Coming Out

How Three Gay Dads Found Peace With Their Ex-Wives After Coming Out

Making amends with an ex-wive is not always an easy or short road for many gay dads. Here's how three gay men and their ex-wives managed to find themselves at peace after a coming out process.

Author Jason Howe takes a looks at how three gay men managed to navigate the process of coming out to their wives and children to ultimately find peace and acceptance.

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Raymond Moya hopes you’ll take his story as a cautionary tale.

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David Byrns always tried hard not to be who he was. Painfully aware of taunts of “hick” and “bumpkin” on the part of strangers, he smoothed out his Arkansas twang. But he never managed to do the same for his attraction to men.

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Amir and Alon Michaeli Molian thought they knew the international surrogacy process inside and out. Their 2-year-old daughter Shira was born to a surrogate in Mumbai, so their journey held few surprises the second time around. It was especially easy to think that on a crisp morning in Kathmandu, Nepal, where their second daughter, Maya, had been born nine days before.

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They waited in line for hours last summer to get married following the district court ruling that made it legal. Their three children were there and the clerk who married them had been a vocal advocate in favor of marriage equality in Indianapolis. It was the first full day of a brief, two-day window during which hundreds of same-sex couples married in Indiana, before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the marriages halted pending its own ruling.

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The social worker had been waiting on the street for three hours and pounced as Adam Holland, his husband and their son pulled out of their West Hollywood, Calif., driveway. The mother of their child’s best friend at preschool, they learned, had called children’s protective services.

“The report said that we were forcing our child, our boy, to dress like a girl,” Holland said. It said that we were confusing him, and that he was suffering.”

For Holland (who asked that his real name not be used to protect his child’s identity), 44, it was a confirmation of the worries spinning in his head since his son began announcing that he was a she.

“At about 3 years old, we got that this kid wanted to wear princess outfits and cheerleader outfits that grandparents got and little Disney frocks from the play chest,” he said, “and we figured, ‘We’re liberated gay dads; our kids can role play however they want.’ So we had plenty of costumes of all different kinds.”

That led to pitched battles to remove the dresses before bed and school, as well as family counseling, which Adam wound up attending solo.

“She said, ‘Well Adam, why don’t you come back next time, just you.’ And I didn’t realize what was happening, but over the next couple of months I kept asking, ‘So when do we bring the child back?’ And she said, ‘Oh well, we find that the kids don’t really have much work to do. It’s mostly the parents.’ And I thought, ‘Ah, I get it now.’”

In fact, while an understanding of children who don’t conform to traditional standards of gender may come easier to gay fathers, they can face challenges that heterosexual parents may not.

“Gay and lesbian folks deal with all of this better,” said Dr. Johanna Olson, medical director of the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But the challenge that gay men still face, particularly if they have a transgender daughter, is a fear that people are going to think that they’re doing that to their kid. There’s an overall pervasive idea that the parent is doing this to their kid, but that’s especially true for gay men.”

With the help of the therapist and others, Holland put together a so-called safe file, letters and other documents from their pastor, counselors, teachers and others explaining the gender identity situation of their child Claire. They showed it to the CPS investigator, who left their home considerably more educated. Still, the incident was terrifying for Holland and his husband. “We had finalized an adoption with this child and it felt like they were going to take her, in the guise of a well-intentioned but uninformed social worker.”

While Holland was learning to confront his own feelings about the gender identity of the child he increasingly accepted as his daughter, she sent him a message that she needed the process to move more quickly.

“Claire at one point tried to cut off her own penis. She wasn’t using a very sharp knife, it was like a butter knife, and I sort of happened upon it and said, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ And she said, ‘I want to get rid of this.’ So at that point, we had to do something really tangible for her.”

That was how Claire came to Dr. Olson, who explained to her in terms understandable to a 4-year-old that doctors could eventually help her be externally who she was inside.

"I am touched and moved as a pediatrician that I can play a tremendous role in what I see as a human rights movement,” Olson said.

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