Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cleaning Day. A day in the life... by Joey Spinelli

It’s Friday.  The day of the week I avoid like a Christian Conservative at an Arizona Gay Pride parade.  While I have no problem cleaning my home during the other weekdays, Friday is the day I dread because it’s the day I tackle my son’s room.    Every week, it’s the same process.  First, I get everyone in the house off to school and off to work.  I need to be completely alone for this.   Then, I make sure all the curtains in the house are closed so the neighbors don’t see my crying.  Next, I always leave a note for someone in case I am never heard from again.  This way they know where to look for my body.  After that, I find my ugliest, oldest sweat pants and tee shirt, the kind that I wouldn’t even wear to a laundromat at 3am on a Tuesday night.  This work can get dirty and it’s best to be prepared. Now that I’m ready, the time has come to get started. I approach the door to my kid’s room, kick it open, and dive in.

Wow, it’s a mess.  The only clean thing in his room is the hamper, which has zero pieces of clothing in it.  The clothes are instead scattered all over the floor and on top of things.  I start by picking those up first.  A pair of jeans goes in the hamper, and then a shirt follows.  1 sock and oh, wait, there is a shirt stuck to it with a lollypop.  Lovely.  And what is with the hangers on the floor?  Is it really that hard to put hangers back on the bar after you take your clothes off them? Ok. The clothes and the hangers are all picked up. That wasn’t so bad.  Next, it’s the Imaginex toys.  These are little action figures that come in many sets.  They are all poseable, have cool boats and planes and even a Batmobile for Batman.  Ok, ill put these aside till later for err….further evaluation.  As I start picking up more and more stuff, I grab the nearby light saber to cut through the sea of stuffed animals in my path. There is a hanging basket tree for those stuffed animals so I start picking them up one by one and putting them away.  Back you go Super Grover.  Climb on up Alvin, Theodor and Simon.  All stuffed animals, that means you too Beaker.  Why do we have soo many stuffed animals?  Oh right, because I keep buying them.  He doesn’t really like them, but I do.  Yikes, there is a fly buzzing around me so I quick grab my Modern Parenting magazine from my utility belt and smack that fly out of the air.  I Finally get to do something productive with that useless rag of psychology and advise. I hate that magazine. The kids in that magazine always respond so well to parenting tricks.  Not mine! 

Ok, on to the next thing.  There are papers lying all around the room.  I drag my secret garbage can into the room.  You know, the one I keep outside in the shed that holds all my kids garbage that I can’t let him see me throw away because he wants to keep that stuff forever.  Its all-important papers too like the paper placemat with the spaghetti word scramble from the local Italian restaurant.  There’s the Dum Dum wrappers from every lollypop he ever had.  And of course who can get through being 7yrs old without all those colored drawing from Smalland at IKEA.  Trash, trash, trash.  He won’t even realize that they are gone.  Ok, paper pickup is going well.  Now I’m on to his desk area where he does his homework.  I start to clear off all the junk from his homework area like 30 erasers from the dollar aisle at Target, 2 cheesy roll up wrappers from Taco bell and 3 pencil boxes.  Oh look, I just found my tape dispenser that I have been missing all week.  And there are my post it notes.  In fact, half of my home office is in here.  Why are kids so interested in my home office supplies? They are tools, they aren’t toys!  Ok, IPAD is picked up off the floor and put back on its cradle and charging.  Ill just pick up the earth globe from under the bed and put that back on the desk.  The desk is looking good. I gotta keep moving.  As you know when cleaning a kid’s room, your goal is to put stuff back where it belongs and get to the part where you can see the floor.  Once you see the floor, vacuuming is not far behind and that signifies that you are near the end.  Well I wasn’t far from seeing the floor.  I was feeling good.  I was making progress.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  All of a sudden, I scream.  My foot is in pain and I let out that four-letter word that no parent ever wants to hear themselves say. “LEGO!!!!!!!!”  Why are those little square blocks sooooo painful? Ugh! At times like this I blame my partner, T.  This is all his fault.  If he just worked an extra job or two, I could have domestic help and then I wouldn’t be in this mess.  Now my foot aches from stepping on a strategically placed Lego land mine and I still cant even see the rug yet.  As I start removing the many “empty” plastic bins from the floor that are meant to hold everything in this room, I can see that there are thousands of Legos and other block kits of every size and color scattered everywhere, all existing in some sort of “Bohemian community.”  This would never work in Arizona.  Anyway, that’s my next goal.  I have to put each piece of these building block kits back in their empty bins.  That takes 2hours alone because I cant just put them all in one bin.  I have to sort them all by type and size and color just so they can be dumped out again.  I can’t help it, I need things organized.  The floor is now cleared, the clothes are put away, the bed is…well there is no reason to make a 7yr olds bed.  But the floor is ready for vacuuming.  As I grab my vacuum and triumphantly go back and forth seven times in each row (That’s how many times you have to go over a piece of dirt before it’s all picked up) I basque in knowing that I am close to the end.  I have 30 minutes before I have to go get my boy from school and that’s just enough time to dust, get rid of the garbage pail, put away the vacuum, and open the shades back up.  Whew.  What a day. 

