ourfamily

So What If My Kids Are Gay?

ourfamilyI forget sometimes what outdated attitudes still linger outside of this nice little gay-friendly bubble in which I spend most of my life. Earlier this week, I recorded a podcast called Dadsaster. The topic was Gay Dads, and I was the gay dad they interviewed. I was a little surprised to discover that after interviewing me, the hosts were set to question a member of the anti-gay Family Research Council, as if “Gay Dads” was a topic that required a pro-and-con debate.

To me, the only thing anyone needs to ask the FRC is, “Why can’t you lay off gay dads, you obsessive creeps?” Maybe that was on their question list. I’m not sure.

What really surprised me was when the hosts, two straight dads — who were very polite and respectful, I should point out — said, “One of the questions people have is, are your kids more likely to be gay because they’re being raised by gay parents?”

It’s a question you hear all the time, which is what’s so maddening about it, because it’s a very easily answered question. Plenty of gays before me have explained very patiently and intelligently that they grew up with straight parents, but they still turned out gay, so why would anyone assume that my kids are going to be gay just because their parents are? That’s exactly the answer I found myself giving, yet I’m sure there are still plenty of people who will willfully choose to ignore that logic.

So now, with two days’ distance from the discussion, I’d like to offer another, more decisive answer to the question of whether my kids are more likely to turn out gay.

So what if they are?

The host prefaced his question by saying, “I don’t think it’s homophobic to suggest this.”

Wrong.

That’s exactly what it is, because the implication behind it is that it’s somehow bad or undesirable if your kids turn out gay. As a kid who turned out gay, I refuse to accept that.

Let’s say, despite all common sense, that gay parents were more likely to raise gay kids. So does that mean we shouldn’t be allowed to have families? Because the world would have — gasp — more gay people as a result? Nevermind that these would be happy, well-adjusted gay people raised by loving families. Just the fact that they were gay would suggest to some people that they weren’t parented properly.

And that’s not a homophobic position?

If we’re ever going to move beyond homophobia, we need to get over the notion that parents can or should steer their children in one direction or the other. We also need to stop making LGBTQ people prove their worth as parents. I initially asked the hosts if I could stick around and ask the FRC representative a few questions of my own. They declined, but when I thought about it, I didn’t really have anything to say to him or her anyway.

Who cares what those people think? They’re not going to stop me from having kids, and I’m damn sure not going to let my kids experience their bigotry as anything other than an amusing sideshow to our perfectly content lives. In a world that increasingly recognizes the anti-gay family brigade for the lunatics they are, they’re just fighting for relevance on whatever podcast or Fox News show will still have them on, so let them spew their hate. I’ll just continue to change the channel.

Before our kids were born, Drew and I speculated a lot about what they would be like. One day, Drew surprised me by saying he hoped they wouldn’t be gay. He was worried life would be harder for them — the same thing many straight parents say when speculating about their kids — and that if we raised a gay kid, it’d somehow lend credence to people’s fears about LGBTQ parents.

I know he doesn’t feel that way anymore, in part because our kids aren’t hypothetical anymore. They’re Bennett and Sutton, and they’re going to be who they are, and our job as parents is to make them happy, not to make them fit some notion of what the Family Research Council thinks kids should be.

Personally, I think it’d be fantastic if my kids were gay. You know what else would be fantastic? If they’re straight. Or bi. Or trans. Or jocks. Or bookworms. Or bookish jocks. Or whoever they happen to be, because whoever they are, Drew and I are going to do everything we can to make sure they’re comfortable with themselves and to let them know that their dads love them precisely because of who they are, not in spite of it.

Are gay parents more likely to raise gay kids? I don’t think so.

Kids who feel loved and supported, though? In a lot of cases, you bet they are.

UPDATE: The Dadsaster podcast is now up. You can listen to it here. It sounds like the FRC rep bailed on them, which is all for the best. In addition to me, they also interview Scout Masterson, one of the Guncles from “Tori & Dean.” It’s a good show. You should check it out.

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Thanks for making it to the end of my rant. If you like it, please share it! And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to this blog, like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. And, I don’t know, if you see me on the street, give a friendly wave maybe? That’d be nice.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… and Gay

deliveryroom-1So you’re going to be a gay parent? Congratulations! No doubt you’ve been through a lot to get to this point, whether you’ve traveled the path of adoption, IVF, artificial insemination, surrogacy, fostering or whatever. Now, you have a lot to do to get ready.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of those typical posts that tells you to stock up on diapers and learn CPR. Most gay parents are overachievers on that front, I’d guess, since we’ve been planning our families for so long. I know I couldn’t wait to sign up for baby classes.

I wanted to write this post specifically for you, though, the expectant gay parent, because there’s a whole lot of important parenting stuff they’re not going to cover in those baby classes that applies directly to you. There are some special things you’re going to experience because you have a non-traditional family, and I’ve encountered them, so I wanted to give you my tips on how to deal with them.

1. Your kids will need perspective.

familybookNo matter where you live, it’s very likely that your kids will grow up feeling at least slightly out of the mainstream. They’ll see that most families have a mom and dad, and that their family is different.

In my opinion, the best way to handle this is to embrace it. Celebrate who you are from day one. Always talk about what makes your family special, and make sure you do it in positive terms. There are some great kids’ books about LGBT-parented families. (I call the books about gay dads “Papa-ganda”.) We love to read “The Family Book” by Todd Parr, and when we get to the page that says “Some families have two moms or two dads,” I ask the kids. “Who has two dads?”, and they cheer, “Me!!!”

