My Interview With Anne, a Child of Surrogacy (Part 2)

I’ve had a great response to Part 1 of my interview with Anne, a young woman born through surrogacy in 1993. The comments have been incredibly supportive, understanding and appreciative of her perspective. That’s been so gratifying to me, as a dad of two children born through surrogacy myself. Now that some of these kids are reaching adulthood and beyond, and now that surrogacy is becoming more and more common, it’s important to listen to the people who’ve lived through it.

I did only minor editing on Anne’s responses, because I wanted to make sure her view was as unfiltered as possible. She’s very well-adjusted and in touch with her origin story, as we call it here. Needless to say, though, there were things that were painful or difficult for her growing up. At the risk of stirring up the anti-surrogacy people, I’ve let Anne speak her mind. I’m hoping that doing so will help lots of parents like me understand our kids’ needs and do the best we can to help them grow up into people as awesome as Anne.

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can find it here. Now, here’s the conclusion of my interview.

IMG_0925-960x700How many of your friends today know your origin story? How long do you usually know someone before you tell them, or is it even an issue at all? Do you feel like you constantly have to “come out” about your nontraditional family?

 

Honestly, I can’t think of any of my friends that don’t know. I tell people pretty quickly. It’s just easier to explain family dynamics and my upbringing that way because it has shaped me a good bit. I do feel like I have to come out, though, and there are times when it’s scary to “come out” about it. I think with coworkers that’s the only hesitancy I have because it’s a weirdly personal thing to bring up. I’ve only been in the “real world” for about a year but, from what I hear, talking about your dad’s sperm isn’t something that should be brought up often.

I spoke with my mom some about this, and she said that she’s never met someone who hasn’t thought it was cool/interesting/etc. and that she doesn’t plan on seeking those people out. I also think there’s an internal radar within each of us that knows when it’s safe to say certain things. In terms of coming out in my mind, it’s a bigger deal for me to tell someone I’m bisexual than it is for me to talk about my surrogacy, if that gives any perspective.

 

Anne and her parents

Anne and her parents

Do you look like your mom? What do you say if someone tells you that you look just like her (when you know you don’t actually share her DNA)? Or what if they say you look nothing like her?

Other than the blond hair, I don’t really. I’m going to have to use my mom’s response to the “you look just like her” or “I can see where she got her gorgeous hair”… She would just say something like “Yup, she definitely got it from her mom!” (emphasizing mom) and then wink at me. In terms of looking nothing like her, she’s a bit older that most moms but it’s never come up that I can remember. I also think I was quick to tell people throughout my life if I could so if someone said something about looking like my mom I would just tell them and it wouldn’t come up again. I also was and am in many ways still am a huge tomboy so it’s hard to know what someone looks like in an oversized hoodie and jeans to begin with. Combine all of this with her being 48 years older than me and I was more likely to have someone ask me if that was my grandmother than anything else.

 

What about the fact that your surrogate was paid to carry you? I used to worry that my kids would think they were the product of a business transaction rather than an act of love. Did you ever feel that way?

 

This is actually a question I get a good bit early into the conversation about my “origin story”. In college at one point, I sat down with a guy who was writing a paper on surrogacy. The question of cost came up, and I called my parents on the spot asking them how much they paid. I don’t even remember how much the ballpark estimate was, which is a testament to how much I don’t really think about it.

In fact, the reason my birth mom had me had to do with her having an abortion previously. She wanted a way to give back after doing so and decided to be a surrogate. For a while, I thought that maybe I was just a redo after a mistake. That thought process quickly dissipates though when you actually break down the facts of how much time goes into being a surrogate mother. It’s not just a transaction, especially when I hear how fond my parents are of my birth mom and vice versa.

The money aspect never really bothered me too much. I think one of the harder parts of being a surrogate though has to do with the fact that I have really no reason to be upset at my birth mom or to not know her. It’s almost the opposite reaction to the money question: “Wow, someone did this for x dollars?”. In many ways, my birth mom did an incredible thing for my parents and gave up a huge chunk of four years of her life basically to do so. If anything, the money aspect is secondary but the “what kind of awesome person would do this?!” comes to mind.

 

OK, every teenager goes through a phase when they’ll say whatever they can to hurt their parents’ feelings. Did you ever, in a fit of anger, say, “You’re not my real mom!” or, as Scott Evil says in Austin Powers, “I wish I was never artificially created in a lab!”? And if so, how did your parents handle it? I’m just trying to get a sense of what I’m in for with my kids when they get older, so I can start thinking of some snappy comebacks.

I never said it as a teenager but I do remember saying it as a very very very young child. I was upset about something and said “I want my real mom”. I don’t really remember what happened exactly but I do know my mom just hugged me anyway and asked if it was okay if she was there for me. I think the fact of the matter is that we (my mom and I) both are very aware we aren’t related. Saying “You aren’t my real mom” doesn’t take away from the fact that she helped me with homework assignments, changed my diaper, helped me apply to college, let me practice the same speech a thousand times to her, checked my papers for mistakes, etc. If I were you, I would say something like “I know I’m not but I am someone who loves you dearly and am doing everything I can to support you”.

I apologize if this is like one of those job interview questions where they try to throw a curveball at you, but what do you feel has been the best part of being a child of surrogacy? Is there anything it’s given you that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

I think it has made me incredibly self aware and curious about others. I’m not sure if I was just born that way or if it’s a result, but I definitely think just the complexity of my family has made me that way. Beyond that, I think having a broader definition of family has allowed me to have deeper relationships than most with my parents (with time) and friends. I’ve also learned purely as a result of my being here that there is an incredibly good and beautiful side to humanity. It’s taught me the importance of giving back and of doing things for others that they may not be able to do for themselves. Yes, me being born in an economic sense is nothing more than a transaction. The same is true from a legal standpoint: I’m a result of a legal contract. However, me being born in the anthropological sense shows an incredibly fascinating and wonderful next step for humans. Me being born in a sociological sense shows change in a variety of institutions (medical, legal, etc.), social opinion, and simply how people interact. I can ramble about this for a while but you get the point. Come to think of it, this may explain why I stuck to subjects like anthropology and sociology more than economics over the years :) It’s a more human explanation for a human situation.

I think being a surrogate baby has simply given me a perspective on the world that very few have. It’s given me a million reasons to understand myself better and to view things from a variety of perspectives (my parents, my technically half brother, my birthmom, my birthmom’s kids, etc.). It also let me blur the lines of family and let more people in as a result. I’m also very comfortable with the “messiness” of life and I think that’s been a huge asset for me.

littlegirlanne2Looking back, is there anything you wish your parents had handled differently in how they raised you? Anything having to do with when or how they discussed your origin story or the level of contact you had with your surrogate?

 

I wish my parents had acknowledged the differences between my brother and me a bit more. This may sound odd but I think they were so focused on trying to make sure we were treated equally that I sometimes didn’t get the help I needed. They tried to make things SO normal that there wasn’t a ton of time to talk about how I was different. I needed structured time to have a conversation about it whereas I think they waited for me to just bring it up. I was a very emotional kid and still am that way as an adult whereas my brother is extremely logical and quite void of intense emotions almost. While I think they wanted to make sure I had a normal existence and didn’t have to think/talk about my birth mom, I think I needed to more than we did. The one off remarks about her and, as you say, my origin story were reassuring but I never felt I had a complete understanding and always felt like I had to be the one to bring it up. I told them this about two years ago but I wish they had just asked me from time to time “How do you feel about being a surrogate baby? Do you like your relationship with your birthmom? Do you tell your friends about this?”. I just wish we had a bit of a deeper and more thorough dialogue beyond “She’s a great person! You look just like her!”.

