JTF is my BFF! (Jesse Tyler Ferguson Reads My Essay!)

jtfHave I mentioned that Jesse Tyler Ferguson is one of my favorite people? Well, he is, and not just because he chose my essay to read for the Modern Love podcast this week. He also did a great job of it.

Seriously, you should check it out here. (You can also hear an update from me and a teary interview with Susie as well. Get your Kleenex ready!)

Can’t wait to see JTF (I can call him that now. We’re tight.) in Fully Committed on Broadway this spring!

Yes, I’m shamelessly plugging his show. It’s the least I can do for my new BFF. Break a leg, pal!

* * *

Are you new here? Well, you can be my BFF, too, by subscribing to this blog, following me on Twitter or, best of all, buying my book! The essay was just a small part of my story. You’ll never believe the rest of the crazy, emotional jiggery-pokery my husband and I went through to become dads. (Just try to act surprised now that you know the ending.)

 

ilovemyfamily2

Why I Put My Family on Display

I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with the story of Ruby Bridges until my son brought a picture book about her home from school. For those of you who are also uninformed, here’s the TL;DR version:

In 1960, schools in New Orleans were still segregated by race. A judge ordered that a 6-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges be allowed to attend a school that was, until then, all-white. When she showed up on the first day, she was met with scores of furious, shouting protestors trying to scare her away. She went inside anyway and sat in a classroom with the one teacher who’d agree to teach her. Unwilling to attend an integrated school or simply intimidated by the mob, EVERY SINGLE WHITE STUDENT stayed home.

Yes, every one.

Ruby was the only kid in school, but she kept coming back, day after day, until the protests finally subsided and the white kids started returning.

rubybridges

Ruby Bridges at school (with U.S. Marshals)

When I first read about this little girl’s amazing life, I had several thoughts, including:

  • Ruby Bridges is a hero.
  • Ruby Bridges was braver at six years old than I will ever be.
  • Shame on those horrible people who tried to intimidate a little girl to keep her from going to school.

And lastly…

  • What were Ruby Bridges’ parents thinking?!

It’s hard as a parent not to have that last thought. Surely, the world is a better place because Ruby Bridges’ parents allowed and encouraged her to go through something no 6-year-old should ever have to endure (but which, sadly, at the time, was fairly commonplace). How many of us, though, would put our own children in such a vulnerable spot, knowing the harm that could come to them, just for the benefit of the greater good?

Lately, people have been asking that same question about blogger Kristen Howerton.

Here’s the TL;DR version of her story:

familycloseupbestforblog300

via Rage Against the Minivan, with permission

Kristen has a beautiful family consisting of her, her husband, their two biological daughters and their two adopted sons. As you can see from the picture, not everybody in the family is the same race. Kristen writes thoughtful, moving pieces about race and adoption, as well as thoughtful, moving pieces that are not about race and adoption. She posts pictures of her family and uses their real names on her blog Rage Against the Minivan.

 

Recently, a white supremacist group targeted Kristen with a campaign of hate, stealing and altering photos of her kids, tweeting racial epithets and other jackassery. Kristen’s followers rallied to her support and helped shut down the haters, but many other people thought Kristen was at fault for putting her family on display in the first place. You can read more here and here.

I was lucky enough to share a stage with Kristen several years ago at a Listen To Your Mother reading in Los Angeles. I was inspired by her family and felt a kind of connection to her as a gay dad. People give our family funny looks, too, and much of the world is built around a concept of family that doesn’t include a family like mine. I loved the fact that she wrote about it so openly, and I’ve tried to do the same with this blog. I’ve talked about being a gay dad, and I’ve shared pictures of my family, like this one:

ilovemyfamily2

There have been times that I’ve stopped and wondered if what I was doing was wise. What if some homophobes used my pictures in an anti-gay ad or on some hate site? There are prominent figures who’ve suggested that their followers should kidnap children who have gay parents. The danger from these people is real.

So what am I thinking?

Now, I’m in no way trying to equate myself with Kristen Howerton and the wonderful things she does on her blog, nor am I trying to equate myself or Kristen with Ruby Bridges or her parents.

But every time I’ve wondered if I should stop doing what I’m doing, I end up even more determined to keep doing it. I know that will lead a lot of people to judge me and even to question my parenting. I know that if anything like what happened to Kristen ever happens to me, there will be people who will say I deserved it for putting my family on display.