When they meet other kids, they probably feel that their friends are the ones who are missing out on something special by not having a family like ours. Yes, my kids are still young (3 1/2 as of right now), so they haven’t asked a ton of uncomfortable questions, and the Mommy issue hasn’t come up too much. But when that time comes (and I know it will), I’ll be able to talk about our family structure as something wonderful that makes us who we are, because that’s what I’ve been saying all along.

Moms are great, too, but if we had one of those, we wouldn’t have two dads, and we wouldn’t be us.

2. You’ll constantly be outing yourself.

Unless you’re always walking around in your rainbow-striped Pride t-shirt (and good for you if you are), you’re probably passing for straight most of the time, whether you mean to or not. As a childless person, this is not a big deal. You’re going to the supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread, not to discuss your private life with strangers, right?

Well, once you have kids, people will be even more likely to assume you’re straight. A baby practically announces to the world, “I had intercourse with someone of the opposite sex!”

I can’t tell you how many times a stranger (usually a woman, presumably a mom herself) has seen me pushing my kids in the double stroller through the aisles of Target or changing a diaper in a family restroom and exclaimed, “Your wife sure is lucky!” (Side note: many straight women apparently have terrible husbands.)

Even when my whole family is out together — me, the kids and my very obviously male partner — people find ways to force us into their preconceived notions of family structure. Then, the typical comment we get is, “I guess it’s Mom’s day off!” The assumption here is that my boyfriend and I are platonic buddies whose wives are off on a spa date or something. Hey, I take the spa dates in my family, thank you very much.

Your natural inclination in these situations might be to play along, not out of any kind of self-loathing but just for social expediency. From most people, these comments are the equivalent of, “Hey, nice weather we’re having!” All they’re looking for is for me to respond, “Yup!” Or “Hey, it’s only fair. Mom works hard, right?”

But whenever I’m tempted to do that, I’ll remember two very good reasons I can’t… my kids. They love their dads very much, and I’ve been telling them constantly what an amazing and incredibly special family we have. What message would I be sending to them if I suddenly pretended our family was just like everyone else’s? That we need to lie about who we are? That they should lie? That I’m ashamed of being gay? That the opinion of some stranger in a supermarket is more important than the respect of my own children?

So I say it. Regardless of what the situation seems to call for, I out us. “There is no mom. There are two dads in our family.” Or “I don’t have a wife. I have a partner. A man.”

Then I brace myself, because my real fear is that this person will turn out to be a member of the Westboro Baptist Church or the Boy Scouts senior leadership, and they’ll go all psycho fire and brimstone on me in front of the kids. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. Sure, some people are taken aback, because like I said, all they wanted was polite chit-chat and now they feel forced to say… well, something. Usually, what they say is “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed,” because they’re embarrassed. In that case, I just smile, because that person is probably very nice and will never make that mistake again.

Remember, your kids come before strangers. Don’t worry about what some lady at the supermarket thinks. And if you’re in a hurry to get someone to the potty or to pick Other Daddy up at the train station, just correct the lady at the Stop-n-Shop and keep on moving. She’ll figure it out eventually.

Oh, and be prepared to do this with little kids, too. We sometimes get the question, “Where’s their Mommy?” and have to reply, “They don’t have one. They have two dads.” It usually ends there… for us, at least. If the questions get any trickier, we can always fall back on, “Go ask your parents.” Not my kids, not my problem.

3. You will now be an activist for non-traditional families.

As a childless LGBT person, it’s entirely possible to live your life in a supportive bubble. Move to San Francisco or LA. Work for GLAAD. Join a gay softball league. Surround yourself with people who know you and accept you. I’d guess many of us spent the years after coming out doing just that. Well, if you’re going to have kids, you’re going to have to venture outside your gay-friendly bubble. Constantly.

Your kids will be going to school and playing Little League primarily with kids from mom-and-dad-headed families, and you’ll be interacting with people who won’t always be 100% on board with the whole gay thing. Even going to IHOP on Family Night can feel like you’re Making a Statement, because some people will figure out immediately exactly what your family is all about.

Hi, welcome to the cause. What’s that? You’re not a political person? Well, good, because this isn’t about politics. It’s about your family, and being a good parent means doing what’s best for your kids. You want them to grow up in a better world than you did? Great, then get ready to fight for them.

horsefamilypic-1

“Thanks for the carriage ride. Would you mind taking a picture of our family?”

The good news is that most of the time, you can do this by pushing back gently. When I filled out my kids’ preschool applications last year, the forms had spaces for “Mother’s Name” and “Father’s Name”. I could’ve just written our names in those spaces. I guess I also could’ve called up and complained or raised a stink. Instead, I simply crossed out “Mother” and wrote “Father #2″, then submitted the forms as normal. Why assume that the school was homophobic? It was far more likely that they just hadn’t had any gay parents there before (or any who cared about the forms), so the forms had never been an issue.

You know what? When I filled out their applications the next year, the forms had been updated. There were now two lines labeled “Parent Name”. A subtle change other parents are unlikely to notice, but that meant a lot to me. Best of all, I didn’t have to be someone’s pain in the neck to accomplish it.

But you can’t be silent. You don’t want your kids to get to school and have the teacher asking them about their “Mommy” or “Daddy” (or whichever parent your family doesn’t include). You never know when a clueless teacher might insist, “Oh no, you have to have a Mommy. Everyone does!” So don’t make your kids do the hard work.

