After weeks of bargaining, I finally folded to Dad's impassioned pleas: I agreed to try karate. Thrilled isn’t a word I’d use to describe how I felt. Baseball was more than enough for me then. But as a seven-year-old burgeoning manipulator, I reasoned that by doing this thing expected of me, of boys, I could cash in on this valuable fatherly gratitude at some point in the future.

And so it was arranged. I was registered for Saturday morning karate classes at the Newport News YMCA. That first morning, Dad beamed, expecting to drop off a boy and pick up a warrior, a warrior who would perhaps dazzle relatives at holiday dinners with electrifying karate skills, karate chopping rum cakes in half, dazzlingly. By the time he entered the gym hours later to take me home, I was practicing cartwheels and tumbling with the gymnastics group. 

He knew

I have been in touch with my equal opportunist sexuality since before I knew the name for the urges swirling around in my young, ever-curious head. Sex Ed was a self-paced course for me, as I took it upon myself to learn the ins, outs, ups, downs, and backs and forths of the birds and bees as a growing geigh, finding love and temporary pleasure in the most hopeless of places, engaging with the bebreasted and the nonbreasted alike. See? Equal opportunist. Reaching the ‘age of responsibility’ and moving into my own two-bedroom castle, I sat my parents down and, after Sunday dinner, eased back the curtain on my poorly kept secret and had The Talk.

The prospect of discussing one’s sexuality with quasi-churchy parents is never a particularly fun thing to consider. We knew no openly gay people at the time, had no Uncle Roscoe and friend to reference for examples of normalcy and acceptance of this life. Unsure of the aftermath, I reasoned that since I no longer lived under their roof, was no longer responsible for Saturday morning chores, was liberated, now a MAN, DAMMIT, I had no reason to reside in the closet. Basically, I figured it was time to get this over with and start living out in the open. At 18, I was a year into in my first relationship and it would have been helpful to be able to consult my parents, who have been going strong for three decades, on my romantic woes.

More often than you think, parents know. It’s why my father tried for so long to spark my interest in boxing, only to inadvertently arouse my juvenile perversion as opposed to my passion for the sport itself. For years, we artfully dodged and hopscotched around the issue, akin to what I assume it’s like to attempt a face-to-face conversation with 2013 Lil Kim, skirting the obvious.

Living in the shadows is soul-ethering. Living trapped in the closet gets old. Not to suggest detailing each ceiling-swinging escapade of your sweaty, man-on-man after-hour acrobatics with Mom and Dad, but reaching a place of understanding and mutual respect does wonders for easing familiar awkwardness. Initially, I hit them with almost this exact speech:

So…I’m into guys. I’m not dressing like a woman. I’m not wearing makeup or being promiscuous. I’m still the same athletic, smart kid. Just know that I’m not bringing a girl home for Thanksgiving any time soon.

Knowing the nightmare such a revelation can unleash, I lucked out. I wasn’t disowned. There was no shouting. I wasn’t shipped off to an anti-gay concentration camp. I had simply taken the first step toward openness with my parents.

What followed was a period of uncertainty on their part about how to call this gay thing a gay thing. I knew that when my well-intentioned Dad would ask, almost pleadingly, if any “young ladies have caught my eye,” he was indirectly inquiring if I was still that way. I spent a lot of time calming their nerves, assuring them I was being safe, and reminding them that I was the same rude, chicken-loving Negro they’d raised. It took reminding them that my sexuality wasn’t a phase before it began to stick. Later, before relocating from New York to Los Angeles, I sat them down to clear the air even more: You need to know that I’m not a virginal monk. My “roommate and business partner” in New York? An ex. That big fight? One of a number breakups, not a professional squabble gone wrong. I won’t evaporate if you use the word gay. Ask me things. We’re all adults here. It’s fine.

It worked. They respected my directness and assured me that as long as I was safe, successful, happy, and healthy, they had no issues either. I knew we’d made progress when my mother asked about an ex of mine by name, taking me by complete surprise. It’s been a hell of a journey, but my parents’ acceptance has made it easier for me to live out in the open and without shame. For that, I’m endlessly grateful.

Alexander Hardy is a writer and cultural critic living and working in Panama. He shares his experiences on his site The Colored Boy. Tweet him at @chrisalexander_.