by Melinda Lejman | photos courtesy of Tina Allen
“To me, there is no shame in telling the truth, but ironically, I think shame is usually
the reason people don’t.”
By the time Tina Alexis Allen began college, she was already a master in the art of keeping secrets. Having been sexually abused by two older brothers at a young age, and having had a romantic relationship with her middle school teacher, she was poised to continue keeping up the façade and hiding another secret from her family – that she liked girls.
Growing up in a “gigantic” Catholic family, she was the youngest of 13 siblings and had a promising future as a basketball player, attending college on an athletic scholarship. She grew up in fear of her often raging, alcoholic father, “Sir John,” whose verbal abuse of her mother at home seemed to fly in the face of an outwardly loving family that was devoted to the Roman Catholic Church. Sir John had been knighted by the Pope, and Tina would later learn that he did clandestine work for the Vatican – another secret in a web of lies.
One evening during dinner with her father and secret girlfriend, Sir John exposed Tina and himself when he admitted to living a double life as well, and that he had been having relationships with other men for decades. Suddenly, Tina’s fear of her father and fear that her sexuality would be discovered by him melted. “All of a sudden, I got a dad. All of a sudden, I had a father that I never had in my whole life, and on top of that was permission to be a little bit of myself inside of my family.”
As the two grew closer, hitting up gay clubs, traveling, drinking and doing drugs, and having lavish dinners with Tina’s girlfriends, she struggled to keep up the charade. “I was already good at keeping secrets,” says Allen. “I had already had all that sexuality, and abuse through my brothers, so those were big secrets I was carrying, too. It was a way of life to not get people in trouble that you love.” But living a lie, and covering for her father, was wearing her thin.
In her memoir, Allen exposes her family, but more importantly, herself. “When you read my book, you’ll know that I hold myself accountable, and I don’t pull punches with my own behavior, which is not pretty. It is a result of the childhood I had and that’s what I’m trying to say, is that people become what they learn, and if it’s not arrested with some kind of help, then you continue to do that. Thankfully, mine was arrested through my own decision to really spend decades working on myself and using my own creativity as a way to heal.”
Before writing her book, Allen wrote and performed in Secrets of a Holy Father, a one “man” show in which Allen plays her father. Allen described the experience as powerful, enlightening, and terrifying all at the same time. “I was so fascinated with the idea of how does a man who is so devoted to the Church, so lined up with this hard doctrine of tradition and hierarchy and patriarchy and all of that, consolidate living this double life, not once, but twice – once as sort of as this secret servant to the Vatican, and on the other hand, his homosexuality in the face of 13 kids and a wife.”
Through her work as an actress and playwright – and through years of therapy – Allen has come to terms with her childhood. Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives is full exposure and a shameless retelling of Allen’s experience and her eventual recovery. Today she shares her story with others in hopes that she can be of service. Since the release of her book in February, Allen has been overwhelmed with messages of thanks.
“We all feel we’re alone when we’re keeping secrets. It doesn’t matter what you are, what gender, what sex, what sexuality…it just doesn’t matter. We’re all feeling, when we keep a secret, ‘I’m unique.’”
Today, Allen and her partner, Gina Raphaela, keep themselves busy with a joyful life that includes launching a socially conscious line of jewelry, Gina Raphaela Jewelry. The brand uses inert bullets as a symbol of the need for nonviolence and an end to gun violence. Partial proceeds go to nonprofits that support peace, such as Moms Demand Action and Stop Violence Against Women.
For Allen, her work and her life have come full circle, from being a victim to helping others “live out loud” and let go of the shame of their experience. “It’s like the victim is a sponge and takes on the entire shame of that experience, when frankly it belongs to the perpetrator. And that’s the irony of this whole thing, that the victim walks around sponging up all the shame of someone abusing them when in fact they just need to wring it out back onto the person it belongs to.”
Tina Alexis Allen is a GLAAD Award Nominee for her work in The Break-Up Notebook, and played ‘Shurn’ in WGN America’s Outsiders series. A short clip of Secrets of a Holy Father can be found on YouTube. Here’s a link to her memoir: https://www.amazon.com/Hiding-Out-Memoir-Deception-Double/dp/0062565672