I go get my boy from school, take him to his after school learning program, then to swim team practice and finally we start homework at 6pm.  While we are working on 2nd grade division and square roots, his daddy T gets home.  He walks in the door, says “Who loves ya?” like he always does and gives us all a kiss. Finally, some reinforcements, my day is about to get better.  Thank goodness.  T puts his keys down, goes to the bathroom real quick, opens the fridge to see what snacks are available and then says, “Babe, the dishes are still in the sink from this morning?  What did you do all day?  Ugh.  This is all T’s fault.!

"Who am I? That’s simple. I am a gay parent that’s treated like a second class citizen and I am done taking it. 
Every day I am in the battlefields, in my kid’s school, PTA meetings, swim team, birthday parties with
other parents and I am forcing people to meet me.

Every day I stand right next to them and even if it’s just in my mind, I say “ Look at me will you! I am a gay man, right in front of you. 
I have a partner of 8 years and a 6r old boy. 
My kid is in your kid’s class and will be for the next 11 years. 
I am not going away so now would be as good a time as any to accept me and everything that comes with me."
Joe also blogs at 1 regular joe

Thursday, February 27, 2014

DADsquared discusses Florida Same Sex Surrogacy laws with Family Law Attorney Marla Neufeld.

We recently had the great opportunity to chat with Marla Neufeld, a Florida Family Law Attorney doing some great work for our community.
With Marla’s personal journey with infertility and use of a gestational surrogate, she was able to take her legal background and combine it with her compassion and understanding of the surrogacy process by helping others start a family using the available third party reproductive technologies and adoption laws in Florida. Marla is honored to represent same sex couples,married couples and individuals in Florida seeking to utilize various reproductive technologies.

DADsquared: Can same sex couples use surrogacy in Florida to start a family?

With current advances in reproductive technology coupled with the evolving legal landscape in Florida, surrogacy for same sex couples is permissible and Florida does not prohibit egg or sperm donation for same sex couples. There are additional steps required for same sex couples to ensure parental rights for the biological and non-biological parent. After selecting a surrogate, the same sex couple enters into a Pre Planned Adoption Agreement with the surrogate which is governed by Florida Statute 63.213. This is an agreement in which a surrogate agrees to bear a child and relinquish parental rights to the commissioning couple. Florida law has mandatory requirements of what must be included in this type of agreement to be effective in terminating the surrogate’s parental rights. Upon the birth of the child(ren), the non-biological parent files a Second Parent Adoption (see below) to obtain full parental rights to the child(ren) so that both parents can be placed on the child’s birth certificate. Surrogacy law is state specific and constantly evolving, so please consider your jurisdiction and laws prior to entering into a surrogacy arrangement.
DS: Do same sex couples need to go through an adoption using the surrogacy process in Florida?

Since gestational surrogacy agreements (which allow for automatic parental rights for both parties in the commissioning couple) are currently illegal in Florida for same sex couples, the process in which the non-biological partner obtains full parental rights to the child(ren)
is through the process of Second Parent Adoption once the child(ren) are born via a surrogate. When the child(ren) are born, only the biological parent in a same sex couple will have parental rights and be placed on the birth certificate. Without utilizing a Second Parent Adoption, the non-biological parent in the same sex relationship has no legal rights to the child(ren). The process for Second Parent Adoption, which can take approximately 2-3 months from filing the adoption petition, is similar to a standard adoption which involves filing an adoption petition, fingerprints, background checks, a home study, obtaining the necessary consents to terminate parental rights, a search of the putative father registry to ensure nobody else claims parents' rights to the child, a final adoption hearing and judgment, and ultimately placing both parents on the birth certificate.

DS: Is a contract required for the donation of egg, sperm, or embryos?

The donation of eggs, sperm and embryos are governed by Florida Statute 742.14. The statute expressly provides that the donor of any egg, sperm or embryo (except as otherwise provided) shall relinquish all maternal or parental rights and obligations with respect to the donation or the resulting child(ren). It is critical that a contract be entered into between the commissioning couple and the donor of the genetic material so the intent of the parties is clear as to the termination of any parental rights as to the donor party. The donation contracts between recipients and the donor specifically detail the parties' obligations and rights with regard to the donation, and cover issues that arise in third party reproductive technology including, but not limited to, parental rights of the commissioning couple and relinquishment of parental rights by the donating party, confidentiality, required medical testing, future communication between the parties, expenses, liability for complications, and the rights of the child(ren).

