Picture the scene: A good-looking, groomed and well-dressed man sits in a trendy cafe, coffee cup in hand, holding court over a group of yummy mummies, regaling them with stories of his wonderful life as a gay dad and simultaneously tapping play-date invites into his iPhone. All the while his beautiful and exquisitely dressed children play angelically nearby.
Sounds amazing doesn’t it? To good to be true?
I’d like to say I wasn’t so naive to think I’d spend my adoption leave in this way, but I did. I really did. I thought the mums would love me. Every woman loves a gay man don’t they? So what could be better for a bored stay-at-home-mum than having a fabulous gay dad to hang about with? I know I know, too many stereotypes to mention in that little scenario but let’s park those for a moment.
So you can probably imagine, it’s been a pretty big wake-up call to find that not only am I not the centre of attention in the mummy world, most mums barely even notice me, or pretend not to. When they do i’m generally met with wary, suspicious or confused looks. Modern Family and The New Normal have a lot to answer for raising my expectations!
In the seven months I’ve been on adoption leave I’ve seen mums strike up conversations with each other across tables in cafes, talking through me as if I wasn’t there. I’ve had them get up and move when I’ve sat down next to them with my girls. I’ve had them completely ignore me whilst talking to each other about how lovely my children are and i’ve had one word or single sentence answers when i’ve tried to strike up conversations. On numerous occasions. It’s been pretty soul destroying at times. Mum’s are a tough audience to crack!
It’s not that me being gay is the problem. Or at least it doesn’t seem to be. One issue is that when I walk into a soft play cafe or toddler music class most mums don’t automatically assume I’m gay. This surprises me no end as most people are usually able to tell (although I do have a rather bushy beard since being on adoption leave so maybe I look more butch than I give myself credit for). However, it seems that if you stick a push-chair in front of a gay man they will appear straight. And it’s as a ‘straight’ man that I am ignored. I have read countless tales of stay-at-home dads feeling excluded from by the mummy world and I now have first hand experience of my own. I don’t know whether women are worried their husbands won’t approve of them talking to or befriending a man, or whether they worry about breast-feeding in front of us?
So I don’t often even get the chance to casually drop into the conversation that I’ve not just got the day off and that I don’t have a wife/female partner at home ‘having a rest’. I don’t get to talk about my partner or join in the conversations about where the best place for a second birthday party is, how hard it is to find a good nursery place or which toddler music class is the best in the area.
It’s not all bad though, I’ve met a few really nice people along the way, mostly at groups for adoptive parents where you’ve already got something in common and an easy conversation starter. Outside of the adoption groups, whenever i’ve actually managed to slip being gay into the conversation people have been great, seeming genuinely interested in how we became parents. Some of the comments grate a little from time-to-time (‘wow, you’re so brave’ springs to mind) but for most people gay parenthood is new to them and so they have lots of questions, which I’m generally happy to answer.
Maybe I need to start wearing t-shirts with slogans such as ‘Gay Dads Rock’ emblazoned on them in rainbow coloured letters. If nothing else I’d no longer be invisible!