You want to know why I still do this? Let me do my best to list the reasons.

It does more good than harm.

I get messages all the time from people who appreciate what I do. I hear from gay parents who are glad to see other families like theirs. I hear from young gay people who are inspired to see that a happy family life is possible for them. And I hear from plenty of straight people who thank me for helping them to understand something that’s foreign to them, or to say how much they can relate for one reason or another.

Do I sometimes get hate mail? Of course. But it doesn’t really bother me much because it’s far, far outnumbered by the positive responses I get.

I dread the thought of my kids being the targets of anyone’s hate. But if my husband and I didn’t put them out there, they wouldn’t see all the love the world has to show us, too.

We’re on display anyway.

You think you get a lot of attention for writing blog posts about your non-traditional family online? Try just leaving your house.

Everything we do together as a family invites scrutiny — getting groceries, going to school, playing at the playground, taking our kids to Disney World or doing a million other things. Every time we go out in public we open ourselves and our children up to the possibility of critical glares and even outright hostility. It’s not posting online that makes us potential targets of the hatemongers. It’s just existing.

But you know what? Hardly anything bad ever happens. For the most part, the reactions we get are amazing. People embrace us, show curiosity, compliment us. Last year, a few weeks before the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, a complete stranger who’d been sitting near us in a restaurant approached us with tears in her eyes and said, “You have a beautiful family! I hope the Supreme Court does the right thing!”

The bullies don’t get to set the debate.

Plenty of people believe they have some good points to make about why two men shouldn’t have kids together. (Or why white families shouldn’t adopt black kids. Or why little girls should get shouted down for trying to go to school. Or [insert some very important opinion here].) OK, if that’s you, you’re entitled to speak your mind. But don’t expect to espouse views that I find offensive and dangerous without hearing from me in return.

You can be vile and bigoted, you can harrass me and level death threats from behind the veil of relative anonymity the internet provides you. I’ll continue to defend myself openly, with logic, reason and probably sarcasm just for fun.

Just get this straight: I’m not going away.

And I refuse to teach my kids that we need to hide from the world in order to keep from upsetting crazy people.

I don’t know if I’d have had the guts to make the decisions Ruby Bridges’ parents did, but I’m glad they did.

That being said…

I believe people are generally good.

I know there’s a chance the wrong people will find my blog and twist it around in some horrible ways. I’m sure if that happened, I would be terrified and furious and do everything I could to protect my kids. But I know something else:

People would rally to my defense. My readers, my friends and my family would support me, as they always do, and whatever dribble of hate got spewed my way would be washed away by a tsunami of love. I’d end up more convinced than ever that the world has my back.

I hate seeing what’s happened to Kristen Howerton, but it makes me think of the Mr. Rogers quote everyone always posts after a tragedy:

mr-rogers

via everyone’s Facebook page, ever

So I’m not going to focus on the bad people who were nasty to Kristen Howerton and her family. I’m going to focus on all the people who came to her defense, and I’m going to add my voice to theirs.

Lastly…

My kids think it’s awesome.

My husband and I have warned our kids that homophobia exists, but I don’t think they believe us. They believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but the notion that people would be mean to someone just because they’re gay sounds completely absurd to them.

It’s not something they’ve ever witnessed.

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I were anxious to start story time so we could get the kids to bed. Our daughter was taking her time coming in, and we were getting really frustrated. We were too tired to get out of bed and round her up, so we shouted downstairs. “What are you doing?”

“Hold on! I’m making something!”

Our daughter is always making things. It’s what she loves to do. So we rolled our eyes and waited.

A minute later, she came running upstairs, with a big smile on her face. She had three post-it notes, and she handed one to me, one to my husband and one to her brother. This is what they said:

ilovemyfamily

I love my family. It came out of nowhere. Just something she was thinking about and which was important enough to delay story time for. I have piles of notes like that, a million little ways my kids show me that they love me and they love our family.

I know most parents have stuff like that. I’m not saying my family is any more special than anyone else’s or that I expect special treatment or whatever some wacko online might want to turn this around into.

All I’m saying is, I❤ my family.