Otherwise, I have zero complaints. My mom has handled everything with complete grace and they are ALWAYS open to talking about it honestly even if I have to start the conversations. I think for them the hard part of having kids was the not being able to have them. As a result, I don’t think they understand the perspective of it being hard for me. I don’t think it ever really crossed their mind which has been a positive in that it has made me secure about my family.

What’s the weirdest or most offensive thing anyone’s ever said to you about surrogacy and/or your origin story?

Before visiting my birth mom in college there was talk of my friend and I possibly staying with her to save money. My friend said something to the effect of “you don’t know her – she could be crazy. I don’t know if this is smart” and it really threw me for a loop. I was offended because it was technically my genetic mom and it made me feel like she thought I was crazy. I also was hurt because she was right – I don’t know her and I don’t know what she is like. I ended up calling my dad in a panic not knowing what to do or how to process it. He basically calmed me down and we ended the conversation laughing about the whole thing. Still though, it left me feeling pretty uneasy and weird for obvious reasons. Also, not the best thing to say to someone when they are just meeting their birth mom for the second time (if the first time even counted).

Would you ever consider being a surrogate yourself, and if so, under what circumstances? (For a friend/sibling? Traditional/gestational? “Hell to the no!”?)

I have very little desire to have kids right now so this is hard for me to answer. The idea of having a baby just reminds me of the Alien vs. Predator movie scene where the alien busts out of that person’s chest. Kidding aside, I’m reading a book right not called Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon that dives into the parent – child relationship in terms of how our identities are developed. I highly recommend reading it purely because it breaks apart the importance of correctly identifying illness (something that can be fixed) vs identity (something that needs be accepted) as well as offering a solid study into vertical (genetic/family) vs horizontal (social) identities. I want to study this more, meet more surrogates, meet more surrogate babies, and understand the parent-child relationships a bit better before diving into having kids of my own or kids for other people.

2014-03-15_1394904153When my husband and I first met with our surrogacy agency, they told us we were “pioneers”, but your parents really earned that term much more than we did, given that you were born in 1993. Is there any advice you’d have for people considering surrogacy today?

I would say the best advice is to take a child development class and to meet other people who have gone through it. I took a child development class as part of my college education and, wow, everyone considering to be parents needs to take one (seriously). Beyond that, I would think long and hard about two questions:

1. Do you want to tell your child? Are you willing to deal with the consequences of telling them or not telling them?

2. What do you want your relationship and your child’s relationship to be like with the birthmom?  The lack of research around surrogates in this case is what is mostly causing the problem. It’s a natural reaction to fear something you don’t understand, don’t hear about, and, for most people, don’t have a need for. It’s a different story when you are struggling with fertility issues. It’s ironic to me that they would be against surrogacy when it’s basically a hyper planned pregnancy with the sole goal of delivering a baby to two parents who really want the child.

My two cents: tell your kids and have an open relationship with the birthmom.

Are you aware of the anti-surrogacy movement? There are some people who don’t think surrogacy should be legal, because it exploits women and/or because it’s unfair to the kids who result from it. How would you respond to those people?

I am aware of the anti-surrogacy movement. I can see why it can be thought of that way from people who may not really understand how surrogacy is being used in the real world. The screening in place for surrogate mothers is intense, at least in the United States. I think that should be the case everywhere if it’s not already (I can’t speak with authority on that). Moreover, I think the screening for parents who want to use surrogacy should be just as intense and rigorous, which I currently think it is. My parents have spoken to me of strict standards even back at the very beginning of this so I can’t imagine they have fallen to the wayside now. By having these standards in place, I think you actually prevent many of the fears anti-surrogacy people have as you can weed out those who are doing it for the wrong reasons, which could potentially result in the exploitation of women and a level of unfairness to the kids. However, I think if you actually surveyed surrogates and surrogate babies, you would find a much different story.

For the last question, I want you to speak directly to my kids. Knowing that they were also conceived through surrogacy, what would you want to say to them?

Gah. I know there may be times when your identity feels pulled in a million directions and you’re not sure who you got your laugh or nose from but know that deep down inside you are so incredibly loved. Know that family goes much farther and deeper beyond blood and genetics. Know that it’s okay to talk about surrogacy and that you should never be ashamed of it. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions but recognize that everyone involved in your life is going through this for the first time too (give them and yourself a break). You can never have too many people who love you and want you to be here – you, like me, have one extra person from the very beginning loving you. See your origin story as something that gives you insight into yourself and those around you. Question yourself deeply – you have a rare perspective on the world. Talk to others – often the fears or concerns you might have about being a surrogate baby can come from not having a greater perspective about how you get here in the first place. Ultimately though, be kind – everyone has their own origin story in their own way and use yours to connect rather than to divide.

Is there anything else you want to add? If not, feel free to tell me how wonderful my questions were, because that would be a super ego boost for me.

I think for me I’m at a place now where I more so just want to understand the surrogate’s perspective. In many ways, the surrogate baby is “set up” to seek the birth mom whereas the birth mom is “set up” to let go of the child she gave birth to for someone else. That’s an oversimplification of course but I think I’m realizing after so many years I think I now have the emotional energy and confidence to dive into building a relationship with her rather than theorizing about how she might feel. You can really drive yourself nuts if you want to trying to understand surrogacy and I’ve found that simplifying it to the core of it being an act of altruism in many ways helps bring me peace.

Thanks!

One last ramble… being a surrogate baby is basically like half being adopted and half being a stepchild without any drama of a divorce. It leaves you in a weird place because you have some angst of “why did my mom give me up” but not nearly to the extent that you do if you were adopted. The angst that is there as a result often goes away when you release how selfless it was to do. However, you do feel a bit like a stepchild in that you aren’t fully related to one of your parents (at least for my kind of surrogacy). BUT you were so wanted by this parent that they planned for years to have you! As a result, it’s this weird mix of more common social norms in our society that leaves you feeling both like you have people who “get it” yet still a bit alone. I’ve balanced it by realizing as we all do that there will be very few if any people who totally get your story. There are some friends who I can talk to about my sexual identity but who may not understand the surrogacy/family side and vice versa. Fortunately, I have a variety of people who I can turn to for different things and, ultimately, as a collective group of people I have never felt alone in this.

I think my favorite part of what Anne said is this: “Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions but recognize that everyone involved in your life is going through this for the first time too (give them and yourself a break).” That’s such an incredibly empathetic, self-aware statement, and we’re definitely still in a world where that is true for most families undergoing surrogacy.

I’d like to point out, for the sake of clarity, that my kids were created through a different type of surrogacy than Anne was. Her parents underwent what’s commonly called “traditional surrogacy”, in which the surrogate carrier uses her own egg but does not retain custody of the child. (Thus, Anne’s use of the term “birth mom,” which we don’t use in our family.) Traditional surrogacy has become less common with the advances in IVF technology since the 90’s, although some intended parents still choose that route. My husband and I underwent “gestational surrogacy,” which is more common today. In gestational surrogacy, embryos are created in vitro using a donor’s eggs, and they’re then transfered to a surrogate who has no genetic link to the child.

Thanks again to Anne for her openness and honesty in responding to my incredibly direct and invasive questions. She is an inspiration to me, and I’m sure she will be to my kids as they get older. If you’d like to get to know Anne even better, you should follow her on Twitter @annezazu

How the Minions Got Me Talking to My 5-Year-Olds About Gay Rights

This is a picture of my 5-year-old son Bennett wearing his favorite hoodie. It was a gift somebody bought for him, so I’m not sure where it came from, but it does appear to be an officially licensed product.

Minions hoodie, we're here, we're yellow, get used to it

He loves this hoodie because it has the Minions on it, of course, and because of that, he doesn’t really care what the words say. If it said, “I love naps”, he would still wear it. Or “Feed the boy wearing this shirt broccoli”. Yup, he’d put that on, too, because it’s the Minions, and anything associated with them must automatically be cool.

