The parent map: two TV documentaries and two books from queer artists outline their individual roads to mommyhood and daddydom. (Gay Parenting).
* Directed by Johnny Symons * PBS * June 3
Adoptions by gays seem to be downright contagious. That was the experience of filmmaker Johnny Symons, whose award-winning documentary Daddy & Papa will be shown June 3 on PBS's Independent Lens series. The project began with Symons's curiosity about his friend's adoption of two brothers. Three years later, Symons and partner William Rogers were the proud adoptive parents of a son of their own.
The more he filmed his friend Kelly and saw up close and personal the joys of being a gay dad, the more Symons and Rogers found themselves talking about starting their own family. "William and I kept having conversations, wondering what would this be like for us," Symons says.
The answer came when Zachary moved in at age 10 months. In addition to Symons's having to juggle fatherhood with film production, another problem was the fact that Zachary's foster mom was a devout Christian, initially reluctant to give him up to two gay dads who live near San Francisco. Her church friends had filled her head with the usual myths about gay parenting, but her experiences with Symons and Rogers changed her mind. To everyone's surprise, she became part of their extended family. Her realization that gay parents can do just as good a job as straight parents is one of the emotional highlights of Symons's highly personal film.
When the film premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, this scene and many others had the industry-heavy audience in tears. "So many people came up to me saying, 'I cried at your film, and I never cry at films!'" recalls Symons.
He's Having a Baby
* Directed by Georg Hartmann * Cinemax * June 4
For Hollywood agent Jeff Danis, deciding to become a gay parent was easy. The hard part was convincing his partner of 20 years, Don Pike, to join him in this quest. "Don didn't feel the paternal pangs," recalls Jeff.
Undeterred, Danis continued to research adoption options and even started collaborating with friends Georg and Abby Hartmann to document his two-year journey to adopt a child in Vietnam. The resulting film, He's Having a Baby, will debut June 4 on Cinemax's Reel Life series.
"For the first year, Don didn't even know we were making the movie," says Danis. "We had to do it undercover." Eventually, though, Danis could hide an impending adoption only for so long. When he finally brought home some photos of candidates from the agency, Pike relented. Seeing pictures of the Vietnamese kids changed his mind and his heart. Their relationship was not only salvaged but practically reborn as they journeyed halfway around the world to claim their newborn son.
Now Joe Pike Danis (named after Danis's father) is 3, and the two dads have learned that patience in parenting is a necessity. "My son has taught me patience," admits Danis. "We've read Thomas the Tank Engine 400 times!"
* Harlyn Aizley * Alyson Books * $14.95
Lesbians would seem to have a big advantage over gay men in creating their own kids--just find a sperm source and let nature take its course, right? But for Boston-based writer Harlyn Aizley, the process of getting impregnated was a long and sometimes harrowing journey. In fact, over the course of two years, it became a story so filled with false starts and medical missteps that she turned it into a book, Buying Dad.
"Of course, if I had gotten pregnant on the first try, there'd be no book," Aizley wryly admits. After her 38th birthday, she and her partner, musician Faith Soloway, spent almost a year considering some close friends for the biological father until they finally opted for the strange new world of sperm banks.
"They're kind of like online dating," Aizley says. "You know a lot through bios and pictures and profiles, but you really don't know anything at all. Imagine carrying the child of a blind date!"
Some of the book's weirdest and funniest sections deal with the world of sperm for sale--donor bio packages that included writing samples, popular donors who were literally "sold out," and, finally, the FedEx arrival of X-Files--esque nitrogen tanks teeming with the seed of their designated stranger.
After three attempts, her doctors thought she was infertile, but it turned out the problem was not with her eggs but with the sperm donor. "His sperm couldn't penetrate an egg membrane," Aizley recalls. "I guess it was ambivalent." Once they switched to a new donor, they had success on the first try and now, about 16 months later, a baby girl named Betsy.
And will their daughter ever get to read the story of her semi-immaculate conception? "Maybe when she's 30 or 35," Aizley says, laughing. "We're still reading Pat the Bunny."
Gay Dads: A Celebration of Fatherhood
* David Strah * Tarcher/Penguin USA * $23.95
When writer David Strah and his partner became parents in 1998, their biggest surprise was getting questions from total strangers. "We were always being stopped on the street and asked, 'How did you do this?'" says Strah. "So I thought there should be a book that answered some of these questions." After almost five years of research, interviews, and raising his own adopted kids, Zev and Summer, his new book, Gay Dads, tells the stories of 24 families with at least one gay dad and how they came together.
"For gay men, you can't just go to bed one night and wake up pregnant. You have to convince people and sell yourselves in a way," says Strah. "Because we put so much effort into it, I think we do make better parents or at least more thoughtful parents."
Not that gay families are without their problems. Gay Dads frankly ad dresses the fact that nontraditional families have their share of difficulties. His book chronicles the tough story of an inner-city gay dad who foster-parents two troubled teens, only to have one die after cocaine use. Another father ends up having to get a "divorce" from a coparenting arrangement, leaving his daughter in an awkward joint custody agreement.
"I didn't want them to all be sugarcoated stories," says Strah. "I wanted them to tell about the darker side, the challenges, and the pain because that's a part of parenting and fatherhood for everyone."
Despite the difficulties, one thing that seems to unify the fathers in Strah's book is the incredible sense of love they have discovered in their journey to parenthood. Whether they found their children while posing as straight at a Russian orphanage or taking out an ad in Rolling Stone, all the dads have found a love that has irrevocably changed their lives--Strah included.
"It's the best thing I ever did," says Strah, practically beaming. "It's more fulfilling and rewarding and exciting than anything I've ever done before."
Sloan has written for Next and Genre.