Pondering our future together, my boyfriend and I were disturbed by the standard options for grown-up gay men. Neither of us were excited about spending the next 40 years collecting Fiesta Ware and intestinal parasites. So, we decided to go get pregnant instead.
MY BOYFRIEND LIKES TO listen to dance music when he drives. He likes to listen to dance music when he cooks, cleans, wakes, sleeps, reads, picks his nose, and screws. There isn't much he doesn't enjoy doing while listening to dance music. I'll listen to dance music when I'm under recreational general anesthesia (that is, if I'm really high), or if I'm in a dance club somewhere, dancing. Since I don't get high or go to clubs often, I don't listen to dance music much.
But my boyfriend was techno before techno was cool, and his attachment to dance music is a rich source of conflict in our relationship. We've both sacrificed aspects of our individual identities on the bloody altar of coupledom: I no longer listen to the radio while I go to sleep, to give one piddling example, as he can't sleep with the radio on; he no longer goes clubbing all night long (if I can't have a radio in the bedroom then, by God, his ass had better be in my bed to justify this sacrifice). But he's having a hard time completely letting go of dance music, because much of his pre-me social life revolved around it. After monogamy, dance music is our single biggest "issue." Monogamy was a quickie fight, over and done with: He doesn't want me sleeping around, and I don't want to fight. Should a day come when I do put someone else's dick in my mouth, he won't dump me because: (a) I'll do all I can to make certain he never finds out; and (b) if he does find out, well, he's promised to work through it.
We've been together two years, so our fights have become highly ritualized ceremonies, and the dance-music-in-the-car fight is one we've got down pat. We're in a car, driving to Portland, and he's subjecting me to Iceland's pixie lunatic, Björk. I don't think this is very fair, as I don't like dance music, and when we're doing 90 on I-5, I can't escape.
The fight didn't begin at the start of the trip. It never does. I'm a conflict-avoidance champ (see monogamy, above), and if we fought at the beginning of every road trip I would, like a dog that associates a ride in the car with a trip to the vet, refuse to get in the car. Had I anticipated this fight, I would have insisted that we fly, or take the train, or shipped ourselves UPS, or gotten to Portland on some form of transport that puts nice, reasonable people in charge of the music. But Terry is tricky, taking advantage of my memory problems. Before we got in the car, and for about the first 45 minutes of any trip, my boyfriend is on his best behavior. He lulls me into the car with false promises of books on tape, or conversation. Then, when we're too far from home to turn back, and we're going too fast for me to jump, he puts on a CD he knows I'm going to object to -- chunk-ka tcha, chunk-ka tcha, chunk-ka tcha -- and with fleeing not an option, I have no choice but to turn and fight.
"You know I can't stand dance music, especially in a car, so why do you do this?" I'll typically say. "While I'll happily put up with Björk at home, because I can leave, or blow my brains out, or beat you to death with a hammer, I think it is unfair of you to subject me to Björk when I'm trapped in a car."
And we're off! Our ritual unfolds like this: I don't have a driver's license, which forces him to do all the driving. Therefore, as he's the driver, he should get to pick the music. Yes, but while he may have a license, he doesn't own a car, and I happen to be paying for this rental. Therefore, as the automobile's temporary legal guardian, I should have some say in the music I'm subjected to. I am being unreasonable, he says. He is being selfish, I respond. Yi, yi, grrr, icha-yiy, Björk sings.
Thinking it's a compromise, my boyfriend turns the music down. All we can hear now is the beat: boom-boom-boom. Which, as it so happens, is the thing about dance music that drives me out of my mind. I am not satisfied. I sulk. He drives. He says something bitchy. I say something bitchy. We fight on for about 25 more miles, and finally, unable to enjoy Björk for my bitching and sulking, the boyfriend snaps off the CD player, and we sit in silence for the rest of the trip.
An hour and 15 minutes of silence later, we're in Portland.
We've driven down to Portland from Seattle on a wet spring day because, in our wisdom and maturity, my boyfriend and I have decided to become parents. We're in Portland to get pregnant.
This is my first visit to Portland. During the seven years I've lived in Seattle, just three hours away, it had never before occurred to me to visit Portland. Seattle's a hilly, damp place with a lot of water and trees. Portland's a hilly, damp place with a lot of water and trees. Portland and Seattle both have Pioneer Squares, Hamburger Mary's, homeless street punks, and huge bookstores. Why would anyone who lives in Seattle vacation in Portland?