But it doesn’t say those things. It says, “We’re here, we’re yellow, get used to it.” My 5-year-old son wears a shirt that features a rewriting of a chant used by so-called radical gay rights activists in the early 1990’s. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” In 2015, somebody thought the slogan was a) well-known enough and b) child-friendly enough to use on an article of children’s clothing.

Just think about that.

Queer Nation, the group that originated the slogan, was formed in 1990 in New York City. They were tired of gay bashings and of people ignoring AIDS because they thought it only affected some deviant subculture. There were no “straight allies” back then, no TV news coverage for gay rights. In those days, you could be a loveable mainstream person in the public eye and openly say things like, “Those people got that disease as a punishment from God.” Say that, and you’d still have a career. But if you said, simply, “I’m gay,” you were finished.

The people in Queer Nation weren’t just saying it, they were shouting it, and they were letting you know the problem was yours, not theirs.

In 1990, I was a college student in New York City, and I remember what it was like for battalions of angry gay men to march through the streets yelling, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” It scared the shit out of people.

Of course, my kid doesn’t know his shirt features an (admittedly not very clever) play on a confrontational gay chant. He just likes the colorful corporate property depicted in the graphic.

Last night, my daughter was reading the words on his shirt, over and over, and cracking herself up. “We’re here, we’re yellow, get used to it!” She thought it was hilarious, but I knew she didn’t really get the joke. And it’s not like I could explain it to her.

Could I?

Then I thought about when one of their African-American friends came over for a playdate. I was going to turn the TV on for them, when this sweet little preschool-age girl informed me that she wasn’t allowed to watch a certain network because they don’t have any African-American characters on it. My kids didn’t know what she was talking about, so I explained it to them. “It just doesn’t seem fair that there are so many different kinds of people in the world, but they don’t always get shown on TV. We know lots of people who look different from us. Don’t you think there should be TV characters who look like them?” I kind of loved that this girl’s mom was so frank with her about racism even at her age, and that, as a result, my kids got a lesson in it, too.

So why not gay rights?

We’re gay dads, after all. It’s not like this issue isn’t going to come up at some point. I’ve resisted discussing homophobia with my kids for a while because, among other things, I didn’t think they would believe me. We really don’t get treated badly because our family is non-traditional, at least not that I think my kids would have noticed. Sure, sometimes, people are confused by our family. Kids tell them that two men can’t get married, and even grown-ups sometimes think my children are lying when they say they don’t have a mom. But as far as I know, they’ve never actually witnessed homophobia. Everyone we know and deal with regularly treats us just like every other family.

I also thought about something else my daughter had said at dinner. “A boy in my class today did this with his hand.” She held up her middle finger. Some kid in her kindergarten class had apparently flipped the teacher off. We had a talk about how that wasn’t a nice gesture to make, something she had already figured out when the boy got sent to the principal’s office. So my kid now knew how to flip the bird… and I was worried about her hearing the word “queer”?

Then I realized this didn’t need to be some big angry rant about The Man keeping us down. It could just be a history lesson. It’s a topic that’s all over TV. Why shouldn’t my children hear about it from their own parents?

“Do you know what Bennett’s shirt means?” I asked them at dinner. They shook their heads. “You know how some men are like me and Daddy and they fall in love with other men? And some women fall in love with other women? Well, there’s a word for that, ‘gay’. And some people don’t like that. They don’t think people should be gay. They think men should only marry women and women should only marry men. So they made up a mean word so they could be mean to people like us, and that word was ‘queer’. Well, a long time ago, some gay people got tired of people being mean to them, so they made up a chant that went, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!’ It was like saying, ‘If you want to call us names, go ahead, but we are who we are, and we’re not going to let you be mean to us anymore.'”

I think that’s about as far as I got before they started asking what was for dessert. I felt better, though, because, if nothing else, I had shared something truly amazing with my kids. In just 25 years, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” has gone from a defiant middle finger to the mainstream to something alluded to on a sweatshirt that a 5-year-old boy (a boy with two dads, no less) wears to kindergarten.

I can’t help thinking how many of the original Queer Nation activists didn’t survive the AIDS epidemic. They weren’t here for gay marriage, gay sitcoms and the Supreme Court striking down sodomy laws, for a time when an openly gay man can host the Oscars and an openly lesbian woman can have a beloved daytime talk show. When you can finally say “I’m gay” and still have a career, but if you say, “I wouldn’t go to my friend’s gay wedding,” then everyone thinks you’re a major weenieburger.

If I could show those fallen heroes one thing to illustrate how far we’ve come, though, it wouldn’t be any of those things.

It would be this picture, of my son in his favorite hoodie.

Minions hoodie, we're here, we're yellow, get used to it

“Holy shit,” I imagine they’d reply. “They got used to it.”

* * * * *

Do you like the things that I say and the way that I say them? Did you know you can read a lot more from me in my book “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad”? Do you have any idea how happy it would make me if you did?

And if you just like this post and have no interest whatsoever in anything else I’ve ever written, then why not share this post with all your social media friends by clicking on the share buttons below? Then, when they all start commenting with things like, “I love this!”, you can say, “Oh yeah, he wrote a book, too. I just ordered it.” And then you can order it. I won’t tell.

Refuseservice1

A Modest Proposal For Religious Freedom Laws

Refuseservice1

In 1994, I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school, and I quickly discovered a local hangout called Barney’s Beanery. It was one of those places that hipsters would call a “dive”, which meant the décor was fashioned to look old and tacky but there weren’t actually any creepy drunks lingering around to bring everyone down. My friends and I used to hang out there and talk about movies, because we heard Shane Black went there to write, and because the menu was full of the kind of deep-fried pub food that we were too young to realize we shouldn’t be eating so much of.

Then one day, the one openly gay guy in my MFA program (I wasn’t yet brave enough to come out myself) told me why he never joined us when we went there.

“The owners are homophobes,” he said.

“No!” I insisted. “That’s impossible.”

He shook his head. “I can’t believe you haven’t heard this. There used to be a sign over the bar that said ‘Faggots Stay Out’.”

I think at this point I probably laughed, guffawed even. The idea was so absurd, not only because it seemed like the kind of blatant Jim Crow bigotry America had supposedly done away with long ago, but because Barney’s Beanery was in the middle of the gayest part of town. Walk a couple of blocks in either direction from Barney’s and you’d undoubtedly find yourself face-to-jock strap with a go-go boy dancing on a bar.

“You have to be kidding,” I said. “It’s in West Hollywood.”

“Right,” he replied. “And have you ever noticed any gay people in there?”

It was my “Soylent Green is people” moment (sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen “Soylent Green”). He was right. Barney’s Beanery was situated among the gayest gay bars in Gaytown, yet it was full of the straightest frat boys you’d ever seen.

Thanks to the internet, I now have photographic proof that Barney’s did have that sign, up until the city forced them to take it down in 1985. (Not surprisingly, the word “faggots” wasn’t even spelled correctly.)

Photo republished from Frontiers Magazine

Photo republished from Frontiers Magazine

When my friend told me about Barney’s no fags policy, I felt sick. I wanted to retroactively barf up every onion ring I’d ever eaten and every drop of cheap beer I’d ever drunk there on their front steps. One thing was for sure. I was never setting foot in Barney’s again.

Now, thanks to the Indiana state legislature and its governor, Mike Pence, millions of people in a Midwest state have the right to do just what Barney’s did. Sure, they’re not asking to exercise that right quite as crudely, but then again, maybe that’s the problem.

