I’m The Dad Of A Boy Who Loves Drag Queens

The day after Halloween, Matt posted a short essay to Huffington Post about Bob The Drag Queen surprising C.J. and trick-or-treating with him. Following is the not-as-short, unabridged version. I think Matt is the best father ever, but I’m a little partial. Xoxo, Lori

This year when I asked my son what he wanted to be for Halloween his answer surprised me. Too be perfectly honest, most of the things that come out of my 9-year-old’s mouth surprise me. So why would this answer be any different?

“I’m going to be Bob The Drag Queen! Bob is my hero!”

img_4995Since C.J. discovered and became obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race seven months ago, I’ve made it a point to sit down with him and watch it. It’s not one of my favorite shows, but that doesn’t matter to me. He loves it; and because he loves it, I sit with him and feign interest. I tell him I like the drag queens he likes and I love the dresses he loves. I’m sure he knows that if I had my choice I would be watching a football or baseball game, but he also knows that I’ll sit next to him on the couch, watch episode after episode and get excited when he gets excited.

Parenting a child like C.J. has it challenges and struggles but he always knows he is loved and supported by his dad. Both of my boys know they are loved for who they are, exactly the way they are.

C.J.’s heroes and interests are vastly different than mine were at his age. When I was 9 years old, my world revolved around football and baseball. I dreamed of playing both sports professionally.

My heroes were professional athletes who excelled in their sport and my gender nonconforming son’s hero is a strong, confident, race winning drag queen.

I never got to meet my heroes. But, last night, C.J. got to meet his. Once he got over the initial shock, he started crying happy tears. And I did too.

img_4996Bob The Drag Queen has proven to be a person worth admiring. After reading my wife’s essay about our son dressing up as him for Halloween, Bob rearranged his schedule, worked until the early morning and then flew across the country to trick or treat with my son. I couldn’t thank him enough, even though I tried for most of the night.

People have asked me how I can let my son have a drag queen for a hero and dress up as one for Halloween.

I point out that my hero when I was 9 years old was Raiders football defensive end Lyle Alzado. Alzado went on to admit he illegally used anabolic steroids throughout his career and ended up dying of brain cancer he said was caused by abusing steroids. My baseball hero was “Charlie Hustle” himself, Pete Rose. The same Pete Rose who has been permanently banned from baseball and the Hall of Fame for illegally placing bets on games while playing and coaching. The men who were my heroes as a kid turned out to be cheaters. Would idolizing a professional athlete be better than idolizing a drag queen? I don’t think so – but it would make a lot of people feel more comfortable. My job is not to make other people feel comfortable; my job is to make my son feel comfortable. And loved, strong, confident and important.

Last night I watched Bob do my son’s makeup, fix his wig and hold his hand as they trick or treated together. They smiled and laughed the whole time. They were in a world of their own. I got to follow behind them, soak it all in and hold purses and jackets as needed.

It was the best night of my son’s life and it was one of mine, too. Thank you, Bob.

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All The Details From Our Night With Bob The Drag Queen

I kept a big secret for two weeks. It was stressful and exhausting. And, so, so worth it.

Shortly after I wrote about C.J. dressing up as Bob The Drag Queen for Halloween, Bob contacted me. I just about died. I couldn’t wait to tell C.J. that his hero wanted to talk to me. But, Bob told me not to tell C.J. because – wait for it – he wanted to try to surprise C.J. by showing up to trick or treat with him on Halloween night. The only thing Bob asked was that he get to see the look of surprise on C.J.’s face. We couldn’t tell C.J.

I’m a realist. What were the chances that Bob would actually fly into town for Halloween? Especially after a huge appearance and video launch that raged until 3 a.m. the morning of. In New York.

No way it would work out, but the offer was beyond sweet. I decided that when meeting C.J. in person fell through, I’d get up the nerve to ask Bob to send C.J. a video wishing him a happy Halloween. What’s the worst that could happen?

I’d never have to find out, because the worst didn’t happened. The best happened.

Bob worked until the early morning on Halloween, hopped on a flight from NYC to LAX and here’s what happened before and after the surprise of a lifetime.

Watching the season eight finale of RuPaul's Drag Race to get Halloween ready.

Watching the season eight finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race to get Halloween ready.