My boyfriend Terry, however, was very familiar with Portland. His father spent a couple of years dying here in the mid-'90s. Daryl, Terry's father, had non-alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver. Daryl went to Portland's Oregon Health Sciences University hospital for a liver transplant, but when they opened him up, they found cancer. They cut out the cancer, put in a new liver, and sewed Daryl up. But the cancer returned, and promptly attacked Daryl's new liver. When they opened him up a second time, the doctors decided he was too far gone to "waste" another liver on -- his own bad luck for not being Mickey Mantle. It was in Portland that Terry, his mother, and his brother were informed that their husband and father had less than a year to live.
The adoption agency we're pinning our hopes on is based in Portland. They have offices in Seattle, and with the exception of a required two-day seminar in Portland, all the rest of the paperwork, intake interviews, and jumping through hoops can be accomplished in Seattle. Once the two-day seminar is over, Terry insists, we're never coming back to Portland. Ever.
Our agency does "open" as opposed to "closed" adoptions. In an open adoption, the pregnant woman, called the "birth mother" in agency-speak, selects the family her child is placed with, and has a mutually agreeable amount of ongoing contact with her child; usually two or three visits a year, with photos and letters exchanged at set times. There are no secrets: Your kid grows up knowing he was adopted, and knowing who his bio-parents are. Our agency is one of the few in the country that does open adoptions. Since a lot of people are unfamiliar with the concept, and since some are spooked by it, the agency feels they need at least two days to explain how it all works.
This also gives the agency a chance to weed out couples who don't get it. Since the agency places more children than any other in the Pacific Northwest, couples who aren't into openness will sometimes attempt to do an adoption through the agency. These couples may come to resent the birth mom after they get their baby, and attempt to interfere with her right to visit, or make her feel unwelcome when she does. The empaths who run the agency feel it's in the best interest of all concerned that the children they place wind up with couples truly committed to the concept.
And so here we are in Portland, checked into the Mallory, a fussy ol' lady of a hotel, ready to demonstrate our commitment to the concept. But if we don't get out of our hotel room in the next 15 minutes, we're not going to make it to the seminar on time, which will make a bad impression, which will call into question our commitment to the concept. And if we don't get a kid out of this, the drive and the fight and the tears will all have been for nothing. But we can't leave because my boyfriend has locked himself in the bathroom and won't come out.
The current impasse is my fault. While I was right to stand my ground about blasting dance music in the car, I should have dropped it after I'd gotten my way. But I kept right on picking, making snide remarks about Björk when we were getting out of the car and walking into the hotel. Had Terry won, he would've done the same to me. After monogamy and dance music, picking is our third biggest issue. We both have older brothers; I'm the third of four kids, and he's the second of two. Younger brothers are less powerful than older brothers, so persistence and stamina are our survival/revenge strategies. Older siblings may hit harder, but younger brothers move faster and are relentless. And like all younger brothers everywhere, neither of us knows when to stop. We take jokes, wrestling matches, and "playful" fights past the point where they're fun or sexy, right up to the point where someone, usually me, gets hurt.
The younger brother dynamic is why, when we finally got to Portland and the hotel receptionist asked us how our drive down was, I opened my fool mouth and said, "Fine, except for the shrieking Icelandic lunatic in the car." I'd gone too far, and someone -- Terry this time -- got hurt. But I was not responsible for my actions; my birth order made me do it!
From inside the bathroom, my boyfriend wants to know why I couldn't let it go. He'd turned Björk off an hour and a half ago. We weren't even in the car anymore. Why couldn't I leave it alone?
"It's stressful enough being in Portland at all," Terry says from behind the green bathroom door. He's not locked in the bathroom because he's crying, but because when we're fighting we prefer to have a door between us. A closed door. "We have to be the presentable, non-threatening, happy, happy, happy gay couple in a room full of straight people for two days. Why do you have to pick now to be such a prick?"
"Cuz I'm a brat," I shout at the door. "I'm a brat just like you. You would've done the same thing if you had the chance. In fact, you're doing it right now. What is this locked-in-the-bathroom, Laura Petrie stuff but your final dig?"
He doesn't answer.
"We gotta go be presentable now, Terry."
"Honey, let's go get pregnant. You can name the baby after Björk, teach him Icelandic folk songs; I don't care."
Still nothing. Finally, in desperation, I lie.
"You can listen to whatever music in the car all the way back to Seattle."
The door opens. All is forgiven, nothing forgotten.
