Authors: Jerry Mahoney
How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad
Taylor Trade Publishing
Lanham • Boulder • New York • Toronto • Plymouth, UK
Published by Taylor Trade Publishing
An imprint of Rowman & Littlefield
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706
10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom
Distributed by NATIONAL BOOK NETWORK
Copyright © 2014 by Jerry Mahoney
This is a true story depicting real events and real people. Some of the names and identifying details have been changed to respect individual privacy.
All rights reserved
. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mahoney, Jerry, 1971–
Mommy man : how I went from mild-mannered geek to gay superdad / Jerry Mahoney.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-58979-922-6 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-58979-923-3 (electronic) 1. Gay fathers. 2. Gay parents. 3. Child rearing. I. Title.
™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
ear Future Baby,
Someday, when you’re in fourth grade or so, the school nurse will come to your classroom. She’ll send one or two of the super-conservative kids off to do word puzzles in the library, and then, for the rest of you, she’ll reveal one of life’s big mysteries: where babies come from.
When most kids get the news, they’re shocked, incredulous, and just a bit queasy. And then, suddenly, it hits them. “Wait a second. That means that my parents did . . .
Well, for you, my future baby, I have some good news. Your parents didn’t do “that.” Well, not exactly. But “that” isn’t how you were made. The story of where you came from is much more complex, and it’s not something the school nurse is likely to cover—or possibly even understand.
See, because Daddy and I are both, well,
, we had to find a different way to make a baby, and it’s not something a lot of people have done before. In fact, someone even told us we were “pioneers.” Can you believe that? Your dad, who can’t hold a baseball bat or kill a bug, has something in common with ol’ Davy Crockett besides neither of us being all that fond of bears.
So consider this an adventure story, if you will, a firsthand account from the wild frontier. Learn this story well, kid, because I guarantee you’ll be recounting it to a lot of confused people for most of your life.
While we’re on the subject of those people, I’d like to say one more thing. Some of them aren’t going to like this story. They’ll think it’s weird or unnatural, that the school nurse’s way should be the only way. A lot of people don’t believe two daddies should be having babies at all.
But I hope when you’re done reading this, one thing is clear to you: your daddies went through a
to have you. Plenty of babies are created because of carelessness, boredom, self-destruction, social status, fear, jealousy, prom night, Pabst Blue Ribbon, emotional blackmail, the need for cheap labor or to round out a family singing group. But you’re here because of sacrifice, perseverance, and most of all, love. Along the way, there were plenty of happy moments and sad moments, nervous moments and extremely nervous moments, and tons and tons of bills the likes of which I hope you will never know. (I’m not trying to make you feel guilty about the cost, but I do hope this explains your somewhat flimsy college fund.)
So let the negative people think what they want. But when you see a boy or girl with two daddies or two mommies, it’s a safe bet that those parents love that kid with all their hearts. It’s certainly true in our case.
Buckle up for this crazy tale, kid, because I sus
pect at times, you’ll be shocked, incredulous and just a bit queasy.
Trust me, though. It’s a great story.
(you know, the shorter one)
Before It Gets Better
’m pretty sure that,
by the time any child of mine is old enough to read this book, the entire world will be gay. It’s practically happened already. There are gays on every TV network, gays on the radio, and gays all over the news. As I write this, closeted Republicans are being outed at the rate of roughly six thousand per news cycle. Larry Craig, Roy Ashburn, Ken Mehlman, Ted Haggard. Before long, all the gays across the land, whether they’re a catcher for the Mets or a former governor of Florida, will feel free to live openly with their buff Latin boyfriends hand in hand.
By then, every respectable preschool will have its own gay-straight alliance, you’ll be able to get gay married at any Walmart in the country by a lesbian Catholic priest, and President Neil Patrick Harris will declare national holidays on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots and on Academy Awards night. Teenagers will co-opt gay culture and lingo the way they did with hip-hop. All the cool kids will wear rainbow flag T-shirts and rave about how “fierce” yesterday’s pep rally was. High school history classes will show Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech alongside YouTube clips of Dan Savage tongue-lashing homophobes on
Larry King Live
. Maybe they’ll even change the stars on Old Glory to pink triangles. So of course, gay families will be a Grade-A nonissue. There’ll be one on every block, and that’ll be the cool house to go to on Halloween. We’ll have earned some hip slang nickname that doesn’t even refer to sexuality. “You know the Smiths down the street?” kids will say. “It’s a Papa-palooza in that house!” No one will protest if there’s a gay dad running their PTA or a lesbimom coaching their kid’s Little League team. It won’t even merit a human interest story on the local news, which is most likely hosted by a pair of drag queens. The idea that anyone would want to prevent same-sex couples from adopting or fostering children will be as absurd as suggestions to make the cat the national bird. It’s the kind of thing a homeless person might rant about on a street corner, not a view that would be seriously espoused on the op-ed page of whatever newspapers still remain in print.
At least, I hope that’s the world my kid will grow up in. But when I was young, things were different. To use the parlance of the day, being a gay teen, like totally sucked, dude.
