Op-ed: The Public Isn't Ready for 'Post-Gay' Parents

The new NBC sitcom Sean Saves the World is described as 'post-gay,' but that's not how being a gay parent sometimes feels in the real world.

BY Lucas Grindley

August 19 2013 1:00 PM ET

It was the Fourth of July. And my husband and I decided to take the girls to the beach for the morning. By now with them already a year and a half old, and with us living only a 10-minute car drive from the Santa Monica shoreline, we had probably violated California code of conduct by never taking the twins before to play in the sand and stomp in the water's edge.

Some parents take their little children out to restaurants, even the places with white tablecloths. I saw an infant sleeping on his father's shoulder the other night while leaving a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I concede that I'm not that level of daring.

But in all honesty, I'm more afraid of a tantrum than I am of homophobia. My anxiety is over how to plot a mental escape route from Starbucks that accounts for two toddlers who are upset they can't run in opposite directions. If I've ventured into public with the girls, that kind of strategizing usurps the space in my brain for worrying.

So when on the Fourth of July our little family carried blankets, a diaper bag, plastic pails and shovels down the long beach toward the water — all the while occupying the little ones' attention by pointing out birds or planes — it's a wonder I even noticed the two men who called us "faggots."

They were looking for the right place to stop and stake a territory on the beach for the day. One man pointed out the faggots to the other, voiced some complaint about gays getting married, and then suggested they head in the other direction.

My husband didn't overhear the conversation. And not wanting to put a damper on the trip, I didn't mention what happened until we got home. Odds are that I've overlooked other moments like these. When we flew across the country for Christmas to visit grandparents, for example, I was put into a fatherly trance in which all outside stimuli are ignored so I could focus 100% on keeping the girls happy. But sometimes I'm relaxed enough to catch a curious glance.

On one weekend, we walked together down the busy Third Street Promenade — a Los Angeles tourist spot with outdoor restaurants and clothing stores lined up on either side of us. Papa pushed the double stroller down the road while holding one of the girls by the hand. And Daddy (that's me) walked a few tiny footsteps ahead with the other twin. Our girls are really cute, mind you, so I'm sure that's why it felt like every diner and shopper at some point craned his or her neck and followed along our slow path.

So all of that struck me a few weeks ago when the writer of the new NBC sitcom Sean Saves the World described it as "a post-gay show." His show stars out actor Sean Hayes as single dad to a newly teenage girl. And the writer was trying to convince the Television Critics Association that it will be a ratings winner.

The chairman of NBC Entertainment, Bob Greenblatt, had said one day earlier that another NBC show about gay parents, The New Normal, was more "issue-oriented" than Sean Saves the World (which debuts in October). I guess that's why it was canceled after one season.

My husband and I loyally watched The New Normal, which told the story of a gay couple starting a family via surrogacy. One of the prospective dads gets kicked out of a Boy Scouts troop. They make peace with homophobic relatives. And they argue over who will become the "stay-at-home dad." I don't think it was any more "issue-oriented" than my own life.

In the third episode, the men are castigated while shopping for baby clothes by a random man at the outlet mall who is offended that they kissed. Sadly, those people exist outside of television. And Bryan worries, "What if that happened in front of our kid?"

I've had that same worry. After all, this isn't the first time in my life that I've been called a faggot. It happens, probably, to all of us.

I spoke with Alan Bernstein, board chairman for the Family Equality Council and a single father of three, about whether "a post-gay show" is fantasy. He doesn't fault a sitcom like Sean Saves the World for wanting to be entertaining. Homophobia is generally not funny. And very few people in NBC's audience want to spend Thursday nights at 9 getting a lecture.

We've all benefited from depictions on television of gays and lesbians creating more widespread acceptance. Maybe the same can happen for gay parents. Cameron and Mitchell on Modern Family are likely doing more good than they get credit for.

But what does it mean to be post-gay, anyway? There is that moment after each of us comes out when being gay is a big part of our identity. Then it's supposed to subside until we reach a point where, yes, being gay is an important aspect of who we are — but it doesn't define us.

The script for Sean Saves the World might indeed be "post-gay." And while parents like me feel "post-gay," our world is not. Especially not when it comes to LGBT parents.

"Sometimes the challenge of being an LGBT parent is that you suddenly don't get to pick all of your own battles," Bernstein said. "It's not that every LGBT dad wants to go head up a Boy Scout troop, it's that sometimes your children decide they want to be Boy Scouts."

Or, sometimes your kid loves the local children's museum and, like a lesbian couple in Jacksonville, Fla., you are told the family discount for membership doesn't apply. Sometimes you go on a family trip to Mexico, like comedian Alec Mapa and his husband and son, and are met at Customs with a lecture about exactly who is and isn't considered married by the federal government. And sometimes you think the kiddies will enjoy playing in the sand at the beach for the Fourth of July, and you never consider it might be an issue.

Maybe Sean Saves the World will turn out more realistic than we expect. "A lot of LGBT parents are not people who started off as activists or street fighters by any means," says Bernstein, "but the nature of anyone who becomes a parent is that you become an advocate for your children."

 

LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and two foster children.  Contact him on Twitter @lucasgrindley.

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