We met right after I turned 30. Terry was 23, but told me he was 24, thinking the extra year made him sound more mature. I was in a gay bar for the first time in three months. The end of a particularly rocky relationship kept me in my apartment for weeks, wondering why I ever wanted to suck cock in the first place. My ex worked through his grief by stuffing as many cocks in his mouth as he could get his hands on, and then coming home and telling me about it. We all grieve in our own ways. I stayed home and moped, he went out and screwed. The totally unfair part was that I dumped him. Why was he out there having a grand time while I stayed at home eating bags of cookies and reading Rise and Fall of the Third Reich for the fourth time?
Anyway, I hadn't had sex in four months the night I met Terry. So, in all honesty, I wasn't concerned with how mature he sounded, so there was no need for him to lie about his age. I was primarily concerned with how he looked, and he looked good. He appeared to be about 15 years old, but since we were in a bar I knew he had to be at least 21. He had shoulder-length hair, a huge mouth, and beautiful lips. He was wearing a tight T-shirt, and was dancing with friends. Terry awakened the dormant pederast that lurks in my soul. Like a lot of people, male and female, I have no interest in messing around with actual teenagers, but grown men who could pass for teenagers? Matt Damon? Elijah Wood? Brad Pitt? The male beauty ideal at the end of the 20th century is distinctly adolescent, and on this issue I march in lockstep with the larger culture. Cute? Boyish? Hairless? Bring 'em in and strap 'em down.
Terry looked like the perfect transitional boyfriend: young, cute, and seemingly brainless. Within five minutes of talking to him that first night, I had the trajectory of our entire relationship mapped out: I'd enjoy the pleasures of pederasty without any of the legal trouble, Terry would learn how to tie some interesting knots, we'd have a falling out over something stupid, and then we'd be friends. That's how it was supposed to work, anyway.
We were at Re-bar at the edge of downtown Seattle on a Wednesday night. It was the bar's fifth anniversary party, and the place was packed. I was gossiping with Ginger, one of Re-bar's drag queens, while she worked coat check.
"Look at that cute boy with the hair and the lips," I said to Ginger, nodding my head at the cute boy with the long hair and the pretty mouth on the dance floor. When the boy came over to the coat check to get something out of his coat pocket, Ginger seized the opportunity to embarrass and humiliate me.
"Isn't this the cute boy you were talking about?" Ginger brayed. "Say something to him." I glared at her. "Talk," she commanded.
"You have a pretty mouth."
Oh. My. God. I sounded like the rapist in Deliverance.
"The better to eat you with," he said as he turned and walked back over to his friends.
A little later, and a whole lot drunker, the boy with the pretty mouth approached me. It seems he was serious about that better-to-eat-you-with comment. We chatted for a few minutes, just long enough to establish that we were both single, both dug the music (he meant it, I was being polite), and that neither of us smoked. Then we made our way to Re-bar's only bathroom with a lock on the door.
We didn't consummate our relationship in Re-bar's toilet, despite Ginger shoving a handful of condoms under the door. Instead, we headed back to my place for some hi-how-are-ya-wanna-fuck, gay-boy-bar-slut sex. Making out in the bathroom broke the ice, allowing us to verify that neither was lying about being non-smokers. And before I take anyone home, I always make sure I like the taste of his spit. Terry's spit tasted a lot like beer, and I like beer, so I invited him back to my place. My ex had just moved out, taking the furniture with him, and I don't remember much of what Terry and I did in my empty apartment, but I do remember thinking, wow, this guy is a great kisser.
The next morning, I couldn't remember the name of the cute boy with the long hair and the amazing lips, and had to peek at his driver's license while he was in the bathroom. We exchanged phone numbers, kissed goodbye, and I fully expected never to see Terrance Andrew Miller, age 23, ever again.
But it hasn't worked out quite that way. Despite my best efforts to find fault with Terry early enough to smother my growing infatuation -- he hadn't been to college, he didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up, I was seven years older, he worked in a video store -- we kept on seeing each other.
It helped that, right after we spent the night together, he came down with a bad cold, awakening the warm and nurturing side of my personality. I saw him every night that first week, bringing him Thai food and renting him videos. Slowly, gradually, over two days, I fell in love.
On paper, you couldn't design a worse match. He's a club kid. Not the murderous, drug-pushing, New York City variety, but the follows-DJs, reads-British-music-magazines, works-a-'70s-look kinda club kid. I don't like music, don't dance, and wouldn't follow a DJ to water in a desert. A mutual friend, a DJ as it happens, who knew both us both before we met, says that when he heard the news he laughed out loud.
