A version of this piece was originally published on American Circus.
In about a month, the wails of newborn baby boys will swell through a Connecticut delivery room, completing a circle that began two years ago when my husband Lin and I first pitched ourselves into the thicket of gestational surrogacy. Then, starting a family this way seemed fantastical, and came up mostly in late night talks, where the quixotic and the practical softly battle it out. Now, we're about to be fathers to twins.
* * * * *
After our wedding in 2010, a friend told us over drinks that she'd given it a lot of thought, and was willing to be our surrogate, the traditional kind - her egg, our seed, her pregnancy. Pondering the "kid question" was new for us, but as we were already leaning toward procreation, her offer spurred us to get serious. We were happy but cautious at our seeming good fortune, and waited to see if her offer came up often, and soberly enough, to be considered real.
For a while it looked like it might actually happen, until suddenly it didn't. In the end she was fine with everything about the process, "except the pregnancy," which is understandable. Lin and I were momentarily sad, but could see that the arrangement was probably untenable in the first place; too much for her to offer, too much for us to accept. Still, we'd been bitten by the baby bug, and started searching for other ways to grow our family.
We learned early on that traditional surrogacy is basically extinct in the US, and has been supplanted by the newer, shinier process of gestational surrogacy, in which embryos created in vitro from donor eggs and sperm are transferred to a biologically unrelated "carrier" to ripen. It seemed like a strange but interesting potential path to daddyhood, and we looked into it further.
The practice has recently gained a lot of cultural visibility, but it is still quite rare—gestational carriers give birth to only a thousand or so babies each year, nearly all of whom go to straight couples with fertility issues. The main impediment to widespread access is the cost, of more than a hundred thousand dollars, all told. In our case, it was only a wildly optimistic survey of our finances that permitted us to opt in, with loans and miscellaneous debt following in short order. And even when money is not an issue, gestational surrogacy is complex and often wearying, as idiosyncrasies of biology, legality and personality converge to up the ante of an inherently high-stakes affair.
Still, we went all in and hired an agency to draw up contracts and match us with a carrier, a process that took about eight months. My sister offered her eggs to our effort, making her my eternal hero, and solving one of the larger pieces of the surrogacy puzzle in a way that allowed Lin and I to both be related to our kids. As a bonus, there was no hand wringing over who the bio-dad would be.
But before the medical magic could start, there were psychologists.
Lin and I were compelled by our IVF clinic to spend a day with their comically supportive, in-house social worker, Terry. Her questions were gentle yet persistent, and had the apparent aim of burrowing as deeply into our histories as possible.
As kids, Lin and I endured divorces, custody actions, and other internecine skirmishing. But sitting with Terry, in her soothing office, it was apparent that most of our historical wreckage had been cleared from the road long ago. We'd dealt—so much so, that, if I'm not mistaken, she seemed mildly disappointed by our relative actualization, and the degree to which we enjoy an easy love and support from each other and our families.
The only time Terry nearly managed a therapeutic foothold was when, in an attempt to sate her thirst for dysfunction, I threw out that we have no gay friends. "I seeeeee," she slavered. "Is that something you'd like to explore?"
* * * * *
It's true. The queer community and its members are basically non-existent in our daily lives in New York. And our straight friends, who have more gay friends than we do, rib us about it. "That's soooo weird!!!" they snicker, and Lin and I laugh along, because it's implausible and, sure, it's weird. To Terry's chagrin, though, I greet warily the idea that my lack of gay friends presents a problem in need of a solution.
I came out in my early twenties, obliquely, by revealing a specific hurt I was suffering that made my orientation obvious. I'd been in love with a friend for a couple of years, in a relationship characterized by plenty of platonic affection but rife as well with soul-crushing longing, at least for me. I hadn't talked to anyone about it, least of all him, and I'd been ground down to a nub.
I had talks with friends over several months, and unpacked bit-by-bit the reality I'd kept hidden. Many of my women friends had a fluid sense of sexuality, and were happy for me in an uncomplicated way. The boys were also accepting, and worries I'd carried around about being viewed differently soon faded. The most halting response to my news actually came from an otherwise straight guy I'd been fooling around with for years, who could have done without my vocal embrace of deviance. But overall my friend community was robust, and I didn't fix to trade it in.
I came out to my mother as we drove, movie-style, over the Golden Gate Bridge. A brief, endless silence followed my finally spitting it out, punctuated by my mother noting innocently, "I think I've been attracted to women," which says more than I can add to. My father, if not quite as enthusiastic, was supportive, and flew to San Francisco from the East Coast soon after he got my letter. We ate sushi, crashed a party in the Mission, and drank our weight in alcohol—in a good way. He saved the letter and recently gave it to me, preserved in the envelope I sent it in some fifteen years ago. I remember being so pleased with it at the time that I considered advertising my services as a parental coming-out consultant on the back page of the SF Weekly; reading it now, it seems almost dull.
At the time, though, it was not. On his visit, my dad told me how he and my step-mother cried together as they read the letter, for reasons that were common then and seem dated now in large swaths of the country: for the pain and loneliness I would surely face, and most of all, that the menu of human experiences open to me would not include the joys and sorrows of marriage and family.
So I was finally out, which presented as many questions as answers. Determined to keep sexual orientation from becoming my defining characteristic, what did "out" really mean for me? Being free to seek sex and love from men openly was huge, yes. But beyond that, I had little interest in weaving my life into a new community. I was much more concerned, for instance, with making sure I had tickets to the next Pavement show than in cozying up to a culture that, from the outside, appeared to require a fierce dedication to house music, or, at the very least, Erasure.
