Personal Essays by Gay Dads

This Gay Dad is Proof: Your Past Doesn't Have to Prevent You From Having Kids

There's plenty in Erik's past he says he's not proud of--drug use and a brief stint in local jail among them. Now married with two daughters, though, his life is proof that your past does not dictate your future.

I am sure that, at some point, everyone has looked back at their past and wished they could change a few things that they are not proud of. From time to time I feel like that, too. As I have written before, I moved to New Orleans when I was a kid- just out of high school. Owning this newfound life was incredibly liberating, but it did not come without consequences.


I was definitely not popular in my south Mississippi high school. I was in the school choir. And I loved (and I mean LOVED) *NSYNC. I thought it was so cool that one of *NSYNC's members, Lance Bass, was from south Mississippi. We even shared the same last name, as my surname before I married Douglas was Bass. Imagine my jubilation when my father told me that we were related to them! That just fueled my love and admiration for Lance and the music group. This might sound ridiculous, but something clicked and I wanted to be just like them. Around the same time, I fell in love with a show called Real World- New Orleans and with Danny Roberts, one of its stars. Honestly, I have to give Danny Roberts all the credit for helping me find myself and having the courage to become who I wanted to be.

I wanted to leave the small-minded Mississippi town behind and start my own journey to stardom. So, I did what any other closeted, starry eyed boy with big dreams would do--I moved away. Some dreamers move to L.A. and some to New York. I moved to New Orleans. Sure, it's not really the scene for pop music. HOWEVER, the gay scene is ON POINT. *lip smack*

I remember the anxiety I had walking down Bourbon Street when I first arrived from Mississippi. I also remember how the apprehension melted away as I walked into Oz, New Orleans' premiere gay nightclub, for the first time. This was my opportunity to recreate my own identity! My new self. So when I walked inside Oz, the shy and intimidated Erik faded away, and Maxx was born.

Erik and Tommy Elias, Oz's former owner and general manager.

As time went on, my confidence grew. I had never had so many friends! And they were all so interesting! For the first time, I felt popular and accepted for who I truly was. About 6 months after moving to New Orleans, I landed a job at Oz as a daiquiri bartender. I quickly took to one of the club's owners, Tommy Elias. Tommy was also from south Mississippi--just a few minutes from where I was from. He had been in a band for decades and loved to perform. His voice was electric and and his smile lit up the room. I immediately respected him and wanted to learn everything I could about the music business. Over the years, he and I become close friends. I called him my 'gay dad' because I didn't have a relationship with my own dad. A couple of years later, Tommy gave me my own weekly Tuesday night show- a dance and variety show called "The Maxx Doubt Experiment," my quest to find New Orleans' best hip-hop dancer. This was my first taste of fame. Well, small town fame, but fame nonetheless.

On Monday nights there was a talent contest called 'The Gong Show' hosted by none other than Bianca Del Rio. It was huge! The dance floor was transformed into a sea of candle lit tables complete with linens that were all reserved for the who's who of gay nightlife.

Bianca and Erik co-hosting The Ozzie Awards, an Academy Award Party.

I only did drag a handful of times, but I was lucky enough to have Bianca make me over each time. Unlike her onstage persona, she was so sweet and compassionate offstage. And she ALWAYS had the best advice. I was a kid, facing problems of my own and she always had the right words to say, "Grin and bear it," she'd say, "until you can't."

She had such a star quality to her back then too. When she walked in the room, everyone knew it. You could tell she was nearby by the scent of Dolce & Gabbana perfume whisking through the air. She had a way of making offensive jokes funny but not hurtful. Well, usually not too hurtful... sometimes tourists would get mouthy and that would just add fuel to her fire. God, it was hilarious. She had nicknames for the regulars that would come to watch her shows... a sweet middle aged lady named "Honey Bee," a pretentious ogre looking man called "Quasimodo," and then there was me, "Maxxi." To this day, some people still call me that. As I look back, I am so thankful that she allowed me to come into her world and get a glimpse of what her life was like. Now she's a superstar and I am so honored to know her and call her my friend.