"Never in a million years would I have put you two together," Riz said. "Never you two; never, never."
If I'd met Terry a year or two earlier, I probably wouldn't have put us together, either. I probably wouldn't have seem him again after that first night. But here's what sealed it for me, what made it love: Early in our week-long courtship, when he was sick, I bought him a book he'd mentioned. When I gave it to him, he was so excited he got out of his sick bed and jumped up and down. The book? Gore Vidal's United States, a 25-pound collection of 40 years' worth of Vidal's essays. Most 23-year-old fags don't have a clue as to who Gore Vidal is, and that Terry not only knew who he was but cared enough to jump up and down, well, what else could I do? I asked him to go steady then and there.
We've been together ever since, and things have taken on an air of permanence: joint checking accounts, latexless sex, mutual decision-making about major purchases, vacation destinations, dinner plans, etc. Though he spent practically every night at my place after the night we met at Re-bar, Terry kept his own apartment for nearly two years. My last boyfriend and I moved in together pretty quickly, and I didn't want to jinx things with my new boyfriend.
Why are we having a kid? I mean, we're HIV-negative gay men living in America at the end of the 20th century. Barring some social or economic disaster (like a Steve Forbes administration), we have a long, prosperous DINK future spread out before us. That's "Double Income, No Kids," our by-default consumer demographic. Remaining DINKs means a future of travel, parties, cheap-if-not-meaningless sex, and swank homes. Why would any gay man in his right mind trade DINKdom for dirty diapers?
"The middle age of buggers is not to be contemplated without horror," Virginia Woolf is reported to have observed. I don't believe there's anything horrid about middle-aged gay men (provided they don't join men's choruses or the North American Man-Boy Love Association, watch Deep Space 9, or display teddy bears in little leather harnesses in their living rooms), but nevertheless at about age 30, I began to contemplate my impending middle age with a degree of horror. What was I going to do for the next 40 or 50 years? It didn't take me long to come to the conclusion that I would need more going on in my life than money and men. As I got older, I would want something meaningful to do with my free time, something besides traveling the world collecting Fiesta Ware and intestinal parasites.
Once upon a time, people had kids out of a sense of obligation to family, species, and society; and since they lacked birth control options, most sexually active folks weren't in much of a position to prevent themselves from making kids. We've got birth control now, at least in most places, and we've got access to abortion, at least for now. While some couples feel pressured by their families to have kids, for a large number of people in a large part of the world, having children is truly optional for the first time in history. Why do people have kids today? It's not to do the species a favor: The single largest threat to our survival is our out-of-control breeding. The reason people in general (by which I mean straight people, since people in general are straight) have kids today is to give themselves something real and meaningful and important to do. Having children is no longer about propagating the species or having someone to leave your kingdom to, but about self-fulfillment. Kids are a self-actualization project for the parents involved. A lifelong Outward Bound. Children have become something for grownups to do, a pastime, a hobby.
So why not kids? Gay men need hobbies too.
Our other options as gay men at the end of the 20th century -- how to occupy our time over the next 30 years -- were not at all appealing. Terry and I had, basically, three choices:
Option 1: Stay in the Game. Keep going to bars, parties, and clubs; keep getting laid; keep drinking; keep taking drugs. This option leads, inevitably, to Terry and I breaking up over some humpy young thing, who, in turn, dumps us for a humpier, even younger thing. Eventually we're a couple of 50-year-old fags hanging out in gay bars full of men too young to care that we had, you know, Marched on Washington in '93. To compete with and compete for the annual crop of just-out, 21-year-old gay boys, we go under the knife again and again, until we are scar tissue stitched to scar tissue. Then we die. Our corpses are declared superfund clean-up sites, thanks to the drugs and silicone we've packed into our bodies, and we're denied a decent burial. Distant relatives come to town, crate us up, and haul us to a toxic waste incinerator.
Option 2: Go Places, See Shit. We stay together and spend our DINK dollars traveling the world. We take a lot of pictures, collect a lot of junk, have a lot of sex with the locals. Provided we don't succumb to Alzheimer's or some as-yet-undiscovered sexually transmitted disease, we have our memories to keep us company when we're old and gray. Then we die, our memories dying with us. Distant relatives come to town, and haul us and everything else -- photo albums, postcard collection, STD meds -- off to the dump.