And I don’t care who knows it.

captunderpants3

“Captain Underpants” and the Not-So-Stinky Same-Sex Surprise

captunderpantscoverHere’s something worth talking about besides the never-ending nonsense in Kentucky. The “Captain Underpants” series, which is widely beloved by children and widely poo-poo’ed by fuddy-duddies, went out with a major mic drop last week.

If you haven’t read “Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot” yet, consider this a spoiler warning. In the 12th and reportedly final book in the series, author Dav Pilkey reveals very quietly that one of the major characters that kids have been reading about for almost 20 years now, will grow up to marry a man. It happens when the two friends at the center of the story travel to the future and see themselves with their future families. One of those families looks like this:

captunderpants3

“Soon, everyone had gathered together in Old Geroge’s studio. Old George, his wife, and their kids, Meena and Nik, sat on the couch, while Old Harold, his husband, and their twins, Owen and Kei, plopped down in the giant beanbag chair.”

And that’s it. Then comes another 86 pages of time travel, stinky gas and three helpful creatures that are half bionic hamsters and half pterodactyls.

I wouldn’t even call this a “twist”. If Harold’s sexual orientation was never mentioned before in the series, it’s only because he’s 10 years old when the rest of the story takes place. 10-year-old boys have about a million concerns more pressing than who they’re going to marry someday, so I’m not surprised that the issue didn’t arise while they were battling farts and whatnot.

Of course, I especially loved hearing this news because my family looks a lot like Harold’s family.

myfamily

I only wish I had been able to see that picture when I was 10 years old. It would’ve made the following 20 years or so a lot more bearable to know that I was going to have a husband and kids when I grew up. So the thought of Harold getting that glimpse of his future made me very happy, not so much for the fictional character as for the hordes of real-life kids who’ll get a chance to see something I never got to see when I was their age.

Because I’m a sadist, I went to the book’s Amazon page to see what reviewers were saying about this revelation. Not surprisingly, some people accused Pilkey of having a political agenda. I was about in mid-eyeroll from that accusation when I saw that the book also had a bunch of jokes about the GOP (“Grouchy Old People”) and FOX News.

The "GOP", according to Dav Pilkey

The “GOP”, according to Dav Pilkey

So maybe this was a calculated move on Pilkey’s part. If so, good for him. There’s always been room for controversial topics in middle grade fiction. Ask anyone who grew up reading Judy Blume. Ultimately, I suspect Pilkey didn’t make his creative choice for attention or because he’s beholden to some radical gay agenda. He did it because he knows and cares about his readers. He knows some of them will grow up to be gay, and pretty much all of them will grow up knowing and caring about someone who’s gay. A few of them will even go to school with my kids, and when they get to that part of “Sir Stinks-a-Lot”, they’ll go, “Oh, yeah. That’s like my friends’ family!”

Most importantly, though, I’d imagine Pilkey wrote the book this way because he knows his characters, and he’s probably been aware for a while that Harold is gay.

Oh, and it looks like George, the African-American kid, may have married a Caucasian woman, if that’s worth noting at all. (No one on Amazon seems to care, at least.)captunderpants5

The good news is that as I read the Amazon reviews, I noticed two important things about the one-star smackdowns: First, they made up a mere 8% of the book’s total reviews (which I know is likely to change if some Grouchy Old People decide to start a hate campaign against the book), and second, they’re all from grown-ups.

The kids who reviewed the book — the actual intended audience — mostly gave it rave reviews. 77% of them (as of the publication of this post) rated it 4 or 5 stars.

OK, OK, but how did the kids feel about the big reveal that Harold was gay?

It’s hard to say, honestly. Only a handful of them even bothered to mention it.

Pics reprinted from “Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot” by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic, Inc., copyright 2015).

I Know Who Gets My Vote

suttonforpresidentMy husband was reading a book about Barack Obama to the kids tonight, and it mentioned that he was the 44th president overall but the first who was African-American.

Me: “Did you guys know that? He’s the first African-American president?”

Bennett: “So all the 43 other presidents were our color?”

Me: “Yes.”

Bennett: “That’s crazy.”

Me: “I agree. And they were all men, too. There still hasn’t been a woman president.”

Sutton: “I just want the next one to be a woman, like Shirley (sic) Clinton! Are there any other women who want to be president?”