To be honest, though, once you get past your initial anxiety, being an activist is kind of fun. It can be very empowering to apply for a family membership at the children’s museum, to hand a tourist my iPhone and say, “Excuse me, can you take a picture of my family?” or to call in an order to the pharmacist and then add, “But I’m going to have her other dad pick it up.”

4. People will generally be very nice to you (at least to your face, and that’s all that matters).

Before I had kids, I assumed I’d meet a lot of resistance from the anti-gay crowd as a dad. I worried that preschools might turn us away, that other parents would refuse to set up playdates with my kids, that we’d get sneered at or harangued in public. What can I say? I was stung pretty hard when Prop 8 passed, and I took it very personally. I may even have had a tiny bit of a chip on my shoulder.

But here’s the good news. While I’m sure some of that ugly homophobia is out there, I have yet to face it head-on. I wrote a piece for this blog a while back called “The 5 People You Meet as a Gay Dad“, wherein I discussed the reactions I’ve received from people who’ve met my family. And I admitted at the end that the worst thing I’ve dealt with is polite discomfort. That piece generated a ton of comments, and almost all the other LGBT parents who wrote in had similar experiences. Even those who lived in much more conservative areas had been pleasantly surprised at the support they’d received.

feeding-1So you can feel good about your decision to have a family in this world at this time. I’m constantly touched and encouraged by how accepting and friendly most people are towards us. They want to learn our story, or to tell me about other gay parents they know. I constantly hear things like, “My sister and her wife are trying to have a baby. I’m so excited for them!” Sometimes they treat us like celebrities, like the nurse when my son was in the hospital. She told us she’d always wanted to meet gay dads, and she jogged around the kid’s hospital bed to give us hugs.

So my ultimate advice is the same thing you probably figured out when you first started coming out: be yourself and be proud. Assume the best of people, and very often, that’s what you’ll get.

Now go read those other parenting books and learn about feeding, diapering, swaddling, bathing and all that. Being a parent, gay or straight, is the most amazing, rewarding and totally freaking difficult thing you’ll ever do.

You’ve got a lot to learn.

*****

I wrote this post in honor of Blogging for LGBT Families Day over at Mombian. If you’re looking for other blogs for LGBT parents, that’s a great place to check. And if this post helped you out, entertained you or you know some prospective gay parents who might enjoy it, please consider sharing it using the buttons below. If you’re new here, welcome, and I hope you’ll consider subscribing by entering your email at the upper right of this page (no spam, just an email whenever I update), and/or  following me on Twitter, liking me on Facebook or just leaving a comment below. Thanks!

5 Ways to Celebrate Mother’s Day… Minus the Mom

othersdaymugI had a great chat with my kids’ teacher yesterday about how to handle Mother’s Day. (She actually raised the topic with me, so she gets an A+ in my book.) I told her in our family, we celebrate Special Aunts Day, so she’ll be directing our kids’ craft projects toward their surrogate and egg donor and letting the other kids know that there are many different types of families. Have I mentioned how much I love my kids’ school?

Like I said, though, there are many different types of families, so what we’ve chosen to do isn’t going to work for everyone. Therefore, I wrote a new Lifetime Moms post with a few different suggestions for people whose family may not fit the Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day) mold but who want some ideas for how they can join in the celebration. I hope it’s helpful.

You can check out the Lifetime Moms post here, and if you have any suggestions of your own, please leave a comment.

What Rob Portman Means For Parents

Rob Portman, Will PortmanAs a gay man, I’ve always felt like parents were my enemy — politically, at least.

Whenever someone felt it necessary to identify themselves as a parent in a debate about gay rights, it was almost always as a shield for their homophobia. The gays they talked about were coming to get their kids, convert them to homosexuality, teach them about sodomy in schools. We were boogeymen Karl Rove could use to manipulate paranoid moms and dads into voting his way.

The term “family values” seemed designed specifically to exclude those of us at the wrong end of the Kinsey scale. Our values, it barely needed to be said, were distinctly anti-family.

This is what’s so significant about Rob Portman’s change of heart on gay marriage. A family values conservative, a co-sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, has acknowledged that treating gay people equally is a family value. He did so suddenly and decisively, without “evolving” or obfuscating the way many other politicians do. Why? Because he was able to present his reversal as something deeper than a mere political calculation. It was a gesture of love from a father to his son.

Portman certainly didn’t have to change his position. When his son Will came out to him, he could’ve supported him privately, while publicly pandering to his constituency. He wouldn’t be the first politician to do so.

What Portman’s reversal seems to signify is a broader change in thinking. No longer are gays seen as “others” out to hurt our kids. Now, gays are our kids, and moms and dads are the ones with the potential to hurt them. Gays aren’t the monsters anymore. Parents who turn their backs on their children are.

Portman has taken a lot of criticism for not supporting gay marriage until it affected his own son. It’s a fair point, but it misses the bigger victory in this story, which is that now, fewer people might need a gay son or daughter to change their mind on this issue, because anyone can see their own family in Rob Portman’s. Anyone can imagine their own kid as the next Will Portman. Nobody wants their kid to be the next Tyler Clementi.

Even more importantly, what Portman’s shift signals is that politicians no longer feel beholden to the image of the gay boogeyman. It’s not that family values no longer matter to voters. It’s that more voters than ever acknowledge that gays are part of our families. According to Buzzfeed, representatives from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage spoke to a nearly empty room at CPAC this week, while a panel on increasing tolerance in the GOP was standing room-only.