It’s not quite that there were no gays back in the 1980s. In fact, if you had polled the average school yard, estimates of the prevalence of homosexuality would have run close to 100 percent. If people didn’t like the way you dressed, you were gay. If they didn’t like the bands whose pictures hung in your locker, you were gay. If they didn’t like your Swatch (and, surprisingly, there were some perfectly heterosexual Swatches), then, oh boy, were you gay. Back then, there was no such thing as “homophobia.” Nobody was
of gay people. We were
of them and proud of it. They were pervs and weirdos and dirty old men who hung out in the bushes behind the middle school after the late bus left. If somebody had thought to invent the word “homophobic” back then, it would have been the highest of compliments. “Dude, that guy is so cool. He’s totally homophobic.” “Yo, what’s up, my homophobe?” Or “Hey, cool Swatch. You must be a raging homophobe!”
So as a gay kid, all I could do was suck it up, play straight, and play along. I never knew when my homophobia might be tested. I would go to see a perfectly fun movie like
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
, only to find out one of the running jokes was the two lovable protagonists calling each other “fag.” No one warned the public about it, no critics condemned it as hateful, no one even thought it was worth commenting on. It was just a joke and, judging by the reaction of the audience around me, a hilarious one. So I was forced to bust a gut, too—unless I wanted someone to think I was some kind of fag myself.
Everyone raved about the movie
, in which Corey Haim played a sad, scrawny outcast who tried to win over the girl of his dreams by joining the high school football team. Sad, scrawny outcast? Sign me up! The reviews said it was sweet and heartwarming—and it was—but smack in the middle is a scene where Lucas accuses the bad guy of being a “fag” in the locker room showers, supposedly a moment of stand-up-and-cheer comeuppance for a character we despise. Watching that scene with my friends, I died a little inside. (On the plus side, though, there were naked jocks.)
For years, I hoped I would start liking girls, the same way I was hoping that a belated growth spurt might someday push me past five feet five inches. But with each passing day, it became clearer that the cheerleaders just weren’t doing it for me, and the football players were looking hunkier and hunkier. Luckily, both groups were way out of my league anyway, so I fell pretty easily into the role of the sensitive, shy kid who didn’t date. If the fish weren’t biting, nobody expected me to cast my rod.
Let’s be honest. I was a geek. I aced my SATs. I ruled the math team and dominated the calculus club. (Yes, those were two separate groups, and boy, was I grateful.) There was no word problem too wordy, no square root too square. When other kids whined about algebra, I laughed. Science was my sport. I even quit band when I got to high school and it became marching band because I didn’t want to have to go to football games or stand up.
And when I was alone, I wrote. Sitting down with a blank notebook and a pen was a safe way for me to explore anything that interested me. I wrote a book on how to beat Q*Bert, which I never finished because I never beat Q*Bert. I wrote a children’s book about an obnoxious teddy bear who cheats at Monopoly and spoils the ends of movies but can do no wrong in the eyes of the boy who loves him. And, when I was fourteen, I wrote two-thirds of a novel. It was an adventure story about a teenager named Jason who gets stranded on an island that’s booby-trapped for some reason. The story made no sense, but the descriptions of Jason were very vivid. His neatly cropped blond hair, his charming smile, his firm, manly shoulders. A crucial plot point required Jason to take his shirt off. I rewrote that scene many times.
Of course, I never told anyone about my novel because I wasn’t just the only gay kid in my school. I was the only gay person in the
. This was long before Ellen DeGeneres came out, before there were sitcoms about quippy queens who live in oversized Manhattan apartments and movies about cowboys cozying up to each other by the Colorado River. It would be years before anyone uttered the phrase, “It gets better.” No one in my family was gay. Certainly none of my friends were gay. All my favorite singers, like George Michael and Freddie Mercury, were totally unimpeachably straight. Even Boy George, well, that was just a gimmick. We all knew he was up to his earrings in babes.
I wish I could say I had some scandalously fulfilling secret life, like I was quietly hooking up with the dreamy and equally closeted class president or that I spent my summers at an all-boys camp where the activities slate included baseball, basket weaving, and blow jobs in the top bunk. But there was only room for one in my closet, and it got pretty lonely in there.
I wanted an adolescence like the horny teenagers in
, where all that mattered was getting laid. I’d be the short, wisecracking Casanova who somehow always bagged the hottest chicks. They’d call me Sweet Talk, and dudes would gather in the locker room every Monday morning to hear tales of my weekend conquests. “Hey Sweet Talk, tell us again about the Swedish exchange student!” they’d implore.
Instead, I found the next best thing—a group of friends with pretty much no hope of getting laid. We were the dweebs, the chubs, the chubby dweebs, the dweeby chubs—and all of us were hopelessly shy. The price I paid for membership in this pariah posse was an occasional afternoon of Dungeons & Dragons. The reward? An unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t talk about girls at all, no way, never, not in a million years. Since intercourse wasn’t in the cards for any of us, we built a bubble around ourselves and pretended that sex didn’t exist. The best things in life were Friendly’s ice cream,
and heated rounds of Pictionary.
