Early Sunday morning we heard the news that a shooter had murdered many people at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. We were immediately concerned in part because we have friends who were in Orlando last week to celebrate Gay Days. We later learned that they were home safe before the shooting started, but many were not so lucky. 49 LGBT people and their allies had their lives cut short, and 53 people were injured. This is the worst mass shooting in US history.
In the aftermath, it has become clear that the shooter was an American born Muslim who was married twice to women but apparently frequented gay dating websites and clubs. He legally purchased the two guns he used to commit these crimes and even though he had been on terrorist watch lists, the Republican controlled Senate blocked a bill that would prevent such people from buying guns last December.
I sincerely hope this incident teaches many that homophobia and self loathing can indeed be lethal. Maybe this will result in some sensible gun control laws, but I do not have a lot of hope. After all, if a classroom full of 1st graders slaughtered in 2012 couldn’t move GOP controlled Congress to do something, what chance do 100+ dead and injured homosexuals have today?
My New Year wish for 2016 would probably be for solidarity among LGBT moms and dads of different stripes.
Parents in general are probably familiar with a phenomenon I call “competitive parenting.” Because of their love for their children and a deep desire to do their best as parents, people often subscribe to different philosophies and methods: attachment parenting, free range kids, cloth diapers, etc. Furthermore, insecurities about whether they are actually making the best choices for their own children sometimes leads them to go from self-affirmation to putting down other parents in order to make themselves feel superior. This can be as subtle as singing the praises of a gluten-free kid diet in mixed company, and as extreme as telling formula-feeding moms that they are depriving their babies. I find this competitiveness to be the best mom or dad unnecessary. We are all in this together, we all love our children, we are all trying our best, and we really shouldn’t have to prove ourselves to anybody. We have more in common than there are differences to be found. Solidarity!
LGBT moms and dads in our unusual situation often struggle with even more insecurity because of feeling judged by society as a whole. In attempt to prove themselves just as good, competitive LGBT parents grapple with how we raise our kids, as well as the manner in which we built our family in the first place. Over the past few years, interacting with LGBT parents on social media, I have found some mutual support in these groups, but a lot of division as well. I can easily dismiss hateful comments from outsiders, who know nothing about my circumstance, as ignorant. When other gay dads talk about fostering and adoption as a more moral path to parenthood, or even suggest that commercial gestational surrogacy is selfish and exploits women, it really bothers me. I also dislike when I see other gay dads through surrogacy turn up their noses at the idea of fostering or adopting kids.
Rather than putting each other down, we should be lifting each other up together. We are all in this together, because society does not distinguish between gay dads through adoption, surrogacy, co-parenting and previous relationships. We’re just perceived as gay dads. We all love our children equally regardless of how they came to be in our care. We are all doing what we think is best for our own families, because the truth is that there are merits and drawbacks to any family-building approach. Josh and I have already discussed in previous posts how we carefully navigated surrogacy twice in effort to ensure, as much as possible, positive outcomes for all parties involved. We have complete respect for gay dads who foster and adopt. After considering that path ourselves, we decided to pursue surrogacy instead for very specific reasons. The best way to have and raise kids in one’s own case is not necessarily the best nor the most feasible path to parenthood for others. There should be more solidarity than divisiveness, because LGBT parents have more in common than differences.
In closing, I would just like to mention that Eric Rosswood’s upcoming book, “Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood: First Hand Advice, Tips and Stories From Lesbian and Gay Couples” takes a unified and balanced look at these varied ways same sex-couples become parents. We are very happy to have contributed our personal family story to the section on surrogacy, and we are excited to read other family stories about assisted reproduction, fostering, adoption, co-parenting and more. We hope prospective LGBT parents will find this resource informative and helpful in deciding their own best path to parenthood. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon now. Check it out!
Earlier this year, a recent advance in stem cell research got a lot of media attention. Researchers at Cambridge University and the Weizmann Institute in Israel were able to program stem cells to become primordial germ cells, the precursors to eggs and sperm. Scientists have been able to create viable baby mice from these cells, and with further study, viable human eggs and sperm may someday be created using stem cells from any human’s skin sample. I think this type of science has tremendous potential to assist male and female individuals suffering from various forms of infertility. However, more public interest seemed to come from the idea that someday same-sex couples may be able to contribute both egg and sperm to create children that are genetically related to both partners.
Reading about this future possibility got me thinking. We are a full house of six and won’t likely be having more children, but if this technology was available when we were going through surrogacy, would we have been interested in having children conceived with egg and sperm from Josh and me? How much do genetics really matter to us?
For us, how our children may be related to us genetically mattered some, but less than and in different ways than people may think. Josh and I are both reasonably proud people with good self esteem, but neither of us have a great desire to create “mini-me” children that carry all our traits and looks. In our initial conversations about becoming parents, adopting children that had no genetic relationship to either of us would have been a serious consideration, but it was not possible in Florida at that time. A surrogacy process where one of us contributed sperm to create children had some legal and social benefits that made it the way to go.
