“I don’t know, Honey. Some people think there was a guy named God who made us.”
“But then who made God?”
“You’re very smart, you know.”
“Hmmm… let’s Google it.”
Me: “Did I ever tell you about the time Daddy and I played an April Fool’s prank on all our friends?”
Me: “We told them we were adopting a baby from China, and her name was Fu-Ling.”
Sutton: “Like ‘fooling’?”
Sutton: “It sounds like a Chinese name. That’s funny!”
My (real) daughter in 2015, outsmarting most of my friends in 2004.
Happy birthday, Fu-Ling.
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.)
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:
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:
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:
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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.
“Daddy, let Santa know that if he buys me that Ariel toy I asked for, I’m going to marry it.”
“You can’t marry it. Don’t you remember last week when you married that stick you found in the street?” (Yes, this happened.)
“Oh, we broke up.”
“What? You’re only 5. You can’t already be on your second marriage!”
“No, it’s my third marriage.”
“What? Who did you marry the second time?”
“And you divorced it?”
“You’ve been married to two sticks?! And now you’re getting married again? You can’t get married so many times!”
“I’m going to be a man-izer when I grow up.”
“That song is called ‘Womanizer’, and — wait, you know exactly what that means, don’t you?”
“Yup. I’m going to be a man-izer.”
“Honey, I don’t think we’ll be listening to Britney Spears anymore.”
“Daddy, I know how to spell boo.”
“That’s close, but not quite. Try again.”
“Daddy, I’m right. Boo is B-I-I.”
“No, Honey. Boo is spelled B-O-O.”
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Read my Biik.
Sorry 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!
I hear from people all the time who say they like the blog, but they don’t know the whole story about my family. So, in honor of Throwback Thursday, I’m reposting the segment the Today Show did on us. Those of you who’ve been reading for a while may have already seen it, but for plenty of new followers, it’ll give you a good introduction to my funny bunch. Warning: Get your Kleenex ready.
Of course, there’s lots more to the story. Funny stuff and stuff you’ll need Kleenex for, too. You can read it all in my book, “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad,” which you can buy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or pretty much anywhere you like to buy books.
… and if you’re in the Northern suburbs of NYC, you can come see me read from it tonight, June 19, 2014, at Anderson’s Book Shop in Larchmont, NY. If it’s anything like my other readings, it should be a really fun night… and tonight only, you can meet us all. Me, Drew, Sutton, Bennett… plus Susie and Grace, too! You may even get Sutton & Bennett to autograph your book!
If 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:
And then there was this, from the store’s flyer for June:
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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.