PressPublish Portland is This Weekend!

Photo by Ian Sane

Photo by Ian Sane

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Just a quick reminder that PressPublish Portland is this Saturday, March 28, 2015 at the Embassy Suites in downtown Portland, OR. WordPress has assembled an amazing lineup of speakers, including me! I’ll be doing a presentation called “What Came First, the Book or the Blog?”, where I’ll talk about how blogging helped me get my book, Mommy Man, published and how I used my blog to market the book once it came out, including the story of my infamous Amazon Chart Twerk.

There’s still time to register, and if you use the special Mommy Man discount code SUPERDAD40, you’ll get 40% off.

That means you can attend for just $90 and still get a 1-year subscription to the WordPress Premium Upgrade (a $99 value) for FREE! That’s right, it’s like getting WordPress Premium for -$9.

If you’re even the tiniest bit interested in blogging and you’re anywhere near Portland, you won’t want to miss it!

What I Didn’t Find Funny About “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”

Funny_Story_frontThere’s nothing like reading a book about depression to bring you down. It’s a shame, though, when that wasn’t the author’s point. Warning: this post contains vague spoilers about the book It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, so if you’re planning to read it, you can skip this for now. Just be warned that the book kind of spoils itself on the last page. If you’re still reading, I’ll explain…

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a very good book and a sensitive, illuminating portrayal of mental illness. The main character, a 15-year-old high school student under a ton of adolescent pressure, checks himself into a psychiatric ward after having suicidal thoughts. Over five days there, he meets some other troubled people, learns a lot about himself and finds the inspiration to go on with life. It’s even more emotionally involving when you know that it was based on the author’s own time spent in a similar institution and that he himself struggled with depression for many years. It’s been a bestseller, was adapted into a movie and has become a favorite of YA readers everywhere.

So what’s my problem? Well, on the very last page of the book, the main character, Craig, is running through a mental checklist of how to go on with his life after leaving the institution. It’s a beautiful monologue, until near the end, when he says this:

“Travel. Fly. Swim. Meet. Love. Dance. Win. Smile. Laugh. Hold. Walk. Skip. Okay, it’s gay, whatever, skip.”

Wait… what? “It’s gay”? Really? I’ve been emotionally involved in your struggle for 317 e-pages and you reward me with a crude sucker punch in the fourth-to-last paragraph? There’s no homophobia in the book until then. Other than a few fleeting moments involving a transgender resident, there are no LGBTQ characters at all. Just a lot of sensitively-portrayed, troubled individuals who were probably loosely based on the real residents Vizzini encountered in his hospital stay.

I love a good cry when I’m reading a book, and I’ll bet a lot of people cried at the ending to this one, but not me. I wanted to throw it across the room. I might’ve done it, too, if it wasn’t an ebook. No way I’m wrecking my iPhone over something like that. What infuriated me was that, while reading this character’s mental pep talk, I suddenly felt transported back to being a depressed 15-year-old myself, and this book that was written to inspire depressed 15-year-olds was actually mocking me.

Here’s a passage from my memoir “Mommy Man” in which I talk about what it was like growing up in a world rife with casual homophobia:

“As a gay kid, all I could do was suck it up, play straight, and play along. I never knew when my homophobia might be tested. I would go to see a perfectly fun movie like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, only to find out one of the running jokes was the two loveable protagonists calling each other “fag.” No one warned the public about it, no critics condemned it as hateful, no one even thought it was worth commenting on. It was just a joke, and judging by the reaction of the audience around me, a hilarious one. So I was forced to bust a gut, too — unless I wanted someone to think I was some kind of fag myself.

Everyone raved about the movie Lucas, in which Corey Haim played a sad, scrawny outcast who tried to win over the girl of his dreams by joining the high school football team. Sad, scrawny outcast? Sign me up! The reviews said it was sweet and heartwarming — and it was — but smack in the middle is a scene where Lucas accuses the bad guy of being a ‘fag’ in the locker room showers, supposedly a moment of stand-up-and-cheer comeuppance for a character we despise. Watching that scene with my friends, I died a little inside. (On the plus side, though, there were naked jocks.)”

Sure, the 80’s were full of casual awfulness. Casual racism, casual sexism, casual date rape, all wrapped up in a quirky New Wave neon package. As a 43-year-old man in 2015, I’m happy that those kinds of things are no longer acceptable and can no longer go unquestioned. (Read Dave Holmes’ excellent open letter to Kid Rock for more on this subject.) But It’s Kind of a Funny Story came out in 2007. Long after the message was out about how using “gay” as a pejorative is bad for gay kids, a writer wrote it, an editor declined to edit it out, a publisher published it and tons of gay kids undoubtedly read it, just like I did.