Me: “Right now, just one. Her name is Carly Fiorina, but we don’t like her.”

Sutton: “Why not?”

Me: “Well, for one thing, she doesn’t think Daddy and I should be able to get married.”

Sutton: “WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?”

Me: “Really. I told you there were people like that, right? Well, she doesn’t think two men should be allowed to marry each other.”

Sutton: “And does she not think a woman should be able to marry a woman?”

Me: “That’s right. She doesn’t.”

Sutton: “So she doesn’t think people should be GAY?!”

Me: “You could say that.”

Sutton: “That’s CRAZY!!!”

Me: “Isn’t it?”

Sutton: “Daddy, I think she would be a VERY bad president.”

Well, I know someone who would make a very good president…. someday…

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

It’s Time to End “Traditional Gay Marriage”

normal peopleOne of the nuttier arguments against same-sex marriage — and there’s a hotly contested battle for that distinction — is that gay people already have the right to marry. If they want to, they can marry someone of the opposite sex, just like anyone else.

Of course, that’s exactly what gay people have been doing since marriage was invented. Marriage is such an attractive institution that many, if not most, LGBTQ people throughout history have entered into it the only way they’ve legally been allowed: by marrying someone of the opposite sex. Those marriages then typically involve one gay person and one straight person.

Let’s call this “traditional gay marriage”.

So what kind of unions does traditional gay marriage create? Usually, ones built on a foundation of lies, where one partner believes the other is totally committed to them, and the other is just looking for some sort of societal approval they’d never get by being true to themselves.

It stands to reason that people in traditional gay marriages are more likely to cheat, because neither of them is likely to be sexually satisfied within the marriage. Even if everyone involved is faithful, they’re bound to get frustrated. The straight spouse may someday realize he or she deserves better, or the gay spouse may someday come out of the closet, bringing the marriage to an abrupt and painful end.

Gay marriage foes claim to be very concerned with children, but what kind of family does traditional gay marriage provide for kids? They’ll never really know who one of their parents truly is, and they’ll have to live with the tension between two people who really weren’t a match made in Heaven. That could manifest as anything from chilly passive-aggressiveness to physical and emotional abuse. How will they figure out what love is, or what they should be looking for in a mate, when the role models in their own home are so dysfunctional?

There’s no way to know how many straight marriages have been ruined by the legalization of same-sex marriage, though most people would put the estimate around 0. Traditional gay marriage, on the other hand, has led to countless divorces, scandals, broken homes and surely therapy bills totaling higher than the national debt.

If you still think traditional gay marriage is a good idea, ask yourself if you’d wish it on your own son or daughter. Would you want your daughter marrying a closeted gay man, or your son to shack up with a woman who’s always wishing he could be someone else? Because that’s the world you’re advocating when you want to put an end to same-sex marriage. Plenty of those gay people are still going to get married, and they might just marry you or someone you care about.

Now look at the alternative. When gay marriage is legal, fewer of those fraudulent marriages will exist. LGBTQ people will see that they don’t have to stay in the closet and deceive someone they care about in order to reap the benefits of marriage. They’ll know that they can marry the person they love and society will treat them just the same as any other couple. They’ll even be able to have kids, like my husband and I and so many other gay couples do, if that’s something they’re interested in. There will be no more incentive for traditional gay marriage, and people will have less reason to worry that their spouse is more interested in convenience than mutual affection.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on legalizing same-sex marriage today, and I hope they’ll hear something like this, because the world before legalized gay marriage was never as perfect as the gay marriage opponents would make it seem.

To them, I say this: If you’re really worried about gay people weakening the sacred institution of marriage, stop telling them to marry straight people.

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If you like this and you agree that it’s time to end traditional gay marriage, I hope you’ll share it using the buttons below, especially if you happen to know Justice Kennedy or Roberts.

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Hey, I have a book!

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!

ourfamily

So What If My Kids Are Gay?

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

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

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

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

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

So what if they are?

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

Wrong.

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

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

And that’s not a homophobic position?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

My Two Daddies… The Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy, and the Other One

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

There was nothing I wanted to inherit from my father more than the name “Dad.” I loved my dad, and in my mind, he was indelibly tied to that particular sobriquet. “Dad” was a term of love and respect for me, a part of all my memories of childhood and a crucial element of how I defined my family. The problem, when I actually became a dad, was that my partner Drew wanted to be called “Dad,” too — or, in the early years, “Daddy.”

