May 2007

First published in Between the Lines, May 31, 2007

The day after Jerry Falwell’s funeral, Mary Cheney—who is a LESBIAN, in case you’ve forgotten the Bush-Kerry debates—gave birth to a baby boy.

If I were the world’s scriptwriter, I would have reversed the order: Cheney gives birth, then Falwell keels over. No matter: just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does right-wing foolishness. With Falwell gone, someone else will step up to blame the world’s problems on Tinky Winky, environmentalists, and lesbian moms.

For the record, my condolences go out to the Falwell family. That the man said profoundly stupid things about gays and lesbians (among other subjects) does not alter the fact that he was also a husband, father, and friend.

If only Falwell and his followers could muster up similar empathy. Whatever one might think about lesbian parenting, Mary Cheney is a mother, and Samuel David Cheney is her son. None of this will stop the so-called “family values” crowd from accusing her of child abuse simply for bringing him into the world. It’s a nasty accusation, and it needs to be countered forcefully.

Vice President Cheney seems to understand this point. Some months ago, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him to comment on criticisms of Mary, and the vice president responded with harsh verbal smack-down. Blitzer didn’t deserve it (don’t shoot the messenger—or in this case, the interviewer). But it was hard not to admire Cheney’s exceedingly effective “Don’t fuck with my family” attitude, or to be grateful that for once his belligerence was (almost) well-aimed.

When gay or lesbian couples decide to have children, they obtain them one of two ways. First, they may adopt, thus giving a home to a child who has none. Parenting is an act of loving sacrifice, and those who adopt children ought to be applauded and supported. To treat them otherwise not only insults them, it also harms their children—not to mention other needy children who may be deprived loving homes because of misguided “family values.” Shame on those who stand in their way.

The other way—the one used by Mary Cheney and Heather Poe—is pregnancy, either by insemination or implantation of an embryo. I do not wish to minimize the moral questions raised by reproductive technology. Most of these questions, however, are not unique to lesbian and gay parents, who constitute a minority of its users.

But aren’t same-sex families “suboptimal” for children? The research says otherwise. So does every mainstream health organization that has commented on the issue: the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, the American Psychiatric Association, and so on.

Jerry Falwell’s crowd would have us believe that these organizations have all been hijacked by the vast “Homosexual Agenda.” Trust me: if we had such power, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

Forget the research for a moment and consider the following: if Mary Cheney had not chosen to become pregnant—by whatever means she used—Samuel David Cheney would not exist. After all, he is a genetically unique individual, as pro-lifers frequently remind us. The practical alternative to Samuel’s existing in this lesbian household is his not existing at all, and it is hard to argue that he’d be better off that way. So the claim that they harm him, simply by bringing him into this situation, rings hollow.

Metaphysical subtleties aside, the fact is that Mary and Heather will provide this child with a loving home, not to mention many material advantages. The more people see that, the more ridiculous charges of “child abuse” sound.

And that last point gives me great cause for optimism. When I came out of the closet nearly twenty years ago, myths about gay and lesbian people abounded: we were sick, we were predators, we were miserable, we were amoral. Such myths still exist, of course, but they are far more difficult to float (and thus, far less common). The main reason is that we are much more visible now, and so people know firsthand that the myths simply aren’t true.

While many people know openly gay or lesbian people, relatively fewer know gay or lesbian parents. That’s changing, and as it does, so too will the ability of the right wing to float nasty myths about them. Their influence will wane in the face of simple evidence.

Samuel David Cheney begins his life in an America with fewer Jerry Falwells and more Mel Whites; fewer Pat Buchanans and more Andrew Sullivans; fewer Dr. Lauras and more Ellens. Good for him (and the rest of us).

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First published in Between the Lines on May 3, 2007

This past weekend I attended a big Italian wedding in New York. I grew up on Long Island, in a family where big Italian weddings are a staple. This one had all the usual trappings: loud music, louder relatives, tons of food.

This one, however, had two grooms.

If you were just passing through the reception hall, you might not have noticed. The male-female ratio was a bit high, but not by much: most of the 140 guests were from the grooms’ families. There was a “Nana” (Grandma) dressed in silver from head to toe: silver hair, silver dress, silver shoes. There were buxom aunts with too much makeup; uncles with big moustaches and perfectly slicked hair; excited mothers, proud fathers. Children ran about yanking at their bows and neckties, their Sunday clothes increasingly askew as the day progressed. A DJ kept prodding people to dance, and no one—not even the wait staff—batted an eye at the handful of same-sex couples swaying amidst the others.

At one point my partner leaned over to me and said, “This feels weird.”

I knew what he meant. And it wasn’t just the weirdness that accompanies all weddings: the gaudy pageantry; the forced intimacy with distant relatives and acquaintances; the cheesy running commentary from the DJ (“on this day, the most important day of their lives…”—ugh). It was the fact that, where we would normally be stealth attendees, we were suddenly the main event. This was not some newfangled “commitment ceremony”—it was a big, old-fashioned Italian wedding, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, godparents, and so on.

