Ever since I picked up the pen at a young age, I always wanted to capture the complexity and diversity of the people I actually knew: family, friends, the kids I grew up with, the folks I lived around. Looking back, I can probably trace my preoccupation with social and cultural representation to the day when I was twelve and my father tried to start a conversation with me about “Will & Grace”… in a clumsy attempt to come out of the closet.
That probably wasn’t an easy conversation for him. Even before I realized he was gay, I harbored the sense that my father’s life had been different, somehow more trying than mine: He was a closeted South American immigrant with a strict Catholic family who grew up in Connecticut among the type of kids for whom his mother was a nanny.
So there wasn’t exactly someone he could point out for his twelve-year-old daughter to help explain what he was going through. He just asked what I thought of “Will & Grace,” and then, what I thought of gay people. “They’re cool,” I chirped. “‘Will & Grace’ is funny.” I was mature enough to know something was going on with my parents’ marriage, but I was floored when my dad “came out with it,” if you will. “You know, nobody is ‘The Brady Bunch,’” he told me, then added, unhelpfully, “You know, the dad on ‘The Brady Bunch’ was gay in real life. He died of AIDS.” “AIDS?!” I yelped, suddenly paranoid. I calmed down once my dad assured me he didn’t have AIDS and he was just trying to think of examples. Because there weren’t many.
I won’t claim my dad would have it easier if he came out today. Grappling with one’s identity is never easy. And honestly, I think it would be a cop-out to say, “Oh, it’s so much better now,” though there are definitely more men and women visible in our culture and on our televisions whom he could have referenced. As I write, I strive to create with that in mind: not just checking diversity boxes, but remembering that real people come with context. We are all shaped by our multifaceted personal, social and cultural struggles and triumphs. I am thrilled to be coming into television at a time when more characters are depicted with this kind of complexity and diversity.
There is one thing I know would have been the same for my dad, whether he came out today or fifteen years ago, and that’s my love and support. In the years after, he blossomed and we became best friends. Nobody is “The Brady Bunch,” but my parents worked together to give us kids a loving family. These days, my two younger siblings and I joke that we don’t know how people deal with having straight fathers. Naturally, debating society and culture is a favorite family past time. But I still don’t know if my dad cares about TV half as much as I do. I can’t even get him to watch “Looking.”