Coming out to her strict Catholic dad, Tina Alexis Allen discovers a life-changing secret
Actress and screenwriter Tina Alexis Allen* grew up in a big Catholic American family in the 1970s and 1980s.
Her strict religious father ran a travel agency that took tourists to sacred sites. And when the whole family — with 13 kids — travelled together, they always attracted attention.
Allen describes one trip to New York when she was 6-years-old.
"They thought we were maybe an orphanage," Allen said. "There were 13 kids in 15 years, so we were always a bit of a spectacle."
But behind the boisterous family life, Allen held secrets. And a big one spilled out for her when she was 18.
Her father had promised her a trip to Greece after Allen won a prestigious university basketball scholarship, and Allen wanted to bring a friend — who was actually her secret girlfriend. When the three of them met for lunch to discuss the trip itinerary, Allen's father figured out their relationship.
But his reaction was very different from what Allen had expected.
"He proceeded to say, I buried my lover in the war," Allen told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. "That went on to be clarified, when I about choked on whatever I was eating, that it was a soldier named Omar."
"And I basically learned that my father had been living a double-life as a gay man with 13 kids."
Her father revealed a series of other relationships with men that he had over the course of his marriage, including with Allen's godfather, and with members of the clergy.
Allen and her father agreed to keep each other's sexuality secret from the rest of the family. As a child, Allen didn't like her father, who she describes as being cruel to the mother she loved very dearly. But now, as his confidante, she discovered a new side of him. The two started hitting gay clubs together, boozing, taking drugs, and cruising.
Allen had long kept secrets from her family — at the age of 11, she had what she then considered a relationship with a female teacher. She now sees what happened as sexual abuse.
But having to keep her father's sexuality and extramarital affairs secret as well — especially from her mother — brought a new level of complexity to the lies she was building her life around. And though she loved her mother deeply, Allen did not yet feel she could tell her the truth.
"The sadness that I may still carry around some of this probably will always be about my mom," said Allen. "I adored my mother, and yet I think I got it that that wasn't going to be a safe place to go to share my sexuality."
Eventually, Allen reached a breaking point and revealed to her mother that she had had relationships with women. This snowballed into her telling the secret of her father's sexuality to one of her sisters, who then told the whole family. And though Allen's parents ended their lives reunited, Allen's mother did separate from her father for a few years.
"She took a stand, the right stand of course," said Allen. "Any human being would need to do that to catch their breath and process."
Before her parents' deaths, Allen grew close to both of them, she said, and forgave them in the same way she forgave herself.
Though Allen's life has been filled with more twists and turns than most, she said there are lessons that anyone can learn from what she's lived through.
"Transparency is really the way to go," said Allen. "I think everyone understands what it is to keep a family secret, no matter how big or small, and I think we lose the chance for intimacy, real intimacy, when we're keeping secrets. I know I did."
* (Tina Alexis Allen is a stage name, not the one she grew up with — Allen does not reveal the real names of her family members to protect their privacy.)
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This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.