The dinner table is set. Dad carries in the roast, blood sausage laid on the wooden board. Mum blesses the food. Out of nowhere, someone remarks on the death of a famous comedian and clown Charlie Rivel. Poor guy, says my sister. I liked him. But he was a fag! says dad laughing. They all laugh. I swallow words like hot stones. That is the worst thing you can be. Can you imagine being a fag?
It is 1983. Rául Alfonsín has just become president of Argentina. The country has returned to democracy after six years of military dictatorship, of disappearances, of death. That afternoon I invite Darío, a friend who lives in the neighbourhood, over to play. With old blankets, we set up a makeshift tent in the garden. Once we’re inside with our flashlights, he asks me to undress, taking off my trousers, then my underpants. Without us knowing, Mum is watching from the kitchen window. Go home quickly. Game over, she mutters laconically. She never felt the need to tell anyone.
She recommends a “specialist” in Paris who can “turn me into a man” with “electroshock sessions”
Years later, in a restaurant in San Isidro, I sit across from my Dad, my hands are clenched under the table. Today I will tell him, I think. Mum died a long time ago. My sisters have convinced me to finally come out to him. He can't be the last to find out, they say. In the crowded grill restaurant we chat about random things, we finish eating the roast meat and fries. After dessert, I summon my courage and find my voice. Dad… I have to tell you something… erm… I'm gay.
Silence. He looks at me, stunned. I keep my hands under the table, as in a prayer that nobody hears. We quickly exit the restaurant. Dad doesn’t hug me. The next day, he comes to the airport to stiffly bid me farewell before I return to London where I live with my boyfriend. Dad doesn't phone me for months. Why did he do this to me? He has no right! After everything I did for him! he repeats to his second wife. She finally pens me a multi-page letter. She offers to “help me,” says she knows someone who can “cure me” with a treatment that “works.” She offers to pay for it. In the letter she recommends a “specialist” in Paris who can “turn me into a man” with “electroshock sessions”.
That night I can't sleep. I chew on my words. I forcefully fold up the letter, which I never reply to. After a long time Dad calls. He never brings up the subject. Over time he says he will change and “will adjust himself to the new situation.” Sometimes he asks about my partner, how we are getting along. He wants to know how we stayed together all this time.
Days before he died of cancer, Dad reveals to me that an uncle of his was like that, like you
Meanwhile, in Argentina things are changing. The country becomes the first in Latin America to allow same-sex marriages, finally giving rights to the LGBTQ + community. Years later at his home in Buenos Aires and days before he died of cancer, Dad reveals to me in a state verging on delirium that an uncle of his was like that, like you. He can’t finish the sentence. He tries to say more, but the conversation ends. I take care of him on his deathbed, I read my poems to him. He wants to say goodbye in some way but can no longer speak. I squeeze his hand tightly, talking slowly into his ear. I know he can hear me, I know he wants to hear me. I tell him that I am happy, that I wish we could have talked more in the past, before I left.
That night, when Dad dies, I am on the plane that takes me back to England. Through the window I can see in the distance that immense ocean that I crossed for the first time in 1996 with the hope of being free, of living a life without secrets, taboos, or unspoken words.