That’s what really upsets me. The book worked so hard to describe and sympathize with the suicidal impulses of its characters. We know that gay kids attempt suicide four times as much as straight kids. So why the gratuitous gay slur amid an otherwise uplifting monologue? As I read it, all I could picture was how it would feel to be a depressed gay teen who might be totally engrossed in the book and inspired by the ending… only to unexpectedly get the message, right in the final sentences, “Hold on, this isn’t about you. You’re weird.”

Tragically, Ned Vizzini lost his own battle with depression when he committed suicide in 2013 at the age of 32.  I’m not trying to tarnish his legacy or accuse him of homophobia. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a wonderful book that has undoubtedly brought comfort to a lot of unhappy adolescents (and grownups for that matter). Its author was probably a great guy who thought he was making a harmless joke and just capturing the way teenagers really talk. I wish he were still here to respond — and to write more books.

For any depressed LGBTQ kids who might be reading this one, though, I hope they know that the message still applies to them, that they can overcome their thoughts of suicide, and most of all, I hope they bought the book in paperback, so if the mood strikes them, when they’re done, they can throw it across the room.

I Won An Award!

Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManI’m very excited about winning this award, because I didn’t even know I was up for this award — or, in fact, that the award even existed. So if I hadn’t won, I wouldn’t have been bummed out and felt like a loser.

Isn’t that a wonderful way to give out awards? Maybe the Oscars should look into it. Then they wouldn’t have that awkward five-way split screen of the nominees’ faces, where four of them would have to pretend to be good sports when the winner was announced. There wouldn’t be any campaigning or speeches where people thank people we’ve never heard of until the orchestra drowns them out. In fact, we could just skip that bloated ceremony everyone complains about the next day altogether.

The President of the Academy could just walk around with a duffel bag full of Oscars and walk up to people. “Psst! Eddie Redmayne! Catch!”

What was I talking about? Oh, right. The award I won. It was the Gold Medal in Personal Essays from the Parenting Media Association for a piece I wrote in NY Metro Parents magazine last summer. The best part is that, in bestowing the honor, they said some really nice things about what I wrote:

“The anxieties and uncertainties of parenthood are magnified when a gay dad is raising a young daughter. In a whimsical piece, this writer confronts and processes the various dimensions of being a father in a new kind of environment. Beneath the playfulness lies fierce self-doubt, which he measures against his little girl’s complete acceptance. This is a successful meeting of candor and humility.”

I’m really grateful to the Parenting Media Association and to NY Metro Parents for publishing the essay in the first place. (Don’t worry. This is not an acceptance speech.) The best part is knowing that it’ll get more people to read the article. I swear, that’s why I’m engaging in this blatant self-horn-tooting, to promote a piece I’m really proud of.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out here. And if you want to give me any awards for it, kindly sneak up on me when I’m least expecting it. I love that.

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In other news, we’re only 3 1/2 weeks away from the Press Publish Portland Conference, at which I’ll be a featured speaker. If you’ve been on the fence about going, wait no more! WordPress is offering a 40% discount (!) for readers of this blog. Just enter the code SUPERDAD40 on the registration page. Remember that attendance comes with a 1-year subscription to the WordPress premium upgrade, a $99 value! (With that coupon code, you’ll actually be coming out ahead, but don’t tell WordPress I told you that.)

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Can’t make it to Portland? Then maybe it’s time you pick up a copy of Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, from award-winning writer Jerry Mahoney. Do it for me, or do it for the adorable little girl in the picture above who thinks her dad is a big-shot author. Aw, kids are so sweet.

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Speaker Spotlight: Jerry Mahoney

Jerry Mahoney:

Here’s a fun interview I did with WordPress for the upcoming Press Publish conference in Portland, OR on March 28. Do you have your tickets yet?

Originally posted on Press Publish:

What happens when a great writer has a great story to tell? Well, in the case of comedy writer Jerry Mahoney, you get a great blog, a great book, and a great speaker for Press Publish Portland on March 28!

jerry mahoney holding his newborn twinsJerry’s story of how he and his partner Drew had twins via gestational surrogate has been told in a Modern Love column Jerry wrote for the New York Times and in this Today Show piece from October 2012. Like many of us, Jerry blogged regularly for a while and then took a hiatus. When he came back to his blog after becoming the stay-at-home dad of twins, he found himself writing the kind of blog that he couldn’t find but wanted to read — and as it turns out, it was the kind of blog that a lot of other people wanted to read, too! It’s hard to…

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Announcing… Press Publish!

press-publish-speakersI’m very excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at Press Publish, a conference started by WordPress for people interested in the world of blogging. A whole bunch of amazing bloggers will be appearing… and me, too! See the picture above for headshots of some of the awesome speakers. Don’t they look cool and interesting? I can’t wait to meet them! (I’m the cartoon one.)

