One recent afternoon, while scouring the anti-LGBT movement's usual sites in search of another one of the all-too-common bits of nastiness that I take on and refute for a trade, I saw my name in print. That's not uncommon, really. As an opposition researcher who refuses to let discriminatory attacks and fallacies go unchallenged, and as a commentator who has been publicly taking on this political fight for nearly a decade, I'm used to seeing this National Organization for Marriage employee or that Family Research Council tweeter attempt to blunt, sidestep, or twist my pushback. I kind of love it when they do this, actually. "Must be doing something right..." goes the common refrain.
This mention, however, was a little different, as it was more about me personally than my work professionaly. In this case, one of these mid-level opponents of LGBT equality was speculating how someone like me could possibly have the time and resources to do what I do. I must have more free hours than I know how to use, continued to suggestion. I "stalk" for fun, this person mused. Oh, and I must have all this free time because I don't have a family, went the assumptions.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The fact is, I really don't have the time to do this work. At all. Family is precisely the reason why.
On September 25, 2013, my precious daughter, Savannah, came onto this Earth. My husband and I were there from first breath, blessed to be the ones to cut the cord, to provide the first seconds of comfort, and to begin our journey as hands-on parents whose greater priorities no longer belong to ourselves or each other. From the get-go, it was clear that life would never be the same.
My days now begin in the five o'clock hour—always and with no possibility of a snooze button. And while that's early, this is actually a respite from the first few months, when an every-three-hour feeding schedule was in place, sunlight or moonlight. It would be quite the understatement for me to say that I've been a little sleep-deprived these past several months. It's more like I've retaught my brain to see six hours as a blessing, with as few as four nocturnal snoozing hours an accepted norm.
Regardless of how much of it is waking, or some semblance thereof, none of my time is my own—not anymore. If Savannah is awake, she is my focus. Heck, even when she's asleep, I tend to have at least a quarter of an eye on her video monitor. I spend every morning and afternoon playing the role of nurturer, caretaker, jester, DJ, Peek-A-Booer, chef, stylist, and conversationalist for and with a human being who can't yet respond beyond a "Ba" and a "Da." It's a very full day. An exhausting one, too.
Then let's talk diapers. That part is kind of like a game. Or perhaps detective work. Is that a blue line I see? What's inside? Will the regular diaper be sufficient for nighttime, or should I switch to the extra dry? And has a number two happened within that same number of days, or is it time to break out the prunes? These thoughts come hourly, at least.
But frequency really doesn't matter all that much, since none of this stuff can be viewed in fits and starts, as if it has an end. Even once Savannah, a blissfully great sleeper, lies her gorgeous, amazing, best-baby-in-the-world (if I'm being modest) head down for the night, Baby World theme park is still open for business. There are bottles to wash, new batches of food to prepare, toys—oh, the toys!—to pick up, supplies to reorder, and all kinds of plans to make and coordinate with the hubby. In fact, in just the time it took me to write the above, I've had to stop five or six different times to fulfill a parental task.
The warnings are true: it's really grueling work. But the thing is, I love it. Love, love, love, love it. I gave myself over to parenting land without one hint of resistance, and I truly relish being here. I read the books, I get the magazines, I Facebook the cute photos (as some of you know all too well), I spend an inordinate amount to time in stores that I never even noticed before, I research all of Manhattan's best baby classes (because 8-months isn't too young to learn show tunes, right?), and I embrace all of the doting details that modern parenting offers. Yes, some of it is unnecessary, but most of it makes me happy. I love living here in the now of infant parenting, and I want to experience it all while I can. More importantly, I want Savannah to experience it all and separate the wheat from the chaff for herself.