I’m not going to argue the merits of this law. If you want to read someone doing that much better than I can, check out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent and thorough smackdown of a similar law in Colorado in Romer v. Evans, from 1996. Laws like this are nothing new. They spring from a decades-long effort by well-funded anti-gay hate groups who are determined to legitimize and spread their bigotry. Every few years, these obsessive Grinches regroup with a slightly different strategy, usually in a different state, where they rewrite their last bill and try again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

They’re convinced this is a cultural war, and if it is, I’m ready to admit that it might not be one we can win. Sure, we can boycott Indiana, but then the people who got this law passed will just cry oppression even louder, and at the same time, we’ll end up hurting lots of good-hearted, open-minded Hoosiers who are as disgusted by the law as many of us out-of-staters are.

I’m tired of fighting back, and I’m tired of arguing. I’m tired of using my time, money and energy trying to force bigots to make me a wedding cake. We both think someone’s trying to infringe on our freedom, that the other side is out to oppress us. Again, I could argue this point, but I’m tired of it. They’re not going away. They’re determined to win.

So I say it’s time to let them.

They want the right to discriminate? They can have it.

You don’t want to cater my gay wedding? You don’t have to.

You don’t want to give me the family rate at your pool club because our family happens to have two dads? Fine with me.

You’re a jeweler who’s willing to turn down the sale of two diamond rings because the women buying them plan to give them to each other? Hey, it’s your business.

There’s just one catch.

You know those signs that businesses put up that say “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”? Well, from now on, if you choose to reserve that right, you have to hang one of those signs on your front door.

And you have to be specific.

Your God won’t let you sell me a cake? No problem. Just post this in your shop window:

Refuseservice1

That spares me the embarrassment of coming inside your business only to get turned away, and it saves you the unpleasantness of having to tell me to my face that you don’t think I’m morally upstanding enough to savor your rich buttercream frosting. It’s win-win.

In fact, why limit this to gays? How about a sign like this instead:

Refuseservice2

It’s customizable! You don’t want to serve African-Americans? Write your favorite slur in the appropriate spot. Jews make you uncomfortable? Fill in the blank. This one sign will work for whatever group of people you find distasteful. Muslims? Transgender people? The disabled? Did you see the sign? Buh-bye!

You don’t even have to claim religious oppression to do this. I don’t care what your reasons are, and I don’t care what you put in that blank, whether it’s my group or not. If I see that sign in your window, I’ll just quietly move on and give my business to someone else.

Because here’s what I think:

I think, if you’re really willing to own your right to discriminate, you won’t just lose the business of whatever minority you feel your bottom line can do without. You’ll lose everyone who sees discrimination for the divisive, un-American garbage that it is. You can’t spit on me and then act all nice and innocent with my straight friends, not anymore. You want the right to refuse someone service because of who they are? Put your money where your entrance door is, and see who’s still willing to walk through it.

A lot has changed since Barney’s Beanery took down their sign. (Even Barney’s, now under new ownership, seems to have made peace with the community.) Back then, there were no such thing as straight allies. Well, judging from my Facebook feed, my straight friends have my back, and I have the backs of all my friends, too, no matter which model in a Benetton ad they most resemble. Turn away any one of us you want, but only if you’re willing to run the risk of losing all of us.

You see, there’s one thing you have to remember, and that’s that if you have the right to discriminate, so do I… only my sign will look more like this:

nobigots

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You reserve the right to be… awesome. If you agree with my modest proposal, spread the word by sharing this post on your social networks with the buttons below.

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I may have mentioned I’m a dad, with kids to feed. I also have a great, funny story to tell of how I became a dad. So forgive this shameless plug for my book, Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, which is available at non-discriminatory booksellers everywhere.

New Post on NY Metro Parents!

Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManSorry about the lack of posts lately. I hope you’re all enjoying your summer as much as I am. If you’re a parent anywhere in the NY Metro area, as I am, you’ve probably flipped through a copy of NY Metro Parents in one of its many incarnations. (I pick up Westchester Parents at my kids’ summer camp… or their gymnastics class… or their art class… or….) Well, be sure to check out this month’s issue, specifically page 12. That’s me! I’m very flattered to have been able to contribute the August 2014 Voices column.

Those of you outside the area can read my post on their website. I’m really proud of this one. It’s about trying to raise a daughter to be an awesome, self-assured woman without a mom in the family… and the gay dad guilt that sometimes goes with it.

And if that’s not enough for you, maybe it’s time to order my book! (Hint, hint!) That’s enough reading to carry you through Labor Day!

Today’s Surrogacy Article in the New York Times

Jerry Mahoney, Mommy Man

Thanks, surrogacy!

The New York Times ran a feature story on surrogacy on today’s front page, and I’m left wondering, as I often do when this topic makes news, what most people are taking away from the story. The article reminds us repeatedly that “commercial surrogacy” (the term for a pregnancy in which a surrogate is compensated, as opposed to “altruistic surrogacy”, in which she is not) is illegal in most of the world. The writer also references some horrifying stories about intended parents abandoning their surrogates and their offspring or contracting multiple surrogates simultaneously with the intention of giving some of the babies produced up for adoption or aborting whichever fetuses don’t meet their exacting standards. They’re mostly unverified anecdotes, the kind of thing that makes most of us who had wonderful experiences with surrogacy shudder and then think, “Hmmm… really?” But I won’t deny that there are some legitimate horror stories out there.

MommyManCoverThe problem, in my opinion, isn’t surrogacy itself. Everyone in my situation — my husband and me, our egg donor Susie, our surrogate Tiffany and our kids themselves — benefitted from the experience. No one was exploited and no one has any regrets. (This seems like a good spot for the obligatory shameless plug of my book, “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad”, which tells my story in full.) Stories like mine are pretty common. The other parents I know who’ve grown their families through surrogacy all have similar experiences to relate.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore the potential for things to go wrong. Surrogacy remains largely unregulated, and as such, it’s conducted on kind of an honor system, the only true regulator being the consciences of those engaged in it. The honor system works because most people are honorable. Most college students know that cheating is wrong, and most people have enough respect for life and women’s bodies to treat surrogacy with the care and moral reverence it deserves.

The big difference between a college honor system and the one around surrogacy comes in the stakes. When college students break the honor system, the fallout is minimal. Now and then a cheater gets an A, but that barely cheapens the hard work of the majority who earned their grades legitimately. The stakes with a pregnancy, though, are much higher. No one wants to see even one woman exploited or one baby abandoned.

It’s time for the honor system surrounding surrogacy to end. The U.S. should be proud of the fact that we’re the destination of choice for people seeking surrogates from overseas, and we should lead the rest of the world by example by showing them how surrogacy should be conducted. There needs to be greater regulation of what’s become a big industry, in order to protect the rights and lay out the responsibilities of intended parents, surrogates, clinics and surrogacy agencies alike.

Just a few thoughts…

Surrogates and egg donors need to be fully informed of the medical and psychological risks they’ll be undertaking. Surrogacy isn’t for everyone, and no one should feel like they’ve been coaxed into it against their will. Likewise, all potential surrogates and egg donors should be screened medically and psychologically to make sure that they’re fit for what the procedures entail.

There should be limits placed on embryo transfers. Intended parents should accept that surrogate pregnancies, like any other, carry certain risks. Just because you’re not carrying a baby yourself, you don’t get off easy when it comes to the big ethical issues that pregnancy sometimes raises.

Surrogates and intended parents should have detailed, enforceable contracts. Before they ever enter into an agreement together, surrogates and intended parents should discuss every potential issue that may arise during pregnancy and make sure they would agree on how to handle it. One of the more common horror stories you hear about surrogacy arises when the fetus develops a birth defect and the intended parents want to terminate the pregnancy, but the surrogate doesn’t. In those cases, the surrogate and the parents should never have gone forward together. This is one of the reasons I highly recommend anyone pursuing surrogacy go through a legitimate agency. In my book, I complain a lot about the agency my husband and I used, but one thing they did right was to make sure our surrogate was a good match for us.