“You can’t both be Dad,” a million people warned us. “That’ll be so confusing for your kids.”

They suggested we go by “Daddy” and “Papa,” which seem to be the go-to designations for gay dads these days. No matter how much we considered it, though, “Papa” felt like the consolation prize, and neither of us would agree to settle for it. We both grew up with dads whom we loved very much, so that’s what we wanted to be. Finally, we found someone who gave us the answer we were looking for.

“We’ve never had a problem,” a business associate of Drew’s told us one day. He and his partner had an eight-year-old son who called them both “Dad.”

“Is it ever confusing?”

He shrugged. “When it is, he finds ways to differentiate.”

So we went for it. Before they could even understand speech, our twins heard the word “Daddy” thousands of times. To them, “Daddy” came to mean two different men and one common function. They called for Daddy to kiss their boo-boos and to break up their disputes, not knowing for sure whether the tall guy or the short guy would walk through the door. When they didn’t get the Daddy they were hoping for, they made their displeasure known.

My kids will turn 4 this summer, and already, they’re pros at differentiating between their two dads. Their favorite way is to use modifiers like “Silly Daddy” or “Funny Daddy”, and in those cases, we all know instantly who they mean — not me. When they take the extra effort to throw in a compliment like that, they’re always talking about Drew. I’m just plain old “Daddy.” Some days, Papa doesn’t sound so bad to me anymore.

I want to plead my case: “Remember when I sang Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, but I changed every word to ‘poop’? Didn’t we have a lot of laughs then?” But I don’t want to end up as “Desperate Daddy,” so I keep my hurt feelings to myself.

I’m the stay-home parent, so while the kids and I do have fun together, I’m also the guy who enforces naptime and who makes them take off their dress-up clothes while they eat their healthy dinners. At night, when Silly Daddy is at his most uproarious, I’m groaning and trying to rush them to bed, because I’m exhausted from all the unfunny things I do all day.

… which brings me to the one distinction that hurts more than Silly Daddy vs. Just Daddy. At some point, my kids started calling my partner “The Daddy Who Goes To Work” and I became “The Daddy Who Stays Home”. Was that how they saw things? Drew was defined by his job, but I was defined by my location, by the fact that you could usually find me within 20 feet of the bed where I slept last night?

These kids didn’t know me before I was Daddy. I used to have a career, too, one that I enjoyed, and that allowed me to live a lot more comfortably than I do now. I took vacations. I saved for my retirement. I saw movies in the theater.

I thought I was trading that in for something better, a more interesting and adventurous life path. I was going to be a dad — a professional dad — and a gay dad at that. Take that, status quo!

Instead, I’ve ended up like most stay-home parents, the clichéd unappreciated house-spouse. I’ll find myself cracking privately to friends, “You know what they should be calling me? The Daddy Who Gave Up His Life for Us!”

It turns out that deciding who I would be to my kids wasn’t as simple as choosing what they would call me. I still love being referred to as “Daddy,” but I’ve come to accept that that term doesn’t mean the same to them as it did to me when I was growing up. For my kids, “Daddy” is an ever-evolving designation, one that requires adjustment at times, complete overhaul at others.

Recently, they decided that “The Daddy Who Stays Home” wasn’t quite working for them anymore. Without notice, they gave it a subtle twist, one that probably seemed minor to them but which brought me instantly out of my funk. It materialized as my daughter drew pictures of two men’s faces, which looked very similar except that one had spiky purple hair and one had a red crew cut. “This is the Daddy Who Goes to Work,” she said, pointing to the first one.

“And this,” she said, holding up the other picture proudly, “is the Daddy Who Takes Care of Us.”

"The Daddy Who Takes Care of Us"

“The Daddy Who Takes Care of Us”

*****

OK, you saw the asterisks. You know what that means. This is the part of the post where I shamelessly ask you to share this post (or my blog in general) on your social networks. Facebook me, tweet me, surprise me. If you like something I wrote here, help me out by spreading the word. If you hate it, then you can still share it, because hey, traffic is traffic, and your friends might have better taste than you. Also, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and wherever else you can find me. I’m not the type of guy who plays hard to find.