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

Meet Anne: A Slap-In-The-Face Interview With a Child of Surrogacy

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the first ever WordPress-sponsored Press Publish conference in Portland, Oregon. While I was there, I met tons of awesome people, but the one who probably sticks out the most to me was a young woman named Anne who spoke to me after my presentation. She wanted me to know that she was born through surrogacy herself. She was curious to meet my kids, because she’d never met anyone else who was born through surrogacy.

Anne

Anne

She was a wonderful person — smart, polite, down-to-Earth, and we had a very nice chat. I promised to put her in touch with some people who might be able to help her find other people her age born through surrogacy, and she gave me her card.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about her, because I often wonder how my kids will feel about their birth story as they get older. Will they be confused? Alienated? Bored to tears? Anne was so cool about where she came from, so I emailed and asked if I could interview her for this site.

Now, in honor of Surrogate and Egg Donor Day (a/k/a Other’s Day), which my family celebrates every year on the day before Mother’s Day, here are her thoughtful, honest, eye-opening responses.

Before I start, I want to say that Anne gave me permission to be totally blunt and intrusive and ask the kind of questions that would normally earn me a slap in the face. In return, I gave her permission to respond “You horrible bastard!” to any question that was particularly rude, and then just move on. I would not normally be this direct when talking to someone with a nontraditional birth story, nor would I recommend you be. But if you want to know how they might answer if you ever were so bold, here you go.

In order to avoid any confusion, I also want to point out that when I refer to Anne’s “mom” or “mother” in these questions, I mean the woman who raised her. If I’m talking about her surrogate, I’ll use the term “surrogate”.

* * *

Hi Anne! First of all, can you tell me about your family and about how you were conceived? It was through traditional surrogacy, right, meaning the surrogate used her own egg, along with your father’s sperm?

Yes, I am a result of a traditional surrogacy! My mom dealt with fertility issues, which led them to consider surrogacy. Through the Center for Surrogate Parenting, they met my birth mom. The first attempt ended in a miscarriage, and after that, it took them almost 4 years to have me.

 

Before my second question, I want to apologize for my first question, because no one should ever have to hear, say or think about a phrase like “your father’s sperm”. Most of us have the luxury of never having to ponder the specifics of how our parents created us — whether it was on their honeymoon, there was a broken condom or they were crazy drunk and our dad actually thought he was hooking up with our mom’s identical twin sister or something. I don’t know those things about myself, and I don’t want to. Do you ever get annoyed that people are so curious about the specifics of your birth story, or that you have to talk about it more than most people do?

Hahah oh my gosh. In some ways, I’m lucky my birth was SO planned. They REALLY wanted me, so much so that they went through this intense process to have me. Honestly, I get more annoyed with people who try to pretend like I didn’t just say anything about surrogacy when I mention it than those who see me as an interesting biology and social experiment. “That’s nice – what are you doing this weekend” feels a lot worse than “Wait – how long have you known?!”.

If I don’t want to talk about it I don’t have to. Either way, most of the time when I do bring it up or when family is brought up an interesting conversation results, which is always fun.

 

What kind of communication do you have with your surrogate, and what do you call her? Is she your “surrogate mother”, or do you avoid the “m” word, like we do in our family?

I call her by her first name actually. I had to take a second to think about that. If I’m describing her to other people, I’ll say birth mom like I am now. Otherwise though, I had major speech problems until I was about 9 and surrogate mother would have come out like “I haff a shuwoogathe mothwa” which sounds like it could be a disease.

I didn’t have much communication with her growing up. Looking back, that’s something I wish I had more of but she was living her life, most likely trying to give my parents distance to raise me. I remember getting cards on Christmas and for my birthday every once in a while.

When I was 12, I met her for the first time. Apparently, organizations associated with surrogacy think 12 is a good age. Real quick: think back to when you were 12 and imagine meeting your parent for the first time?! It threw me for a loop for sure. I think 12 was just too awkward and emotional of an age for that to happen. We only went out to dinner and my parents were there the entire time. I don’t remember saying much because what do you have to say when you’re 12?

After that, I remember reaching a point in my freshman or sophomore year where I hacked into my dad’s email looking for her email address. This was the beginning of social media and all that jazz so I was determined to see if I could find her. I found her email address, then found her on Facebook. Long story short, we became Facebook friends my junior year and basically liked each other’s posts for a while.