Most gays have a strange relationship with weddings. We are stereotypically (and often in fact) connected with their planning and execution, as florists, designers, musicians, priests, and so on. But as guests we are typically outsiders. We gather to celebrate love in a world that doesn’t want to hear about ours. We sit at tables with relatives and friends who may not know that we’re gay and may not like it if they do. We are warned not to “spoil things” by “making a scene.” So when the slow songs play, we dance with Nana. Like the guys on “Queer Eye,” we help plan others’ events and then retreat invisibly into the background. I’ve always found it rather cruel.

But not here. And that was weird…in a good way.

One of the grooms has been a friend of mine for 24 years. Bob and I attended high school together: Chaminade, an all-male Catholic prep school on Long Island. In every class we shared I sat behind him, not because of any particular bond between us, but because we sat alphabetically and his last name begins with “Cors”.

Lunch was the only time we could choose our seating partners, and there we sat together again, along with about a half-dozen other guys over the course of our four years there. At least five of those guys have turned out to be gay (another is a Catholic priest whose sexual orientation I’ve never bothered to ask). Go ahead and joke about “gaydar,” but somehow we found kindred spirits years before any of us dared to admit—to ourselves or others—our sexual orientation.

Had you told me then that decades later I would be attending the gay wedding of one of my lunch buddies, I would have prayed for you (I was very Catholic then; skepticism set in later). Had you added that I would be attending with my own male partner, I would have…well, I would have prayed for me. By then I was aware enough of my burgeoning gayness to fear it.

So it was particularly sweet for me, in the same week I received the invitation to our twenty-year high school reunion, to stand up with Bob’s family and friends and witness his wedding to Joe. It felt good to say “Congratulations” to his Mom and Dad in the receiving line—the same Mom and Dad who posed for graduation pictures with us two decades earlier. It was delightful (though a sobering reminder of my age) to meet his younger sister’s children, some of whom will soon be thinking about high school themselves.

Political battles are important and necessary. But the fight for marriage equality will ultimately be won only when our nanas and aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews see our marriages as the family-extending events that they are. Congratulations, Joe, Bob, and family.

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First Published in “Between The Lines” in May 2007

If the marketing industry is any gauge, I’m not a very good Gay Man. No matter how many pairs of shoes I own, I typically wear only two: a pair of simple black dress boots or a pair of black sneakers. Same with jeans: a pair of Levis or some fancy designer pair (I honestly don’t know the brand). I thought the latter were ridiculously expensive, even at 75% off, but in a moment of weakness I let the sales-guy talk me into them because, in his words, “they make your ass look hot!” (They do, so I wear them to go out.)

I don’t shop at Abercrombie and Fitch, because, frankly, I’ve never been young enough to wear those clothes (I was the only guy in my 7th grade class to wear a tie for the yearbook photo). When my partner and I walk into a department store, he goes to the jeans and t-shirts and I go to what we’ve come to call “the grown-up section.” In the grown-up section I look at ties but never buy them, because no matter how many I own, there are only three or four in my closet that I ever reach for.

I live in a comfortable four-bedroom house built in the 1930’s, with modestly sized closets typical of that era. Several friends have suggested turning the fourth bedroom into a walk-in closet. I think that if I ever need to do that, it’s time to give away some clothes. (The Ruth Ellis Center, a Detroit shelter for homeless and runaway LGBT youth, is happy to take donations.)

I buy $12 sunglasses. Without rhinestones. Seriously: twice in the last month I’ve been to parties where some guy (a different one each time) wore bedazzled Chanel sunglasses. One of those parties was at night, indoors.

I go to a barber shop, not a salon. I don’t use eye cream. I seldom wear hair product.

I feel silly typing the words “hair product.”

I don’t lie about my age, even online, where I don’t have a profile anyway (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This column hits the newsstands around my 38th birthday. To ease me into the next decade, my friends have begun telling me that 40 is the new 30. I keep telling myself that a slight paunch is the new six-pack, and that weird patches of hair are the new smooth.

I think gyms are goofy, but I go because I’m a gay man pushing 40 and it’s the law. Besides, I need to keep fitting in those jeans in order to justify their cost.

I have less and less patience for the fact that “going out” means leaving the house at an hour that I normally call bedtime. When I do go out, I order “old man drinks” like Negronis or bourbon-and-ginger-ale. I would sooner drink Windex than order a vodka-Red Bull (and it would probably taste better, too).

I have never, ever, ever gone to a tanning salon. Maybe that’s why I don’t need eye cream.

Occasionally I read “lifestyle” magazines that suggest that, at my advanced age, I should consider Botox to make me look more rested. If I wanted to look more rested, I would get more rest. (I’ve tried it; it works.)

Those same magazines suggest that Viagra would allow me to have sex like I did when I was 19. If I wanted to have sex like I did when I was 19, I’d grab a copy of the International Male catalog and lock myself in the bathroom.

When people make stupid comments about penis size, I announce with a straight face that I have a small one. Then I take silent glee in watching them stammer and backpedal. (Try it sometime, regardless of whether you have a small penis. The 50% of men with smaller-than-average penises will be quietly in your debt. Besides, it’s funny to watch the reaction.)

I don’t have an iPod and wouldn’t know how to use one if I did. Until recently, I drove a 12-year-old car, even though I could afford a new one. I have nothing against people’s spending money on things that make their lives better (my new car is really sweet), but I find that things never turn me on as much as people do.

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