Story transcripts

Dads coming out

Sunday, August 19, 2007
Here in Australia, there are thousands of men living ordinary, suburban lives — a wife, a couple of kids, a mortgage. <p>But they're also living a lie, hiding the fact that they're gay.
Reporter: Ray Martin

Producer: Alex Hodgkinson

Once "gay" was just an adjective that meant happy. Now, for most of us it means Mardi Gras, Priscilla and Elton John.

In truth, it's often more complex, less flamboyant and much closer to home. Try next door, for a start.

Here in Australia, there are thousands of men living ordinary, suburban lives — a wife, a couple of kids, a mortgage. But they're also living a lie, hiding the fact that they're gay.

Not that this is anything new. What is new, though, is that more and more married men are coming out, admitting they're gay.

And you can't begin to imagine what that means, what happens to a family when dad falls in love with another man.

Transcript

RAY MARTIN: Saturday Night Fever meets Brokeback Mountain in suburban Sydney where the 'Pride of Erin' is proudly gay and lesbian. Reymon works in a chicken factory — no window-dresser or flight steward stereotype here. Like so many blokes it seems, when they reach the age of about 40, Reymon finally came out of the closet after 13 years of marriage.

REYMON: I'm happy with my life. I'm with a great bloke. I have three fantastic kids that I idolise. I still get on very well with their mother. I know how to do a wedding waltz — that's about it.

IRENA: I've seen him dressed up we he went to a dress-up party and just shake my head and go, 'Okay, not my cup of tea', but, you know, yeah.

RAY MARTIN: Irena had never met a gay man before until Reymon fessed up. It has been an incredibly painful experience but she has accepted his switch better than most wives. You were blamed by his parents for having made him gay?

IRENA: Because of my weight? I would say so, definitely on their part, yes.

RAY MARTIN: Did you blame yourself?

IRENA: Yes.

RAY MARTIN: Why?

IRENA: Because I felt that I couldn't be a woman to him, keep him straight. So, yeah.

RAY MARTIN: For Reymon's children, it has been tough, too, but Luke, Michael and Emily are remarkably resilient. What about the idea of dad dancing with a bunch of blokes?

LUKE: Okay, it does weird you out.

MICHAEL: Dad dancing, Dad's dancing's just … that does really worry us, Dad dancing with a guy because Dad can't dance for life normally, so.

RAY MARTIN: Reymon lives far from the inner-city gay scene. This is the outer west — first-home mortgage belt. He shares his house with his partner, a travelling salesman, who prefers to stay off camera.

REYMON: My partner and I, if we go into the city, we can hold hands walking down, say, Oxford Street, without giving it a thought where there is no way we would even consider holding hands walking down Queen Street in the middle of Campbeltown.

RAY MARTIN: Really? Why not?

REYMON: You wouldn't be a game to because of the fear factor.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: It is exciting to see that Christian young people coming together from all different denominations ...

RAY MARTIN: This gay dad was pastor Anthony Venn-Brown from today's Hillsong church. A holy roller evangelist, he believed that homosexuals would burn in hell.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Hallelujah!

RAY MARTIN: Back then, Anthony had a wife, two daughters and a moustache.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Mighty God! Mighty God! I'd been brought up in that generation which, number one, said that it was a criminal offence and mental health professionals said that this is an illness that can be treated and cured and when I became a Christian, of course, there was all the teaching.

RAY MARTIN: It was evil, an abomination?

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Yes, it was a perversion. We know now from a survey that 51 percent of people within Pentecostal churches actually say that they don't have a problem with gay or lesbian people being a member of the church.

RAY MARTIN: Anthony was married for 22 years before he came out. His story has become the bible for gay husbands and fathers and Anthony says that the numbers of gay married men would shock most Australians.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Look, they will feel very uncomfortable hearing this on television, but there are thousands of them.

RAY MARTIN: These are married men, like you, with children. Married men, lesbians, yeah — a whole range of people. (Pause). Brokeback Mountain, a Hollywood western with Australia's Heath Ledger, one an Oscar by confronting the devastating effect on marriages.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: I saw the look on the wife's face and the people in the theatre were laughing — they thought it was funny, but I knew the pain of that moment, the pain that you have caused by betrayal.

RAY MARTIN: In a sense, you saw your wife?

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Yeah, I saw my wife, I saw myself. There are so much to relate to in that story. Lunch with a number of the guys and they've got to come out to their wives.

HANNAH: Is that healthy for the wives?

RAY MARTIN: Anthony's daughter Hannah was just a teenager when her father broke the news. She is now married and, like her mum, she has two girls of her own. Hannah accepts Dad's sexual preference but her mother won't appear publicly. She has had enough embarrassment and enough guilt.

HANNAH: I look back now and wish that I was older and an older head on my shoulders so I could have helped her more go through what she went through. There was a lot of shame associated, particularly because he was a preacher.

RAY MARTIN: Were you afraid even more so that your daughters would see you as a fraud? I mean, you were a preacher man.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: I did. I adored my children and I thought, 'Is this going to destroy them? Will they end up bitter and twisted? Will they have psychological issues? Will they need counselling? What am I doing?'

RAY MARTIN: It may be that love is blind. Irena and Reymon were high-school sweethearts. She was his first girlfriend. Married for 13 years, he insists that while he fantasised about men, he remained faithful to his wife. There was no sign there that he was different.

IRENA: No, not at all. We had a pretty good sex life.

RAY MARTIN: How did he tell you that he was gay?

IRENA: He didn't actually tell me. I found a gay magazine in his work bag. I just, sort of, looked at it and thought, 'What's this?'

RAY MARTIN: Do you remember that moment? Do you remember how you felt?

IRENA: Hurt, angry, it felt like our marriage had been lie.