Midway through college, I realized I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to my birth mom and I hadn’t met her as an adult. I decided to make the trip my junior year to visit her. I dragged one of my close friends along for the road trip and am so happy I did, as I definitely would’ve been too nervous to drive to dinner by myself. We met up with her and her husband and had dinner. Since then we’ve mostly kept up very randomly via texting but I’m planning on going to see her sometime in the next year again. My relationship with her is definitely something I want to develop as I do think I’m lucky to have such an open relationship with her.

wholefamily

Anne’s family

When did your parents first tell you that you were conceived through surrogacy, and what was your initial reaction? Did you feel like a weirdo, some kind of superkid or somewhere in between?

This is a hard question to answer, because I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know. My family always talked about it, never in a way of “You’re different” but more of a “We’re so lucky to have you!”

In terms of how I felt, there were definitely times I felt a bit different. It was more centered on me not knowing my biological mom. I think it made me wonder if I was missing anything. I know that I felt a bit out of place within my family at times. I do remember daydreaming about meeting my birth mom and what I would say to her or what would happen if we didn’t get along. I think more than anything I just wondered if she was like me. I wrote about it a bit on an old private blog. Here are some excerpts:

“my half sister messaged me a bit ago about wanting to get together and go on vacation or at least meet up. isnt that strange? isnt that lovely? i love it. every bit of it. it’s weird that there is someone genetically related to me living their own life doing their own thing and i am only following from a distance on facebook. same with [my birth mom]. will i ever know her? know what her face looks like when shes mad or happy? know what her favorite song is. favorite candy. favorite meal. what time she goes to bed. how she cuts a steak. what her laugh sounds like. the little things.” – December 31, 2012

“i saw my birth mom almost two weeks ago. i am at work and can’t write too much about it but let’s just say that the connection was made. the synapse was complete. i can now think about my birth mom and there is a mental endpoint. there are less questions. there is more peace. it was amazing to see myself in her. to sit across from her and feel so calm. i wasnt worried about what i was saying or doing. i just was being. it was a lot less scary than i thought it would be and a lot more natural.” -November 5, 2013

Based on these two you can see a glimpse of how I felt before and how I feel now. When I think about her now there isn’t this nagging feeling that I need to see her. There’s a much broader sense of calm and peace about it.

Growing up, how many of your friends knew about your unique birth story? (Just to make you feel more like a superhero, we’ll call it your “origin story”.) Did other kids ever tease you about your family?

I don’t ever recall being teased but I do remember outing myself, so to speak, about being a surrogate baby when a friend of mine who was adopted was being picked on. I think the other kids were so shocked by what I said they just didn’t pick on her again! I have some memories in 1st – 5th grade of telling people, but it was always just passed over. My mom told me recently that she had some parents come up to her asking for the story so they could explain it a bit better to their kids. After 6th or 7th grade, I remember telling my close friends more often. It was one of those “secrets” that came out after a certain period of time. In college, I would say it casually if there were moments it came up in conversation about family life, etc. I mentioned it to a Lyft driver the other day after making a comment about being born where he was from but only living there for a week. If the opportunity comes up, I’ll say something but it’s definitely not a natural thing you throw into conversation.

 

Did you feel different from your friends with more traditional families, and did you ever wish you could just have a “normal” family like everyone else?

I do have some really funny memories from a doctor’s visit when I was probably 6 where I said some really insane stuff about not letting my mom’s blood go inside my body because we aren’t related. I definitely had moments where I felt like my brother was closer to my mom. My dad and I like the same candy, wake up early in the morning, have similar mannerisms, etc. I felt like I could feel the biological connection more than I could with my mom. How can you prove that? If I didn’t know I was a surrogate baby, would I even notice anything? I firmly believe I wouldn’t.

At some point when I was growing up, though, I realized that having blurred lines about what exactly family is allowed me to develop closer relationships with people. To explain a bit further, by expanding my definition of family, I was able to let more people in. I think this way of viewing things helped me not worry as much about what a “normal” family is. Plus, the second you really talk to anyone about family, you realize there is no normal :)

 

Anne and her brother

Anne and her brother

Tell me a bit about your brother. While your parents were struggling to conceive with the surrogate, they actually conceived naturally, and your brother was born. Is that right?

That’s correct! My brother was basically a miracle baby. My mom had stopped fertility treatments when she found out she was pregnant with him!

 

So if your parents’ goal was to have a baby, why did they continue to pursue surrogacy after they had a biological child of their own? I think that’s something that might confuse some people.