The message Rob Portman’s action sends couldn’t be clearer: supporting same-sex marriage is good parenting. Increasingly, it’s good politics, too.

Past Posts Revisited: How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, by a Gay Parent

therealthingnews-com-au

I’m always happy when someone reposts my piece How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, by a Gay Parent. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve posted here, and I tend to hear back some really amazing things as well as gain some super cool new followers every time it gets spread to some other corner of the internet.

Previously, the piece was featured on sites like the Today Show, Lifetime Moms and the Good Men Project. Just this week, two more very popular sites reblogged it, garnering it a bunch of fresh traffic. First, it ran on one of my favorite parenting blogs, Scary Mommy. If you don’t already know Scary Mommy, you should go there right now. It’s full of hilarity, top-notch writing and all kinds of wonderful things.

Scary Mommy has amazing readers, who’ve so far shared my post almost 10,000 times on Facebook(!) One person who read it over there works for the popular Australian news site News.com.au, and she asked if she could rerun it on that site as well.

They apparently put it on the front page, which brought it a lot of attention. If you read the comments on that site, you’ll see the response was not quite as positive as it’s been on other sites. I have no idea if News.com.au’s readership leans conservative or if this is representative of how most people Down Under view families like mine. Either way, I’m really grateful they ran my post because I’d rather this topic be discussed than ignored, and at least I put the subject in a few people’s minds.

My original piece wasn’t intended to defend my family or to convert homophobes. (For that, try this post instead.) It was aimed at sympathetic straight parents. However, to the detractors on news.com.au and elsewhere, I’ll say this:

Families with gay parents aren’t going away. You can say “Every child needs a mother and a father” all you want, but at some point, you’ll need to accept that you live in a world where not every child is going to have one. They might have none — or two. The only family you get to assemble is your own. Do with it what you will. You can either try to live peacefully with those who make different choices or remain cranky and increasingly isolated. You can tsk, tsk and say “Those poor kids,” but your pity and bigotry does more to harm my children than having two dads who think they’re the greatest kids in the world ever could.

I’ve read plenty of comments, on the other hand, that made valid criticisms. In the hopes that my piece will continue to be shared, I’ve decided to do a few minor revisions to take those into account.

The first is my mockery of the word “queer” in this line from the original piece:

You could also use the word “queer”, I guess, but then your kids and I will just think you’re a pretentious dweeb.

Most people, even those who self-identify as “queer” seem to have taken it as the harmless joke it was meant to be. Others took serious offense, and that’s something I never intended. The theme of the piece is tolerance and inclusiveness, and if anyone felt slighted by that line, I apologize. I admit my impression of the word “queer” as being pretentious dweebery is probably 20 years out of date. People self-identify as “queer” for a variety of very valid personal reasons, and I don’t want to make light of that.

I’ve removed that joke from the post. The Brainy Smurf joke is a better closer anyway.

Second, a few people have taken issue with me saying, “Every child ends up with the right parents for them” when we know how many kids in this world are abused, neglected or otherwise mistreated by their parents. It’s a fair point, so I’ve changed that statement to “It’s love that makes a family”. That way you can help explain nontraditional families without also validating abusive ones.

Lastly, I made a few minor tweaks just to make the piece more evergreen and universal. I never expected people on other continents would read my blog, and not all of them know what Grand Central Station is.

If you want to reblog the post from this point on, I ask that you use the newer version. Just to restate my reblogging policy:

Anyone is welcome to repost anything on this site anywhere, provided they credit me and link back to the original post on my domain. (Something along the lines of this would be great: “This piece, by Jerry Mahoney, originally appeared on his blog “Mommy Man: Adventures of a Gay Superdad“. I request that you use the “Contact Me” page to let me know when you’re going to reblog something. I love to check out my work on other people’s sites, however big or small their audience, and I may even be able to send some traffic your way by sharing your link.

To share any of my posts on your social networks, just click the corresponding button (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) at the bottom of the post and it does everything necessary for you.

If you quote excerpts, please link back to the full piece.

If you link me without reposting the entire piece and say, “Hey, go read this guy’s site! It’s great!”, then you’re awesome and I like you.

Aw, shucks. I like all of you! And I still can’t wait to visit Australia someday.

Video

So… I Guess I May Actually Kinda Be On TV Sorta Soon

Newhart, Weenie, Vermont TodayI want to tell you a story about my favorite episode of Newhart, Bob Newhart’s second sitcom. In this series, Bob was a humble Vermont inkeeper named Dick Louden, who, as the show’s producers searched for sharks to jump, became a host of a local cable TV talk show. (They never jumped that shark, by the way. The best episodes came after Dick started his TV gig.)

Dick kept his show low-key and respectable, as PBS as possible, against the wishes of his cheesy, more FOX-like producer, Michael (my hero, Peter Scolari). Dick’s idol was newsman Edwin Newman, and in the episode I’m going to tell you about, he actually books Newman as a guest. But Newman cancels at the last minute, and the fill-in guest is a phony spoon-bending psychic from the mall. Grumpy about losing his A-list guest for this clown, Dick calls the psychic a “weenie” on air. In typical Bob Newhart style, this is the extent of him blowing his cool, and afterward, he’s mortified at his momentary breach of journalistic decorum.