RAY MARTIN: For two years, they went on living as man and wife telling nobody except the church counsellors. Why didn't you kick him out when you first found out that he was gay?

IRENA: I wanted to hold on to what we had. It was the family unit. I didn't want the kids to get hurt. The old saying is better the devil you know than the one you don't. It just didn't really cross my mind as to kick him out just because he told me he was gay.

RAY MARTIN: Did you feel that you're living a lie?

REYMON: Definitely.

RAY MARTIN: You did?

REYMON: Yeah.

RAY MARTIN: You hate yourself?

REYMON: Definitely. I went three, four years — I couldn't even look in the mirror because I hated what I saw in the mirror.

RAY MARTIN: What did you see?

REYMON: I don't even wanna think — it is just something out of Monsters Inc., basically. I used to shave and I used to literally stand on my toes so I could only see from the nose down because I did not want to look into my eyes.

RAY MARTIN: Were you suicidal at that stage?

REYMON: Yes. That's why I quite often laugh when people say you choose to be gay. Who chooses to be spat on? Who chooses to be discriminated against? Who chooses to be verbally and physically abused? Nobody chooses that. I was born down here in Wollongong, 35 years ago.

RAY MARTIN: Great place — a great view, isn't it? Reymon says he was such a misfit at school that he once came up here to jump off the cliff. Wollongong working class, he hoped that marriage would somehow fix his problem.

REYMON: Definitely, I used to go to bed just hoping and praying that I would wake up normal. That didn't happen.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: I was falling in love with my best mate at school.

RAY MARTIN: And he wasn't responding I take it?

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: No.

RAY MARTIN: Anthony Venn-Brown says that, as a kid, he was suicidal too. By the time of puberty, he knew it was boys, not girls, who attracted him and that is when his started to live a double life.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: I would look at a guy and think, 'He's pretty gorgeous — oh, no, I can't do that'.

RAY MARTIN: Was it agony living this double life?

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Oh, yes, it was constant torment. One thing that really leaves you with a bad feeling is when you get ripped off.

RAY MARTIN: When his wife discovered a love-letter he had written to a bloke, Anthony confessed. Then, just like an American preacher man, he confessed to his Sunday church congregation. Their Christian reaction was, well, unforgiving.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Shock, horror, people were weeping in the congregation. But I think what happened was, because I didn't mention my homosexuality there — I just said, 'I have to confess that I have committed adultery, I want to ask your forgiveness for what I have done to you, the church and to God and I am resigning from the ministry', but they did not know what it was.

RAY MARTIN: So why didn't you, as you come out, why didn't you tell them that you were gay?

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: There was enough horror, there was enough shame as it was attached to what I had done. Mentioning that it was with the man and not a woman, that would have been the ultimate sin.

MARY VAN DER HART: They went to Holland only for one week and then they had the reception in Las Vegas.

RAY MARTIN: Coming out can often be as tough on the parents of gay men as it is on their wives and their children. Rudy and Mary van der Hart's son Glen left his Australian wife to marry another man — an American. Rudy admits that he was stunned and sickened.

RUDY VAN DER HART: I had no idea, absolutely no idea. He was, in my opinion, happily married for three years at that time, a fantastic relationship. And it just hit me, bang, and that was it.

MARY VAN DER HART: And then he cried for two weeks and he was so down.

RUDY VAN DER HART: That really got me down and I was devastated.

RAY MARTIN: What swung you, basically, to understand? Why did you become tolerant? Was it the danger you'd lose your son if you didn't?

RUDY VAN DER HART: Because I read a lot of books about it, and at the same time, I had enormous guilt feeling that I had been so stupid.

RAY MARTIN: But some parents can never accept the truth.

REYMON: 'Gays, poofters, just should not be allowed to live — they should be wiped off the face of the earth'.

RAY MARTIN: Who said that?

REYMON: My father. 'All poofters should be put on a boat, dragged out to sea and sunk'. That is what I lived with my entire life.

RAY MARTIN: Is that why you didn't come out?

REYMON: Exactly.

RAY MARTIN: What about when you came out? What was his reaction?

REYMON: I hadn't spoken to him since. Hello.

RAY MARTIN: The good news is that Reymon's children are happy to speak to their dad. Even better, they sing karaoke together as they always did — in and out of tune. These days, mum and dad sing from a different song book. Still, this is a close and a loving family and laugh a lot together.

LUKE: Just because he is gay doesn't mean he is not our dad. He can't just have a blood transfusion and all his genes are gone. It's not as simple as that.

RAY MARTIN: If you had a choice, would you like him back here as a straight dad?

MICHAEL: No, because mum and dad have grown more, I would say, for the better in personality-wise now that they're not together.

RAY MARTIN: So you like your parents now, the way they are now?

LUKE: Oh, yeah. They are more fun to be with.

IRENA: Do you still love him? No. I care for him as the father of my children but, love him, no.

REYMON: Like I said, it's a lot easier not being gay. It's a lot easier. But at the end of the day, I've come to realise that I am and I've accepted that.

RAY MARTIN: But if you could take a pill that would make you straight, would you take the pill?

REYMON: No.

RAY MARTIN: Why not?

REYMON: Because everything's that's happened in my life up to this point has made me who I am — the good, the bad, the ugly, the happy.

RAY MARTIN: But do you still feel weird?

REYMON: No.

RAY MARTIN: Well, that's good.

REYMON: I'm finally able to look at myself in the mirror again and actually like what I see in the mirror.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: It's better to live one day on this planet being true to yourself than living an entire lifetime which is a lie.

RAY MARTIN: And yet you spent most of your life trying to be straight.

ANTHONY VENN-BROWN: Yes. (Laughs) Trying to be the person I wasn't.

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