1 p.m. = Our family left Orange County for Uncle Michael’s house in West Hollywood. C.J. loves West Hollywood and was very excited to spend Halloween with Uncle Michael and his friends. But, he was a little worried about the quality of trick or treating the neighborhood would offer given that he doesn’t often see kids in WeHo. Matt, Chase and I were all nervous about the surprise and C.J. was in the dark.

2 p.m. = We arrived at Uncle Michael’s in record time. As soon as we were up in Uncle Michael’s apartment, Uncle Michael and Matt said they had to run to the store for something, but really they were meeting with a producer and cameraman from ABC’s Nightline who were there to capture the surprise.

3 p.m. = While Uncle Michael did C.J.’s makeup while I snuck downstairs to be interviewed by Nightline. View their coverage here.

4:20 p.m. = I got a text that Bob had arrived and was walking up the apartment. I was a nervous wreck. C.J. had no idea that he was about to meet his hero. How would he react?

4:30 p.m. = Bob knocked on the door and C.J. answered. C.J. stared and stared and stared. I was afraid he might pass out and fall over backward. Instead he ran to give Bob a hug. Then he started crying happy tears.

“That’s the first time I ever cried because I was happy,” he said later.

Bob and C.J. exchanged gifts. Bob gave C.J. two t-shirts, a coin purse and a custom made Bob The Drag Queen Doll. They are C.J.’s most prized possessions.

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C.J. gave Bob a painting he made that morning and a letter. C.J. thought that we were going to mail the painting and letter to Bob this week, as soon as I found his address (wink, wink).

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5 p.m. = C.J. and Bob sat down for some lemonade and pizza. They started gabbing and C.J. got comfortable and attempted to make Bob his new best friend.

5:30 p.m. = Bob touched up C.J.’s makeup and fixed his wig, teaching C.J. every step of the way. C.J. was a quiet and attentive student. He had lots of questions about fake eyelashes and made several attempts to touch Bob’s without Bob noticing.

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“If there’s a gay heaven, Bob’s going there for sure,” Uncle Michael said. We all agreed.

5:45 p.m. = We headed downstairs to go trick or treating and stopped in the lobby for pictures.

“Shit! My nail broke!” C.J. exclaimed when one of his tiny press-on nails popped off. We all laughed. He’s not usually allowed to say “shit” but I let it slide because it was Halloween and he was with his hero. And, because it made Bob laugh.

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“Can I hold your hand?” C.J. asked Bob.

“Of course you can, gurl,” Bob said reaching for C.J.’s hand.

img_5004img_50016 p.m. = We followed Bob and C.J. as they trick or treated. Bob hadn’t trick or treated in years, but I guess it’s like riding a bike because he knew exactly what to do. The two of them held hands and giggled from door to door. They shared trick or treat bag and purse holding duties.

Imagine opening the door to find Bob The Drag Queen and a little Bob The Drag Queen asking for candy.

“Oh, you look great,” one old lady told Bob, thinking he was in a Halloween costume.

“I like your costumes,” one man said.

“Thanks! We are each other!” Bob said.

At one point, one lady was so nice to them that she invited them in to her house for more candy. I had to kick into mom mode and remind Bob and C.J. that for safety purposes we don’t go in to strangers houses, especially on Halloween.

Bob let C.J. have all the candy they collected, which C.J. thought was really cool. (Except the taffy. Bob loves taffy.)

 

7 p.m. = It was time to say goodbye to Bob.

“Can we have a playdate sometime?” C.J. asked Bob.

“Yes, of course,” Bob said without hesitation.

“My mom will text you,” C.J. promised.

Matt walked Bob to the Uber and told him again how much it meant to us that he rearranged his schedule to make it the most memorable Halloween our son will ever have.

“That Uber driver is the luckiest Uber driver ever,” C.J. said as Bob climbed into the car.

We walked around the West Hollywood Carnaval for an hour and then drove home.

“If Bob’s going to gay heaven, I want to go there, too,” C.J. said when I kissed him goodnight.

“Me too,” I said.

Both boys were late to school this morning.

“I’m just going to tell the office and my teacher that I’m sorry I’m late but I have a fun-hangover from being in West Hollywood all night with drag queens,” C.J. said as we pulled into the parking lot. He still had eyeliner and mascara smudged around his eyes.