DS: Can a same sex partner donate egg or sperm to their partner, retain parental rights, and not be viewed as a donor?

In late 2013, the Florida Supreme Court held that the Florida egg, sperm and embryo donation statute (Florida Statute 742.14) was unconstitutional as it only allowed legally married heterosexual couples to retain parental rights to child born resulting from donated genetic material from one party to the other. The case involved a lesbian couple where one woman donated her egg (“biological mother”) to her partner (“birth mother”) to carry the child. Years after the birth of the child, the birth mother refused to give the biological mother parental rights and asserted the biological mother was only a donor of the egg with no parental rights.. Under Florida’s donation statute, since they were not a legally married couple, when the biological mother donated her egg, she was viewed as an egg donor and did not retain any rights to the resulting child. The case, which was a matter of first impression, was argued to the Florida Supreme Court who determined that the donor statute was unconstitutional because it denied the biological mother the right to raise her child. The Florida Supreme Court held, “we conclude that the state would be hard pressed to find a reason why a child would not be better off having two loving parents in her life, regardless of whether those parents are of the same sex, than she would by having only one parent.” This is great news for same-sex couples wishing to utilize assisted reproductive technology to start families in Florida as they are no longer deemed just donors of genetic material if their intent is to retain parental rights to the resulting child. Regardless of the statute, a contract setting forth the parties intentions is strongly recommended when dealing with any reproductive technology law issues.

DS: What should I look for when selecting a surrogate?

All surrogates should be fully informed of the entire surrogacy process and it is important for her to understand that she will have to interrupt her family and work schedules to attend medical appointments and undergo fertility drug protocols and embryo transfer procedures, perhaps multiple times. The surrogate should understand any health risks associated with being a surrogate, including common side effects from the fertility medications and all risks associated with pregnancy. The surrogate’s spouse/significant other should understand these issues as well. It is important that you are on the same page about the difficult issues relating to the pregnancy such as how many embryos to transfer and whether she agrees to termination or selective reduction of the pregnancy if medically necessary. You want to ensure that she leads a healthy, pregnancy friendly lifestyle (i.e. diet, exercise, no drugs/alcohol, no diseases or health conditions that would impact the pregnancy), that she has good support system, that she has had a prior uncomplicated birth, is free of a criminal history, and that you feel in your gut that you can trust her with this important role. The surrogate should be no older than 40 and prior c-sections should be limited. It is helpful to determine that the surrogate has a car so she can go to the numerous appointments and you want to consider her job to see if it is conducive to pregnancy and also to determine her wages as you may be responsible for her net lost wages in the event she is on doctor ordered bed rest during the pregnancy. Surrogates are generally reviewed by a medical doctor, psychologist, and surrogacy agency (if applicable) to help assist with these determinations as to whether she fit to act as a surrogate.

DS: What are the types of costs associated with surrogacy in Florida?

Surrogacy costs vary depending on numerous factors, however, the price for surrogacy can range from $15,000 (friend/family member acting as a surrogate with no compensation, referred as a “compassionate surrogacy”) upward of $150,000. The commissioning couple seeking to use a surrogate are responsible for all of the costs relating to the journey which include (all estimates), but are not limited to, the fertility clinic, obstetrician, and hospital expenses for the surrogate (prices vary), a lawyer for the commissioning couple ($6,000-$10,000) and for the surrogate ($500-$1,000), psychological review of the surrogate and spouse/significant other ($400-$600), surrogacy agency fee ($10,000-$16,000), reasonable living expenses of the surrogate ($200/month), the surrogate’s fee ($20,000-$35,000), health insurance for the surrogate (varies depending on insurance of surrogate, if any), term life insurance policy for the surrogate ($150-$200), and maternity clothes for the surrogate ($800). If a donated egg is required, the costs include the egg donation agency which may include insurance and lawyer fees ($4,500-$10,000) and donor compensation ($5,000-$10,000). There are certain contingent payments that may be due to the surrogate, for example, twins ($4,000), c-section ($1,500), loss of organs ($5,000), surgery on fetus ($500), and net lost wages based on doctor ordered bed rest.

DS: Will a sperm donor have parental rights in a “do it yourself” artificial insemination under Florida law?

