What It’s Like To Be The Gay Children Of Gay Parents
Senior Entertainment Editor Jarett Wieselman and LGBT intern Claire Pires share their experiences of being raised by same-sex parents, the homophobia they encountered, and eventually coming out themselves.
Claire Pires: So, when were you told that your dad was gay? Did he get divorced from your mom?
Jarett Wieselman: My parents split when I was 2, and I lived with my mom until she passed away in 1991. Then I moved in with my dad and his "friend." We all lived together in a townhouse for a year before my dad came out to 11-year-old me after I made a gay joke one day on the way home from school that he "took personal offense to" and I replied with, "Why? Are you gay?" At that, he slowly pulled the car over, turned the engine off, said, "Yes, I am gay" and we were off to the races.
CP: Did it take you by surprise that he was gay?
JW: I mean, I was 11 years old, this was 1992; gay parents weren't "a thing." Hell, gay people weren't a thing in suburban New Jersey at the time. No one had the cultural frame of reference to even think of something like that — I mean, I lived with my dad and "his friend." If that happened today, I'd be all, "Hey homos." But no, not then. What about you, how did you find out your mom was gay?
CP: I was 5 when my mom and my dad got divorced. They'd been married for 25 years. Shortly after, my mom fell in love and moved in with her current partner, Kathy. I was very into The Parent Trap at the time — Lindsay at her best — so I was convinced my mom and my dad would get back together. I liked Kathy but at first I didn't want to be different at school because I had two moms, so I referred to Kathy as my mom's "work partner" until about seventh grade.
JW: Oh, I lied to everyone I knew about my dads for a VERY long time.
CP: A pivotal moment happened in seventh grade when my school had its first-ever gay pride assembly. A teacher asked me to speak and at first I refused. I had gotten so good at lying to everyone about Kathy. But, I found out my mom and Kathy were going to be at the assembly, so I didn't want to offend them. I hoisted myself up off the floor during the assembly and stood in front of everyone with the sweatiest hands ever! I told everyone that having two moms was totally normal.
JW: OK, the fact you had a gay pride assembly at your school in 2004 is mind-blowing.
CP: I know! D.C. didn't accept same-sex marriage at that time but things were brewing.
JW: When I was in seventh grade [in 1994], I had a kid come up to me in the hall and ask if my dad was a "fag." I said no. "How could a gay man father a child?" I posed. To underline how ignorant my town was at the time, that actually worked. He was like, "Oh yeah, good point."
CP: My school was open about everything except for LGBT issues, until seventh grade. After that assembly, teachers slowly started coming out even though a lot of parents, my mom remembers, said that their kids weren't "ready" for this topic to be discussed.
JW: What an amazing difference one decade can make.
CP: What do you feel was the next pivotal moment you remember after your dad came out to you? When did you come out?
JW: I didn't come out to my dads for a very long time. On some level, I always knew I was gay — even when I was dating girls. But, in a crazy way, seeing the negative 1994 reaction to their gayness made me less inclined to out myself. My dad had a rainbow flag on the back of his car, and I distinctly remember a handful of times someone screamed "Faggot" as they drove past us.
CP: Where was this?
JW: Randolph, N.J. — not exactly the most progressive town, but my dads insisted on showing affection everywhere. In retrospect, it was the most beautifully empowering statement they could have made, but at the time, I was horrified to see them holding hands at the mall where all my friends could see, or kissing at dinner, or putting their arms around each other at the movies. Now, when I see gay couples of any age show that kind of affection, my heart swoons. At the time though, it pushed me further and further into the closet.
CP: Right. I understand. I would look away when they kissed in public. Now I love PDA (the amount of times I've seen the Bette and Tina elevator kiss scene in The L Word is embarrassing) but then, I didn't want them to be so open. I really loved my mom's partner, Kathy, like a mother and I still do, but it was hard during the early years before seventh grade. Seventh grade was truly a shift. I started coming to the middle school to speak to prospective LGBT parents, and I babysat for all of their kids.
JW: I'm curious about the reaction to affection between two women, because I always felt like there was more of an accepting attitude toward that from the public by and large.
CP: Right, I still feel like people are more accepting of seeing two women kiss than two men. But I didn't want to see them do that at the time. Even now, I love my girlfriend so much, and I love PDA, but if I'm being honest, there is still a little sense of bravery that I have to have when I kiss her in public. I feel confident, but it does take courage still I think. What do you think?
JW: Yeah, even now I still feel like if my parents are anywhere but a major city, there is a visible stiffening from strangers whenever they're affectionate. It's one thing to accept who you are, which I did long ago, but it's quite another to demand and expect acceptance from the world at large. Especially in a world of Prop 8, Arizona's SB 1062 laws, and Fox News.
CP: That actually makes me feel better because I feel confident, but for some reason I do hesitate sometimes when we're out in public, and I get mad at myself for hesitating to kiss her.
JW: Oh, I get so angry at myself for hesitating to kiss guys in public because of some external judgement .
CP: OK good! I'm not alone. Did anyone in your life make you decide to come out or did any event help you?
JW: Nope. I was dating guys secretly for a year, and really starting to hate myself for it. One drunken night, I blurted it out to a friend who said, "I know." That made me feel way more comfortable to tell everyone in my life — except for my parents. In a weird way, coming out to them was the hardest.
