I thought my dad saddled me with some psychological baggage.
He used to leap around naked in front of thousands of people weekly while touring the nation in Hair, a rock musical about sex, drugs, and draft-dodging. On my first day of 9th grade at a snooty prep school, my 70-year-old history teacher proclaimed to the class that my father had sat naked on her lap during a matinee in Baltimore. I never quite recovered.
But then I met Tina Alexis Allen and discovered I had it easy. Really easy.
Tina was the youngest of 13 kids in an extremely Catholic family. Her father was knighted by the Pope and led religious tours to the Holy Land. “If you didn’t know better, you’d probably say he was the holiest man you ever met,” she told me last week. But at home, he drank and raged; his children feared him.
Tina was terrified he’d discover her secret: She was gay. But when she was 18, he flabbergasted her by revealing not only that he knew her secret — but that he himself had a history of sexual relationships with men, including clergy members.
“On the one hand, it’s shocking, and it’s my father,” says Tina, an actress who tells the story in her new memoir, Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives. “But there’s also an excitement that someone knows — and for the first time I’m not feeling completely different and alone, lying to my family. I’m sure on some level he probably felt the same way.”
Even more shocking? She and her dad began secretly clubbing together — dancing, drugging and having sex with strangers at underground gay nightclubs in Washington, D.C., and Europe. She was thrilled to share a secret identity with the father she had never been close with … but she was also plagued with guilt about their continued deception of the family — especially her mother.
“It wasn’t a perfect father-daughter relationship!” she freely admits, “but there was some beauty in sharing something vital that we didn’t get to share anywhere else.”
However, while working for her dad’s travel business, she discovered more secrets that made her question him on a deeper level: He had multiple passports. A briefcase full of cash turned up at one point. And he was traveling half a million miles a year. Tina could never get him to come clean about what was going on but believes he was doing secret work for his high-level connections at the Vatican.
Years of pretending to be someone she wasn’t paid off for Tina. After working as a New York City fashion executive, she felt called to the stage and began an acting career at age 29. She wrote and performed a solo show called Secrets of a Holy Father, in which she portrayed her dad and his double life. “It was a compassionate exploration of how he compartmentalized who he truly was,” she says.
Though the whole family eventually learned the truth, and Tina’s parents are both deceased — and though she has changed all names in her memoir (Allen is her stage name) — some of her siblings disapprove of the book.
“There are people in my family that would prefer things remain a secret,” she says. “But it’s not a revenge book. It’s not out of anger; I’ve been way past that for a long time. The legacy I want to leave in my family, even if half don’t want to talk to me, is to be a truth teller. Family, to me, works best when you really let each other be who you are.”
So I suppose this is overdue, then: Dad, if you and your altogether needed to conduct a groovy solo love-in on old Mrs. McConnell’s lap, then who am I to begrudge you?
But I swear to god, if I find out you sat naked on the Pope, we’re done.
Tina Alexis Allen will read from and sign Hiding Out, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5, at Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.), and 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 7, at Tecolote Book Shop (1470 E. Valley Rd., Ste. 52).