Florida’s egg, sperm, and embryo donation statute (Florida Statute 742.14) provides that the donor of egg, sperm, or embryos has no parental rights to the resulting child (unless between a commissioning couple or a preplanned adoption agreement is in place) when using assisted reproductive technology. Florida law defines “assisted reproductive technology”, in part, as procreative procedures which involve the laboratory handling of human eggs or preembryos. A 2002 Florida case found that a woman who wanted to get pregnant in the “usual and customary manner” with a friend for the use of his sperm could not relieve the man who provided his sperm of his parental rights despite an agreement providing otherwise that he was just a sperm donor because the child was created in the “usual and customary way”. The statute did not contemplate impregnation of woman with donated sperm by means of intercourse. In contrast, a 2013 Florida case involved a “do it yourself” artificial insemination using the biological mother’s egg by her same sex partner’s brother’s sperm. In that case, the court found the man who donated his sperm could be deemed a donor with no parental rights because while the procedure was not done in a laboratory, the court held “the statute does not require that the artificial insemination be performed in a clinical setting”. Regardless of the method of conception, it is imperative to consult with an attorney and have the proper contracts in place to specify the parties intentions regarding parental rights and the status of the donor of egg or sperm.

DS: What is traditional surrogacy compared to gestational surrogacy?

“Traditional surrogacy” is the process in which the surrogate either undergoes artificial insemination or IVF with sperm from the male or from a sperm donor. The surrogate herself provides the eggs and is therefore genetically related to the child. This is a riskier approach to surrogacy because the surrogate has a genetic relationship to the child and there have been cases where the surrogate has retained parental rights to the child. With “gestational surrogacy”, the surrogate does not have a genetic relationship to the child. With two fathers, donor eggs will be utilized with one or both of the father’s sperm and the resulting embryo(s) are transferred into the surrogate. In this scenario, the surrogate is not biologically related to the child. Options for gestational surrogacy for two fathers include: (1) splitting the donated eggs, fertilizing the eggs with the sperm of each of the fathers separately, and transferring one embryo from each fertilized egg into the surrogate so that if twins are born, each father may be genetically related to one of the children, (2) utilizing a relative’s egg with the donated sperm of the non-relative partner which allows both partners to have a genetic connection to the child, or (3) using one father’s sperm for the first surrogacy and the other father’s sperm for the second surrogacy.
DS: What medical procedures are required for the surrogate?
Once the surrogate is evaluated by the physician, the parties are ready to start medications, and the surrogacy contract is fully executed, the surrogate will require treatment with various hormones. Each fertility clinic prescribes different protocols, however, the general approach is as follows: The surrogate begins with estrogen and progesterone which are administered either orally, by injection, by skin patch and/or vaginally. Also, the surrogate will take Lupron, a subcutaneous injection, given daily starting with synchronization of the cycles until the egg retrieval (if egg donor used). When the uterus of the surrogate is thick enough, the embryo(s) will be transferred into the surrogate's uterus. This procedure typically takes 30 minutes and is done as an outpatient. The commissioning couple are generally allowed in the room during the procedure as long as the surrogate agrees. Following the embryo transfer, the surrogate will be required to lie flat for 15 minutes - 1 hour before going home. For the next 2-3 days rest at home is required. Progesterone injections and estrogen supplementation will be given to the surrogate until the pregnancy test is done, 12-14 days following embryo transfer. Following a positive pregnancy test, hormone support will be continued on the surrogate for several weeks throughout the first trimester as needed. There will be frequent weekly blood tests and ultrasounds during this time period until the surrogate is released to the obstetrician and the pregnancy is treated like a “normal” pregnancy at that point.
DS: What are the general “baby” steps in same sex surrogacy?
After a medical doctor determines that surrogacy is indicated for the commissioning couple (medical clearance is statutorily required in Florida), the general steps in a surrogacy journey are as follows:
1)    The commissioning couple secures a surrogate that has cleared a background check, psychological and medical examination. Commissioning couples may locate a surrogate on their own (i.e. Internet, friends, family) or through the use of a surrogacy agency.
2)   The intended parents start the process of obtaining or confirming health insurance for the surrogate. Many insurance agencies, especially in Florida, are starting to exclude surrogacy from coverage for health insurance benefits.
3) Simultaneous with the selection of a surrogate, the intended parents select the fertility clinic they wish to use to help create the embryos to be transferred into the surrogate. Based on the location of the surrogate, you may need to select a second fertility clinic closer to the surrogate to monitor the surrogate during the surrogacy process.
4)   Before fertility medications can start for the surrogate, the surrogacy contract will be drafted, reviewed, negotiated. This contract details the parties' rights, obligations, intentions and expectations in connection with their third party reproductive technology arrangement, and covers subjects such as parental rights, custody issues, compensation, location of delivery, future communication between the parties, insurance, control over medical decisions during the pregnancy, payment of medical bills, liability for medical complications, and other provisions required by Florida law.
5) Prior to the embryo transfer and throughout the pregnancy, an escrow agent will deliver the money being paid to the surrogate according to the schedule of payments established in the surrogacy contract.
6) The surrogate will continue to see the fertility doctor until around eight (8) - ten (10) weeks of pregnancy when she is released to an obstetrician, to be selected by the commissioning couple. Fertility medication for the surrogate may continue for twelve (12) weeks of pregnancy.
7)   Around the second trimester, the lawyer will coordinate with the risk manager or nurse administrator of the obstetric department of the hospital to ensure that the delivery process will be smooth for the parties. It is important for the hospital staff to understand the surrogacy arrangement so the commissioning couple has full hospital access. Most hospitals formulate a birth plan which includes who has access to the nursery, whether the commissioning couple want a separate room for visitation, and who will have access to the delivery room in the event of a vaginal birth or c-section.
8)    For heterosexual married couples, an expedited confidential action can be filed three days following the birth of the child in order to place both parents’ names on the birth certificate. For same sex couples, once the child is born, a second parent adoption is filed to place the non-biological parent on the birth certificate. This will give full parental rights to the non-biological parent which will be recognized in Florida or any other state.

