If you ever come across people who say, “I don’t care what people think of me," I give you permission to bitch-slap them. Everyone, absolutely everyone, cares what other people think. It’s human nature, like eating, lying and stealing. Well, maybe not eating. This is L.A. after all.
I was just a little boy when I first became aware of what other people thought of me. Back then the worst thing someone could possibly think was that I was gay. I didn’t even know what gay meant, but it felt like something bad… something you didn’t want to be. At that age, it had nothing to do with whom you love, but rather what you love… what music you listen to, how you dress, how you walk, how you talk and how you hold your wrist. And by those standards, I, for all intents and purposes, was pretty gay. And so the pretending not to be began.
When all the other kids joined little league, I joined too and pretended to be a jock. Turns out, I was surprisingly good at getting the basketball past the goalie. Then, when all the other guys rocked out to Metallica, I bought all their CDs. Sure, I’d later have my mom exchange them for Whitney, but the point is, I had to play along. And even though I really wanted to watch the truly outrageous "Jem" cartoon before school, I forced my way through "Transformers" instead. I did all these things to appear the opposite of gay… to appear normal to everyone around me.
Years later, in high school, when I was old enough to understand the true meaning of gay, I still pretended I wasn’t. I deepened my voice when talking to guys. I wore those awful Champion sweatshirts instead of the color-block silk button-downs I desperately wanted. I even… wait for it… slept with girls, as many as possible, just to prove to everyone how not gay I was. (Now that’s dedication!) And when I saved up to buy my dream car — a teal Geo Storm — I instead purchased a dark blue Ford Thunderbird because it was the butchest car on the lot. (Although my furry zebra-print steering wheel cover might beg to differ.)
Then came college, typically known as the best time of your life, but for me meant four more tediou… — trying not to use 's' words because of my lisp — tortured years of pretending. Trying to be normal was exhausting. (I mean, do you know how many ‘s’ words there are?) I was over it. I needed a change.
So I moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and finally came out — to myself and the world. Fast-forward a few years: I meet my dashing soul mate Alex, we get married, buy a big “f*ck-you” house in the suburbs and together adopt the most genuine, ridiculously adorable, hella cool kid imaginable. I am wondering, did I just become what I pretended to be my entire life — did I just become normal?
In a word: hell-to-the-yeah!
As soon as I became a father, I finally had something in common with all those guys I grew up with, the normal guys I pretended to be like. I became an honorary member of the fatherhood club, a fraternity of dads who speak that once-foreign “Dad-Bro” language:
“Hey, brah, looks like you’ve got a ball player on your hands.”
Guys that celebrate each other’s parental victories...:
“Potty-trained at two?" (High-five.) "Well played, brah.”
…and support each other’s failures:
“Sorry about the minivan, brah. But don’t worry, your balls will eventually grow back.”
Turns out, the very same people that grew up calling me gay are now praising all my gay family pics on Facebook. It’s like having a child made me a man’s man in their eyes. I no longer had to pretend to be like them; I was them. Well, the thinner, healthier, tanner, wittier, more in-shape, more successful, fuller-head-of-hair version of them.
I always knew having a child would change my life in a million positive ways… but I never expected fatherhood to bring the one thing that always eluded me: acceptance, approval and a sense of normalcy. I’m finally just one of the guys. And I owe it all to my son.
Thanks, little dude. Dada loves you.
P.S. If by chance any young gay kids are reading this, let me be very clear about something — YOU ARE NORMAL. You’ve always been normal. It’s other people’s perceptions that are sometimes abnormal. I didn’t figure this out until I was an adult, but I can tell you from experience, there’s nothing more normal than being yourself.