This week’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family” installment features an interview with Brian Doyle, age 41, a Los Angeles-based Financial Services Professional and Life Insurance Agent with New York Life. Recently Brian attended a RaiseAChild.US event at the Andaz West Hollywood hotel for prospective foster and adoptive mothers where he was to work at an information table for his employer, which pursues an LGBT customer base. He was in for a surprise! -- Corinne Lightweaver, RaiseAChild.US.
Corinne Lightweaver: So, Brian, it was really nice to have you at our Motherhood Celebration. I remember you raising your hand from your table at the back of the room and wanting to share something personal with the room full of guests. I wonder if you could tell me more about it.
Brian Doyle: I was moved by the whole event. I was just coming to help out with our resource table. I didn’t know that I would have such a personal connection with the event!
But during the family panel discussion, when the two moms and their three sons were sitting at the front of the room, I wanted to share with them my own experience growing up with two moms. I just remember as a kid it would have been great if I had heard from somebody that it was okay what was going on -- no matter what you hear from many kids at school. As long as somebody is there to love you and to support what you’re doing and care about you, it doesn’t really matter if it’s two moms, two dads, or a mom and a dad. Not that those kids were having any issues, but I wanted to let them know that people grow up all the time with two moms and two dads and become very successful.
Lightweaver: Are you familiar with the “It Gets Better” series? Because it sounds like that’s what you’re getting at -- except instead of speaking to gay kids, you’re speaking to kids of gay parents.
Doyle: I am, I am. That was around when I was a kid. I think it’s super important. Things have changed so much. I grew up in the late ’70s and ’80s. And at that time -- my mother, actually, when I was born was only with my father for about nine months, I guess, or a year -- and that ended quickly because she realized she wanted to be true to herself and be in a relationship with a woman. So we moved to Branson, Missouri. Let’s just say back in that time she was the only woman who was out -- trying to live as a woman who was out -- in one of the most probably unforgiving areas in the nation at that time. She was a pioneer. I’m really proud of her. She was doing something at that time that is pretty commonplace these days, I guess. Especially when you’re in a larger city like Los Angeles, it’s much more common than it was back then. And just an example, when I was five I was in kindergarten. Back in Missouri they have tornado drills. When they had the tornado drill at the school, I flipped out and started asking for my sister. Now, my sister was not my sister, she was my mom’s partner’s daughter. So my asking for my sister created this huge drama with the school because they were looking for this girl that wasn’t at the school. And I didn’t know any better -- for all intents and purposes she was my sister to me. But the school didn’t really see it that way and it really created a problem for my mom. But she protected me from that, really. I don’t really know whether kids run into things like that these days. But, you know, it’s not the end of the world if they do. The most important thing is that they are being brought up by people that love them and support what they’re doing and tell them so.
Lightweaver: When did your mom become partnered?
Doyle: Her wife that she has now, they’ve been together for 12 years. But in my growing up there were maybe two or three different ones that she was with for extended periods that really became like the dads, as it were. So I was going back in forth from my father, who lived in Detroit, to my mother. Every six months I would go to the other one, so that was kind of unstable, but we worked it out. Then there was a custody hearing for me when I was 11 or 12, it was 1984, I guess. At that time, just the mention of my mom being a lesbian was enough to have them give custody of me to my father. And, in fact, I feel bad to this day about it -- my father and my stepmother basically made me “out” my mother to help their court case. Which I don’t think would happen today at all.
But back then, they would give the custody to the mom, the single parent that was a female. That’s the way it was back then. But once they saw that she was gay, they gave full custody to my father.
Lightweaver: Did your mom coach you on how to handle questions about your family structure?