DS: Marla, I thank you so much for your time and all this great information.
It was my pleasure!

DS: Good luck with your family.
And to you and your readers also!!

Marla is an attorney at Greenspoon Marder's Family Law practice group, a full service Florida law firm, founded in 1981, offering legal services such as family law, real estate, trust and estates, land use, and litigation. Contact Marla for a free consultation at 954-761-2929 or email her here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

"Mama, are we gay?"

A question asked by my six year-old daughter the other day.

The first thing I did was ask her if she remembered what gay meant. Mostly she did (when a girl has special grown-up friendships with girl and a boy with a boy), though I did have to remind her that sometimes people have special grown-up friendships with boys and girls.

Then I told her that I am gay and when you’re a girl and you’re gay you’re called lesbian. I am a lesbian but that doesn’t make us a gay family because lots of families are made up of people who are gay and straight.

As for her, well, some people get a sense of whether they are gay or straight when they’re little but many others don’t figure it out for sure until they are adults. I assured her that whenever she figured it out is fine, whether she turned out to be gay or straight is also fine, and if she changes her mind that’s okay too. She didn’t have to be gay to be in our family. We’re not a gay family. We’re a family.

With her position in our family established, now my Montessori-educated kid went into one of her favorite pastimes. That is, categorizing things to understand them better. She started asking about people we knew. Was this person gay? What about that person? Turns out her gaydar is pretty good, if a bit over-sensitive. She didn’t peg anyone as straight who is gay but there were a couple of people she had a difficult time believing were not gay. Luckily, none of them will be offended if she shares her mis-identification with them.

In the moment, I was just kind of bemused but later after she was in bed I got to thinking. The question, “Are we a gay family?” and the implication that if we are a gay family then I must be gay to be a part of it makes me think, did those of us who grew up in straight families assume that we must be straight to be a part of the family, to belong? Straight was the default and gay was the deviation from the norm. How many deviations do you get before you don’t belong anymore? I’d already used up a bunch of mine on just being very different from my parents, and frankly, weird. I wasn’t ready to add another deviation to the list by coming out as gay until I was nearly middle-aged.

Because my daughter is adopted and black (I am white) it’s important for me to reinforce the fact that she is part of our family no matter what. For that reason, I don’t want her to feel like she needs to come out as straight anymore that I want her to come out as gay. I hope that one day (about ten years from now!!) she can just walk in the door holding hands with Isabelle or Jack and introduce them as her girlfriend/boyfriend and that it never occurs to her to come out as anything.

Alison Aucoin is the happy single (not co-parenting) lesbian mom of a six year-old daughter she adopted from Ethiopia. She runs her own consulting firm, Two Birds One Stone, that provides low-cost fundraising and grant writing services to non-profit organizations around the country. She has her own blog at Ende beteh yemhone yelem and might get back to writing for The Nervous Breakdown any day now...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

FAMILY by Joey Spinelli

The holidays are approaching.  This means a lot of things to my family and me.  Most Importantly it means we are going to North Dakota for Thanksgiving.  What?  North Dakota?  I know, I know, its sooo Middle America, but that’s where my partner is from and that’s where his family is.  Since this is the time of year where we remember to be thankful, I want to give you and idea of what his family means to me. I look forward to this trip every year.  My partner can take it or leave it.  He loves his family but he is more concerned about spending that $1000.00 on new landscaping or updates to the house, not plane tickets.  I love all that stuff also, but to me family time is more important. 