There are people arguing that surrogacy should be made illegal, and that breaks my heart, because I owe my family to the process and to all the people who helped us through it. So many wonderful families are created through surrogacy, and so many women have had their lives enriched by becoming surrogates.

We all know there are unethical people out there on every side of this phenomenon — intended parents, clinics, surrogacy agencies and even surrogates themselves. Exploitation does occur, some stories don’t have happy endings, and it’s only a matter of time before a major horror story leaves us all shaking our heads. Let’s not let that happen.

This is an important issue. Let’s keep talking about it, and let’s acknowledge that if surrogacy is kept safe, legal and regulated, there will be a lot more stories like mine, a lot less cause for concern and a lot less fearmongering, legitimate or otherwise.

Video

My First Video: What to Expect When You’re Expecting… And Gay!

I was very honored to be asked to contribute to a recent surrogacy conference in Australia, held by the group Families Through Surrogacy, who also invited me to their San Francisco conference back in March. I’ll be speaking again at their upcoming event in Alexandria, Virginia on September 13, 2014, so if that’s in your neighborhood, come on down!

If you don’t live near any of those places, you’re still in luck, because I’m posting a video of my presentation here for you. This is my first attempt at producing a YouTube video, so don’t expect any technical wizardry, but if you’re looking for information on surrogacy or becoming a gay dad or just a glimpse of yours truly yakking away, then this is for you!

L.A. Reading Madhouse!!!

Book Soup, Mommy Man, Jerry MahoneyIf you’ve ever lived in, visited or heard about Los Angeles, surely you know about the traffic. It’s horrible. Unspeakable. Practically unwriteable, but I’ll try anyway. Los Angeles traffic is especially bad on weeknights around 7pm, when everyone finally gets out of work in order to crawl home in their fuel-efficient vehicles on the freeway. The only thing worse than the traffic in Los Angeles is the parking, which is just never good, ever. Oh, God, the parking. I cringe just typing about it.

You know what’s great about LA, though? The people. I know, they sometimes get a bad rap, but I’m here to tell you that they’re solid, through and through. Among the many reasons I love Angelenos is that they’re willing to brave the traffic and the parking to support a friend.

My reading last Monday night was, simply put, one of the best nights of my life.

It started when I saw this behind the store:

parkingAn assigned spot in Los Angeles? I’ve never felt like such a big shot.

And then there was this, from the store’s flyer for June:

John Waters, Garrison Keillor, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy Man, Book Soup

My friend Jessica complimented me on managing to look crazier than John Waters. Oh yes, I’m talking about the Jessica who you may have read about in “Mommy Man“. THE ONE WHO TALKS LIKE THIS! She was there, and so were some of the other very special people I wrote about in the book.

If you don’t know Book Soup, let me tell you a little about it. It’s an old school bookstore, full of books that rise up from the floor and stretch to the ceiling, everywhere you turn. It’s the kind of store where you might sometimes have trouble finding just what you’re looking for, but you’ll always enjoy the search, and along the way, you’ll find a dozen things you didn’t even know you wanted that look just as great. It’s a browser’s bookstore, and it’s in probably the best spot in West Hollywood, right on Sunset Boulevard, very close to where many of your favorite celebrities have been arrested.

They have fantastic taste in books, and even better taste in the events they choose to host, as you can see from at least 2/3 of the flyer above.

I first heard about Book Soup in the mid-90s when I arrived in LA as a starry-eyed kid. I was interning for Scott Rudin, and it seems like almost every day, someone would yell at me to go to Book Soup and pick up a book. I only dreamed that someday, some starry-eyed kid might get yelled at to go there and buy my book.

I just hope that kid didn’t show up last Tuesday, because then, BOOK SOUP WAS SOLD OUT OF “MOMMY MAN.”

There were about ten folding chairs set up when I arrived, and they filled up well before the 7pm starting time. People spilled out into every corner and crevice of a very crevice-y store. Close friends. People I hadn’t seen in years. People I’d never met before. So many people showed up, it was almost 7:20 before I finally began to read. Drew was so astonished, he made a list of everyone who showed, and he counted almost a hundred people.

They bought up every copy of my book and waited ridiculous amounts of time to get me to sign it. Those who couldn’t wait got the next best thing: autographs from my kids.

Jerry Mahoney, Mommy Man, Book Soup

I never know what to write when signing books, but Bennett made it look easy: “Bennett, Age 4”

Yes, after a lot of debate, Drew and I decided to bring the kids, mostly because they really, really wanted to come. They’ve been to Drew’s office many times. It was nice to get a chance to show them what this Daddy does, when he’s not shuttling them back and forth to gymnastics class, at least. And it was one heck of an introduction for them. As you can imagine, they were treated like quite the little celebrities.

They had a great time. They sat in the front row, smiling the whole time, and they were delightfully obsessed over by everyone in attendance. (Thankfully, the reading itself, which I slightly censored in their presence, went well over their heads.)

Jerry Mahoney, Mommy Man, Book Soup

To say the crowd was supportive would be an understatement. They laughed in all the right places and none of the wrong places. They asked great questions and made me feel like Garrison Keillor for a night. (I hesitate to add this, but — aw, screw humility — the store staff told me my turnout was actually even better than Keillor’s.)

Jerry Mahoney, Mommy Man, Book Soup

One of my big regrets of the evening is that I didn’t get a picture of Jessica, who seems to be many people’s favorite “character” in the book, but I offer you this instead. It’s Karyn, the amazing nurse I wrote about in the book. She gave us the tear-jerkingly sweet card on page 268, which I reprinted verbatim, so in a way you could say she was my co-writer. (Her real name, which I don’t think she’d mind me sharing, is Katye, and if you ever have a baby, you’d be very lucky to land Katye as your nurse.)

Katye freed up her busy work schedule and drove up to LA from Orange County (which at that time of day takes roughly 100 hours) with some of the other nurses from the hospital where the kids were born. It was truly special to get to see her again and have her reunited with my kids. I was so happy they got to meet her, because she was such a special part of our story and a big chunk of the reason I was in Book Soup in the first place.

Jerry Mahoney, Mommy Man, Book Soup

There were plenty of gay dads in attendance, including ones Drew and I knew before we became dads (like Jon and Harvey, who proved to us you can get away with having your kids call you both “Dad”) and ones who became dads after us, including Todd and Chris, who brought their gorgeous four-month-old daughter with them in a Baby Bjorn. One guest told me he and his husband were just starting their surrogacy journey, and he asked me to sign his book for their future surrogate.

Afterward, those who could stay came out to a bar across the street, which was the perfect way for me to hang onto this magical experience into the night.

If you’re in New York, I have good news for you. We’re doing it all again — tonight! That’s right, Monday, June 16, 2014 at 7pm at the Barnes and Noble on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (2289 Broadway, at 82nd Street). You can expect even more special guests this time, including Susie herself and my friend Greg, who will be very grateful that I’m not reading the sections about him. Plus Drew, of course. Come for the reading, then hang out with us afterward at a nearby location that serves alcohol (TBD).

For those of you in Westchester County, NY, you’ll get your chance on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 6:30pm at Anderson’s Book Shop in Larchmont, NY.

If you’re in New York, please come. If you know people in New York, please spread the word. (Don’t tell the bookstores I said this, but I hope you’ll show up even if you’re not planning to buy a copy of the book. Still, I’ll do my best to convince you.)