Taking a quick selfie recently when Erik was the general manager of a gay owned and operated restaurant called, Eat New Orleans

She may be hateful on stage, but trust me- she is the sweetest person in the world you'll ever meet. Love you, Roy! (My next piece will be a one on one conversation with Bianca Del Rio reliving our past, telling stories and answering questions about her life back then and what it is like now. Please be sure to check it out!)

The longer I submerged myself in the nightly gay scene, the further I distanced myself from my morals. You see, people go to the French Quarter to party and act out. As such, the majority of my social exposure was comprised of people who were actively partying 24/7. As time sped by, alcohol and drugs began to take control of my life, and I slowly turned into a person I did not want to be. I became cocky, entitled, and reckless.

I was due for a fall from grace, and this particular fall would be one of the hardest and most important lessons that I have ever learned. I found out who my true friends were. I also had to learn to be at peace with letting the fake and spiteful ones go. People make mistakes in life, especially when you're just a 'punk kid'. Tommy would call me that when I wore my hat backwards. True friends allow you the leeway to learn and grow without judgement. Fake ones will watch you fall and talk about you as you do. In the end, I became more judicious regarding who I allowed in my inner circle.

So I left Oz and got a new job across the street at another gay club called The Bourbon Pub. I was able to shake a good bit of the social toxicity from my life and gain control of what was important. At the time, I was still brokenhearted from my little brother's untimely death. It was a rainy day and I felt depressed, alone, and hopeless. I was approached by my friend Aunt Vickie Vines who saw my sadness. "What's wrong with you Maxxie?" he asked. I told him I was lonely and I didn't want to be sad anymore. To which he replied, "I can fix that. Just give me some of your hair." So, he snipped off a lock of my hair, folded it up in a bandanna, and put it into his pocket. Then he said, "In two weeks, you will meet the love of your life. And when you do, you will know it from your head to your feet." But then came a warning, "But you must be a good person and do the right thing or you will be cursed 3x over." I asked what he was doing with my hair. "Just some New Orleans voodoo, baby." He winked and walked away.

It was almost two weeks to the day when I was working my night shift at the Bourbon Pub. I stepped into the back to grab a clip board and that's when our eyes met. He sat at a desk filling out a new hire work form. It was like time stopped. It was like the beating of the bass from the music on the dance floor silenced, and all I could hear was my own heartbeat. I still remember what the room smelled like, I even remember what we were wearing. I couldn't look away, as if I was frozen. I knew I was in the very moment I had prayed for. This was him. I knew it, and felt it, from my head to my feet. Aunt Vicky Vines said I would, and indeed I did. My knight had come on the night that I needed him. This was Douglas, my future husband.

One of the first pictures of Douglas and Erik, 2006

Douglas and I became inseparable. He had just moved to town from Arizona and was staying at a local hostel. All I could think of was the horror movie 'Hostel." He had to get out of there! And that's exactly what he did (he came to stay with me!). As much as I hate to admit, I began partying just as much if not more than I did when I worked at Oz. The only difference is I had a boyfriend. Spending so many nights in the club meant we also saw so many sunrises. Once the sun came up, we would dart out of the bar and cover ourselves like an Ann Rice character from 'Interview with the Vampire.' We would run to his old Volvo wagon and quickly drive out of the French Quarter.

He was so spontaneous and I loved that. Some mornings we'd walk to Audubon Park and climb trees. My favorite mornings were spent on the levee of the Mississippi river flying kites. Afterwards, he'd take me down to the railroad tracks by the riverbend and smash coins under the train wheels. After the train would pass he would pull out 'The Little Prince', one his personal favorite books. Douglas read, "There may be millions of roses in the world, but your my only one, unique rose." As he continued, all I could do was melt into the grass. As he looked down reading, I couldn't help but cry a little. I knew even more in this moment that this was the boy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

I wish it ended there with a happy ending, but we still had some major growing pains to endure. To say that the partying intensified was an understatement. Aunt Vicky told me if I didn't do the right thing, the spell would curse me 3 times over. As wild as this sounds, she was right. Both of us acted so irresponsibly. I was so careless and it all finally caught up with me. I didn't drink and drive, but that didn't excuse the other things I did. As a result, I was arrested 3 times in a 3 week period by getting pulled over. The last arrest was the day before Good Friday and I was in jail for close to 4 nights.