Simply put, they wanted two kids :) I think just having one kid would have been a miracle enough, but the chance to have two… they couldn’t pass it up. I think at that point they were already heavily invested in the idea of surrogacy and decided to go for it.

 

Did you ever feel different from your brother, like he had some connection to your mom that you lacked? Did you ever feel like your parents treated you differently? And be honest, because every kid in history who has siblings has at one point or another said, “You like him better than me!

I am about as different from my brother as I can be. We butt heads, as I seem to have taken all the emotions between the two of us. I would say despite my parents’ best efforts, we were treated differently. I think having different genetics meant I needed to be treated differently. I’m much more emotional than my brother and needed different responses in certain situations. I spoke to my parents about this a couple of years ago and they said they just never thought of it that way but can see how they could have done things differently.

When you think about everything your parents went through to have you, do you ever wonder, “Why didn’t they just adopt?” Is that something other people have asked? (My husband and I get that sometimes when we mention we had a surrogate.)

For some reason, I think my parents would have had a harder time adopting than having a surrogate. I’m 22 and my mom just turned 70 about a week ago. My dad is 60.

I just called my mom and asked. Here’s a summary of her response:

“We tried everything. We started with adoption and it’s not that easy when you’re our age. Because at this day and age, birthmothers have a big say and I was probably older than most of their moms. The short answer is we tried, and when we had the funds to go for surrogacy we jumped for it. Having the possibility of surrogacy was a more attractive option because you would have more of a likelihood that you would have a baby and there would be a genetic connection. It was an evolution – it wasn’t an either/or.”

As a backstory, The generation gap is something that did cause issues but, now that I’m older and wiser myself, I’m SO happy to have had older parents as there was a maturity that I think made this entire process easier. In terms of other people asking about adoption, I’ve actually never been asked that!

Coming up in part two, I’ll ask Anne about how she deals with being a child of surrogacy now that she’s grown up. Does it still come up? Would she consider being a surrogate herself? What would she say to kids like mine who were also born through surrogacy, and to people who don’t think surrogacy should be legal?

Check back for the second part of my interview or subscribe to my blog to get it emailed to you as soon as it becomes available. And Happy Surrogate and Egg Donor Day!

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.

The New Rules of Gay

Are you gay? If so, congratulations. It’s a good time to be you. Any poll will tell you that the public is on your side. The Supreme Court is (mostly) looking out for you. Even the Pope thinks you’re pretty cool. Sure, there are still a few crusty old curmudgeons who think you’re causing tsunamis and corrupting children, but they’re quickly dying off and leaving behind more tolerant offspring in their wake. See? Even the Circle of Life is gay-friendly.

As for you straight people, or even the straight-curious, you might find this all a bit overwhelming, and understandably so. None of us were expecting the world to change this fast. Seriously, gay marriage in Utah? Who saw that coming?

Fear not. As a species, we must adapt to survive, but if we all keep a few things in mind, we can handle our new, post-homophobic reality. Herewith, I offer the New Rules of Gay:

“Gay” is a good word. “Fag” is bad.

newrules1, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIf you’re one of those people who’s still saying, “That’s so gay!” when you think something is stupid or lame, it’s time to stop. Not so much because it’s offensive as because people are increasingly likely to misunderstand you completely. Gay is good now. When you say, “Those pants are so gay!”, people are going to think, “Oh, gay? Like Neil Patrick Harris? Cool! He must really like those pants! Maybe I’ll buy him a pair for his birthday.”

“Fag” is only going to get more offensive, though, because we gays need our N-word. We’ve all been called “faggot,” and it still stings, so now that we have a teeny bit of power, we’re out for blood. Don’t learn this the hard way, like Isaiah Washington did. GLAAD will so cut you.

Homosexuality is G-rated. No need to hide it from kids.

newrules3, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManWhen you were growing up, you might’ve had a “funny Uncle Tom,” or maybe your parents would sometimes mention, in a hushed tone, “Aunt Jane’s special friend.” That’s if your parents would let you around Uncle Tom or Aunt Jane at all.

Well, Aunt Jane’s special friend has a name, and it’s Aunt Sharon, thank you very much. They’re married, and unless you’re a bigot, you were at their wedding and your three year old daughter was spreading rose petals across the aisle for them. That’s how we roll these days.

We don’t shove people in a closet any more for the sake of children. Instead, we let the kids share fully in the joy of knowing that Uncle Tom isn’t going to die alone.