To his surprise, though, ratings go through the roof, and before long, his producer is intentionally booking lunatic guests who will bait Dick into calling them “weenies”. They even add a peanut gallery of overhyped audience members chanting, “WEE-NIE! WEE-NIE! WEE-NIE!”

Dick gets caught up in the spectacle and basically morphs into Jerry Springer, though I should add that this was four years before Jerry Springer’s talk show debuted. This was satire at its finest, people.

Have I mentioned that I love this show?

Well, I always thought that I’d make terrible television because I’m not a weenie shouter. I’m more like Dick at the beginning of the episode — quiet, reserved and just a tad sarcastic. Somehow, though, a few weeks ago, I was approached to do weekly roundtable segments for a new show that’ll be airing on HLN (the former Headline News, CNN’s sister network) called Raising America with Kyra Phillips. The premise of the show is to report the news through a parent’s eye and with correspondents who are parents like me. Hey, I’m a parent like me! No wonder they picked me!

I didn’t announce my big news on this blog, because I was roughly 100+% convinced that, as soon as they saw me do some sort of rehearsal, they’d realize they made a terrible mistake and they’d find someone else to be their token “Dad blogger from a nontraditional family in the Northeast”.

Today was the rehearsal. A few minutes before I was scheduled to Skype in for my segment, a producer sent me a list of topics we might discuss, including this one, Snoop Lion to Educate Children on Smoking Weed. Here’s all you really need to read from that article:

The rapper said he would be happy to provide guidance to the eight and nine-year-olds he coaches at the Orange County Junior All America Football League on how to avoid irresponsible drug use.

‘It’s not that I would ever push weed on our kids,’ Snoop explained.

‘But if they wanted to, I would love to show them how. The right way, so that way they won’t get nothing put in their s*** or overdose or trying some s*** that ain’t clean.’

A great topic for discussion, but I could only imagine how a panel of parents would react. We’d all just be trying to out-shout each other with our condemnation of Mr. Lion. I figured my only way to stand out was to go a different route and play up the snarky cynicism. “I’m pretty sure if you read the rest of that quote, Kyra, it ends ‘and please be sure to mention my new album while condemning these views.’” I practiced my zinger a few times to get it just right, then dialed in for the session.

Because of how they setup their Skype connection, I couldn’t see who I was talking to, but there was a man and a woman on the panel with me. When Kyra raised the topic, the woman jumped right in with something like, “Well, pot is legal in Colorado now, so maybe Snoop has the right idea.”

Wait… what? She agrees with him?! I could hear a voice chanting softly in the back of my head… “Wee-nie! Wee-nie! Wee-nie!

The chant partially drowned out whatever the man said, but he didn’t challenge her premise. If I remember, he seemed to think kids smoking pot was inevitable, so why fight it?

Kyra could clearly tell I was bursting to say something. “Jerry, do you want to comment?”

“Yes, well, pot may be legal in some places,” I began, calmly, “but IT’S NOT LEGAL FOR 8 AND 9-YEAR-OLDS!!!!!!”

So I took the bait. I lost my cool. Here I was, against every instinct I had, arguing with people about current events on TV. (Granted, it was just a rehearsal, so I can’t show you the footage. The best I can give you is this.) “Anyway,” I went on. “I doubt even Snoop believes it. I’m pretty sure if you read the rest of his quote it said, ‘And by the way, my new album drops this fall!’”

It got a laugh. Zing! He shoots, he scores!

Cindy Brady, stage frightSuddenly, I’m starting to believe this may actually happen. I mean, I may still go all Cindy Brady when my big debut actually comes, but I think I’ve managed to trick the producers into thinking I can be interesting television for now.

So here it is, my official announcement and my plug for Raising America with Kyra Phillips, weekdays from 12PM-2PM on HLN, premiering Monday, February 4th.

My first segment is scheduled for Friday, February 8th, but I’ll be promoting it more as the date approaches.

Watch out, weenies! Here I come!

“Yep, I’m Gay… Now Step Off!” Jodie Foster’s Sad, Defensive Coming Out Speech

Jodie FosterWho would’ve guessed that an A-list actress admitting her real age would be a footnote of her awards show acceptance speech? Jodie Foster had bigger things to confess at the Golden Globes… or did she? You’d think with all the years she had to plan her big coming out moment, she would’ve seemed better prepared for it, that she at least would’ve owned it more.

I know we’re in for some kind of Big Gay Debate over what happened tonight and, especially, how it happened. And straight people, for the most part, are going to shrug and say, “What’s the big deal?” or accuse the mean gays of being too rough on Jodie, thus validating her resistance to come out in the first place.

I don’t want to attack Jodie Foster, who I will always think of first as a brilliant actress and filmmaker before I give a rat’s ass about her personal life. I’m not going to judge her reluctance to come out for all those years. Coming out wasn’t easy for me, and I didn’t have 100 million fans to do it to.

But I want to say something to her.

Look, I know it’s really petty and condescending and almost always a lie when you’re having an argument with someone and you say, “I’m not mad. I just feel sorry for you.” Honestly, though, that’s how I feel.

I feel sorry for you, Jodie Foster.

I know celebrities appreciate the Golden Globes as much for their open bar as for their prestige, but for whatever it’s worth, those nice, befuddled foreign press people were trying to tell you how much they like your movies. They were saying, “Hey, in case your money and your fame and all the other awards you’ve won haven’t clued you in, you’re kind of good at what you do, and we’re grateful to have you around.” And then you take their statue made of precious metals and wave it around and start settling scores. I’m sure quite a few of the people who nominated you were backstage warbling, “Que?” and “Porquois?” and however you say “WTF?!” in German.