When he got home from school he asked me to tell him again how everybody kept it a secret that Bob would surprise him for Halloween. He likes to hear about it over and over again. How Bob read about him, worked all night, flew to LA all the way from NYC and surprised him.

It’s the stuff dreams are made of, except it’s not a dream. It’s real life, and it happened to my son. I will never be able to thank Bob enough.

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Trick-or-Treating Purse First

Halloween is a night for boys to dress up as their heroes: firefighters, police officers, military personnel, baseball players and superheroes. My nine-year-old son C.J. is no different from most boys. He’ll dress up as his hero for Halloween. His hero is Bob The Drag Queen.

Bob The Drag Queen is the winner of the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Bob, RuPaul and all the queens are brave, strong heroes for my rainbow son. They’ve taught him to celebrate his uniqueness, cultivate his own style and let criticisms roll off his back. They’ve taught him the importance and power of loving himself. They’ve also taught him a few words and phrases that I’ve told him he can’t use until he’s 18.

C.J. has watched Bob The Drag Queen’s “Purse First” music video more times than I can count (his second favorite video to watch is Alaska’s “Your Makeup Is Terrible”). So, naturally, he wanted to emulate Bob’s “Purse First” video look for Halloween.

The inspiring look. Bob The Drag Queen in “Purse First.” (Screenshot via YouTube.)

The inspiring look. Bob The Drag Queen in “Purse First.” (Screenshot via YouTube.)

“Just so you know, we aren’t going to make your skin or face brown like Bob The Drag Queen’s,” I established right up front. Bob is black and C.J. is half Irish with skin the color of fat free milk and red hair. While I’m totally fine with my son going in drag, I’m completely opposed to him going in blackface. To some people, that makes me weird.

“Why would you think I’d do that?” C.J. asked in surprised disgust. Which made me proud of him and disappointed in myself for bringing it up. “I need her dress and purse and hair and makeup and everything.”

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not a seamstress, nor a makeup artist. I’ve never styled a wig, nor made a purse. I am a mom from the suburbs whose real talents are propagating succulents and whipping up dinner using random ingredients from the pantry because I’m too lazy to go to the store.

Knowing my limitations, C.J. told me to call his Uncle Michael for help.

“You can’t order this costume on online, mom! Call my FuGuncle (fun gay uncle)!”

I did as I was told because I knew it was the right thing to do.

Days later Uncle Michael arrived from West Hollywood with a wig, fake eyelashesm pearls and big ideas.

Thank RuPaul for gay brothers.

Uncle Michael helped C.J. shop for supplies and make a purse to match the dress they had me order from Amazon. Then, Uncle Michael set up a classroom in our dining room and taught us how to style the wig and do the makeup, because he won’t be in town to help on Halloween. I hope that when the big night finally gets here, my newly learned drag queen skills don’t fail me.

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(The one item left on my Halloween to-do list is to buy a petticoat for my son – which is something I never thought I’d say.)

C.J. has since perfected his 2016 trick-or-treating technique. He will approach a house. Ring the doorbell and stand to the side. When a person opens the door, he will come into view purse first.

I don’t have the heart to tell him that people in our conservative Orange County neighborhood probably won’t get his shtick.

“What are you going to be for Halloween?” people and peers have been asking C.J. for weeks.

“I don’t know,” he always says nonchalantly.

“Why aren’t you telling people what you’re going to be for Halloween?” I asked him in private, worried that he wasn’t telling people because he was afraid of being teased.

“I’m not telling people that I’m going to be Bob The Drag Queen for Halloween because I don’t want them to steal my awesome idea,” he replied with the attitude needed to be the world’s best drag queen for a night.

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When My Brother Came Out

img_2224My brother came out when I was in high school and he was in his early twenties. The right way to come out is different for every person. For my brother it was in a mailed letter.

I was sitting at the dining room table doing homework with my boyfriend when my mom came home from work and started opening the mail. She stopped halfway through the stack of envelopes and catalogs.

She went up to her room and came back down wearing a sweatsuit and said she was going for a walk.

That’s when I knew something was wrong. My mom never went for a walk and I didn’t even know she owned a sweatsuit, let alone the bright white sneakers that served as warning lights on her feet.

