How many times have you heard someone say that having a kid changes everything? At least 53 million times, right? Everyone says this: Parents, family members, people you see at the grocery store, people on television, ads on television, and sex education teachers (if those even still exist). Parents look at you and smirk about how you can’t understand because you’re not a parent. It’s obnoxious and trite and I hated to hear it until I became a parent and realized those smirking bastards are right.
Jillian Michaels became the latest in a line of celebrities who have opened up about their personal lives when they became parents. While Michaels came out as bisexual in an interview with Ladies Home Journal in 2010, she was pretty secretive about her personal life. Michaels introduced the world to her partner, Heidi Rhoades, in the same People magazine article in which she introduced her two children, Lukensia, who she adopted from Haiti, and Phoenix, to whom Rhoades gave birth on May 3.
Michaels told People magazine that becoming a mother has completely changed her “in just about every possible, conceivable way.” The idea of a child changing everything in your life is not a new concept and Michaels is not the first person to discuss this phenomenon. But for LGBT people, especially for celebrities, having a child can have a profound effect on how open you are about yourself and your family.
Some other celebrities who were hounded by gay rumors for years, like Clay Aiken and Ricky Martin, waited until they had children to come out. Wanda Sykes came out as a married lesbian in November of 2008 as she campaigned against Prop 8. Her wife gave birth to twins the following April. I’m not a genius but by my math her wife was about halfway through her pregnancy when Sykes came out. It’s possible that for all of these celebrities coming out had nothing to do with becoming parents but the timing certainly suggests that they may have been thinking about their new families when they decided to step out of the closet. I can’t know why these celebrities chose to come out when they had children but I can venture a guess based on my own experiences.
We all have things that we won’t do for ourselves. Maybe you haven’t been to the doctor or the dentist or maybe you haven’t had your brakes checked on your car in a while. You know that none of those things is a good idea, but you’re only harming yourself so you put it off. When you add a child to your family you immediately have someone for whom you will do anything. Perhaps for the first time questions about your personal life are ones you want to answer. There are few things more annoying in the world than proud parents. We don’t shut up about our kids and we talk about everything they do, regardless of how boring it is to the rest of the world. But, if you are in the closet you can’t talk about your family, you have areas that are off limits, you have to contort your words and play a game of verbal Twister to avoid disclosing that you have a wife or a partner or something other than the husband everyone expects.
Until I became pregnant with our first child, I used to let coming out slide. It can be a hassle and, really, does the person at the store checkout counter need to know I am gay? Probably not. So if she assumes I am buying something for my husband I might not correct her, because sometimes coming out is a chore especially when you’re in a hurry or don’t want to bother or whatever reason you think of when you just nod, smile, collect your purchase, and walk out of the store hating yourself a little for not having the guts to correct the stranger. I would go home and apologize to my wife for allowing that person to assume she didn’t exist.
That stopped when I gave birth to our first child. When the nurses handed me that little pink kid for the first time it is the most overwhelming feeling I have ever experienced. Much of it is the cocktail of exhaustion, epidural (don’t be a hero, Billy), and the hormones that your body makes to turn you into a crazy person who thinks very little and feels way too much. Whatever the underlying cause, the urge to protect that little, screaming, wrinkly, mass of flailing arms and legs is unstoppable. You consider maiming the people who drop by and want to hold you kid if they fail to be properly attentive and gentle. Just this week, I had to calm my inner Hulk when a kid, probably less than two years old himself, pushed my barely walking child so hard from behind that he nearly made her crack her face open. That little hooligan should be in jail.
My wife and I knew we would need to be braver and less lazy in order to protect our kids and to set an example of how to navigate a world that doesn’t always understand or accept our family. Kids are smart and wickedly perceptive. They notice everything you do and they pick up on signs that you are hedging. They will know if you seem uncomfortable talking about being gay and they will get the message that maybe there is something shameful about their parents or their family. Yes, there are people in the world who think that our families are wrong, and it is truly heartbreaking to think that our kids will face that one day, but we are not going to allow them to get that message from us. So, we embrace the awkward moments, we correct random strangers, we are out all the time and we don’t apologize for being a two mom family.
Having a child really does change everything. Any sense that being in the closet, even to a minute degree, is worth avoiding the hassle of explaining your life to perfect strangers disappears because the kid sitting in the shopping cart is looking at you and she will ask you someday why you let that man at the store say she had a Daddy. She’ll want to know why you didn’t tell him that she has a Mommy and Mama. She’ll look at you with those big eyes and you won’t have an answer for her, you’ll just wish you could take it back or that the Earth would swallow you whole. Those are the excruciating moments you avoid when you come out. There will be dozens of times in which you will disappoint your child and yourself, there will be dozens of parenting failures this week alone. But when you choose to be out, to be all the way out, you know that you won’t disappoint them in that way. Maybe you wouldn’t be that out for yourself or for your wife or partner, but you would die for that kid and suddenly, coming out to everyone you ever meet seems like nothing at all.