The event takes place Saturday, March 28, 2015 in Portland, OR. (They’re doing another one in Phoenix on April 18 with different speakers.) For more details, including ticket info, click here!

Hope to see you there. And if you have any tips on places to go and cupcakes to eat in Portland, let me know!

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Can’t make it to Portland? Well, get an extra helping of me in my book, Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad. It’s more of a bargain than ever on Amazon. And if you are coming, that’s even more reason to buy one now. I’m totally going to quiz you on it to see if you’ve actually read it. You’ve been warned!

Supporting Gay Marriage, Just Not My Own

Twelve years ago today, I met Drew, and life as I now know it began. A little over a year ago, after much deliberation, we did something else which some people consider kind of a big deal. Life didn’t change much after that. It was already pretty much perfect. So when we had to decide which day we wanted to celebrate, it was no contest. Happy anniversary, Drew.

Here’s the story…

2013. The beginning.

2003. The beginning.

The only type of marriage I ever imagined myself having was a sham one. Two kids, a station wagon and a clueless, frustrated wife in denial about her husband’s sexuality. That’s the best image my teenage self could conjure up, so it’s no wonder I never had a romantic view of this staid legal institution. Once I came out of the closet, I never had to think about marriage again. This was the late 20th Century, when gay people were more miffed over Eminem’s lyrics than the fact that we couldn’t file taxes jointly.

Sure, there were gay people who got “married,” but always in quotation marks. It was easy enough to opt out of. When someone would ask a gay couple, “When are you going to get married?”, they could respond with nothing more than a chuckle and an eyeroll.

My straight friends were jealous. The lucky ones got to go through the endless Hell of wedding planning – picking out China, battling with in-laws and swimming in bills. The rest only dreamed of such a fate. Finally, a societal benefit to being gay.

When I fell in love, it was simple. We bought a condo, picked our sides of the bed and opened a joint checking account. I was a freelance writer, and Drew had a steady corporate job, so he put me on his health insurance. Without the grim specter of matrimony looming, we were free to define our relationship exactly as we wished – and to make our own choices about how we wanted things to progress.

When the California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that same-sex couples had the right to marry, we didn’t rush to City Hall like so many of our neighbors. Nor did we sweat when Proposition 8 undid that ruling a few months later. Let the homophobes play the role of Grinch, thinking they can steal Christmas by absconding with some presents and roast beast. That was our attitude. Drew and I knew we’d still be singing just as happily, because they could never take from us the actual source of our joy.

We had other priorities anyway, like becoming dads. With the help of a surrogate, we became the parents of twins. I quit my job to be a stay-home father. We moved to New York to be closer to our siblings and their kids. We adjusted to every life change together, like committed couples do, only without the official commitment. It’s not that we never talked about marriage. It’s just that when the topic did come up, we always agreed that it wasn’t for us.

I cringed when I saw a viral video of a guy proposing to his boyfriend at Home Depot. Dozens of their friends and family members popped up from behind piles of lumber to perform a choreographed dance routine to the couple’s favorite song. Meanwhile, regular shoppers looked on, bemused or perhaps annoyed at the flash mob blocking access to the 2x4s. It seemed like everyone we knew shared the video and commented on how sweet it was. I responded with a blog post titled, “Why That Home Depot Marriage Proposal Video Makes Me Want to Hurl.”

Some of my friends called me a sourpuss, but Drew agreed with every word. Couldn’t those guys have found some way to celebrate their love without requiring all their friends to buy solid-color tank tops and strut around like morons in a Paula Abdul dance phalanx? Drew and I knew our love was every bit as strong as theirs. We just didn’t think our romance should require a location scout.

Never was our relationship more in the spotlight than at Drew’s brother’s wedding. It was a wonderful day, full of love and jubilation, and as relatives like to do, people speculated who might be next to walk down the aisle. We attempted to deflect attention with the usual chuckle and eyeroll, but laughing off the notion was no longer quite so easy.

“You live in New York! It’s legal there!” people prodded. As we looked around the reception, though, Drew and I knew nothing had changed. This was beautiful, but it wasn’t for us.