Nobody told you to do that, Jodie. Instead of giving the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the viewing audience a good anecdote from Taxi Driver or even a spirited defense of The Beaver, you chose to make the moment all about your sexuality. And at the same time, you were saying, “It’s none of your business!” Or something. Maybe it was the open bar, but your point was a bit unclear.

All I know is that you weren’t coming across the way people should in their acceptance speeches for lifetime achievement awards. What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, right. Proud.

You want to keep your private life separate from your filmmaking? Do a damn Advocate interview about the gay stuff and then use the Golden Globes to talk about, I don’t know, movies.

The strangest part of the whole thing was your joke about your publicist being nervous about what you were about to do. Really? Because if your publicist was nervous about anything, I’m guessing it’s that you wouldn’t need her anymore. That’s what it’s like to be open about who you are, especially if you’re as boring as you say. Once it becomes clear that you have nothing to hide, people will stop looking.

Your publicist’s phone is going to ring a lot in the next few weeks, sure, but then it’s going to stop. Eventually, all the calls she makes will be outgoing, the next time you have a movie to promote. You being a lesbian can’t compete with Lindsay Lohan being a total train wreck, especially not in 2013. There’s even a lesbian senator now, you know? You are approximately the 9,438th high-profile lesbian to come out of the closet. Um… congratulations?

Look, you’re a one-in-seven billion type of talent, a totally uniquely gifted person, and I forget sometimes that people I respect as much as you can be sad sometimes. You weren’t just hiding your sexuality all those years. It appears you were hiding a lot of anger, too. I’m sorry to hear that, but honestly, now that you’ve come out, I hope you can let that go.

If you were worried that homophobia would sink your career, I think you’ll find that Hollywood and America love you and always will.

If you were worried that the gay community would shun you because it took you so long to come out, I think you’ll find them swooning over you even more now, whether or not you ever grand marshal a pride parade.

And if you were worried that you wouldn’t win any more awards now that we know this little fact about you, I think you forget how easy it is to win a GLAAD award. Christina Aguilera has one. Seriously.

I still love you, Jodie, and I think you’ll find that admitting your sexuality isn’t some horrific surrender of your privacy, like you seemed to fear. It’s empowering, exhilarating and one hell of a big relief. Take some time now that you’ve made the big announcement, but I guarantee you’ll be glad you did it.

And you know how you can let people know that you’ve made your peace with who you are and how the world sees you? Maybe next time you win an award, you’ll just hold it up and say, “Thank you.”

A Reality Check, From Thomas the Train

SpongeBob, Patrick Starfish, Times Square

This weekend, we took the kids to see a Thomas the Train live stage show. “Daddy?” Bennett asked me on the way there. “Will Thomas be real?”

“No,” I said.

Drew practically swerved off the road. “What?!”

“He’ll be a character,” I explained, “like when we saw SpongeBob in Times Square.”

“Yes, Bennett,” Drew emphatically corrected me. “Thomas will be real!”

It was like I’d blown the whole Santa thing or something. I mean yes, Thomas is real in our hearts, kid, but you’ve been on “real” trains. Are they rendered with pen and ink? Do they have expressive faces and buddies like George Carlin? I didn’t want to set the boy up for disappointment. The Times Square SpongeBob spoke with a thick Mexican accent and practically grabbed his tip right out of my pocket after we snapped his picture. Instead of a pineapple under the sea, he smelled like he lived in a box under the Queensboro Bridge. I wasn’t expecting much more from this show.

Thomas & Friends Live, Thomas & Friends stage, Thomas the Tank Engine, Thomas the TrainWe filed into a theater with the barest of backdrops on stage. It was basically a green door and the Thomas logo. Even next to Times Square SpongeBob, this seemed bush league. Bennett was silent as he waited for the show to start. And waited. And waited.

This is a kid who gets antsy waiting for me to spread peanut butter on a mini bagel. He just stared at the stage for half an hour, barely making a peep.

“When Thomas comes out,” Bennett announced at one point, “I’m going to dance with him.”

thomasaudienceEventually, a woman with a microphone took the stage and told us that after the show we’d have an opportunity to get our picture taken with Thomas. I thought Bennett might explode. “When it’s your turn, please move quickly across the stage,” she implored us. “Also, Thomas asked that you not touch his face.”

Then, another two-legged, zero-engined character took the stage. He introduced himself as Driver Sam, and he wore an engineer’s overalls and hat. This is where having gay dads colors your perspective on things, because other parents probably thought Sam was just a delightful, enthusiastic young man belting out the Thomas theme song. As for my partner and me, our gaydars started to overheat. His go-go boy good looks and overinflated biceps could not go unacknowledged. We quietly whispered jokes about Driver Sam checking his Grindr backstage.

Driver Sam instructed the crowd to sing along with him, and we did… for maybe the first 3 times he ran through the theme song. Then he did it about 8 more times, repeating the same lame choreography over and over. “One more time!” he shouted, long after he’d lost us all. That’s when it became clear. Driver Sam’s job was to fill time.

Enough, Driver Sam! Bring on the Beatles!

Driver Sam coached us on how to properly greet Thomas when he arrived (i.e., give a big wave and shout, ” Helloooooooo, Thomas!”). We practiced it about 14 times.

