By the time I reached my late 30s, I’d been out of the closet for years. My family knew I was gay since high school; most of my closest friends had since college, and colleagues at the newspaper where I worked had repeatedly met my now-husband, Miguel. I was out everywhere.
But, two years ago, when I became a father, something unexpected happened. Suddenly, and almost incessantly, I found myself having to “come out” over and over again. No, strangers don’t randomly query me about my sexuality as I wait for the subway or order at Starbucks, my two boys in the stroller before me. Rather, the sight of my twin sons and my slim gold wedding band leads many of the folks I now encounter to simply assume I’m straight. It occurs everywhere: at the park and playground, swim lessons and playdates, the pediatrician and pharmacy and at the Five Napkin Burger where my little guys love the free pickles. And it happens all the time. Every morning after my husband leaves for work, I take the twins for a session on the swings or a stroll around Central Park. And like clockwork, some well-meaning fellow parent or even a stranger invariably asks about “my wife” or “their mother.”
“You mean husband, not wife,” I respond. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I’ll deadpan, “There is no mother — their other parent is a dude.” This transpires so often in such similar places and at similar times that being a gay dad has begun to feel a lot like living in Groundhog Day — Bill Murray’s now classic 1993 film. For me, every day seems like National Coming Out Day, and I’ve started to accept that it will probably be like this for a long, long time.
What I’ve realized is that no matter how “gay” your friendship circle is or how strong your community of fellow gay dads, being a parent immediately thrusts you deep into the heart of the heterosexual conventionality complex. True, LGBTQs are now well represented across most mainstream media, and yes, same-sex marriage has become the law of the land. But let’s face it: Most parents are straight. And, such is the wont of the human mind, they’re conditioned to think that all of their fellow parents are straight, too.
Not that “passing” doesn’t have its benefits, particularly at a time when LGBTs still face violence in the streets and discrimination in the workplace. But I’ve spent my entire life as with the ultimate minority trifecta—black, Jewish, and gay. Fatherhood is the first time I’ve ever “passed” as absolutely regular.
It’s a strange feeling, one I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to. Privilege exists to deny certain folks access to majority cultures, and parenthood is, perhaps, the most “majority” culture of all. I’ll admit to liking being a part of the majority even if I don’t entirely trust it.
But the next problem is what to call myself? “Gay dad” is about as reductive and wrong as “single parent.” My mom, for instance, a tough-yet-free spirited Jewish woman who raised my sister and me alone without our black father, despised the term “single parent.” She found it laced with judgment and contempt. “I’m a parent,” she’d counter. “And that is the only thing that matters.”
When my boys were first born, “dad” was the most important part of the phrase “gay dad,” whereas “gay” was almost an irrelevant modifier. My identity as a father was related to my children, not to my partner. But something changed around our boys’ first birthday. As we shifted out of the newborn stage, I came to welcome the mantle of #gaydad.
The term catalyzes often difficult but nonetheless important conversations about topics like privilege and surrogacy, two issues that are very salient among the gay parent population. My partner and I aren’t particularly wealthy, and we worked hard to build our family. My daily coming out both honors this effort and hopefully suggests to other gay men that they can create families, too.
On a personal level, all this constant coming out serves as a corrective experience for the very difficult (and yes, damaging) ”official” coming out I went through years ago, which wreaked havoc on my personal life. More than two decades later, I’m still processing the aftermath, which included shifting from an angsty-yet-goofy high school senior to a quasi-homeless gay teen in a matter of months.
That initial coming out not only left me shame-filled and insecure, it rendered me unable to fully adjust to the label “gay” — gay man, gay journalist, gay black, gay Jew — for a long while after. That is, until I became a “gay dad.” With my boys at my side in their big, red, gay double-stroller, this is the kind of coming out I needed back in the day. But better late than never.
So tomorrow and the next day and the day after that — and likely every day until the boys head to college — I’ll probably have to tell some random dad that I’m gay, something I almost never did 25 months ago. And it’s cool and I’ve begun to experiment with ever more subtle ways to deliver the perfect pre-empt. “Yes, twins are tough,” I’ll begin, “but I’m a twin, and my husband is a twin, so we’re managing just fine.”
And as they slowly digest all the implications of what I’ve said, we’ll move on to chat about doctor visits and milk runs and diaper changes and all the quotidian tasks of parenting that transcend identity or sexuality. And that, I believe, is the most powerful equality of all, to be just two dads at the playground, pushing their kids on the swings, higher and higher.
David Kaufman is an editor and writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The Financial Times, Monocle, Time, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Manhattan with his husband and twin sons.
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