That was it. Case closed. Or so I thought.

Months went by, then one day, the phone rang. “Hey, yeah, so…,” Drew stammered. This was the smoothest-talking man I’d ever known. I had no idea what could have him so flustered, but surely it was something huge. Aliens making contact with Earth? He got a girl pregnant? Turns out he had an even bigger shock in store. “You wanna get married?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, suspicious. “Do I?”

It may not have mattered to Drew and me that we lived in a marriage equality state, but as it turned out, it mattered to Drew’s company. They had just informed him that they would no longer accept our joint checking account as sufficient evidence of a lifelong commitment. Unless we got hitched, I’d be kicked off Drew’s health plan.

We agreed to tie the knot, but with no more fanfare than we felt the occasion deserved. We made an appointment at City Hall at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon, because Drew’s company had given us a deadline of 5pm that day to fax them the signed marriage certificate. We hardly told anyone it was happening. In the ultimate modern day non-acknowledgment, we even declined to Facebook it.

Our only guests would be our kids, who were now four years old. Our daughter was ecstatic about being a flower girl. We had to explain that there wouldn’t be any actual flower petals for her to spread delicately across the aisle. There probably wouldn’t even be an aisle. Our son wanted to know if there would be a party where he could dance to One Direction songs. No and no.

It was the first time I’d really thought about how this looked through our kids’ eyes. Drew and I had been perfectly satisfied, even pleased, with the relaxed nature of the proceedings, but what message was it sending to our son and daughter? That two men can get married… but they don’t get to make a big deal out of it?

Getting married would solve our problems. I’d be back on the insurance plan. Our friends would stop pestering us. But for the first time, it felt like maybe we deserved more.

During our brief engagement period, Drew had to take a trip to Los Angeles for work. I decided to tag along so I could see some friends. It was the first time we’d gone back together to the city where we’d met since we moved East two years earlier. We drove past our old condo building and stopped outside the restaurant where we had our first date.

“Come on,” Drew said. “Let’s go in.” He wanted to take a picture at the table where we met, something to show the kids. Unfortunately, someone was sitting there, and they didn’t look friendly.

He told me instead to take a seat on the bench in the waiting area.

“That isn’t a good spot for a picture,” I protested. “You can’t even tell where we are.”

“Just do it,” he insisted.

As I sat down, Drew reached into his coat pocket and got down on one knee. “I thought I should do this right,” he said. He flipped open a jewelry box and showed me a ring, then said the most romantic thing I’d never wanted to hear from him. “Will you marry me?”

It was so traditional, so not what the two of us were all about. And yet… so sweet. We were just a few feet from where we’d first laid eyes on each other, and in that moment, it felt like we were back at the beginning… of something.

Drew slipped the ring on my finger and walked me to the restaurant’s private room. As he peeled back a curtain, I saw the faces of twenty of our closest friends, champagne in their hands, ready to toast. There was a cake that said, “Congratulations Jerry & Drew!” A dozen iPhone cameras flashed at once.

There were people from every stage of our relationship, friends from before we’d met up through fellow parents from our kids’ gym class. I was overwhelmed to see them all together, and so grateful that they weren’t dancing in unison.

“Well,” one of them asked, nervously. “Did you say yes?”

“I don’t think I did,” I answered. “But yes!” It was all I could do not to chuckle and roll my eyes.

“I mean, duh.”

2014. The new beginning.

2014. The new beginning.

What to Do if You’re Pissed Off About “The Interview” Being Censored

the.interview.kim_.jong_.un_I know, I never blog anymore, and when I do, it’s just to post some silly story of the wacky things my kids do. Well, this post isn’t going to be about my kids or about being a gay dad or any of my usual topics. It’s about something else that interests me that has nothing to do with any of those things: North Korea.

I’ve long been fascinated with the country, because everything I hear about it sounds like something out of a dystopican sci-fi movie. Speakers in people’s homes that blare propaganda and can’t be turned off. A populace forced to worship their dictator like a god. A high-ranking state official who may or may not have been fed to dogs.

Nobody in North Korea gets to read articles like those of course, because most of them haven’t even heard of the internet. If you like The Hunger Games, you should read “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick, because there are things that are actually going on in our world today that are a million times more fucked up than a dozen teenagers forced to kill each other.

By some accounts, the number of people who’ve died of starvation in North Korea is in the millions. Nothing angers me more than that. I throw out half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches and not-at-all-eaten broccoli from my kids every night, and millions of people in North Korea may have died due to an entirely preventable famine.