Once I got out, I made sure to clean up my act. I knew that Aunt Vicky Vines meant business, so my turnaround was pretty easy. I was okay, and now it was Douglas' turn. With a newly cleared head, I was able to see the danger he was in. Ultimately, Douglas got clean, too. And not only did he get clean, but he also decided that he wanted to pursue a career that would allow him to help people who have a history of substance abuse. He went to college and also started a fundraiser to bring scientific instruments to local classrooms across New Orleans by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. At first, all of the local universities rejected his application. The community college accepted him, but pressured him to enroll in an air-conditioner repair program, saying the medical school was too lofty of a goal for someone like him. He pushed forward anyway, and ended up getting a full scholarship to Loyola University, after which he graduated from LSU New Orleans School of Medicine. He asked me to marry him and on August 1st we will celebrate our 12th year together and our 3rd wedding anniversary. We now have two beautiful girls that own our hearts. He is now a doctor and is starting a 4 year residency program in psychiatry which will allow him to practice a mind-and-body approach to substance abuse.

Douglas and Erik with their two daughters

I write all of this to say that--in spite of your past--if you dream it, you can be it. Your past does not dictate your future. If there is something you want in life, go for it! If you are anything like me and have the desire and ambition to become a father, you can. And you can do this no matter what people say, no matter if you aren't completely proud of your past, no matter what your sexual orientation.

Just always remember to be a good person, to be honest, and to do the right thing. If you do these things, you will undoubtedly see wonderful opportunities coming your way. And just remember what an old friend used to tell me... "Just grin and bear it..."

This piece is dedicated to my 'gay-dad', Tommy Elias. You were a light of hope to so many. You are & always will be an inspiration to me. I love you, & you'll be forever in my dreams.

***

I would love for you to follow our family's journey!

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News

Indiana Court Says Couples Using Sperm Donors​ Can Both Be Listed on Birth Certificate — But Ruling Excludes Male Couples

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the case, a major victory for LGBTQ parents — but the Attorney General may appeal to the Supreme Court.

On Friday, a US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling from a lower court that said that both parents in a same-sex relationship are entitled to be listed on the birth certificate — previously, the state of Indiana had required the non-biological parent within a same-sex relationship using assisted reproductive technologies to adopt their child after the birth in order to get her or his name listed on the birth certificate, a lengthy and expensive process not required of straight couples in the same situation.

It's a double standard LGBTQ parents have long been subjected to in many states across the country. So this represent a major win. As reported by CNN, this ruling "takes a lot of weight off" the shoulders of LGBTQ parents, said Karen Celestino-Horseman, a lawyer representing one of the couples in the case. "They've been living as families and wondering if this was going to tear them apart."

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated the case, according to CNN, for more than two and a half years, which is one of the longest in the court's history.

However, because all the plaintiffs in the case involved female same-sex couples using sperm donors, the ruling left open the similar question of parenting rights with respect to male couples. Indiana's Attorney General, moreover, may also appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

We'll be following the case closely and be sure to keep you up to date. For more on this recent decision, read CNN's article here.

Change the World

'Homosexuality is Wrong' Utah Teacher Tells Boy Who Gave Thanks for His Two Adoptive Dads

The substitute teacher went on to say two men living together is "sinful." She was fired shortly after.

To anyone with a heart, the moment should have done nothing more than bring a tear to the eye. Last week, just before the Thanksgiving break, a substitute teacher in a fifth grade class in Cedar Hills, Utah — just south of Salt Lake City — asked her students to name something they were thankful for this holiday season.

"I'm thankful for finally being adopted by my two dads," said Daniel, one of the boys, when it was his turn.

Rather than grab a tissue to dab her eyes, or ask the classroom to join her in a hearty round of applause to celebrate Daniel finding his forever family, the teacher took it upon herself to impart her personal religious beliefs onto the young boy. "Homosexuality is wrong," the teacher said in front of the class, adding that it was "sinful" for two men to live together.