I remember the first year T and I were dating. We went to ND to visit for Thanksgiving and I got to meet a big part of his family.  There was his mom, his step dad, his sister, her husband and their two kids.  The kids were pretty young, I think about 6yrs and 2yrs.  The family was very welcoming.  His mom cooked a fantastic Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimming and I remember thinking how large the table looked with all those place settings.  It looked like she was cooking for everyone she ever met.  I had taken the liberty of bringing a recipe for sweet potato casserole that became a yearly staple for that dinner.  The whole trip went well and I felt like I really got the chance to learn about his family and about where he came from.  For instance, his mom just wanted to be included in his life because she missed her son.  To this day, I keep her in the loop on everything here at home.  His sister had her hands full with two beautiful kids and her husband that likes to hunt but she was really into Black Friday shopping.  On the day after Thanksgiving, She woke us all up at 2:30am to be at the stores by 4am.  She opened my bedroom door at 2:30am and was like, lets get going, the stores open up in an hour.  I thought, “You have got to be joking”.  But no, we all got up and went shopping Friday morning at 4am.  And, if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s like 4 degrees outside.  By 9am that day, I was wiped out and we all needed a little naptime. 

The second year I went back was slightly different because in October of that year, right before Thanksgiving, I became a vegetarian.  I never really ate red meat or fish anyway so I just decided to give up eating poultry.  I had been a month into it and then the Thanksgiving trip got here.  Again, we get to Thanksgiving dinner and it’s a large meal for everyone.  I guess my partner told them about me being a vegetarian because while they were passing the food around his mom announced loudly “Now everyone, it’s Thanksgiving so nobody is on a diet today” as she look right at me.  In a low whisper type voice, I said to her across the table “I’m not on a diet, I’m a vegetarian”.  His sister’s husband almost dropped his fork, looked up at me, stared me in the eye and said “but you eat deer meat, right?”  ummm no, sorry.  I swear I heard him crying in the bathroom later on that night. Poor guy.  The next day was Black Friday morning, and you guessed it, we were at the stores by 4am to get the bargains.

When we first talked to his family about being parents, we spoke with his mom first.  We told her we were going to take on the responsibility of a child.  I could tell that his mom always wanted him to experience being a success in life but that she was sad that he would probably not get married and have a family like the rest of her kids because he was gay.  Even when he met me, his mom was apprehensive because she didn’t want him to get hurt.  I remember when I first met T, I would write him some poetry (hey, I was young), and he would tell his mom about it.  I’ll never forget what she said to him.  “Oh son, be careful, this one sounds dangerous”.  He told me about that when it happened.  Someone else might have gotten upset about that but not me.  I knew immediately that she loved her son very much and didn’t want him to be hurt.  She and I had that in common.  As the years went on before our boy came along, she came to love me.  One of the reasons was because I kept a dialog with her all year long.  Her daughters are all married to good men, but I am pretty sure that none of their husbands text or call the mother-in-law on their own just to say hello, or to ask her opinion on things or to plan trips.  In fact, it’s kind of a running joke in our house that when his family wants something, they call me, not him. 

As the years went on for Thanksgiving, his mother and the rest of the family would treat me like I was a spouse.  There was no difference other than I felt like I had a much better relationship with his mom than the other husbands did.  They watched football and I help with the dishes and talked with her about life.  This went on for a few years and I still have that relationship with her. The real wake up moment for me, when I knew this was the real thing was when my boy was about 3 years old.  I had sent T’s mom a photo from day care that the photographers took for school photos.  I was a proud parent and didn’t really think anything other than I wanted to share the photo with grandma.  That same year, during the Thanksgiving trip. We had just all had Thanksgiving dinner (and his mom was now making a separate stuffing casserole just for me with no meat, Woo Hoo!) and we were sitting in the living room relaxing.  I noticed the photos of the grandchildren on the fireplace.  She has 4 grandkids from her daughters.  There were 5 photos.  I thought that was odd.  I got up, went to the fireplace and I couldn’t move.  I started crying. Nobody noticed because I didn’t want them to see me.  When I went up to the fireplace, there were photos of all the grandkids from their school photos, including our little 3yr old boy.  I left the group and went to be alone for a while.  I wasn’t sure what to say.   I was very happy and proud.  My boy was part of a real family, and now he was part of an extended family that treated him no different than the other kids in the family.  I told T about it later on that day and he felt emotional about it also.   Its funny, I spend every day fighting on the front lines at school, swimming, restaurants and everywhere else we go as a family to show people that we are here, we are a family and we are just like everyone else so accept us and move on.  Now, here we are, in Middle America, where there are more bibles than you can count, and we are accepted unconditionally, with no convincing needed by me.