After she walked out the door, my boyfriend and I stared at each other without speaking . This wasn’t the nightly routine.

She returned hours later. She was sweaty and I could tell she had been crying.

She told my boyfriend that he needed to go home, but didn’t offer him a ride. Something life changing had happened, or was happening. I braced myself.

She said she needed to talk to me and I followed her to my room. She started talking in a tone that was forced calm, measured calm, scary calm.

“I got this letter in the mail today,” she started, waving the envelope in the air.

I racked my brain trying to think of what the letter could possibly say. I came up with nothing that would warrant my mother putting on a sweatsuit.

“This letter is from your brother and you know what it says?” she asked. I shook my head.

“Do you know what he is?” she said. The scary calm was fading, now she was just scary. “He’s gay.”

“So?” I thought to myself.

“Shit.” I thought to myself.

“This is going to suck.” I thought to myself.

She was still talking, but I couldn’t hear her because I was thinking a lot of things to myself.

“This doesn’t mean that you’re gay. You have to promise me that you don’t think you’re gay,” my mom said, finally getting my attention.

Wait. What?

img_2864What did my brother coming out have to do with my sexuality? Hours earlier I had been making out with my boyfriend when we had the house to ourselves.

But…I was oddly, strongly attracted to the girl who sat in front of me in English class.

Maybe I was gay.

No. I couldn’t be gay. Only one of us could be gay and my brother had clearly already called dibs. If him being gay forced my mom into a sweatsuit, I could only imagine what me being gay would force her into.

She retreated to her bedroom and closed the door. I heard yelling and crying all night. She didn’t go to work the next day.

When I got home from school she told me to get in the car immediately because I had an appointment to see a therapist.

“Why?” I asked. With all due respect, it seemed like she was the one who needed a therapist.

“Because your brother being gay is going to be a lot for you to deal with.”

It was?

Once awkwardly sitting in the therapist’s office with my mom crying in the waiting room, the therapist opened our time together with a prayer.

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PFLAG brochure circa 1992

Then, for an hour, she told me what the bible said about gay people. She taught me how to pray for my brother so that he might see the error in his ways, ask for forgiveness and, once again, lead a godly life. She taught me how to pray for myself so God would know I loved my brother, but didn’t agree with his sin. The therapist told me not to tell anybody that my brother was gay.

I sat in silent revolt. The therapist obviously didn’t like my brother, so, therefore, I didn’t like her. I was supposed to meet with her once a week. I refused — leading my mother to firmly believe that she had failed as a parent. The relationships that my mom had with each of us as individuals and together as a sibling unit were never the same.

She made my brother tell me himself over the phone that he was gay. Like it was a punishment. I was just happy to hear his voice, until I heard that he was crying. I cried too; not because he was gay, but because he was in pain.

I didn’t tell Michael about my therapy session until much later because I knew it would hurt his feelings. And, it did.

But, at some point when I was feeling like he thought that his coming out affected only him. I needed him to know that it affected me too. It’s a major plot twist in my life story. Coming out isn’t just about the LGBTQ person. Conversion therapy isn’t just for LGBTQ people. But, I always knew that however bad I had it, my brother had it worse.

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PFLAG brochure circa 1992

Before her death a year and a half ago, my mom cried to me and told me that she felt like a failure as a mother because of her reaction when my brother came out. She said that, at times, her love for my brother, for her kids, didn’t triumph over her concern about what others would think or say. Weeks before she died she told my brother in words on a card.

Going through a box of my mom’s stuff last week, I found a huge envelope stuffed with papers sent to her by her sister the week that my brother came out.

The note said, “When you’re ready, maybe some of this info will help.”

Handouts, copies and brochures from an organization called PFLAG followed the note. I held them in my hands, thinking of my mother’s sweatsuit, my brother’s tears, the therapist’s prayers and I thought about how different my family’s life could have been if my mom and I had attended a PFLAG meeting instead of a religious therapist.

If you are an adult or parent struggling with a loved one coming out, please seek support that doesn’t seek to change your loved one. Click here for some resources.

