And now a word about Alex.
I realized this week while looking over the essays posted so far that Louie--the namesake of these chronicles--has most certainly dominated the proceedings. That is, of course, because my four-year-old son is about as voluble as it gets and, thus, manages to pop off regularly with some quotable item that I squirrel away for later use.
At only 20 months, Alex is limited to only a few words and phrases. They include: "I go" for when he wants to leave the room; "Goo-gol," which for a long time I thought was Google (Megan works there and I was worried she might be teaching him branding a wee bit too early), but which turns out to be the word for "juice" in Spanish; and, of course, "Nononononononononono." As you can see, none are exactly candidates to be spun into blogging gold.
Still, Alex has been on my mind a lot as I have been writing about raising children as a gay parent, since a lot of what I am trying to get at is actually more about new ways to define a family as we enter the 21st century. That's a topic that was taken up this week in the New York Times magazine, which looked at the new forms of families being created in what it described as a "gayby boom," that are at once radical and, at the same time, quite traditional. I can't say I much liked the rambling article, which mostly centered on how some gay male donors relate to their offspring (or, more precisely, do not), because it once again painted the picture of confusion and oddness that still tends to dominate a lot of coverage of gay families. It had that tone of incredulousness: Look at those crazy gays--always trying something wacky and pushing the boundaries a little too far.
It's reminded a lot like about when I went to my 25th high school reunion a few years back. While I attended what most would consider a sophisticated and even progressive private school, I was amazed at how largely thick-headed a lot of people were when it came to imagining how in the world we managed to create our little family. It was almost as if we were some alien life form that had beamed down from Planet Homo and procreated in some exotic and mysterious manner.
Almost everyone was riveted almost exclusively to the physical aspects of the endeavor, and I believe I was asked about "how" I managed to get pregnant and "how" Megan did too, as if this was some apparent miracle. "We bought sperm and were inseminated when we were ovulating," I said slowly, enunciating every word carefully. "Nature did the rest." Most still looked at me confused and asked a range of what I considered somewhat doltish questions--"You mean without some kind of medical intervention?"; "Is that IVF?"; and, several times and my favorite, "You mean you didn't have to actually have sex with a man?"
Since most of my old friends had kids, I was perplexed about the almost total lack of information about how one might go about such a task, which signaled an absence of basic imagination about anything not within their familiar orbit. Incredibly, I was somehow able to (and, in essence, required to, a part of being an intelligent member of society) understand the various ways that they might have kids--from the doing it the "real" way to adoption to surrogacy--and I figured they could too. Not so. For very educated people, they were almost willfully ignorant and not even slightly bothered by that. Given these were not people that might have a religious or moral problem with the whole gay thing in general, it was certainly educational to me.
On one hand, I was thrilled that people were suddenly and actually so interested--only a decade before, it would have been infinitely more difficult to do such a thing without a lot of flak. Such curiosity, I knew was part of the critical educational process that is necessary to transition all unusual new forms of social interaction into the comfort zone where real progress is made. It has been the same with gay marriage. First: Circus freaks! Second: I read about that in the newspaper. Then, hopefully: I am so profoundly bored with the topic, what's next? This was one of those things, I hoped, that would over time trickle down through the society and become so familiar as to be normal.
On the other hand, I did kind of relish the feeling of strangeness that our life seemed to represent to them, of new possibilities and changes that could impact their own lives someday. Doing something so basically mundane in a different manner does create a space for reflection on how the whole thing is done and how new kinds of families are being created. While that does actually exist in society--most people are decidedly no longer in the traditional man-woman-two-kids setup, but part of all sorts of seemingly more unusual configurations--sticking out like a sore thumb does call attention to the idea of doing things in other ways.
Is a family just the strict definition of a small and discrete unit or is it about the larger organic group that inevitably grows up around the smaller one? I know in our case that our friends and neighbors, for example, play a much larger role in the raising of our kids than it does with many of our straight friends. I am not sure that is a function of being gay and being able to break a little more free of strict structure or not, but perhaps that is because we are cobbled together in an intentionally different way--an unusual mix of genetics and adoption, creating a series of complex links and cross-links among family and friends. In many ways, I guess I like that we are so confusing and also so very familiar at the same time. It is my hope that someday this will serve to be both boring and, at the very same time, also tweak the family structure into some new and interesting directions.
Which, brings me back to Alex, who is a lot of things to me. He is my son by adoption. He is the genetic half-brother of my biological son. He is also the biological son of my domestic partner, who is the adopted mother of my biological son. He is, most importantly, my child by intention.
At this point, he does not have a lot to say about any of this (although just this week "Yeayeayeayeayea" entered his lexicon) or much of anything else. Maybe someday, he won't have to.