Living in South Florida, we have enjoyed our island of progressive blue in an often red state. We have been acutely aware that much of Florida subscribes to the Deep South mentality. Because of the hostile stance that the Florida state government had toward same-sex parents, we felt that at least one of us having a biological link to each of our children afforded some protection from the nightmare scenario of the state considering us “illegitimate, unfit parents” and trying to take our children away. As an interracial couple, we thought having children with both Caucasian and Asian features meant that if ever one of us was travelling with small babies alone, strangers would be more likely to accept either of us as related to these children. A man alone with small children and no mom in sight still raises eyebrows, and if the kids are clearly not biologically related to the man, some may even jump to conclusions that something inappropriate is taking place.
Thus we set out to have biracial kids. The other half of this genetic equation in current assisted reproductive technology comes from an egg donor. We decided to keep the identity of the egg donor completely secret, because if family or friends knew anything about the background of the egg donor, they could in turn infer which one of us was the sperm donor. The only people who know the genetic details of our family are the ones intimately involved in the process and the kids’ ongoing health. We know, the surrogates know, the lawyers and doctors know. Our families may have thoughts, but their theories have never been confirmed, and this reasonable doubt helps for us to both be treated equally as parents. When the kids are old enough to understand where babies come from (AJ and JJ are fast approaching that day), they will be the first to know about their genetic origins.
When we were considering a second surrogacy process a few years ago, we were presented with the opportunity for the person not genetically involved the first time around to make a contribution. But this was not our primary motivation for considering more children. We wanted AJ and JJ to have little siblings to teach them about responsibility, and help them understand that they are not the center of the universe. We knew that if we were blessed with a girl like DJ, it would bring more balance to our household than thoughts of genetics ever would.
Looking back, Josh and I have learned that genetics may matter for external situations, but within our family, it actually matters very little. Josh and I both love all our children equally no matter the biology. We have proven it to ourselves in a manner that is nearly scientific.
To excited first time parents to be, I would offer encouragement and well wishes, but a bit of sobering advice as well: Be prepared to lose some friends. Most experienced parents know of this phenomenon, but for a couple reasons that I will go into below, I think this effect is felt even more acutely by gay parents.
Fact: I have lost more friends becoming a gay parent than I have coming out as gay in the first place. I have always been a bit of a nerd and thus in grade school I wasn’t a popular kid, but I mingled with a group of similarly studious friends. Two of my best friends, “Rich” and “Nick” remained tight with me even though we all went to different colleges. When I came out of the closet in college, I was pleased that both of them were accepting of me and remained close friends well into adulthood. Rich and Nick were in turn friendly when I introduced them to Josh. Even though the three of us lived in different places, when we visited we would all hang out together like old times. Nick would share about his girlfriend problems, and Rich invited Josh and me to celebrate his engagement and his wedding to his wife. It was around this time of transitioning to a different phase of adulthood that Josh and I started talking about having children in earnest. Just like Rich and Nick shared their major life events with us, Josh and I were excited to share about this endeavor with them. Rich was clearly in a happy place in his life and was happy for us when we shared the news. I distinctly remember calling Nick to giddily tell him about how Josh and I were going to California to look into gestational surrogacy and become parents. My heart sank when he responded by saying, “Why are you telling me this?” In further discussion it became clear that Nick did not understand why we would ever want to have to children, and that he was not particularly happy for us. I ended the rapidly deteriorating conversation and hung up the phone before it became an argument. We exchanged superficial pleasantries at Rich’s wedding, and then we did not speak for about two years. Around the time that we were planning AJ and JJ’s first birthday party, I received an email from Nick. He was attempting to strike up a conversation and asked the question, “What ever happened between us?” as if he was oblivious to how my feelings were deeply hurt. I responded angrily that he knew very well what happened, and he again responded, this time stating openly what I knew to be the truth all along: He disagreed with the idea of two men raising children and felt it would adversely affect children to be raised in a non-traditional household. In retrospect I feel that Nick was perfectly fine with the novelty of having gay friends that hung out in gay bars doing stereotypically gay things, but as soon as his gay friends decided to be real people and live their lives outside of a socially acceptable second class box, he became disapproving.
After AJ and JJ were born, many good friends, most of them gay, faded away more slowly. In our first few years living in Florida, Josh and I had amassed a large group of gay friends. Most of them had no interest in having children, but they were all very happy for us all the same when we announced that we were expecting. We invited them all to a baby shower shortly before AJ and JJ were born and the party was very well attended. After AJ and JJ were born, I appreciated that these friends continued to invite us to go out at night to the bars or have wine tasting parties in their homes. Because we were busy with twin babies, we would either pass or try to send one of us out to have fun while the other stayed home with the kids. Inevitably, the invitations became fewer and far between. Unlike Nick, there have been no hard feelings involved, so I don’t fault these friends in the slightest. Our unusual situation as gay guys with kids just didn’t fit into their social calendars neatly. That’s okay.
Losing so many friends over the years both gay and straight, either suddenly or slowly over the years, I have only a touch of sadness. In place of these friends, I have a large beautiful family. These four children bring me unlimited and enduring joy and fulfillment. We are beginning to make a few new friends as well. They are usually fellow parents, and often happen to be gay dads themselves, who seem to be more understanding of our priorities. Reaching out online we have found some groups of like minded gay parents like the Handsome Father and Gays With Kids. These groups do amazing and much needed work connecting gay dads around the country and offering support for our special family situation.