I had been such an insolent child when it came to their relationship. I was in such an insecure shame spiral of self-denial as a kid that I would physically separate myself from them in public if they were showing affection. On one family vacation to Amsterdam, we visited a gay monument near the river, and I wouldn't even go near it. I was definitely overcompensating.
CP: I agree that it's the hardest to come out to your parents, and it sounds like the place you grew up didn't make it any easier.
JW: What inspired you to come out?
CP: My life completely changed because of one dinner. I know that sounds dramatic but it's true. I had dinner with my friend, Nina, who casually told me she was dating both a guy and a girl. Like, "Oh, I have skim and whole milk in my tea." She said it so nonchalantly. Nina is one of those women you see out who has turquoise rings and travels to Peru while you're at home eating Subway. She marches to the beat of her own drum, and I admire that. During that dinner, I felt like no one else was in the restaurant. I wanted to know everything about her relationship with her girlfriend. I was so jealous that she was so free to do whatever she wanted and be with whomever she wanted.
I came home, and I remember my mind was racing. I decided that I would go back to school (I was a junior at the time on winter break), and I would live freely. So, I went back to USC, stopped seeing the football player I was casually seeing (Go Trojans?) and I immediately went to an LGBT club meeting. I had been to a few before, and they always assumed I was an ally, which I kind of adhered to, because I was there "for my moms" when really I was secretly there for myself. After that dinner, I felt like Nina was giving me permission to live freely. Like a whole other world had been opened up. So I went home with a girl four days after I came back from winter break (whoops) and the rest is history.
JW: What kind of reaction did your moms have when you came out to them?
CP: You know, I actually didn't have a ceremonious coming-out process. I started seeing someone, whom I really fell in love with, and when we started having problems, I called Kathy. I just started the conversation with, "So-and-so and I are having problems," and I just bypassed the fact that I was in a relationship with a girl. And Kathy did too. We were much more focused on the issues in the relationship and not on what label I was. I think that's a luxury in having gay parents because they don't see these labels as big deals.
JW: That's so interesting because I feel like my dads had a very different reaction. They were foaming at the mouth with excitement, and have literally not stopped asking me about the guys I'm dating ever since. I don't know if that's a gay men thing, a my parent thing, or a my gay parent thing, but it's so interesting to hear that was not your experience at all. I guess I always believed it was like that for all gay kids with gay parents because it creates a solidarity that doesn't exist with heterosexual parents and children.
CP: I think my mom and Kathy are interested but they also, I can tell, want to instill in me that it doesn't matter who you're with you know?
JW: I wonder if their steadfast interest in my relationships stems from the fact they were out and proud at a time when it was more atypical — because who you were with mattered to the world so much at the time, who I am with matters so much to them now.
CP: That makes sense. And that idea of solidarity for the three of you is something I have never thought of before. Did you ever experience any stereotypes being raised by two dads? For example, when friends found out I was raised by two moms, they'd say "Oh that makes so much sense" because I am so emotional and open, which I guess are stereotypes of kids who are raised by same-sex couples.
JW: I never got that, but I every time someone finds out I was raised by two men, they always ask, "Oh, so do you think that's why you're gay?" Which is so rude because you don't choose to be gay, you're born gay. Also, I have a sister who is happily married to a man. Also, two of my best friends also have gay fathers, and we formed a little club called M.D.I.G. (My Dad Is Gay) and we'll share stories, which has been so amazing. Also, both of the M.D.I.G. members are straight women, so, again, bully to that theory.
CP: I always felt, when my friends would say they weren't surprised that I was raised by two moms, that it was almost like they were associating my emotional personality with my two moms, when in reality, it's just my personality. To be frank, my mom and Kathy aren't really that emotional, particularly my mom, so that stereotype is kind of bullshit.
I also have experienced the stereotype that because I was raised by two moms, I'm gay, which gets confusing since I actually am gay, but I just have to reiterate that I was born that way. Yes, their relationship made me more open to being gay as I got older because I was so exposed to it growing up, but my sexuality is innate.
JW: Exactly. Having gay parents doesn't make you gay, but in the long run, it makes you more confident about being gay, and removes any fear of exile upon coming out.
CP: I just can't wait for this whole topic to become the norm. Because it really doesn't matter. We are all just people.
JW: Completely. I felt so alone for so long when it came to having gay dads — I didn't know anyone else with LGBT parents, and certainly no other gay people raised by gay parents. Slowly but surely I've met more and more people who shared a similar upbringing, which just tells me more and more people are coming out earlier and earlier, and only good things can come from that kind of widespread transparency
CP: Definitely. The fact that The Fosters is on ABC Family with two moms is amazing. I think that's just the beginning.
JW: When I think about how much has changed from the time I was in seventh grade to the time you were in seventh grade, I know that by the time my 5-year-old niece is in seventh grade, there will be dozens of gay grandparents running around town.
CP: I know! And I feel so proud now to say that I was raised by two moms, in addition to a dad and a stepmom (three moms really!), because I've noticed that when I tell older same-sex couples that I have two moms, and they see that I'm confident, it reassures them. Almost like my generation is showing older generations that we accept them — which makes me think it will only get easier, which is also reassuring to me as a gay person. It all came full circle in a funny way.