And if you’re reading this from one of those bookstores, prepare yourself for a big night, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned since moving to New York, it’s that the people here are pretty incredible, too.

Last Monday’s reading was one of those highly infrequent moments as a writer when it all feels worthwhile, where you can see your words in action and interact with the people who are taking them in. One of the many good friends who was there that night was my old buddy Nick. He was the last one left at the end of the night as the bar was closing down, and he also happens to be one of the best writers I know. If there’s ever something I’m trying to say with my writing, I can bet Nick has said it better somewhere himself. So I’m going to let him say this for me, too. This morning, he tweeted this picture with the caption, “Sometimes, rarely, writing feels like this.”

Photo courtesy of @LearnSomething

Photo courtesy of @LearnSomething

For me, last Monday was one of those nights.

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Can’t make it to my NY readings? Well, here’s the next best thing. Order a copy of my book, scribble “Bennett, Age 4” in the front and create your own good time by reading it out loud at home. Don’t take my word for it. A complete stranger on GoodReads wrote, “I loved this book. It was really fabulous, incredibly funny in some places, incredibly heart-warming in other places… I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good laugh and enjoys a great, quick read.” So take her word for it, and pick up your own copy in hardcover or e-version!

It’s OK If You Don’t Want Your Kids To Be Gay

bigglassesOne of the things I’m proudest of with this blog is the response I’ve received to my post How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person. It’s received exactly the kind of praise (overwhelming) and condemnation (from a few random kooks) I would’ve hoped. I’ve also reached a number of people in the middle, which is where I would suspect most parents are these days, still trying to make sense of our increasingly gay-friendly world and where their kids fit into it.

I’d like to share one particularly intriguing comment I got on the post, which espouses a viewpoint I imagine is increasingly common among parents these days (edited version below; original can be found on the original post):

My husband and I are both tolerant, live and let live kind of people. I am a Christian, [but] I don’t think homosexuality is sinful. What is in the bible is taken way out of context.

 We have a two mom couple [in our neighborhood]. [My kids] never noticed, so we don’t bring it up. Then one day, my 5 year old said that a man can’t marry a man, that is just silly. My husband agreed with him. My husband and I talked later and I told him not to say that, because our son has girls with two moms in his class and he may tell them that it is silly or wrong. My husband said that, in truth, two men can’t legally get married and he doesn’t want the kids thinking it is OK. Well that is when I realized that we aren’t as cool with it as I thought.

I don’t think seeing gay couples will make our sons gay, but my husband seems to think that if we just say it is fine and OK and natural, then they will experiment with both genders. While I would love and accept my son no matter what and so would my husband, I don’t want him to be gay. So how do I tell them that it is OK for other people, but not OK for us. Is that ignorant of me. Am I way overthinking it. I don’t feel like these couples are going to make my children gay, but for some reason, I have this problem with telling them that it is perfectly OK and normal for them to like [other boys]. How should I explain it? I would be mortified if he told his five year old friends that their Moms were wrong or weird and made the little girls feel bad.

I’m going to start off by saying something you probably wouldn’t expect me to say:

It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.

I know, can you believe a gay man just said that? I’ll say it again:

It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.

You don’t have to feel guilty about it or be conflicted, and it shouldn’t be the cause of a fight with your spouse.

As parents, we have a lot of expectations and desires for our kids, and that’s only natural. Maybe you don’t want them to go into the military, because you’re afraid they’ll be in danger. You don’t want them to be poets, because you’re afraid they’ll always be broke. You don’t want them to be windmill technicians, because you don’t want them moving away to the Netherlands. All understandable.

On top of that, it’s natural to want your children to be people you can relate to. We want them to have the same political views as us. We want them to share our religion, our work ethic, our sense of humor.

So maybe there’s a part of you that wants your kid to share the same sexual orientation as you. It will certainly make your life easier. It’s hard enough teaching your kids about the birds and the bees, without also having to explain the bees and the bees or the birds and the birds. Fair enough.

It may even make your kid’s life easier if they’re straight, because he or she won’t have to deal with homophobia and the difficulty gay people face when trying to have a family. Maybe that’s why you don’t want your kid to be gay, and that’s OK, too.

It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t even necessarily make you a homophobe.

Here’s the catch, though: You have to be willing to accept your kids even if they’re not what you wanted them to be.

He wasn't what they expected, but these hippies loved their Republican son.

He wasn’t what they expected, but these hippies loved their Republican son.

You would still love your daughter if she joined the military or your son if he became a poet, and if either of them became a windmill technician, you’d be a little sad, but you’d buy a Dutch phrase book and move on with life. It’s the same if your kid ends up being gay, so prepare yourself for that now. Ideally, you may not want it to happen, but it could happen.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no way to convey the notion of “It’s OK for them but not for us” without it coming across as hypocritical or dishonest. Your kid is looking at how you treat your neighbors not just to see how he should treat his neighbors, but to see how you might treat him as well.

What I’m hearing in your comment sounds to me like, “I want to teach my son to be nice to people who are different from us, because I’m terrified those people might learn how we really feel.” You can’t have it both ways. If you’d accept a stranger for being who they are, you can’t discourage it in your own child.

Kids have a tendency of defying their parents’ expectations. Ultimately, as a parent, you should be striving to make your kids happy, and nothing will make them happier than if they’re allowed to be themselves and to know that they have the unconditional love of their parents to support them.

You might really, really prefer that your kid be straight, and maybe you’ll get your wish. But maybe not. And it’s how you handle the “maybe not” that demonstrates what kind of parent you are.

Here’s the other catch: you can’t wait until your kids grow up to tell them you’re OK with who they are. You have to plant the seeds of acceptance before they even figure themselves out.

If your son tells you he wants to be a professional wrestler when he grows up, you can say you’d be very worried that he’d get hurt, but the bigger point you should make is that you’d always root for him.

If your daughter tells you she wants to be a roller disco queen, you can gently suggest that she might need a backup career plan, but only after you tell her to get down with her bad self.

And if your kids say they want to marry someone of the same sex someday, you might be inclined to share what your religion says about homosexuality, but your focus should really be on how proud you’ll be to walk them down the aisle.

Five-year-olds don’t usually have much sense of where they’ll be in 20 years. If we could really trust the predictions preschoolers make, the world would have a lot more firemen and princesses in it. But if there’s one thing kids that age are very good at, it’s testing their parents. When they make assertions about their identity, it’s a safe bet that they’re studying your reaction very closely.

Young adults have been known to experiment with homosexuality if they feel it’ll piss off their parents. But no one has actually ever become gay just because their parents told them they’d be cool with it. I promise.

As for the fact that marriage still isn’t legal wherever you happen to live, it’s only a matter of years if not months before it will be. Marriage equality is almost a certainty by the time your five-year-old reaches adulthood, so don’t cling to the technicality while it lasts.

If you want to know how to discuss the lesbian parents in your neighborhood with your kids, you can show them your acceptance without turning it into a Bi g Discussion on homosexuality. Just say, “Those women are in love, the same way I love your daddy. Someday, you’ll marry the person you love, and I can’t wait to dance at your wedding.”

Then let them go back to playing soccer.

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Want more of me? Read my book! Publishers Weekly calls it “uproarious”. The Good Men Project says it’s “hilarious”. Decide who’s right. Buy it here! Or here! Or read more about it here!

5 Myths About Gay Parents I’d Like to Wipe Out Forever

FamilySelfieIf there’s one point I’ve tried to make over and over on this blog, it’s that being a gay dad is awesome. People are almost uniformly nice and welcoming. Our kids feel like rock stars. Life is great.

Every once in a while, though, I hear someone make an offhand remark about LGBTQ parents that makes me cringe. And it’s not always the usual culprits. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies, and it’s gay people themselves (usually childless ones) who make unfair generalizations about those of us who do have kids.