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Back to School Blues…and Pinks

All summer, every summer, I can’t wait for school to start again. When the kids are in school, there are less “I’m bored” complaints, less money spent, less full layers of sunscreen to apply/reapply, less sand everywhere and there’s more time for me to work, write, watch Netflix and Google random things.

But, then, sure as shit, one week before school starts, I start to panic and worry about what the school year holds for gender-nonconforming C.J.

I can clearly remember my worries by grade level – which, as I look back now, are proof that it truly does get better. I’ll take my fourth grade worries over my first grade worries any day. (And, I refuse to think about my middle school worries, so don’t even bring them up. I know it will get worse.)

Preschool: Will the kids make fun of C.J. for wearing girl clothes? Will he get teased?

Kindergarten: Will the kids make fun of him for drawing himself as a girl and wearing girl socks, jewelry and lip gloss? Will he get teased?

First Grade: Will he be comfortable and safe in the boys’ bathroom? Will he get teased?

Second grade: I hope his teacher will be more accepting and thoughtful than his last. Will he get teased?

Third Grade: He’s been at the same school for four years. I hope he has an accepting and supportive friend in his class. Will he get teased?

Fourth Grade: I hope the other kids continue to be cool to him.

This year, the hardest part of going back to school was school supply shopping; it’s when I realized how much of his sparkle C.J. tames and edits for school. I know it feels necessary for him, but it feels sad for me.

I want to tell him “You do you! Who cares what other people think! Screw them!,” but I don’t because he can read the crowd of his peers better than I can. Just like I won’t dye my hair purple and let all of my tattoos show at work, C.J. doesn’t wear a skirt or carry a purse to school.

We hide our authentic selves sometimes, because it seems like the right or easiest thing to do – but we let just enough of our true selves show so that we don’t feel like we’ve surrendered completely.

C.J. needed to get spiral notebooks for school. He wanted these:

img_0174He got these:

img_0173He needed a binder. He wanted one of these:

img_3597He got this coral one:

img_3598He wanted this lunchbox:

img_0172He got this one (which Chase told us privately is equally as girly and attention-grabbing):

img_0005He was brave enough to go with these highlighters:

img_0003As the first day of school got closer, C.J. got more nervous and so did I.

The night before, C.J. asked me to help him make sure his French braid was perfect and to paint one of his fingernails blue. If nobody said anything about his nail, he’d paint an additional nail each night until he worked up to two, fully manicured hands. Then, he’d go from blue to a more fabulous color.

img_4011He’s careful and measured in how much of himself he reveals to people at first.

img_4010So far so good for fourth grade. He’s worn French braids, ponytails and crimped hair. His nails are polished. The friendship bracelets have started to amass on his wrist.

The anxiety has started to subside as we settle into the comfortable routine of the school year. From here until summer, we stand ready for what could happen, but we are more joyful than fearful.

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Giveaway: My Son Wears Heels

book-500x491Happy Pub Day to Julie Tarney! Her book My Son Wears Heels came out today. And, I have a copy to give away to one lucky reader.

This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to the winner, Shannon Twisler!

About the book:

In 1992, Julie Tarney’s only child, Harry, told her, “Inside my head I’m a girl.” He was two years old.

She had no idea what that meant. She felt disoriented even trying to process it. Wasn’t it her role to encourage and support her child? But surely she had to set some limits to his self-expression—or did she? Would he be bullied? What kind of guidance would he need? Could she do the right thing? And what was the right thing?

The internet was no help, because there was no internet. And there were zero books for a mom scrambling to understand a toddler who had definite ideas about his gender, regardless of how Nature had endowed him. Terms such as transgender,gender nonconforming, and gender creative were rare or nonexistent.

Lacking a positive role model of her own, and fearful of being judged as a mom who was making her son “too feminine,” Julie embarked on an unexpected parenting path. Despite some stumbles, she learned to rely on her instincts. She listened carefully, kept an open mind, and as long as Harry was happy, she let him lead the way. Julie eventually recognized that Harry knew who he was all along. Her job was simply to love him unconditionally, get out of the way, and let him be his authentic self. In the process she was able to embrace both his uniqueness and her own. As Harry turned 21, she looked back on the early years realizing that today she might have done a few things differently.

Sound like something you’d like to read? Leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected and announced on Thursday.

To order a copy, click here.

This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to the winner, Shannon Twisler!

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