I already loved T’s family before this ever happened, but I will forever love his mother because of how she treated her adopted grandson.  She recognized her son is happy, that he has a family, and that she is part of his family.  That is true Christianity.  Loving, accepting and non judgmental.  I don’t agree with his family on everything, especially politics.  I am an atheist and more of a liberal because of my fight for gay rights and some of his sisters are more republican because of their fight for fiscal conservativeness.  We definitely have our differences of opinion.  But, I know when the going gets tough, his family is in my corner and that I could call them on a moments notice if I needed them for something.  Each one of them means a lot to me.  Each one of them has treated my boy like part of their family and sure I am an activist for what I believe in, but when it comes down to it, I believe in family first and I know they feel the same way.  I have much to be thankful for this year.  And hopefully, I can get some good deals Black Friday morning at 4am.  It’s now my favorite part of the trip!

"Who am I? That’s simple. I am a gay parent that’s treated like a second class 
citizen and I am done taking it. 

Every day I am in the battlefields, in my kid’s school, PTA meetings, swim team, birthday parties with
other parents and I am forcing people to meet me.
Every day I stand right next to them and even if it’s just in my mind, I say “ Look at me will you! I am a gay man, right in front of you. 
I have a partner of 8 years and a 6r old boy. 
My kid is in your kid’s class and will be for the next 11 years. 
I am not going away so now would be as good a time as any to accept me and everything that comes with me."
Joe also blogs at 1 regular joe

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Catching Up with Dara Fisher on Religion, being a "Gayby" and just how great her Gaydar is.


Sorry for being gone so long!  We've had a heck of a life transition lately and unfortunately, my writing had to go on the back burner.  In July, my better half had weight loss surgery and as of this writing, is down nearly 80 pounds.   On top of that, my school schedule this semester has been pretty labor intensive and then there are those three kids that keep eating my food and leaving messes around the house.  I officially have a teenager now and he is making sure I know it.  I don't mind him getting older but I wish he'd quit dragging me along with him.

I have had some amazing, life altering experiences over the past few months.  To be honest, I've spent a lot of my quiet moments reflecting on my life and the role I play in this World.  I work in a hotel and I have gay couples who check in often.  Recently, we had a group of our Marines return home from Afghanistan.  A lovely lesbian couple came into the hotel to check in and I could tell from their body language that they were trying to keep a distance from each other in an effort to avoid being detected.  I have seen this happen quite a few times but I knew instantly how to address the issue.  I smiled as I checked them in and when it came down to make the room keys, I addressed both ladies as “Mrs. Smith” because I had noticed they were both wearing wedding rings and also came from a state in which gay marriage was legal.  It was as if a huge weight had been lifted off their shoulders.  They became chatty and told me that they were in our area to welcome their son home from Afghanistan.  They asked me how I knew they were a married couple and I told them I was born with the ability to see love in all it's forms.  I also added that gaydar comes as part of the standard package when you have gay parents.  The next day, their son came into my office to thank me for making his Mom's feel welcome and he wanted to meet me because he was surprised to find another “gayby” that was in our age group.  It's always interesting to meet other children of gay parents because we all have a tendency to be really wonderful people.  I have yet to meet another gay family child that isn't absolutely awesome.  We tend to have a different outlook on life and as a result, we are open, loving, and funny people.  I don't get to meet very many of us simply because the whole gay family thing is relatively new.  Those of us who are adults grew up as a specialty thing.  For all of you who are raising children right now, I can't wait to see what the next 20 years has to offer.  I joke all the time that “we” are going mainstream.  I honestly believe our next generation is going to be the best one yet.  The children you are raising right now are going to be the voices of their generation.  They aren't going to be the minority, they are going to be part of the norm.  Rather than a young man getting excited about meeting another kid from a gay family, it's going to be, “You too huh?”

I had another experience this summer that really touched my heart too.  I met a gay man who I instantly clicked with.  He spent a few days in our local area, and over that time we had some really great conversations.  I also experienced for the first time the sadness that being gay can cause in someone's life.  This man was a beautiful soul.  He was suffering through some health issues because of his past history and anxiety was hampering his life.  I could see that he had a vibrant personality but that struggles with his sexuality had left him hurting.  It was a strange experience for me because I have never had to deal with homosexuality being a difficult issue, at least within my family.  I was born into the gay community and my parents along with their friends were always a source of love and acceptance.  You read all these stories about parents that disown their kids because they are gay but I've never seen the outcome of it.  Now I have and it absolutely broke my heart!  I felt so angry, almost to the point of rage when he told me about what he had to go through with his parents.  Not only was he estranged from his parents, he lived in fear of physical violence from his father because he was gay.  As a Mom, I just can't fathom how a parent could treat their child like that.  I love my babies.  I love my babies with a fierceness and dedication that knows no boundaries.  I love every single thing about each one of them from the top of their head to the stinky toes they put in their shoes!  They drive me up the wall sometimes but I love their independence and the fact that they can think for themselves and express their opinion.  There is nothing that could ever change that.  The idea that a child should be shunned for being gay is out of my comprehension.  This man was an adult, older than me in fact, but when it comes to parental relationships, we are always children.  This man was missing a key relationship in his life and it was causing him physical harm.  I don't understand.  I just don't understand.  I've always felt that I was the luckiest woman in the World because not only was I blessed with my children, but God thought enough of me to trust me to protect these beautiful little people.  The majority of these parents that disown their children do it because their religion tells them that being gay is a crime against God.  I am a Christian (Quit laughing!) and I feel that God created homosexuals just as he created me.  I am the first one to admit that I can be a bit high on the horse but I would never, ever, question God and his creations. 