Treating gay people like they’re R or X-rated only reinforces the notion that there’s something shameful or secretive about being gay. If your kid sees two people of the same sex kissing, be honest, and say things like, “Those ladies are married” or “Those two dudes are each other’s husbands.” Of course, the most important word to use is “love.” What could be more G-rated than that?

Don’t worry, ‘phobes. You don’t have to equate being honest with conveying approval. Once you’ve told your kids the facts, you’re free to interject whatever religious or personal discomfort you may have with those facts, or just to pout discontentedly.

The old jokes don’t work anymore.

newrules9, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManYou know that caricature of the catty gay guy squealing for Streisand and shuddering at anything even remotely masculine? You’ve seen him in a million movies and TV shows, although they don’t always come right out and say he’s gay, because characters like that aren’t usually allowed by Hollywood to have a love life. The whole concept of guys like that is stereotypical, it’s outdated, it’s ludicrous, and you know what…?

I don’t hate it.

Honestly, there’s some truth to it. There’s a great moment in the documentary “The Celluloid Closet” where a bunch of film historians are discussing the stock Hollywood character commonly referred to as “the sissy”, and Harvey Fierstein guiltily admits, “I liked the sissy!” When he was a kid, he related to that character, and it made him happy to see himself reflected on screen.

So yes, there are guys like that, and they’re awesome. In fact, the reason that caricature began is that, not too many years ago, those were the most visible LGBTQ people, the bravest ones most willing to be themselves, in spite of society’s prejudices. I love those guys, and we all owe them a lot for making the world a better place for all of us. (The same goes for that old stereotype of the butch, no-nonsense lesbian. It’s hardly a complete representation of gay women, but there are ladies like that, and they are 100% awesome.)

That being said, these days, queeny gay guys and butch lesbians are just one part of a very diverse community, and most people know lots of gays and lesbians who don’t fit some convenient mold. So if you rely on easy jokes we’ve all heard before, don’t expect to get the same laughs you used to.

This means anyone creating gay characters has to try a lot harder and flesh them out into full, three-dimensional people. They can still like Streisand, but there had better be more to them than that… and if they don’t have a love interest, they should at least have an interest in finding one. Everybody I know does.

Don’t assume everyone is straight.

newrules6, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIt’s hard enough coming out of the closet. Please don’t ask me the second you meet me if I have a wife or if I think Megan Fox is hot. Until you know someone well, be careful to be gender-inclusive. Instead of “Do you have a girlfriend?”, ask “Are you dating anyone?” Thankfully, with gay marriage, this is easier than ever, because even “Are you married?” is a gender-neutral question these days.

Yes, most people you meet will be straight, but no one’s gaydar is 100%, so instead of making assumptions, let people tell you who they are. Most people are happy to do so.

By the same token, don’t get offended if someone dances around your sexuality until they know you better. You don’t have to panic that you’re giving off a gay vibe, and you don’t have to pretend like you don’t know what they’re doing. There’s nothing wrong with responding directly, “Just so you know, I’m straight,” then having a good laugh about it. At that point, you’re free to dance around their sexuality and have even more fun.

It’s still rude to ask people their orientation.

newrules5, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManThis may seem contradictory. On the one hand, we’ve gotten to the point where a person’s sexual orientation is practically irrelevant, unless you happen to be sexually interested in them. On the other hand, it can still be an awkward subject to raise.

When you ask someone straight out if they’re gay, you’re assuming they’ve figured it out and are comfortable with it. Bias still exists, gay bashers still exist and, sadly, shame still exists, so for that reason, the closet will continue to exist. If you want to know if someone is playing for the same team as you, you’re going to have to wait for them to offer up the information, or at least provide you with some very distinct clues.

You can also check their Facebook, because anything someone posts there is fair game to ask them about, and sometimes you’ll find they’re a lot more of an open book than you thought.

When someone tells you their sexuality, take them at their word.

newrules2, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManYou know that famous man who’s married to a woman but no one can refer to their marriage without rolling their eyes? Or the friend of yours who you’re convinced would be much happier if they’d just start dating within their own gender? Sure, those people might be gay. As long as there’s a societal cost to being gay, there will be people who aren’t willing to pay it. There will also be others who, bless their hearts, are just hopelessly confused. But you can’t shame people into coming out of the closet, not when shame is what drove them in in the first place.