Thomas the Train, Thomas the Tank Engine, Thomas Live ShowThen, finally, the green doors we’d been staring at for the last 45 minutes opened. Behind the scenes, a couple of stagehands gave a push, and Thomas’ familiar face poked out about two and a half feet from Tidmouth Sheds, then came to a stop. Thomas was as tall as Driver Sam, yet despite his cartoonish appearance, he was far, far less animated than his human co-star.

I realized this was all the Thomas we’d be getting. He wouldn’t be venturing into the audience or moving across the stage. He wouldn’t be joined by any of his train friends, and he sure wouldn’t be dancing with my son.

“Helloooooooo, Thomas!” we all cheered, dutifully. I glanced over at Bennett, to see if he was as unimpressed as I was. Instead, he looked like he’d just seen Elvis.

“He’s real!” Bennett shouted. He turned to me and said it again. “Daddy, he’s real!”

At that moment, I simultaneously felt like the world’s biggest jerk and the luckiest man alive. I knew instantly that I’d be reliving that experience, that pure, perfect little chirp of “He’s real!” over and over for the rest of my life. I’ve replayed it in my head about a thousand times in just the last two days.

I’d forgotten that at my son’s age, your ability to buy into fantasy is incredibly high, while your taste in live theater is incredibly low. This was the most thrilling moment of his young life, and that made it one of mine, too, because the way Bennett feels about Thomas is the way I feel about Bennett.

Sometimes I can’t believe he’s real myself.

9 Incredibly Uncomfortable Yet Absolutely Essential Questions to Ask Potential Surrogates

Cover of "Vacancy"

This is the latest in a series of informational posts I’ve been doing on the gestational surrogacy process. This is for those of you who might be where I was about 5 years ago, weighing the options you have for becoming a parent… or for those who are merely curious about the process. This time, I’m sharing my advice on what questions you need to ask your surrogate before deciding if you’re a good match.

To the rest of you, I apologize. More peepee poopoo jokes next time, I promise.

Meeting with a potential surrogate is like the most awkward first date imaginable. You’re face-to-face with a woman you barely know, and both of you spend most of the time talking about making a baby together. Talk about rushing things.

There are probably a million things you want — and need — to know. I’ve seen some websites that suggest you approach your surrogate with a massive checklist of questions, many of which are not exactly subtle, like:

“Do you smoke?”

“Are you sexually active?”

“What were the results of your last pap smear?”

Sure, those are great things to ask… if you want the surrogate to throw a drink in your face and slap an instant “No Vacancy” sign on her womb.

Remember, this isn’t a job interview. She can reject you, too, and if you treat her like an employee or a menial laborer, she probably should.

Don’t worry, if there are any red flags, they’ll turn up in her medical and psychological exams, and you’ll be made aware of them by a professional, neutral third party.

When you sit down face-to-face with a potential gestational carrier, try to empathize with what she’s going through. After a huge amount of deliberation and soul searching, she’s decided to do something incredibly generous, terrifically inconvenient, and more than a tiny bit risky, for a virtual stranger. She’s nervous to meet that stranger, but also a bit thrilled.

Then you come in and ask about her pap smears.

So what should you discuss in your first meeting? First and foremost, it’s time to take the mystery out of your relationship and just get to know each other. If things go well, you’ll be creating a life together.

That being said, it’s not exactly a first date. You need to check your compatibility on some pretty weighty matters.

If you’re working with an agency, much of this subject matter will be covered by them, but if not, these are the questions you need to ask, in increasing order of unpleasantness.

1. What made you want to be a surrogate?

No one’s going to reply, “I need the money,” and if they do, you should probably run away as fast as you can. Sure, the money is a nice perk, but with all a surrogate goes through, she’s going to earn that cash, and it is a limited sum. No one’s getting rich as a gestational surrogate, so it’s a safe bet she has bigger motives.

Our surrogate heard a report about gestational surrogacy on the radio when she was 19, and it made her cry. She turned to her mother and said, “Someday, I’m going to do that for someone.” Once she’d completed her own family, she googled surrogacy agencies, and that’s how she was eventually paired with us. It was such a sweet story, and it told us so much about who she was as a person.

Raising this basic topic is a great way to get to know your surrogate and to show her that you appreciate the sacrifice she’d be making on your behalf.

2. What were your other pregnancies like?

Again, the medical exam will clue you in to any relevant technical info, so try to keep this as light as possible. How bad did her babies kick? Did she get morning sickness? You may not know very much about the surrogate at this point, but you know she’s been pregnant before (at least in most cases, since most gestational carriers have a proven history of successful pregnancies).

You, on the other hand, in all likelihood have never been and never will be pregnant. Show some curiosity and empathy by asking her to describe exactly what she’d be going through for your benefit. This is also a great way to show you appreciate the sacrifice she’ll be making on your behalf.

And if you find out pregnancy makes her crave pickles and ice cream, file that away. Someday, when she’s carrying your child, you’ll know just what to put in her care package.

3. How do your friends and family feel about you being a surrogate?

Surrogacy is physically and emotionally demanding, and no one can do it alone. Make sure she has a good support system, people who care about her who appreciate what an amazing thing she’s doing. If she’s religious, it’s very helpful if her spiritual leader is on her side as well.