Option 3: Mr. & Mr. Martha Stewart. We buy a house and direct the passion we used to devote to sex toward the renovation and decoration of our little manse. We spend the last 10 years of our lives combing junk stores, yard sales, estate sales, and auction houses for that authentic Victorian/Edwardian/Art Deco/Fab Fifties night stand/hall table/mirror/dinette set that will finally complete our beautiful but sterile home. Once we find it, our local newspaper's Sunday magazine does a photo spread of our to-die-for home. Then we die. Distant relatives come to town, sell the house and the furniture, and donate our ancient bodies to science.
I was already planning on having kids when I met Terry, so I'd already thought through all of this. After I walked Terry through what I saw as our options, he agreed that they were pretty depressing. Each ended with distant relatives coming to town and disposing of our remains in a tremendously unsentimental manner; everything we DINKed so hard for -- our possessions, our memories, our hair systems -- busted up and thrown away. Mortality is unsettling, and the more we thought about having kids, the more sense they made as hedges against depressing, lonely deaths. We didn't want to be anybody's forgotten old gay uncles.
Kids wouldn't keep us young, but they would keep us relevant, something that other hobbies don't do. If we had kids and they managed to outlive us, Terry and I would be hauled off to the dump when our time came by people who knew us and felt obligated to dispose of us.
Yes, I know: Kids die; kids grow up to be serial killers; kids abandon their parents; kids kill their parents. Adopted kids may decide their biological relatives are their real relatives, and blow off their adoptive families. Kids are a crapshoot. But even if the only thing your kids give a shit about is getting their hands on your money or your Holden-Wakefield end tables, at least someone is giving a specific sort of shit about you. And if you have more than one kid who wants your end tables, you can have fun drafting and redrafting your will.
I had a secret reason for wanting kids: I wanted to get fat. Actually, I should say, I wanted to have kids because I'm going to get fat.
Good Gay Men are not supposed to be heavy (though some gay men are allowed to be "bears" these days, if they're furry). We're expected to do our sit-ups, watch what we eat, and show up at family and high school reunions looking fabulous so that the girls can say, "What a waste!" and the boys can say, "What a fag."
Staying fit is a crushing regimen, however; one that doesn't leave much time for anything else. In my 20s, I ran just far enough on treadmills and peddled just fast enough on stationary bicycles to stay fuckable. My fitness goal was to look good enough in clothes, that I could get other people out of theirs. While my stomach looked flat enough with a shirt on, there was no six-pack under my slave-labor, Gap-fag T-shirt. A two-liter bottle, yes, and one day soon, a keg. But a six-pack? Never. I was never enough of a gym queen to get comfortable getting naked in public. I never danced shirtless in a club or strolled around a bathhouse in a towel. I never posed for porno Polaroids. (Except on one occasion, when Polaroids were taken without my consent by a one-night-stand. Sadly, I wasn't in a position to prevent them from being taken, if you follow my drift, and I didn't have the nerve to demand the photos from the scary freak who took 'em once I was, um, able to do so.)
Until I turned 30, I made it to the gym at least three times a week. I fought getting fat long and hard, and when I went home for weddings and funerals the girls said, "What a waste!" and the boys said, "What a fag." But since turning 30, I haven't managed to get my rear end into a gym very often. This is not good. Fat is in my gene pool, and an extreme kind of fatness it is. My people do not get pleasantly plump. Savages do not "fill out," or "wear it well." My family is inclined toward obesity, to thighs so large we're forced to walk like mincing 300-pound Japanese ladies, hefting one leg around the other with dainty crisscross steps. We get so fat we can't be cremated. Dead Savages are soaked in a vat of enzymes that break us down into our composite elements -- beer, brats, and cheese -- which are then packaged and distributed to food pantries all over the Midwest.
My boyfriend is unaware of my impending enormousness, and I have no intention of bringing it to his attention. Once he is bound to my side by a web of car payments, shared possessions, and children, then I'll tell him what's in store. Or I'll show him.
When the pounds come my way, as they surely will, I don't want people -- especially other gay people, who can be so cruel! -- to look at me and say, "Wow, Dan really let himself go. Can't he get to a gym?" I want them to say, "Dan's priorities have changed. He has children. He doesn't have time for the gym. He has more important things to do."
That's why kids. And besides, I'm allergic to dogs.
Excerpted from Mr. Savage's new book, The Kid, published by Dutton. He'll be reading from The Kid on Tues Sept 21 at 7 pm at Bailey/Coy Books, 414 Broadway E, on Capitol Hill; Wed October 13 at 8 pm at University Bookstore, 4326 University Way NE; and on Tues Oct 19 at 8 pm at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, in Lake Forest Park.