Mocking and rumor-mongering, fun though they may be, don’t do any favors to people who are surely suffering through their own private Hell. When someone tells you they’re straight, just play along. The best you can do for anyone is to try to make the world a safer place for people to be themselves. Then, just step back.

Besides, if they say they’re straight, there’s a good chance they actually are. Most people are straight, after all, and some straight guys are actually cool enough to realize how awesome showtunes are.

Of course, this only goes for people who are at least claiming to be gay-friendly. An A-list actor who did drag in a movie musical isn’t hurting us, so let’s leave him alone. On the other hand, if you spot Ralph Reed or Tony Perkins in a gay bar stuffing singles in some hunk’s Speedo, then call every tabloid in town. It’s always OK to out people for being hypocrites.

The closet isn’t for gays anymore. It’s for homophobes.

The closet, The closet is a good place to hide your homophobia, The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManI went to a pretty diverse and fairly progressive high school, but I have a distinct memory of a fellow white kid using the “N-word” one day in the locker room. It just so happened there were no African-American students within earshot at that moment, so he felt comfortable assuming we were all as racist as he was. He was a little surprised when someone called him on it.

Multiply that by a thousand, and that’s about how many times I heard the “F-word” casually thrown around that way in high school. No one realized there was a gay kid in the room, and unlike with the racist kid, no one told him it was uncool to talk that way.

People’s sexuality isn’t as easy to spot as their race, so for a long time homophobes had free reign to gay-bash in virtually any crowd. Not anymore. Straight allies are coming out of the woodwork to shut down the haters, and more importantly, gay people are standing up for themselves, too.

LGBTQ people are done living in fear of being themselves. Now it’s homophobes who live in fear of exposing their hatred in the wrong crowd. If you hate gays, keep it to yourself, because you’re not going to get a lot of fist bumps anymore. You’re going to be confronted by a lot of out and proud gay people who aren’t afraid of you anymore, as well as a lot of straight allies who think you’re a major asshat.

And finally…

We know you used to be a homophobe, but we forgive you.

The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManI like to imagine that the racist kid from my high school is married to an African-American woman these days. Or maybe an African-American man. Times change, and so do people. Rarely has this change been as swift or as dramatic as on the issue of homosexuality. It was just a couple of years ago that a majority of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, and now, I can’t even name a state where it’s illegal because by the time this piece goes live, it might be outdated.

Sure, there’s still a part of me that remembers every homophobic thing anyone has ever said in my presence, but what matters more is that most of the people who said those things eventually woke the fuck up. Like Barack Obama, they evolved. And like Barack Obama, their evolution influenced other people to do the same.

We haven’t come this far by holding grudges against people who used to be homophobic. And if that’s you, you’re in luck. It doesn’t matter to anyone what you thought about gay people in 1989.

If you still think that way in 2014, on the other hand, then wake the fuck up. It’s time.

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Want to debate any of these points or suggest one of your own? Join the conversation in the comment section below, or better yet, share this post on your social networks using the buttons down there.

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The New Rules of Gay, Jerry Mahoney, Mommy ManIf you like this post, I hope you’ll share it on your social networks. And if you super-like it, then I bet you’ll like my book, too. What book? This one!

My brand-new memoir “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad” tells all about my hilarious, heartwarming path to parenthood. Publishers Weekly called it “uproarious” and “touching”, and all kinds of people have been saying even nicer things about it on Amazon and GoodReads.

Buy the hardcover so people on the bus will know exactly what you’re laughing at, or buy the eBook to keep ‘em guessing. It’s your choice!

 

Our Today Show Segment

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!

3 Days And Counting… Amazon Chart Twerk update!


amazonrank

Great news! My book has cracked the top 674,000 on Amazon! I actually noticed it go as high as the top 176,000 shortly after I announced the presale, but clearly most of you have been holding out for the official chart twerk, which takes place this Friday, October 4, at 12pm EDT (or as close to that as you can manage to be near a device running Amazon.com). I’m hoping then that I’ll see a much higher ranking, which of course, will give my publisher a big boost of confidence and hopefully convince more booksellers to stock it.

I’ve been so touched by all of you who’ve said you’re going to participate. I’m happy you want to read the book and grateful that you’re willing to help me out with my crazy little plan. (Admittedly, the one thing that’s likely to get a bigger boost than my book’s ranking is my own ego.)