So, in honor of Mombian’s 9th annual Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day (you can see my post from last year here), I want to address some sentiments I’ve encountered as a gay dad, from both gay and straight people, which I find incredibly wrong-headed and which I’d like to dispel once and for all.

2014familyday403MYTH #1: Gay parenting is just some hip new trend.

I’ve heard this remark a few times, often from older gay men rolling their eyes in disdain. “Suddenly, everyone’s having kids! It’s like you can’t be seen in Park Slope without one!”

Well, maybe the reason so many gay people are having kids these days isn’t that it’s trendy. It’s that for pretty much the first time ever, we can. As I say in my book, “Mommy Man”, I never thought when I was growing up that I’d be able to have kids at all. So when I realized I could, you’re damn right I made it happen, and clearly, I’m not alone.

It’s only in the last few years that the legal, social, biological and financial barriers keeping LGBTQ people from having kids have begun to come down. At the same time, the legalization of same-sex marriage has made more LGBTQ people comfortable with the thought of having families, because we know our kids will be protected and our families will be recognized for what they are.

So sure, Park Slope might be crawling with gaybies, but if you’re thinking this will blow over and all the gay parents are someday going to trade their kids in for pet rocks or whatever the next hot fad is, you’re missing the point.

MYTH #2: There’s something weird about the way gay people have kids.

As someone whose kids were born through surrogacy, I’m especially used to hearing this misconception, because in vitro fertilization and surrogacy are things many people still don’t quite understand. You’re free to make your own choices as to how you want to have kids, of course, but as for what went into making my kids, all you really need to know is that the #1 ingredient was love.

My husband and I conceived with the help of his sister, who generously donated her eggs for us. It seems like every time I say this, somebody brings up the issue of incest. Weren’t we worried that mixing genetic material from a brother and sister would create some kind of demonic freakbaby?

Well, yes we were worried about that, which is why WE NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED IT. It seems so obvious to me, but I’m starting to wonder whether I should change the title of my book to “We Used My Sperm” just to make sure there’s no confusion on anyone’s part.

What’s really startling about this, though, is that anyone believes for even a moment that we would’ve broken the ultimate genetic taboo just to have kids. As if, because we didn’t do things the “traditional way”, all sense of propriety and safety went out the window.

Sure, LGBTQ people have kids through a variety of methods, but when you break them down, they’re all pretty much the same. Egg, sperm, uterus. It’s just a matter of who those parts belong to that varies. When we have kids, there are no guarantees, and there’s often heartbreak. But nature is pretty consistent and the goal is always the same, that one day a kid will go home with a parent or two who loves them.

Does Prada make one of these?

Does Prada make one of these?

MYTH #3: Gay parents treat children as accessories.

I would never believe anyone thought this if I hadn’t heard actual people say it. But I have. There are people who think gays only want kids because they make good “accessories”.

I don’t know what gay parents these people know, but the ones I’ve encountered are every bit as loving, nurturing and dedicated as any other parents. They have to be, or they never would’ve become parents in the first place.

Having a family when you’re LGBTQ is hard. No matter what path you choose – adoption, surrogacy, fostering — it takes an enormous amount of time, expense and every ounce of emotion you have to get to the point where there’s a child in your care. I can’t imagine anyone actually becoming a gay parent if they’re not in it for the right reasons.

The suggestion that this “accessory” mentality exists comes directly from a stereotype – a viciously homophobic one at that – of gay men as shallow and selfish. What’s more offensive than to suggest that LGBTQ people would consider a human child to be on par with a Gucci handbag? (And by the way, next to the cost of parenthood, those handbags are a steal.)

If all you want is an accessory, you’re better off choosing one that won’t throw up on you or scream-sing “Let It Go” at your feet every time you pick up the goddamn phone for five freaking seconds.

As a gay dad, the only accessory I actually have is called a Diaper Dude, and I don’t wear it over my shoulder everywhere I go because I’m expecting to be hounded by paparazzi outside of Gymboree. I carry it because it contains spare underpants in case my kids shit themselves when we’re away from home.

Glamorous, right?

MYTH #4: Surrogacy is inherently narcissistic.

A lot of people look down on the notion of surrogacy as a needlessly complicated and expensive way to have kids, when there are so many kids out there who need good homes. The implication was that people only choose surrogacy because they want to look into their kid’s eyes and see themselves reflected back.

Well, let me make one thing very clear: as a parent, I spend a lot less time gazing lovingly into my children’s eyes than staring disgustedly at their poopy buttholes. And trust me, when I’m wiping up their feces, I’m not looking for any resemblance.

Yes, for my husband and me, having kids who share some of our genes is nice. We get to play that, “Which one of you do they look like?” game, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting that connection with a child. But outside of that comes the other 99.999% of parenting, which is the same no matter where your kids came from.

Genetics isn’t the only reason to choose surrogacy. I’ve written a post on 6 of the others, but the main one is that legally, no path to parenthood gives gay people nearly as many rights as surrogacy does. Adoptions fall through, and foster kids get taken away, but my kids belonged to my husband and me from the moment of conception. They were ours if something tragic happened or if they ended up with special needs or funny-looking noses. We took the same chances every parent does, and ultimately, they resemble themselves a lot more than they do either of us.

As for all those needy kids, it may sound harsh, but not everyone is equipped to take in a special needs kid or to deal with the legal and emotional complications of fostering. Nobody tells straight people that they shouldn’t be having kids of their own, so it’s best not to judge how people had their family. “Your family is beautiful” is a compliment that works for any family, so go with that instead.

MYTH #5: Children of gay parents are forced into an unfair legal limbo.

Let me be very clear: I would never have had children with a surrogate if I thought my legal rights would be in question. Yet the myth still exists that surrogates can for custody if they feel like it. I even encountered this mistaken belief in my radio interview last week.

It’s not true.

California, where my kids were born, is one of the most progressive states in recognizing gay parental rights. Both my partner and I are listed as parents on their birth certificates, and as I said, we had full legal rights to them from the moment of conception. California recognized the legality of our surrogacy contract, and we had no fears that the surrogate would ever be granted any parenting rights. Had that been a legitimate concern, we would never have taken the risk.

Admittedly, this is one myth I can’t wholly dismiss. Gay parents are all over the country, but statutes concerning surrogacy, adoption and foster parenting vary from state to state. As a result, some gay parents are left to take some uncomfortable chances in having children. In some places, same-sex couples are prohibited from adopting altogether, and in others, gay parents have to endure protracted and expensive second parent adoptions, even when they’re legally married.

If that upsets you, don’t hold it against gay parents, who don’t deserve to be discriminated against just because they happen to live in, say, North Carolina.  Just realize that the government is behind the times and needs to catch up to the realities of our modern family era.

I just wish I were more optimistic that those changes were coming, when some gay people themselves still hold some very backward ideas about gay parents.

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Want to learn more about the realities of gay parents – and specifically, of my family? Then read my book, “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad,” which is now available wherever you like to buy books, and which Publisher’s Weekly calls “Uproarious.”

Not convinced? Head over to Amazon or GoodReads to read the reviews, and download the sample chapter to check it out.

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If you want to read one really awesome review of “Mommy Man”, check out this one written by Mombian (a/k/a Dana Rudolph) herself.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person

English: Train Board at Grand Central Terminal

Image via Wikipedia

[Note: I originally published this piece here as How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, By a Gay Parent. The post took on a life of its own and was read and shared by lots of people whose kids might be exposed to homosexuality any number of places, and not just through kids with gay parents. So I figured it was time to freshen the piece up a bit and broaden the scope.]

It could happen anywhere, at any time. A train station. A Disney Channel show. The NFL draft.