This is especially important for gay intended parents. If your surrogate has a homophobic husband or goes to a gay-unfriendly church, you’re not off to a good start. Someday soon, she might find herself at the Wal-Mart in her tiny town when a woman comes up, points at her belly and says, “Aww, lucky you!” She’ll have to reply, “Oh, he’s not mine. I’m having this baby for George and Steven.” Is she ready for whatever may come next?

Let her know what kind of homophobia you’ve faced and how you’ve persevered. It can be very difficult for a (most likely) straight woman to willingly expose herself to homophobia, but that’s what she’ll be doing by having a baby for a gay couple.

One surrogate my partner and I met with had previously carried a baby for a gay couple, and she hadn’t encountered any resistance, so we knew she’d be fine this time around as well.

4. Are you comfortable with me/us being in doctor’s appointments and the delivery room?

Sorry, guys, when you came out of the closet, you probably thought you were exempt from discussing (and possibly seeing) ladyparts. Not any more. Obviously, let the surrogate know that you’ll respect her privacy as much as possible. But one of the main benefits of having a baby with a surrogate is being able to participate in all the exciting prenatal moments, like finding out the baby’s sex or seeing him or her for the first time on a sonogram monitor.

Most surrogates will fully anticipate and welcome your participation in the process, but raising the issue in a polite and respectful manner will set the right tone for when those intimate moments inevitably arise.

5. What kind of communication would you like to maintain after the birth?

There’s no correct answer to this. Some surrogates and intended parents want to stay in close touch. Others might want to be your Facebook friend so they can see pictures of your kids growing up. Still others may be content merely to get a holiday card every December. As long as both parties are on the same page, anything can work.

My advice is to offer up a safe but minimal amount of contact. If you and your surrogate hit it off (as we did with ours), you can always have more contact than you planned.

It’s important to reiterate that your surrogate will have no legal rights to your child. Once your baby is born, you are well within your rights to cut off all contact with the surrogate and never see her again. I’d imagine that kind of clean break only really happens in extreme circumstances. Most people and their surrogates form a bond through the process and want to stay in touch afterward.

Once your child is old enough to understand how he or she came into the world, they’ll likely be curious about who their surrogate was, so it helps if you’ve kept up the relationship.

6. How many fetuses are you willing to carry?

My partner and I were very lucky to have twins with our surrogate, but it made the pregnancy considerably harder on her. She was confined to bed rest for most of the third trimester and there were a few scares where we thought she might be miscarrying one or both of the fetuses, which meant some late-night trips to the emergency room.

Thankfully, everything worked out okay for us, but the more fetuses involved in your pregnancy, the higher the risks. A woman carrying triplets is almost always put on bed rest. It’s not surprising then that many surrogates limit the number of babies they’re willing to carry to one or two.

If you were hoping for octuplets, in other words, you’re out of luck.

7. Would you be willing to undergo a selective reduction?

Here’s where the questions start to get really dicey.

Even if your surrogate only wants to carry one baby and you only want to have one kid, you may still want to transfer multiple embryos to increase the odds that one of them attaches.

So what happens if your surrogate becomes pregnant with two or three embryos? In that case, she may undergo a selective reduction, where excess embryos are removed from her uterus at a very early stage, leaving only the number of babies you’re willing to have.

We interviewed a surrogate who had undergone this procedure with a previous pregnancy and, for various reasons, didn’t want to go through it again. She was asking that we not transfer more than two embryos, so she could be mostly assured she wouldn’t have to carry more than twins.

Some IPs plan to transfer as many embryos as they can, then reduce down to just one or two if too many of them take. That’s fine if the surrogate agrees to it, but not everyone will be comfortable with that.

This is obviously a very tricky ethical situation, so for everyone’s benefit, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page.

8. If we were to decide, due to complications with the fetus, to terminate the pregnancy, would you be willing to do so?

You and the surrogate are both entering into this agreement with the same goal: to make a baby. Neither of you wants to think about terminating a pregnancy, because that goes against the very reason you’ve come together.

However, everyone knows that things do sometimes go wrong, and the baby will be yours, not hers, so if there are complications and you become concerned with what your child’s quality of life would be, it should be your call to make.

There are people — surrogates and intended parents alike — who would never terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances. That’s fine, of course, but if you feel that way, it’s good to have a surrogate who would defer to your judgment in the case that your feelings change.

Again, no one wants to think about the worst case scenario. You both want a healthy baby. So bring this up now, and then forget about it. Hopefully, it won’t end up being an issue.

9. What concerns do you have about us or this process?

You never know what your surrogate may be thinking or how you may come across to her. She might have a special request that’s very important to her or a fear she’s working to get over.

Our surrogate had two requests: One, she wanted an epidural, because she went without one when her son was born and didn’t want to do that again. And two, she wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t be handed the baby in the delivery room. When doctors first handed her her son, that’s when she bonded with him. To make sure to establish the right boundaries, she didn’t want to see the baby until later on, when she was in the recovery room.

Let her know that her concerns are important to you, and in case she does have a vastly different idea of how the birth should go, it’s better to find out now rather than a trimester or two into the pregnancy.

 

Hopefully, you’ll find plenty of common ground with your surrogate on these topics, because once you’ve discussed them and agreed about the important things, you’ve earned the right to never discuss them again. In all likelihood, you won’t have to, and now that you’ve gotten past the tough stuff, you can talk about things that don’t really matter: what her favorite sports teams or TV shows are, what kind of sense of humor she has and what she thinks of the baby names you’ve picked out.

Then, finally, you’ll know for sure if you’ve found “The One.”