For the rest of you, I’ve realized that maybe you need some more convincing. Maybe just some more information about this book I’m asking you to shell out your preorder money for. So, if you’re curious what’s contained in these 264 pages, here goes:

This memoir began as kind of an expanded version of a Modern Love column I wrote for the New York Times. You can read that original column here. That piece mostly centered on the amazing gift my partner and I received from my sister-in-law Susie, who selflessly donated her eggs to help us have children. The hardest thing about writing that column was fitting the whole thing into such a limited space. There was so much more to our story. So many more amazing people who deserved to be included, so many more unbelievable anecdotes I was dying to share. Writing the short version convinced me that I wanted to write about all of it. For my own sake, for my kids’ sake and, hopefully, for a bunch of people who might be moved by or just get a kick out of our story.

What I didn’t want to write was some deep, ponderous, self-important memoir like so many of the others out there. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’re familiar with my writing voice – snarky, jokey and then, when you least expect, ridiculously sentimental, because that’s just the kind of guy I am. That’s exactly what you’ll get from the book, too.

If I do say so myself, it’s also just a great story. Here’s the synopsis I put together for the publisher, which you can also find on the book’s Amazon page.

As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, all Jerry Mahoney wanted was a nice, normal sham marriage. 2.5 kids and a frustrated, dissatisfied wife living in denial of her husband’s sexuality. Hey, why not? It seemed much more attainable and fulfilling than the alternative—coming out of the closet and making peace with the fact that he’d never have a family at all.

Twenty years later, Jerry is living with his long-term boyfriend, Drew, and they’re ready to take the plunge into parenthood. But how? Adoption? Foster parenting? Kidnapping? What they want most of all is a great story to tell their future kid about where he or she came from.

Their search leads them to gestational surrogacy, a road less traveled where they’ll be borrowing a stranger’s ladyparts for nine months. Thus begins Jerry and Drew’s hilarious and unexpected journey to daddyhood. They meet a surrogate who’s perfect in every way… until she rejects them. They squabble over potential egg donors, discovering that they have very different notions of what makes the ideal woman. Then, Drew’s sister Susie makes a stunning offer that turns their entire journey on its head. If they’re interested, she’ll donate her eggs.

For the first time, Jerry and Drew imagine what it would be like to have a baby who’s a little bit of both of them. From then on, they’re in uncharted waters. They’re forced to face down homophobic baby store clerks, a hospital that doesn’t know what to do with them, even members of their own family who think what they’re doing is a little nutty. Along the way, Susie receives some devastating news that threatens to crush all their dreams of parenthood. One thing’s for sure. If this all works out, they’re going to have an incredible birth story to tell their kid.

With honesty, emotion, and laugh-out-loud humor, Jerry Mahoney ponders what it means to become a Mommy Man . . . and discovers that the answer is as varied and beautiful as the concept of family itself.

If you have any questions, post them here. I’d be happy to answer them. And if you need a reminder to place your order with the rest of us, just let me know and I’ll add you to my email list.

I have no idea how high a ranking this book can get, but I’m dying to find out. Maybe some day you can say you helped me crack the top 8,000!

[Remember: the Amazing Amazon Preorder Sales Twerk is this Friday, October 4, at 12pm EDT. You can place your orders here.]

Book Update! And more!

Where Do Gaybies Come From, bookshelf, great books, literatureThere’s some big news concerning my upcoming book, WHERE DO GAYBIES COME FROM (available May 2014 from Taylor Trade Publishing, ahem, plug plug plug). And the news is that it’s no longer called WHERE DO GAYBIES COME FROM.

To be honest, I’ve never loved the word “gayby.” I know what you’re thinking: so why did I name both the blog and then the book WHERE DO GAYBIES COME FROM? Well, it had a clever ring to it. It got people’s attention. It did a reasonable job of explaining what the book was about.

Still, it bugged me, and I finally figured out why. When you come up with a cutesy name for the child of gay parents, it implies that the kid is the one who’s different, that something about having two dads classifies you as some kind of unique species. Worse, it gives my kids’ future bullies ammo to use against them. “Hey, gayby!” “I’m not a gayby!” “Oh yeah? Well your dad said so in his best-selling memoir!”

I understand we’re a non-traditional family, that gay dads are still a relatively small minority, so if there’s some cutesy term that applies to me, I’ll embrace it fully.

But my kids are just kids. I wrote 264 pages (official page count!) explaining how two dudes ended up with two perfectly amazing yet perfectly common human infants, and that’s kind of the point, so why have a title that suggests otherwise?

