Earlier this year Scott Larson and his partner, Kyle, were planning for the annual White Party in Palm Springs, Calif. The couple also snowboarded, barhopped, went out dancing, and sandwiched in gym workouts after work. And theyre looking forward to an Atlantis cruise next January.
Just like any other affluent Los Angeles gay couple, right? Well, yes -- except that Scott and Kyle are the doting parents of a baby girl, Johanna, born in November 2007. Her birth mom, Gwyn, lives with them in their rambling home and helps raise her. And their household includes five stray dogs theyve adopted.
Meet the new gay dads. Whereas older men became fathers first, then gay, says David Bauman, who created and runs GayFatherhood.com, these guys came to terms with their sexuality earlier in life and made a conscious decision to have kids.
At 40, Bauman is the same age as Larson, but the similarity ends there. Bauman, who lives in a small Pennsylvania town, was influenced by his deeply religious upbringing to get married and start a family, which he did while studying for the ministry. Not long after the youngest of his three sons, now 11, was born, he divorced his wife and went through what he now calls my gay adolescence. He went to New York Citys gay pride celebration, where he thought, How do I fit into this?
Soon afterward he met Brian, his partner, who is eight years younger. Bauman has joint custody of his sons with his ex-wife, who lives nearby, and the two men share with her in bringing up the boys. Despite the turmoil in his life, Bauman wouldnt have it any other way. I once thought, Why didnt I come to terms with this sooner? he says. But my youngest son came up and hugged me, and I realized, If Id had, I wouldnt have you.
Michael Barr, a Chicago psychology professor, belongs to the earlier, pioneering post-Stonewall generation of out gay dads. His son -- also from a previous marriage -- is now 29 but always considered his dads partner more of a big brother than a second dad when he was growing up; he had to contend with ribbing from friends about having a gay dadif not outright abuse. His son, Barrs 6-year-old grandson, has no issues and sees his two granddads as perfectly natural.
But theres more that separates people like Larson and Bauman. Along with coming out earlier, the new gay dads want to have it all, says Jeffrey Parsons, a psychology professor at Hunter College in New York and, at age 40, the father of an infant son. They have the life and children and adult responsibilities but also keep their connections to the community, sometimes in the party scene.
Often, these disco dads have sampled the circuit, the beaches, the bars, and the baths, and theyre ready to settle down. But whereas that once meant a partner and maybe dogs, increasingly it includes a child, either through surrogacy or adoption.
Anyone looking for a sign of profound changes in our world need go no farther than New Yorks Fire Island Pines, the resort town considered the world capital of gay hedonism. Last summer it was host to a gymboree for kids 3 and younger.
When he came out, Bauman ran into some people who were unsupportive or derisively called him a breeder. Rob Levy, who lives in Chelsea, Manhattans well-known gayborhood, remembers bringing son Ethan, now 10, out to Fire Island for the first time and having someone ask him, Wouldnt a dog have been easier?
Today, Ethan is the darling of the house that Levy and partner David Schutte share with other (nonparent) gay couples in Fire Island Pines. Every weekend is filled with beach play dates with the children of gay and straight parents. Now, when guys approach Levy, its to ask how he went about adopting Ethan. We get a lot of twinkies who tell us they want to do it when they grow up, Levy jokes. They talk about kids when theyre dating. Its part of their goals -- a big change. We never talked about kids.
Stephen Kaplan is only 30, but he and his partner, Will Nolan, 36, have been dads for two years already. Kaplan always knew he wanted kids. He dated only guys who felt the same way. Last winter the two men had a trip to Montreal all planned. Kaplans mom would fly in to babysit. A snowstorm interfered with those plans, but the two men still got to spend a weekend in New York -- a treat since they live just across the Hudson River but dont get out as much these days. A lot of our single gay friends enjoy a different lifestyle, Kaplan says. But theyre always asking us, Can we play with Michael?' -- the couples adopted son.
Gay dads are popping up everywhere. Jerry Nadals and Gene Lubass day (and night) jobs are with Cirque du Soleil on the Las Vegas Strip, and a lot of international travel is required of them. But they spend as much time as they can with their infant twin sons. Our jobs are more than full time, Lubas says. We put in 10- to 12-hour days. A lot of our work is involved with social affairs. A full-time nanny helps -- as do their showbiz friends, straight and gay, who fight over who gets to babysit when the couple wants to have a date night out on the town.
Part of the reason we are continuing to find new ways of child-rearing is that we have had so few examples. Antonio Brown and partner Stewart Wade are parents to a 14-year-old boy they adopted from Wades sister when he was 9 (the boy had started living with Wade at age 4). The couple has also made a feature film, Tru Loved, about two gay dads and two lesbian moms raising a teenage girl. Eric Miller, a coexecutive producer of the film with his partner in business and life, Eric Borsum -- theyre also parents to a teenage son -- says they wanted to make a movie that showed people like us, who arent represented in mainstream entertainment. That sense of feeling marginalized sometimes extends to the West Hollywood gay scene, Borsum added. Gay dads notice that their interests sometimes dont mesh with childless men.