Doyle: You know, not really. It just wasn’t really very much discussed. And maybe that would have been better, I don’t know. I had a lot of issues at school where I would kind of hide the fact unless the kids came over and they were wondering why. You know, who’s that other lady? I would usually say, that’s so-and-so or that’s mom’s good friend. I don’t remember her ever really sitting me down to discuss it, because that’s just the way it was. It wasn’t an odd thing for me or a strange thing. The only time it ever became an odd or a strange thing was when I was told it was supposed to be odd or strange. When I got to my teen years, you know, and wanting kids to visit the house, there would be the inevitable questions. I’m not sure if that’s ever easy for a kid to explain that to their peers. Again, it’s probably changed from when I was a kid to how it is now. But when you’re a kid, you just want to belong, you just want to be like the rest of the kids and something that makes you different like that, it’s an easy target for other kids. But my mom was very supportive of me. If I ever had any issues, she would definitely take care of it. She didn’t mind defending her son to other kids’ parents. And to defend her own choices as a good parent. Again, it wasn’t a common thing back then. She was probably the only one in the entire town that was trying to live the lifestyle that she chose to live, rather than live a lie with my father.
Lightweaver: Was it hard when you started dating?
Doyle: Well, it was and it wasn’t. Because I’m a gay man. It’s always very difficult for me to explain this, but I grew up knowing that I was gay. But it was never talked about. In fact, I did the whole dating women thing through high school, again wanting to be that "norm," trying to be what I thought people wanted me to be. When I was about 20, my mom asked me, and the way she said it was kind of funny, she said, “Are you afraid that you’re gay?” And I said, “Well, no. I’m not afraid that I’m gay. I just don’t talk about it, I guess.” I’m one of those people that doesn’t really feel the need to express it much, I guess. But, again, that was probably unhealthy because I was closeted and in relationships that weren’t great. But back to your question, how it affected my dating. It goes back to there’s this built-in shame, I think. I don’t know if it’s Catholicism or what it is in my life. There’s this desire to bring people home and introduce them to Mom, but then not wanting to have that conversation again. And then I was dating women, which was not what I wanted to do, so there was all this personal built-in shame.
Lightweaver: Did you go to Catholic school?
Doyle: I went to Catholic school for fourth and fifth grade, and then I went to private school, and then I went to military school for most of high school because I had run away in ninth grade to Los Angeles from Detroit. So I was in military school for three and a half years. When I was with my father, I was always forced to go to church. With my mom, she never forced that on me.
Lightweaver: It sounds like you have a sense that the world has changed for kids of gay parents.
Doyle: I do.
Lightweaver: What advice would you give to parents?
Doyle: Just to really communicate with your kids. If something’s going on at school for your child, they might not tell you right away, especially ’cause kids don’t like to talk about gay parents. For the kid, it’s just very natural and normal the way it is, but when you go to school they’re doing all this propaganda that it’s not natural and it’s not normal. Other kids ask, “Where’s your mom and dad?” So as parents, I’d think you’d want to show your kids that it’s natural and nothing wrong with two moms that love their kids and are just trying to help them navigate this crazy world in the best way possible.
Those kids at the parent presentation were so nice and polite and great. They came and talked to me afterward. They were all really great kids. My God, we’ve got all these people in the gay community who can’t necessarily be parents in the usual way and kids in foster care who need parents. RaiseAChild.US has figured out a way to meet that need and it’s really phenomenal.
Lightweaver: Is parenthood in your future?
Doyle: I don’t know. I once heard someone speak about the ingrown shame that a lot of gay people have that they’re not supposed to be parents and they can’t be parents. I realized that day at the event that I have that and I haven’t addressed it. Because anytime anyone asks me if I want to be a parent, I immediately think, “I can’t be.” I don’t think, “I don’t want to be." I think, “I can’t be.” And that’s something that’s slowly changing. It’s not something I would do in my immediate future but if I find the right person, I would love to. I’m the last of my line. There would be no more Doyles after me, so it would be nice to have someone carry on the legacy after me. As of this moment, I’m not in hurry but I’m not one of those people to say no to the idea.
Corinne Lightweaver is the Communications Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,200 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”