Your kids are just hanging out, being kids and daydreaming about candy, when suddenly they see…

TWO DUDES KISSING!

michaelsamkiss

Or maybe they spot a little girl in the dropoff line at school. She kisses her mom goodbye, and then… she kisses her other mom goodbye!

You feel a tug on your leg, you look down, and there’s your kid. He just saw the same thing you saw, and now he looks up at you with his innocent face and says, “Yo, what’s the deal with that?”

As a gay man, I know I’ve spurred conversations like this myself, by doing just what Michael Sam and his boyfriend did on live TV. I want to be clear first of all that I don’t kiss my husband in public because I want to confuse your child or piss off right-wingers, although I’m aware that both of those things might happen as a result. I’m kissing him because I love him and I’m probably saying hello or goodbye at the time. (I assure you. It will never be because I’ve just been drafted by a professional sports team.) When I kiss my husband, I’m not going to look around first to make sure your kid and/or Pat Robertson isn’t watching. I’m just going to kiss him and then go on with the rest of my day.

I understand you might be unprepared for what follows. So here and now, I’m going to do what I feel is only fair for someone in my position to do. I’m going to prepare you.

Naturally, these tips are intended for the sympathetic straight parent. Unsympathetic straight parents are free to ignore my suggestions, in which case, I’ll enjoy watching them squirm.

Obviously, what you say will depend on how old your kids are and how much exposure they’ve had to gay people previously, but in a broader sense, these suggestions should apply to anyone.

I’m not a child psychologist, just a gay dad who’s thought a lot about the issue and who has a big stake in it.  After all, I don’t want your kids coming up to my kids one day and telling them they’re weird for not having a mommy.

If you don’t want that either, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Use the word “gay”.

Everyone’s concentrating on taking the negative connotation away from the word “gay”, but at the same time, let’s not forget to encourage the positive.  We don’t want “gay” to be a curse, so go ahead and teach it to your kids.  That’s how we’ll really take the sting out of the word.

“Oh, Uncle Doug and Uncle Max?  They’re gay.”  “Aunt Vera and Aunt Debbie aren’t sisters, honey.  They’re lesbians.”  “Well, statistics suggest at least 3 of the Smurfs must be gay.”  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Just say it.  If your kids hear some jerk at school sneering, “That’s so gay!”, their response will be, “Yeah?  So what?  So are Uncle Max, Aunt Vera and, most likely, Brainy.”

2. You don’t have to pretend half the world is gay. 

Don’t play down the fact that your kids may have witnessed something unfamiliar.  “Geez, Madison.  They have two daddies, what’s the biggie?”  It’s natural for poor little Madison to be confused, so give her a damn break.

Kids are probably going to assume all families have one mommy and one daddy, because that’s all most of them see.  You can be honest. Use words like “most” and “some”.  “Most families have a mommy and a daddy… but some have two mommies or two daddies.”  “Most women marry men, but some women marry other women.” As long as you don’t attach a value judgment to those statements, it really is no biggie. (The same goes when explaining single parent families, divorced families or anything else your child might be witnessing for the first time.)

Some kids might say something like, “That’s weird”, or they’ll think you’re playing a joke on them.  That should just be a reminder of why you’re having this conversation.  Get to your kid before ignorance does.  If you’re honest with them, they’ll get it.

3. Get your mind out of the gutter.

It seems silly that I even have to say this, but when some people think about homosexuality and kids, they imagine that you’re suggesting they graphically describe intercourse to kindergarteners.  Um, no.  All you should be doing is answering the questions they’re asking, and save the rest for junior high health class.  If they wonder why they saw two football players kissing, it’s because “Those two men are in love”… or because “Some men love other men.”  Hopefully, you’ve taught your kids to understand what love is, so no further explanation should be required.

And do use the word “love”.  That’s what we’re talking about here.  You don’t need to say “attracted to” or “some boys like boys”.  “Like” is how they feel about each other.  A kid might think, “Well, I like boys.  I guess I’m gay.”  Compare it to your own relationship (assuming you have a good relationship).  “You know the way Mommy and I love each other?  That’s how those two men or those two women feel about each other.”  And if your kid says, “Yuck!” it’s probably because they feel the same way about when you and your spouse get all schmoopy-doopy with each other.  That’s progress.

4. Don’t make it about your kid — yet.

Understanding homosexuality is a big enough topic of discussion, and your kid probably won’t be prompted to wonder about their own sexuality at this point.  You don’t need to say, “You might marry a man someday yourself, Junior!”  While it’s great to plant the seeds of acceptance early, you’ll probably just end up confusing them more.  Your kids have plenty of time to figure their own feelings out, and when the time comes, make sure you let them know that you love them no matter what.  But no, they can’t marry Brainy Smurf.

5. If your kid does ask you to speculate, you can tell them they’ll “probably” be straight.

Again, only if your kid expresses some curiosity should you even broach the subject.  But if they’re wondering, “Who will I marry someday?”, feel free to tell them, “You’ll probably marry someone of the opposite sex, but I’ll accept you either way.”  Of course, if you’re like the mom from the amazing blog Raising My Rainbow, your “probably” might lean the other way.  Just take your cues from your kid.

6. Remember the magic phrase, “Love is what makes a family.” 

Even kids who don’t know exactly where babies come from understand that women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth.  When that’s all you know, then the idea of two men being in love and even forming a family together just might not add up.

Again, don’t go into any more detail than you need to.  Remind your kid that while it’s a woman who gives birth to a baby, your Mommy(-ies) and/or Daddy(-ies) are the one(s) who raise you. It’s no different than how you’d explain adoption by a straight couple.  “The Strattons flew to Beijing and brought little Daisy home.  Now they’re her Mommy and Daddy.”

What kids want to know is that the little boy or girl they see whose family looks different is still being well taken care of. Assure your children that the kids are in good hands, because love is what makes a family, and those parents love their kids as much as you love yours.

7. Most importantly, just talk to your kids.

Your kids are bound to see a gay couple sooner or later, even if it’s just Mitchell & Cameron on Modern Family.  So if they come to you with questions, it’s really important that you don’t get weird about it.  Don’t change the subject, don’t tell them they’re too young to understand and definitely don’t lie and say that those two ladies were only kissing to be silly or because they were rehearsing a play.  Otherwise the message you’re sending is that there’s a reason to be uncomfortable around gay people.  The same goes for all kinds of people, really – just explain that some people look or feel a bit different from most people we meet, and isn’t it nice that everyone’s a little different.

… which leads me to a big secret.

You see, there is a gay agenda.  It’s true.

What most people don’t realize is that the gay agenda isn’t “everybody should be gay”.  It’s “everybody should be themselves.”

Be a nerd, be a Yanni fan, be a real housewife of your particular geographic region.  Whatever.  It’s all part of the same cause, and it’s a great message to teach your kids.

I shouldn’t have to say this in the 21st Century, but for anyone who’s still wondering, NO, I don’t want to make your kids gay.  I just want to live my life with a sense of mutual respect for everyone else on this planet.  If you want the same thing, then let your kids learn by your example.  Show them that gay people and nontraditional families are nothing to be afraid of.

Teaching your kids to be accepting of gay people and gay families is a great way to teach them acceptance in a broader sense – and to teach them the ultimate lesson: to be accepting of themselves.

I know some people think differently, but that’s what I call family values.

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If you know anyone who you think would appreciate this post, please share it using the buttons below. I’ve come back and revised this post a couple of times now, so if you have any non-homophobic notes or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. If you have homophobic notes or suggestions, on the other hand, you might want to read my comment policy first.

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Looking for a fun read? My book “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad” is NOW AVAILABLE in hardcover and digital formats at all your favorite online and real world retailers. Get more details here.