David Strah, who divides his time between Manhattan and East Hampton with his partner and two children, wrote the seminal book Gay Dads on the subject back in 2003. In it he quotes partner Barry Miguel ruefully observing that one child might be fun for gay friends, but two is too many: When one kid is running around and a baby is screaming, the novelty has worn off -- at least where others are concerned.
Maybe so, but once theyre older, dad and dad may start to step out again, something gay party promoter (and father) Hilton Wolman has noticed. Quite a few drop out of the scene for a few years and stay home, he says. But as the kids start spending time with friends, their parents are coming back -- not as the party animals they were, but [they go] to some events.
So maybe theres no day care at the White Party -- yet. But there are more dads like Jonathan Wallach, the father of two teenagers from a previous marriage. He and partner Don Bux live on Manhattans Upper West Side. Theyre both very hands-on in his kids upbringing, but the two heavily muscled men certainly dont resemble a gay version of Ward and June Cleaver.
After Wallach separated from his wife, he and Bux starting living together in 2002. That same year they experienced their first Black Party; this year marked their seventh. They attended Montreals massive Black and Blue event in 2003 as a honeymoon after getting married in Toronto. Theyve done Gay Days in Orlando, Blue Ball, Alegria, and EuroPride in Madrid.
Wallach not only continues to enjoy the gay party scene but also wants his kids to see how much fun it is. When they return to Madrid this year, theyll be bringing Wallachs parents and the kids, whom he plans to take to the big street party. Even though a lot of gay men try to have it all, he says, they still have very traditional beliefs about what their children should or should not be exposed to. Don and I have none of those rules.
Of course, some things remain off-limits. If I was on Manhunt and my daughter wants to use the computer, Id say, Hold on a second, you cant see that, Wallach says, adding that his daughter would simply reply, I dont want to see what youre doing.
Bux considers the ability to integrate parties into his life as a dad as an advantage in dealing with difficult problems and choices all teens face today. Weve had long discussions about drugs, he says. They know we like to go out dancing, and they just think its funny.
If dads like Bux and Wallach stay very much in the scene, some gay dads are now running the scene.
David Knapp, one of the best-known and most established gay DJs, he has built a reputation for his sexy beats and hard-driving compilation CDs. Hes also the official DJ for R Family Vacations. Nearly every weekend, he can be seen in a DJ booth, looking down on a sea of hot, sweaty men. But no matter how late he stayed up all weekend or how far away he was, at 7 a.m. on Monday hes getting Ryan and Kira, his son and daughter, dressed and ready for school.
Knapp considers the stable family life in Atlanta that he shares with partner Scott Bellknapp a counterbalance to his love of music and nightlife. The same holds true, he says, for more and more of the men dancing below him. For example, on a Saturday at Town Danceboutique in Washington, D.C., where hes resident DJ twice a month, a couple came up to the booth and told him they had a 12-year-old daughter.
All of us are determined not to let parenthood take away from who weve become, says Knapp. All of us -- Im speaking for the dads I know -- are part of the gay lifestyle, the gay community. Were not circuit boys, but when we go out we appreciate it so much. You can get jaded doing it all the time. It gives us a new perspective.
As one of the biggest club promoters in south Florida, Wolman is a major player on the gay party scene. If Larson and the other gay dads are redefining what family means, Wolman has reimagined it. He lives with his beloved wife, to whom he came out 12 years ago, and his eldest son, who happens to be gay.
When Wolman started taking his wife to parties, she wasnt comfortable. Now she enjoys them nearly as much as he does. Shes become far more secure, he says, and far more accepting that monogamy isnt an imperative in every relationship.
His son Myron, 24, jokes about some of the interesting stories that have arisen from being at a circuit party or on a gay cruise with Mom and Dad. Five days after I came out, he recalls, my parents said, OK, were all going to Gay Days!
Still, he admits, Sometimes its weird on the dance floor to look over and theres my dad -- and not only a gay dad but a dad so in the scene. He knows everybody. He knows exactly what goes on -- so that opens up the conversation about safe sex and drug use. Its allowed for us to talk about absolutely everything.
Like the gay dads interviewed for this article, Myron is self-conscious about being part of a quiet revolution that is smashing the outdated Ward and June Cleaver image of parenting. Its showing that family bonds arent just in the storybooks, he says, with the white picket fence, golden retriever, and a mommy and a daddy. Its nice to see were making steps toward reinventing the modern American family.