer have a clue as to when the “right” time would be. Actually, I think I’m just waiting for it to be easy and I know that is not going to happen.

What I need to tell you is that I’m gay. I think you may have already guessed. You may have guessed a long time ago. I don’t know. There are tears running down my face as I write. Why? Relief? Excitement? Fear? Probably a bit of each. I’m so worried that this will change the way you see me. I’m worried that you are jaded and influenced by society’s attitudes towards gay people. I’m so scared that assumptions and stereotypes and fears will take over and nothing will be the same between us anymore. What could possibly be going through your mind while you read this? I’m so afraid that you will feel betrayed, hurt, embarrassed and angry. You have a right to those feelings, to an extent, but you need to wipe out all the stereotypes you carry, erase all the rumors you’ve heard and realize that I’m the same person I’ve always been.

Mom has known since she surprised me by showing up at graduation in LA. I had planned on telling you both at the same time when I was ready. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. When she was here, she could tell I was happier and I guess I was talking about new friends and that I was more comfortable with myself, etc. She asked me directly and I have come too far to lie. We stayed up late in my apartment talking about it and she had many questions, but made it clear it did not change how she felt about me. In the wee hours of the morning, though, I woke up and heard her crying. I went to her and started to tell her, “Mom, it’s ok. I’m happy to finally be honest. You don’t have to cry.” She said, “No, honey, you don’t understand. I’m crying because of all those years you had to hide this while thinking I might not love you if I knew the truth.” I hope you don’t feel resentful, although I guess I’d understand if you do. Ironic that I pride myself on being so open and honest about how I think and feel and, yet, I’ve hidden this part of myself from you. I hope you realize that the reason I’m telling you is so you can be a complete part of my life. I don’t want to have to censor myself around you or not tell you about the people I care about or, more important, about the people who care about me.

So, where do I start? In third grade, I sure as hell didn’t know what to call it, but I remember knowing I was different. In junior high, I tried to deny it. In high school, I made a conscious decision never to tell anybody as long as I lived. Can you imagine the feelings a fifteen year old has deciding not to tell anyone something so intimate about oneself…because the world thinks it’s disgusting? I knew the world thought that this part of me that I could not change was revolting to people. All I wanted was to be accepted and all I saw was this huge part of me that would forever deny me that feeling. I grew up knowing I was something the world, at best, mocked, and at worst, loathed.

Can you imagine the pain this caused me growing up? The loneliness? The constant worry that someone would “find me out?” I don’t mean to sound self-pitying or melodramatic, but you need to know. I always knew I was different and that this difference was, by society’s judgments, bad. Imagine knowing something so intrinsic about yourself and having to hide it from everyone you love because you’re afraid they will stop loving you back. Imagine having to put on a mask everyday and pretend to be someone you’re not. Then, one day you realize that the effort it takes to pretend like that everyday has stopped you…me…from being who I really am. I stopped knowing myself. Imagine trying not to have feelings that come totally naturally to you. It was so awful. To have to hide half of who I am from everyone I love has hurt so much. I’m so glad that I’ve finally come to accept it…to accept myself. I’m who I am and whoever can’t handle it can fuck-off.

If someone told me I could take a pill tonight and wake up straight tomorrow morning, I wouldn’t do it. I like who I’ve turned out to be and some of that is because of the things I’ve had to deal with in terms of being gay. Please realize that one’s sexuality is not a choice. You didn’t sit in sex education class in junior high thinking, “Gee, should I like guys or girls. Time to decide.” Ridiculous. I was born this way. It is no more simple or complex than that. You were born straight. I was born gay. I did not choose to be gay. I’m not sorry I am (anymore), but it wasn’t by choice. Why would someone choose to be something that society can’t accept…something that makes life so much more difficult than it already is?

Dad, for me to be attracted to men is the same exact feeling and is as natural to me as for you to be attracted to women. Look at it this way: You can choose to sleep with a man or a woman. You are physically and mentally able to make this choice. You won’t, however, be physically attracted to the man. Your sexual urges are for women. The feeling is the same for me. I can and have chosen to sleep with both men and women, but it is men to whom I am attracted sexually. You can choose who you sleep with, but you can’t choose who you desire. I hope you realize that gay men aren’t attracted to every man they see any more than straight men are attracted to every woman they see. Gay men who are friends do not automatically sleep together. Gay men are no more promiscuous, gross or deviant in their sexual behavior than straight men and women (we just get more press time about it). Ignore all the stereotypes and rumors. Most of it is bullshit. And, contrary to popular belief, you can’t always tell when a man is gay.

I hope you understand what a huge effort it takes to tell you this. I’m scared. At the same time, I respect that it may be difficult for you to accept (if it’s difficult at all, which it may not be). You may not care (ideally). You may feel really uncomfortable with it. Or, you may have guessed and dealt with it a long time ago. I really have no clue. Also, it’s not even that you “have” to know. I want you to know. See the difference? Get it?

I’ve heard a zillion different stories about parental reactions. One father cried, but said it didn’t matter. One set of parents completely abandoned their son. One mother wanted her son to be in therapy to heal this “disgusting disease.” I don’t want you to accept it like some curse, however, that you must accept because I am your son and because you want to be a good dad. I still need your support, Dad. I have friends who say they’ll come out to everybody except their families. That’s not what I want. I don’t want to have to censor myself. I don’t want to have to alter my stories so their “straight.” I want you to be a complete part of my life.

So, I’ve spilled my guts and now it’s your turn. You have to be absolutely and totally honest with me. You have to tell me exactly how you feel about this. It wouldn’t be fair to make me guess. You’re entitled to every single feeling you have…unless you ask me to be straight (but I think…hope…that you’re a little more enlightened than that). Actually, I really hope you’ll ask a lot of questions. Anything! I don’t want to hide any part of my life from you. Ask about sexual history, relationships, friendships, the truth behind any rumors you’ve heard, anything… You need to be totally open with me so that I feel comfortable. That’s one way you can support my coming out to you. If you’re angry, I want to hear it. If you’re totally disgusted, I want to hear that, too. If you are brave enough to ask the question, I will be brave enough to give you an honest answer.

Being gay doesn’t mean that I’m any different from who you’ve always known me to be.  


An hour after giving his dad the letter, Freedman returned.
I stood there by the door and looked at him across the entryway. He just stood there, motionless, his hands at his side. He held the letter, unfolded and dangling from the fingertips of one hand.
“What did I do wrong that you don’t already know this?” his father said, “Jack. You’re my son. I love you no matter what.”

Learn more HERE.

1 comment:

Bob K said...

I was older than Jack. My father never really said anything, nor did I, but he accepted me. In one later phone conversation, around the "Rock Hudson is sick" era, she told me I ought to get an actor, because they like handsome men. I told her that I was too old for them, but thanks

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