And what’s our response? Economic sanctions, which don’t work because Kim Jong-un (and his father and grandfather before him) is perfectly willing to let his people suffer.

Now Kim has scored possibly his biggest triumph yet. He hacked a movie studio and got a movie censored. His little country attacked a giant, and the giant caved. Everyone keeps saying how much it sucks that North Korea won this battle. And it does feel that way. And it does suck. But here’s what I think everyone seems to be overlooking:

Kim Jong-Un is scared shitless.

Why else would he stage a large-scale act of cyberterrorism against the United States… over a movie? “The Interview” may just be a light comedy to us, but to him, it’s utterly humiliating. He lives his life in fear that people will find out what’s really going on in his country and he’ll lose his grip on power. He’s so scared that he thinks a Seth Rogen movie can bring down his regime.

And the amazing thing is: maybe it could.

This isn’t just about a movie. This is about one of the worst mass murderers in human history, who’s been able to hold onto power because his country isn’t politically important enough to us, because we have bigger fish to fry and because we’re afraid of his nuclear bombs.

What he fears more than anything is information. He knows if his people find out what a miserable failure and certifiable lunatic he is, they’ll stop treating him like a god and start ridiculing him the way the rest of the world does. They may even overthrow him.

He thinks this is a victory? Let’s show him it’s not. The enemy of censorship is the truth. Let’s use this opportunity to shine a light on what’s going on in North Korea. Spread the word. Spread the truth.

Kim thinks he can make this go away by smacking down a movie? Let the message pop up in a hundred other places. Read about it. Talk about it. Put pressure on our leaders. Use your social networks. Post something on your blog, even if you usually write about how your kindergartener sassed you at bedtime and stuff like that.

I changed my profile picture on Facebook and Twitter to the image of Kim’s head exploding from “The Interview”. It’s the very thing that will embarrass him the most and show my support for free speech at the same time. Of course, Kim doesn’t currently follow me, so he’s not likely to see it unless a lot of other people change their pictures, too. If you want to do the same, you can grab the image above or from one of the tons of other places on the internet where it’s being displayed.

Forget what everyone says about slacktivism. If we make a big enough noise, the media will notice, and they’ll keep this story focused where it should be: on North Korea’s horrific history of human rights abuses. Some people are calling this a war, and if it is, then we’re all soldiers in it, so pick up your pens and your keypads and start fighting.

Kim Jong-Un is terrified of free speech, and you know what? He should be.

Despite the fact that a movie got censored, we still have it here in America. So let’s put it to good use.

How Our Britney Spears Ban Began

Sutton shows off a couple of her exes.

Sutton shows off a couple of her exes.

“Daddy, let Santa know that if he buys me that Ariel toy I asked for, I’m going to marry it.”

“You can’t marry it. Don’t you remember last week when you married that stick you found in the street?” (Yes, this happened.)

“Oh, we broke up.”

“What? You’re only 5. You can’t already be on your second marriage!”

“No, it’s my third marriage.”

“What? Who did you marry the second time?”

“Another stick.”

“And you divorced it?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve been married to two sticks?! And now you’re getting married again? You can’t get married so many times!”

“I’m going to be a man-izer when I grow up.”

“A what?”

BritneyWomanizer“A man-izer, like Britney Spears.”

“That song is called ‘Womanizer’, and — wait, you know exactly what that means, don’t you?”

“Yup. I’m going to be a man-izer.”

“Honey, I don’t think we’ll be listening to Britney Spears anymore.”

Upcoming DC Surrogacy Conference

FTSlogoThere’s been a lot of negative press about surrogacy lately, and it makes me really sad, because, as I say here all the time, surrogacy changed my life, and everyone involved in our case feels like they gained something wonderful out of the process. I also say all the time that surrogacy is not for everyone, and there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there engaged in the practice. So if you’re considering surrogacy, either as a potential surrogate or intended parent, you really need to educate yourself to make sure you’re doing it the safest and most ethical way possible. 

The upcoming Families Through Surrogacy conference in Alexandria, Virginia on September 13, 2014 promises to be a great resource on the topic. They’ve lined up some fantastic speakers for the event, including me! This is the same group that organized the San Francisco conference I appeared in back in March, and they will answer any questions you have, whether you’re gay or straight and whether you’re considering domestic or international surrogacy options. (I’m heavily biased toward domestic and will be happy to share why, but there will also be people who’ve gone the international route on hand to share their experiences.)

If you’re in the DC area, I’d love to see you there, and I’ll have copies of my book on hand to sell and sign. You can get more information here.