Also, I know there are plenty of other people who dislike the term “gayby” — because it’s cutesy, because it implies the kids are gay rather than the parents or for the same reason as me. Who needs a title that turns people off?

I briefly flirted with calling the book “Breeders,” even though that term irritates people even more than “gaybies,” but at least it referred to me, not the kids. Then, my editor came up with a much better idea, one that was right under our noses all along.

Announcing my upcoming memoir:

MOMMY MAN: HOW I WENT FROM MILD-MANNERED GEEK TO GAY SUPERDAD

If I have one reservation about this title, it’s that it’s entirely focused on me. Sure, the book is mostly about me, but it’s also also about my amazing partner, Drew, and the two incredible women who helped us become a family. And it’s about the kids, of course, although (spoiler alert!) they make kind of a late appearance.

Just don’t call them “gaybies.”

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A couple of other things to report… I did my first podcast! The delightful Karly and DJ at What’s With the Drama invited me to take part in their show about stay-home dads, and we had a really fun chat.

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I was also invited by the Daily Post at WordPress to take part in a roundtable for parent bloggers. We had a great conversation about privacy, dealing with criticism and our personal blogging tips. Part 1 of 3 is up now!

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Sorry for the repeat image at the top of this post. Until there’s a real cover, this one will have to suffice.

Bravo to “The Boxtrolls”

"Sometimes there's a mother. Sometimes there's a father. Sometimes there's a father and a father. Sometimes both fathers are mothers."

“Sometimes there’s a mother. Sometimes there’s a father. Sometimes there’s a father and a father. Sometimes both fathers are mothers.”

One of the bigger challenges of being in a two-dad family is finding representations of families like yours in popular culture. When you have no mom in your home, it can sometimes seem like 90% of kids’ books don’t apply to you. (And when you have no dad, you’re just as likely to feel excluded from Disney princess movies, where moms are virtually nonexistent.)

Yesterday, I took my kids to see Despicable Me 2. There’s a subplot in the movie about the main character’s daughters wishing they had a mom. It was perfectly sweet and inoffensive, and I’m sure it’s a subject that really does pop up in a lot of families headed by straight single dads. I don’t mind my kids seeing cartoon children who wish they had a mom, but it’s nice when that can be balanced out by fictional characters who are perfectly happy with the number and gender of parents they already have.

The amazing thing was, they actually got that. Not from the movie, but from one of the trailers that came before it. I’d never heard of The Boxtrolls before, but I let out a little squeal of joy when, out of nowhere, I heard them acknowledge the existence of families like mine. “That’s like us!” I cheered to my kids.

You can watch the trailer here:

I’m sure the filmmakers will get some flack over what will seem to many people like a totally unnecessary nod to LGBT parents — and maybe publicity was part of their motivation. The trailer comes right on the heels of the Supreme Court DOMA/Prop 8 decisions, yet the movie doesn’t come out until September 2014. (Hey, Focus Features, just how long do you think my kids’ memory is? They didn’t remember the movie about the racing snail and we only saw that trailer a week ago.)

Still, it’s my opinion that it’s never too early to talk to your kids about homosexuality — in fact, the sooner, the better. So I’m grateful this trailer will help nudge the conversation forward. More importantly, though, I’m happy for all the kids like mine who are going to see it.

You may not see families like mine every day — or single-parent families, adoptive families or families that cross any number of racial lines — but it’s very nice for us when we get a chance to see ourselves… so to the filmmakers, I want to say thanks.

I also want to let them know that my son was kind of freaked out by the Boxtrolls themselves and has sworn he’ll never see the movie. Good thing he has plenty of time to change his mind before it’s actually released.

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!

The 250 Commenters You Meet as a Gay Dad

I’ve always intended to reply individually to everyone who comments on my blog.  I’m grateful anyone takes the time to read what I write, let alone offer their feedback.  And one of the best things about blogging is getting to interact with readers, whenever I’m lucky enough to have any.

And then… this happened.

I got Freshly Pressed by WordPress, linked on AfterElton  and Towleroad, promoted on Reddit, tweeted on Twitter and shared on Facebook, as well as a lot of people’s own blogs.  The last two days have been astounding, watching my hit count set new records, then break them over again, feeling my phone buzz every 30 seconds or so to alert me to a new email and reading so many wonderful, thoughtful and hilarious comments from people who connected to something I wrote.  It’s the kind of experience a blogger dreams of having.

