This is not how I had planned to introduce myself.
Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure how I would have introduced myself under the best of circumstances. How does one get started writing a parenting advice column geared toward LGBTQ people? How to make the right splash?
The personal basics are as good a place as any, I suppose. I’m a pediatrician in private practice just outside of Boston. I’m also a father of four, along with my husband. So any advice I’d be apt to dole out would be coming from the overlap in those experiences. Hopefully, the combination would yield something useful.
Like anyone else who posts photos of themselves online, I take about two dozen I reject as hideous before choosing one I consider sufficiently flattering. (Please tell me I am not the only person who does this. Lie if you must.)
There is a desire to present as flawless a picture of ourselves as possible, to make sure the lighting and angle capture what we like while leaving the things we don’t out of the frame.
My column, however, was never going to be about that. If I’m going to be helpful to anyone, it’s going to start by making it clear that my own parenting is far from immaculate. In fact, of all the areas of my life, it’s my parenting that’s the farthest from flawless. I fall short of my best on a daily basis, and on some days it feels like hourly.
Over the years, it’s been this personal falling short that has at times actually made me a better pediatrician. I can tell any given parent that their struggles aren’t unique, that we’re all out here doing our best.
“Here’s what worked for me, or someone else I talked to about this” is commonly the foundation of the advice I dole out. The more time has passed, proportionately less of what I have had to offer has come from a textbook or classroom.
Which brings me to now. To this profoundly flawed moment. What do we do now?
Even if we manage to pull off a fairly polished parenting performance on a regular basis, the stresses and demands of these difficult times are likely to be exposing the fissures that had previously been buffed over.
The impulse to keep the Instagram-ready snapshots of our lives going may still be there, but being unexpectedly and indefinitely stuck home with our kids, with few places to take them and the demands of keeping up with school layered onto everything else, is making that harder and harder to accomplish.
While there’s nothing unique to queer people about the novel coronavirus (despite the occasional right-wing religious crackpot trying to blame it on us somehow), for those of us who are parents, the pressure to keep up appearances may feel especially strong.
Our fitness to be parents at all, the literal right of families like ours to exist, is something that far too many people still question and condemn. Proving that we have the same resilience, if not more, than any other family may feel like something we ought to be doing.
I will admit to feeling this pressure a little bit myself. Unironic use of the phrase “personal brand” should result in immediate shunning, but if I were forced to describe my own, “gay dad” would comprise a hefty percentage. I’ve tweeted “current status of gay dadness,” which I do when some interaction I have with my kids feels particularly gay (e.g. folding laundry to Dua Lipa, explaining the concept of colors clashing), so often that my iPhone auto-populates it for me.
As such, while I mention frustrations and challenges of parenting all the time on Twitter, I do so with part of my mind always on the idea that gays as parents remain under scrutiny that other families aren’t.
But of course, we are just as human as any other family. If there’s one thing that simultaneous global health and economic disasters make clear, it’s that having to radically alter how we live our lives is immensely painful for everyone in broadly recognizable ways. While we each face challenges specific to our situations, there are struggles that feel universal.
And so, just as my introduction to this column is not what I would otherwise have planned, so is my advice. I hope that later opportunities to offer thoughts tailored to our community will offer themselves and that you might find those thoughts helpful.
But for now, my advice to LGBTQ people is the same as to all the families that are coming to see me in my office: do what you can to stop the spread of the virus, stay safe and healthy yourselves, and be as kind to yourselves and each other as you can be.