The teacher, fortunately, was fired from Kelly Services, the substitute staffing company that employed her, quickly after the incident, but the moment is nonetheless receiving widespread attention in the press — no doubt in part because one of the boy's dads, Louis van Amstel of "Dancing With the Stars," posted a video clip to his 76,000 Twitter followers with the title: "Our child was bullied."

"It shouldn't matter if you're gay, straight, bisexual, black and white," he said to the New York Times in a follow up interview. "If you're adopting a child and if that child goes to a public school, that teacher should not share her opinion about what she thinks we do in our private life."

Louis also revealed that the moment may not have come to light were it not for three of his son's classmates, who told the principal about the teacher's bigoted comments. His son, Daniel, didn't want to report the incident for fear of getting the teacher into trouble.

Louis expressed thanks that the staffing company responded as quickly as it did following the incident — and also stressed that his neighbors and community have rallied behind he and his family in the days afterward, offering support. He wanted to dispel stereotypes that Utah, because of its social conservatism and religiosity, was somehow inherently prejudiced.

"It doesn't mean that all of Utah is now bad," he told the Times. "This is one person."

It's also true that this type of prejudice is in no way limited to so-called red states, and incidents like these happen daily. LGBTQ parents and our children are subjected to homophobic and transphobic comments in schools, hospitals, stores, airlines and elsewhere as we simply go about living our lives. These moments so often fly under the radar — many classmates don't have the courage, as they fortunately did in this case, to report wrongdoing. Some administrators are far less responsive than they were here — and most of us don't have 76,000 Twitter followers to help make these moments of homophobia a national story.

All that aside, let's also get back to what should have been nothing more than a heartwarming moment — Daniel, a fifth grade boy, giving thanks to finally being legally adopted into a loving family.

Entertainment

Amazon's New "Modern Love" Series Includes Episode on Open Adoption

The episode is loosely based on the New York Times "Modern Love" essay written by sex columnist and activist Dan Savage.

In 2005, Dan Savage, the gay sex columnist, contributed one of the most talked about essays for the Modern Love column in The New York Times. Better known for his acerbic wit and cutting political commentary, Savage exposed a more vulnerable side in this piece, sharing the highs, lows and everything in between that comes from the experience of pursuing an open adoption.

His son DJ's birth mother was experiencing what Savage called a "slo-mo suicide": homeless by choice, in and out of prison, and surrounded by drugs. Though Savage has chosen an open adoption so that DJ's birth mother would be a presence in his son's life, she often disappeared for months and sometimes years at a time without contacting the family, leaving their young son with lots of questions and no satisfying answers.

The piece ends on a heartbreaking note, with Savage simply seeking some sort of resolution. "I'm starting to get anxious for this slo-mo suicide to end, whatever that end looks like," he wrote. "I'd prefer that it end with DJ's mother off the streets in an apartment somewhere, pulling her life together. But as she gets older that resolution is getting harder to picture."

At the time, many interpreted Savage's story as a cautionary tale for those considering open adoptions. But in 2016, on the Modern Love Podcast, he asserted that was not his intention: "DJ's mom is alive and well," Savage said. "She's on her feet. She's housed. We talk on the phone occasionally. She and DJ speak on Mother's Day and on DJ's birthday." He added that he "would hate to have anyone listen to that essay or to read it — which was written at a moment of such kind of confusion and despair — and conclude that they shouldn't do the kind of adoption that we did," Savage said. "I think that open adoption is really in the best interest of the child, even if … it presents more challenges for the parents. So I encourage everyone who's thinking about adoption to seriously consider open adoption and not to be dissuaded by my essay."

Now, Savage's piece is getting the small screen treatment as one of 9 episodes included in Amazon Prime's adaption of the column. The episode inspired by Savage's essay, "Hers Was a World of One," contains some departures from Savage's original story — Savage's character, played by Fleabag's Andrew Scott, adopts a daughter rather than a son, for example, and the episode concludes closer to the upbeat note struck in the Podcast version of hist story than in the column.

Either way, we welcome any and all attention to the complexities of open adoption. Check out the episode (which also randomly includes Ed Sheeran in a couple scenes) and tell us what you think!