Greg always seemed like he fell into this group by mistake. He was six feet tall, thin, good-looking, and borderline cool. He watched basketball games, and he actually understood what was going on. If the rest of us were the guys who got picked last in gym, Greg probably got picked somewhere toward the middle of the bottom half—which was awesome. He even subscribed to
. Well, to be fair, his dad subscribed to
, but when he was done reading the articles, he let his son do as he wished with the rest of the publication. This was the one way women would occasionally enter our bubble. When we were hanging out at Greg’s house, someone might come across the latest issue and flip through. There’d be nervous giggles about abnormally large nipples and speculation as to which models shaved their clam, and then we’d get back to playing Nintendo.
Of course, like all of us, Greg had his quirks, and those were the things that made the two of us best friends. Our common interests ran the geeky gamut from watching game shows to religiously quoting
magazine. Casey Kasem’s
American Top 40
countdown on the radio wasn’t enough to sate our appetite for methodically ranked hits. We needed the whole Hot 100, plus access to the album, R&B, and international charts. Greg started subscribing, and every Saturday when the latest issue came, we would sit and discuss the new positions of our favorite songs for hours. To this day, I know that “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora peaked at number 13, up from 16 the week before, no bullet.
Greg was the one person in the world I could really open up to. He told me tearfully about his parents’ divorce, and I told him how badly I screwed up all my college interviews. We loved doing things together that teenage boys weren’t supposed to do, like watching
and laughing like it was
Saturday Night Live
. We made up silly songs with titles like “Will You Feed My Fish?” Then when we decided to get serious about songwriting, I suggested the title “Fish Out of Water.” Greg knew that the tuneless mess we composed at his parents’ piano wasn’t going to get any airplay, but he went along with it because I clearly had an important personal statement to make.
If there was anyone I would ever share my big secret with, it was Greg.
Then one day, he said this:
“I could never be friends with someone who was gay.”
I remember it exactly—his tone, his cadence, the way he didn’t look directly at me when he said it. And the words. Just like that, so simple, so direct. And it came out of nowhere, like Greg just had his own important personal statement to make.
So there it was: my greatest fear emphatically confirmed, underlined, and bolded. If Greg ever knew I was gay, there’d be no more friendship. I’d be sitting alone in the cafeteria, with no one to discuss the prospects of Tony Toni Toné’s new single.
And the thing was, you could say something like that back then and not be an asshole. I couldn’t even argue with him, or I might invite suspicion. If there was no such thing as homophobia, then you couldn’t accuse someone of it. There wasn’t even anything to defend yourself against. “Yeah, I don’t like gays. So what?” No one’s going to feel guilty about that.
My best friend had just uttered the most hurtful words anyone had ever said to me, and there was nothing I could do but go back to playing The Legend of Zelda and hope he’d drop the subject.
One thing was perfectly clear: I could never tell Greg I was gay, no way, never, not in a million years.
College should have been where my coming-out story began. On the first day of orientation, the entire incoming class was treated to a sensitivity seminar to let us know that it was positively marvelous if someone was black, or Jewish, or even gay. I wasn’t expecting to walk into a place that felt this way, and it seemed a bit cruel that they would create this kind of environment for a bunch of naive young kids who would then have to go into the real world where everyone hated everyone. Still, I was used to building bubbles around myself, and if Columbia University was going to put me in one where no one could call me a fag, then I was going to appreciate it while it lasted.
That first day, they split us into groups of ten so we could get to know each other. We were asked to state our name, where we were from, how we identified racially, what social class we were in and—holy shit—our sexual orientation.
It was obvious our group had been carefully assembled to represent the ideals of college diversity, like a snapshot on the cover of a recruitment catalog of a hot white girl, a nerdy black guy, and an Asian kid in a wheelchair sharing a laugh on the college steps. The upper-class advisers were clearly hoping to score at least one LGBT among our numbers, just to round things out.
A voice in my head told me this was my big chance. I was about to define myself for the next four years. I should take advantage of being in a blissful liberal utopia where being gay was just one special eccentricity that made me a unique individual. If I could just bring myself to say, “I’m Jerry from New Jersey, a white, middle-class homosexual,” then all of this misery could be over.
As we went around the circle and introduced ourselves, I kept hearing Greg’s voice in my head: “I could never be friends with someone who was gay.” These people hadn’t been here any longer than I had. The college could encourage them not to judge, but it couldn’t force anyone to hang out with the queer in their orientation group. I wondered if maybe I could just omit the last part of my introduction, end on my economic status, and leave the rest TBA.
But what if someone called me on it? Just as we were moving on to the trust games, that working-class Korean girl from Kansas would shout out, “Hold on! Jerry from New Jersey didn’t tell us where he falls on the Kinsey scale!” Then everyone would turn to me, gently encouraging me to just admit the truth as my face turned bright red and I crapped my pants. Yeah, it was better to just do it and get it out of the way.