But while I've so fully submitted to my Fisher-Price captors and in many ways play the role of a stay-at-home dad, the other fact of my life is that I still also play the role of a work-at-home politico, almost as fully as I did before. In addition to my daily website, Good As You, I still perform contract work with a couple of different organizations (GLAAD being one), avail myself to media outlets that request my pundit-y services, promote my book (and work on the next one), do all of the requisite social media stuff that 2014 media life demands, and even piece together other professional projects that I have in the pipe. Giving up my work was never an option for me.
Sure, some of the reasons I felt the need to stay in the media/political game were practical. For one, my newly grown family can certainly use the income. Plus I am someone who always needs outlets to express myself or else I will go crazy. I've also built a nice rapport with my audience and I don't want to abandon what I've worked so hard to build. This is all true, and these were certainly big motivators to keep working.
However, the more persuasive reason for me to continue holding the anti-LGBT movement accountable for their nonsense is because I feel so strongly about this work and its need. For the past nine years, I have learned all of the ins and outs of the organized forces that fight against us, and I have messaged this out to the world. I've worked with many of the top organizations shaping strategy and building bridges. I've provided research and advice to campaigns involving both issues and candidates. Here at GLAAD, through my work with the Commentator Accountability Project, I help reach out to the media and explain why being simply anti-LGBT does not qualify one to be an "expert" on LGBT rights or LGBT people. Some of the data that is so firmly locked into my brain and that I've messaged out in various ways has proven more useful and effective than other ideas I've had, but I'm quite proud of the sum of the parts. Moreover, I think my work both publicly and behind the scenes has been quite useful to our movement.
The difference is that now, this work that I do so truly cherish and do think is so valuable is never going to take precedent over my little girl. It's just not; that's not an option. I have rejected TV interviews that would have brought me great notice simply because of the rigors of parenting, and I will surely have to do it again. I sometimes have to delay my responses to major news stories a few hours more than I had to in the past, and that just has to be okay. She comes first. I make no apologies for that.
Basically, I get two work sessions a day: one during each of Savannah's two naps. Fortunately, she usually naps in one-and-a-half hour intervals, so I typically get a solid three hours of time, divided between one morning and one afternoon session, to bang out what needs to bang out. Anything else has to happen at night, after baby girl is soundly asleep. But even in the most both-end-of-the-candle-burning of scenarios, where I get two solid working naps and then fight nighttime fatigue to fill in a few work hours at night, it's still a very abbreviated work day for a workhorse like myself. And being man, not machine, it makes for a very tiring day as well.
But I feel a very strong need to do this work. I feel like people still need me to do it, too. I know it can seem like we in the LGBT equality movement are on the cusp of ultimate victory and that the rest of this work will take care of itself, but I refuse to see it that way. As someone who began working in this movement during the bleakest periods of national referenda sweeping our rights from the land and support regularly polling far below the midway split, I still retain visions of a backslide to a less englightened day. Even if that's unlikely, I feel strongly about us staying vigilant until we have full LGBT equality. And as part of this movement, I don't want to retreat until we are at a reasonably safe place. I don't feel like I can.
So going back to the voice on the other side who thinks that I do this work because it's some sort of hobby that I need to fill my time and/or feed my ego: Um, no, you could not be more wrong. I really don't have the time to do this work—I make the time to do this work because I am sick and tired of good and decent human beings having to do this kind of work! I keep laboring, even through such heady, sleepless, spitup-filled days because I want LGBT and allied people from Savannah's generation to have the freedom to dedicate their professional lives toward combating true social ills. When future Americans push back against their opponents in debates, I want those debates to be for a purpose greater than combating needless discrimination.
As I come to you, here on the cusp of Fathers' Day (*apostrophe purposely placed where it is), I feel so proud to be Savannah's dad. But if anything, becoming a dad has only strengthened my resolve to carry on the political fight as well. My work feels even more pressing now; the stakes seem even higher. I've become a warrior for my kid, and this push to allow her to grow up in a less discriminatory and therefore more peaceful world feels like another part of that same job.
Toxic anti-LGBT rhetoric? Soiled diaper? I think both are fit for disposal.