Change the World

Miami Tourism Board Releases Vacation Guide for LGBTQ Families

Miami isn't just about circuit parties! The LGBTQ Family-Friendly Miami Vacation Guide showcases many options for queer parents, too.

As gay people, it can be difficult to find vacation spots that are LGBTQ-friendly out of the normal travel "fruit loop" — New York, Mykonos, San Francisco; repeat. For those of us with kids, the Venn diagram of destinations that are both queer and kid friendly can seem practically non-existent.

Fortunately, that's starting to change as the tourism industry realizes that LGBTQ families are a growing segment of vacationers. One city to quickly pick up on this trend is Miami. While the gays have long flocked to Miami for party weekends, the city has also recently noticed an uptick in the number of LGBTQ visitors who are parents. In response, Miami's tourism board release a guide, LGBTQ Family-Friendly Miami Vacation Guide, that includes loads of options for queer parents and their kids. Amid Miami's legendary circuit parties, it turns out, are tons of family friendly things to do — like the Museum of Science, an eco-adventure theme park, and other kid-focused events all year long.

Who knew?

"When I came onboard as Director of LGBTQ Marketing a little over a year ago, I found that our LGBTQ messaging was centered around our annual events," said Dan Rios, who works with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Massive parties like the White Party and Aqua Girl are a central part of the city's LGBTQ offerings, he said, but he was also worried the city was "developing a reputation solely as a party destination. "I want to diversify that message to highlight everything else that Greater Miami has to offer."

Hence the city's family-friendly guide that includes offerings within "art and culture, dining, beaches, fitness," Dan said. "We have unique and amazing family attractions that we had been promoting to our general audiences for decades. I saw this as an opportunity; an opportunity to introduce our attractions to LGBTQ families, and an opportunity to further promote our attractions -- it was a win-win."

Dan said the Bureau is also in the midst of a campaign that will prominently feature LGBTQ parents within different travel destinations throughout the city, which will be featured throughout both LGBTQ and mainstream websites, publications and advertising.

We applaud the effort to reach out to LGBTQ families, and hope more cities follow Miami's lead! Be sure to check out the guide here.

Gay Dad Life

Gong Hei Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!

As we usher in the year of rat, we asked some of our dads how they honor this special time.

Today we're celebrating, alongside our families, the Chinese New Year! As we usher in the year of rat, we asked some of our dads how they honor this special time, what they do to celebrate, and how they're instilling these traditions in their kids. Here are some of their responses.

Keep reading...
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

As a Gay Dad, What's the Impact of Letting My Son Perform Drag?

Michael Duncan was excited when his 10-year-old son asked if he could perform in drag for charity — but he also felt fear and anxiety.

As LGBT parents, we have all lived through some sort of trauma in our lives. For many it is the rejection of our family, being bullied, or abuse. We learn to be vigilant of our surroundings and often are very cautious of who we trust. As adults, we start to become watchful of how much we share and we look for "red flags" around every corner.

So, what effect does this have on our children? Does it unintentionally cause us to be more jaded with our interactions involving others? For some the answer may be a resounding "no." But as we look deeper into the situation, we often find that through survival our interactions with others have changed and we may not even realize exactly how much we are projecting on those around us.

Keep reading...
Diary of a Newly Out Gay Dad

A Gay Chiropractor Explains Why He Came Out to His Patients

After Cameron Call, a chiropractor, came out to his family this past year, he knew he had one more step to take — he had to come out to his patients

Fear is an interesting thing. It motivates when it shouldn't, shows at inconvenient times, and is the author of stories that do nothing but hold us back. I would argue though, too, that fear has some good qualities. I believe it helps us to feel. And I think it can be a great teacher as we learn to recognize and face it.

For years fear prevented me from embracing my truth and accepting a large part of who I am. I know I am not alone in that regard. But for so long my fear convinced me that I was. Fear is what kept me from ever telling my parents or anyone growing up that I am gay. Fear mingled with strong religious teachings, embraced at a young age, which led me to believe that I could cure myself of my attractions to the same gender. And fear is a part of what kept me in my marriage to a woman for over ten years.

Keep reading...

Fatherhood, the gay way

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