Issues of musical taste aside, I found myself resenting that after doing the difficult internal work of processing my orientation, I sensed from some a low buzz of expectation for a second, Technicolor out-fest, where I'd energetically embrace my sexuality, and carve out for it a more substantial piece of myself than it had ever occupied before. But if having same-sex attraction was genuinely no big deal, as I believed, why all the bother?
Not jumping headlong into the community presented pitfalls. Getting laid was harder, for starters. And the threat of falling for straight men was constant. In my case it happened more than once and predictably ended badly, never more so than when I managed to temporarily nudge one my way on the spectrum. (It's safe to say that if, as a recently-out gay man, you find yourself in the candlelit room of your adorable, straight roommate at one in the morning, and he's giving you a massage, you've flown too close to the sun.) Openly gay but isolated from the larger community, I was fumbling about for a life, the contours of which I squinted to see in the distance.
Certain things complicated my journey. That I don't display some of the behaviors stereotypically ascribed to gay men was one. I was usually perceived as straight, and as such was constantly left wondering when and how to come out to any new person in my life. In order to be honest and open, a pronouncement about something I thought of as a non-issue was required, which aroused in me a good bit of cognitive dissonance. Community membership displays the clear benefit, in this regard, of functioning as a perpetual blanket announcement of your sexuality, such that you rarely have to actually reveal it. I wished at times I was more of a joiner; but if I wasn't feeling the gay community, it showed scant interest in me as well.
Once, I picked up a younger, recently-out guy named Jason at a friend's family-free Thanksgiving in Seattle. We begged off pie and whiskey and headed back to his apartment, where, at a moment when little was left to the imagination, he asked me, "So are you gay...or what?" Scratching my head, I laughed, and chuckled even more years after, when I read an article detailing how Jason was then going by Jake, and in the interim had scissored his way to queer icon status. Another time, I worked up the courage to get the number of an attractive guy I'd seen at several parties. I sheepishly left him a message, and got a call back, where he asked me, atonally, "So, did you just want to fuck?" I'd liked him, had a recently-out, schoolboy sort of crush on him, and was left feeling nauseous and exposed.
I entered a period of self-recrimination, where I felt I wasn't doing enough to put myself out into the community. But it was clear after a short time that my heart wasn't in it, that I'd never be able to exert the required effort. On the theoretical front, I drifted toward to the views of the Gay Shamemovement, which I discovered by way of spray-painted stencils on random San Francisco sidewalks. They rail against things like the sponsoring of pride parades by Anheuser-Busch, the commodification of rainbows, and the general transformation of gayness into a crass exercise in homogenized lifestyle marketing. If alternative sexual identity is co-opted by Madison Avenue in ways that render lifeless the idea that difference can be a good thing, what kind of progress is that, they seemed to say. And I agreed, abstractly, from behind my laptop. Mostly, I just lived my life.
I was in a four-year relationship with a guy I met, quaintly, through a print personal ad. I finished a long-languishing psychology degree. I cooked on a boat. I almost went to law school. I lived in France for a year. And eventually, I landed a private chef job in New York, and started building a life in Brooklyn that culminated in meeting Lin, by way of the dating site, OK Cupid.
We met on a Thursday and spent the next five days together, luxuriating in a new and fastly precious thing we'd stumbled into. It was easily the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. And both of us had been so perilously close to resigning ourselves to the okay-ness of being alone indefinitely, to giving up but studiously framing it as some kind of victory. Nearly five years later, I'm still dizzy with disbelief that I found him.
15 years after coming out, I view my sexual identity more or less as I did then; that it's something that's mine alone, and all the impressions and misimpressions and noise out there about what it means to be gay aren't very instructive in terms of my day-to-day life. This, with a deep appreciation that I've been privileged enough to spend my life in places where sexuality is more likely to be greeted with a shrug than a fist, depite tragic exceptions. And even if my take on the larger gay world could be dusted off—it was based, after all, on fairly slight first-hand knowledge—I'm happy with how my life as a gay man has sorted itself out. And I'm satisfied that I've navigated my own course.
When I stop to think, I'm blown away that I've ended up married, and now, with kids on the way. It's kind of like winning a contest I didn't realize I entered, having believed for years that my refusal to blend myself into the larger gay community was also an implicit admission that I could never myself reach the heights the community was aiming for.
Part of our day with Terry the social worker focused on how and when to talk to our kids about their life story. She said it's best told in bits and pieces, with details added when they're best able to grasp the concepts involved. As young as two years old, though, our boys might ask us questions as weighty as who their mom is. As a start, we'll explain that some kids have two moms, some have a mom and a dad, and some, like them, have two dads.
My lack of engagement with the gay community has always functioned as a bit of trivia; a curious aside that ultimately doesn't signify much about the totality of my life. So it's funny to now be in a position where, in order for our kids to feel normal, we actually do need more gay friends. Not relying on the community has been a minor point of pride over the years, so I'm now left occasionally bemused at where I've arrived.
By a circuitous route, Lin and I are in the nascent mainstream of what gay couples can do in terms of making families. There are lots of us, and we have plenty to learn from each other, and much to share. I hope when our boys are grown, the world they face will be genuinely "post-gay" in the way I hoped for, and have tried willfully to live in, since I came out in the 1990s. In the meantime, I'll be here living my life, and changing a great many more diapers than I would ever have imagined.