… every time they post something.

So please keep coming back!

And now let’s go do this for the next lucky blogger.  It sure was fun.

I was still hoping to respond to everybody, but at this point, it would take me days, I would run out of interesting things to say and I would use up the time I would’ve been spending working on other posts.

So forgive me if I offer this blanket response instead.  If I didn’t address you directly, I apologize.  Once this craziness dies down, I hope to go back to my policy of replying to everyone.

Until then, I offer these blanket responses to the 8 kinds of people who commented on my post:

1.5ers.  Some supportive people very kindly asked whether there might be a category between #1 (New BFFs) and #2 (Jaded Allies), something more flattering perhaps?  Yes, of course there is, but let me also say there’s nothing wrong with being a #1 or a #2.  Until there are more gay dads in more parts of the world, lots of perfectly well-meaning people will remain self-conscious in their reactions, and that’s why they may act a little silly sometimes.  I’m grateful for any type of support, be it muted or overenthusiastic, so no matter where you fall on the spectrum, you’re cool with me.

Other gay dads.  I was very relieved that my peers, no matter where they lived, seemed to have similar experiences to mine.  A few have met the Moral Crusaders, unfortunately, but mostly, people feel supported even in the most politically conservative places.  I was really hoping this blog would introduce me to other gay dads, so I hope you’ll all come back and visit.

“I totally related to that, even though I’m not gay!” people.  I loved getting these comments, because I never expected my post would resonate so much with interracial couples, single moms, adoptive parents, co-parents, bisexuals, transsexuals, childless gays, wiccans, pagans or anyone who feels a little different.  It made me really happy to hear from all of you, and now that that’s out of the way, can I be your new BFF?

Other nice people.  Lots of people wrote just to say “great post” or to compliment my writing or tell me I made them laugh.  You guys are welcome back any time.  And to my self-described “stalker” who said she’s now following me in every way possible, I think you forgot to “like” me on Facebook.  Please get on it!

International readers.  I have international readers?!  COOOOL!  Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives.  I’m fascinated by how LGBT people are treated throughout the world, and I hope someday, everyone will feel as fulfilled and accepted as I have.

The overwhelming majority fell into those categories, but there were just a couple of others I’d like to address…

People who called me a hypocrite.  How dare I label people?, they demanded.  Aren’t I asking not to be labeled myself?  Um, no.  Not at all.  In fact, I do label myself, as a gay dad.  I did it in the subject line, before I labeled anyone else.  But wait!, someone said.  Is that all there is to me?  Am I just a gay dad?  Why am I “in your face” about that particular part of who I am, when surely there’s so much more to me?  Well, if you think I’m in your face, please back away from your computer.  No, I don’t think “gay dad” says all you need to know about me, or this site would consist only of those two words.  Instead, I have a blog where I write endlessly (and admittedly narcissistically) about myself.  If you want to know more about me than the fact that I’m a gay dad, I encourage you to read to your heart’s content.

“Love the sinners, hate the sin” people.  It’s fine to “love the sinner, hate the sin” if that’s really what you’re doing, but once you tell me that that’s what you’re doing, you’re not doing it anymore.  You’re judging me quite openly, and I find it rude.  If that’s how your god wants you to behave, then swell, you two can high-five each other over it someday.  “Hey, guy who comments on blogs!  Way to go with that gay dude!”  Until then, I’d prefer you do me the favor of becoming a Closet Homophobe.  If you can’t tell me you love me and respect me as a human being without also telling me in the same breath that I’m going to Hell, then please just smile and walk away, thanks.

And before anyone cries “persecution”, I never said or implied that all Christians were homophobic, confrontational or judgmental.  I know tons of wonderful, open-minded people of all faiths, many who’ve even been new BFFs.  If you feel persecuted, it’s not because you’re Christian.  It’s more likely because you’re an a**hole.

The person who considers surrogacy to be the moral equivalent of slavery.  Well, hi, I’m sorry you feel that way, but if you’re curious to know more about surrogacy, you’ve come to the right place.  If you’re interested, I’d recommend this post I wrote on the topic.  It sheds some light on why my partner and I chose that route.  But really, I think you’d be better off talking to our surrogate about her reasons for doing what she did.  Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll unchain her from my cotton gin so you two can hang.

Thanks for reading, everyone.  I’ll be back tomorrow with a regular post.