I am also dealing with a weird situation with my youngest son.  MJ is 4 and attends a local Christian preschool.  I love the school and his teachers but I really don't want my son involved in organized religion.  Unfortunately, we don't have any preschools in our area that aren't religion based that our son is eligible for because of our income.  The husband and I have had quite a few arguments about MJ attending a religious school and I think we have finally found a meeting point.  I don't want MJ going to a school that is based in religion because he is part of a gay family.  Organized religion has a tendency to give us “sinners” anxiety problems and I don't want my baby to go through that.  I'm also not a big fan of letting our son think that he is better than other kids his age simply because he goes to a school that cost money and somehow gives off the feeling of “exclusivity.”  I understand parents wanting their children to have the best of the best but I want my children to grow up knowing equality, empathy, and pride in their achievements.  I don't intend to turn a child out into the World thinking they are better than anyone else.  Of course, I also don't believe that children who go to private schools turn out that way either.  Those character flaws are usually based in how the child is raised, not what school cashed their parents check.  Anyway, the long winded point is some of the issues that have come up with my son attending a religious school.  Last Christmas my little boy came home very excited because they were doing a Christmas play and he had been told to bring his whole family. They had also told the children to bring their family to Christmas morning service.  Of course, I just started laughing because when they told these toddlers to make sure they brought their family, they didn't know what MJ was going to come through that door with!  Knowing that our family would probably cause a scene, I opted to not attend the Christmas day service because I won't worship in a place where people like us aren't welcome.  I got a lot of negative feedback for that decision but I stand on it and will again this year.  I worry a lot about what type of information MJ is getting at school.  I know that a religious school is going to teach their beliefs to the children and I fret a lot about MJ being taught that his family is destined for the fire pits of hell.  Last week I was driving MJ to school with my daughter and from the backseat MJ said, “It's weird that I have two Grandpa's in one house”  I felt my heart drop because I knew exactly what my son was trying to say.  We were discussing our annual Thanksgiving trip to visit Papa and Grandpa and my 4 year old was expressing that he felt weird about having Grandpa's that were together.  Before I even had a chance to respond, my daughter got angry and said, “It's not weird!  Don't say that about Papa and Grandpa!”  I didn't have an immediate response because I was driving and trying to get my daughter off the ceiling of the car but I knew it was something I had messed up.  You see, my two oldest children have always known Papa and Grandpa were gay.  It was something that was part of their every day lives so there was never a weirdness about it.  MJ on the other hand has not lived around his two Grandpa's on a daily basis.  Dad and Richard live a few hours away and have since before MJ was born.  His Grandpa's are there for the Holidays but not part of his daily life.  His paternal Grandpa and Grandma see him almost every day and he spends as much time with them as he does with us.    Obviously, MJ's idea of what a “normal” family is would be based on what he sees.   I couldn't tell a toddler that he was wrong in thinking it was weird because it's not wrong.  Two Grandpa's is weird to a child who sees Grandparents as a Grandpa and a Grandma.  In the end I just asked him if he loves his Papa Norman...yes...okay...good...do you love your Grandpa Richard?  Yes!  Okay....good.  Well then, guess that deals with that problem.  I'm still hashing over this situation but for the time being, we're just going to stick with this solution.  Our family is blessed because we meld so well.  My husband's parents and my parents get along very well.  I adore my in laws and my parents love my husband.    When I was a kid, I wondered a lot how I was ever going to get married and have a family with parents like mine.  I'm really glad that was just another one of my pointless concerns.

Dara Fisher. A 33 year old Mother of 3 amazing children with her Prince Charming Keith.  
They live right outside of Palm Springs, California. Dara has degrees in Anthropology, Liberal Arts, and Business Administration.  
She works full time in the Hospitality Industry and attends college classes in pursuit of her MBA when she's not busy being Super Mom.   
She spend her spare time crocheting, quilting, and making a mess with pretty much anything she can get my hands into.  She is a huge Doctor Whofan and  can't eat while watching The Walking Dead. 
Oh and she also happens to be the daughter of gay parents and the Mother of a child with Asbergers  Syndrome and ADHD