June is LGBTQ Pride Month. With the Texas Republican Party Platform advocating “reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle,” which the American Psychiatric Association discredited back in 1973, I figured it was time to showcase some members of Austin’s LGBTQ community whose stories don’t often get told.
Does your Facebook feed ever feel like it’s all babies and marriages? Over the last year, that stream has started to be increasingly more diverse, as more and more gays and lesbians are getting married or adopting. Two of my friends, Ryan Phipps and James Wood, added a little more baby joy when they adopted a little baby boy named Rocky earlier this year. Since then, it’s been a welcome flow of pics of the cutest dressed baby ever.
Since Ryan has been a friend of mine since we were teens, I asked if they’d let me into their home so I could tell their story. The guys agreed, and a few days later, I found myself in their home in University Hills, an increasingly gay neighborhood located in northeast central Austin near 290 and 183.
Ryan is a Police Lieutenant. He’s also very tall and muscular. As he opened the door, I was greeted with a giant hug, country music playing softly from inside the house, the gentle cooing of happy baby in the background.
James, a personal injury lawyer and a life-time musician, stands next to a grand piano smiling. The walls of the living room are lined with Audubon sketches of animals and butterflies. James picked them out.
Ryan rushes over to the baby carrier on the coffee table. “You have to meet Rocky,” he says, picking up the baby. Rocky smiles and coos. I walk over and hold my hand up. Rocky puts his tiny hand next to mine like he’s trying to give me a high five. “He’s learning about hands,” James says.
After a quick tour of the house, we sit down on the couches. Rocky climbing on my arms, I turn on my recorder and talk to the guys about the decision to have a child, being gay in Texas, and the changes they’ve had to make becoming dads. Here’s what they had to say:
Are you guys married?
James: No. We’re not married.
Did you have to go out of state to adopt?
James: No, the state of Texas allows us to adopt him jointly, but they don’t allow us to marry. It’s interesting, huh?
Is gay adoption hard in Texas?
James: Gay adoption in Texas has its ups and downs. It’s not ideal, but it’s possible.
Do you guys have joint custody?
Ryan: We’re both his parents, legally. We both have full equal rights.
James: It’s not really about custody. We have every right and power jointly.
How’s the reception been?
Ryan: The reception has been very warm. We haven’t heard anything negative. Family has gone up, a lot. In fact, James’s mom, who used to be kind of distant to us, is around all the time being a grandmother. My sister also just had a baby at the same time.
Ryan: After we made it public that we had adopted him, we both received so many gay couples asking us how we accomplished this or if we could offer any pointers.
What about the neighbors?
Ryan: We have a lot of gay neighbors. All of our neighbors are gay guys. They love him.
James: This is totally the gay ghetto. More and more gays are moving to this neighborhood. More gays just keep popping up.
When did you guys decide to have kids?
Ryan: I’ve always known I wanted to be a dad. Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to be a father. I have a big family, and I always wanted to be a dad. But when we got together 8 years ago, the opportunity to have a kid wasn’t even an option.
James: We were at a weekend in Galveston. On the way home, we talked about it. That was really the first time we discussed it. And then Ryan and I went to India and we saw all those kids there in really rough shape. It’s sad to think that if they were here, we could give them an opportunity to get them out of the dirt. But the process and the laws in Texas were so difficult, that we shelved it.
Ryan: We were exploring different agencies and surrogacy, but this opportunity came out of nowhere and we jumped. It was meant to be.
James: I think Rocky was determined to find us.
How has it changed your lives?
James: The reality is hard to prepare for. You’re not pregnant or dealing with a pregnancy. You’re just all of a sudden–boom–parents. You can’t just feed them and leave them like dogs. You have to pretty much have them in your arms 24/7.
James: It’s also harder to get together with friends. In the gay community, it’s not a ‘bring your baby along’ thing. It’s separate. Our straight friends want to do all kids stuff all the time.
Ryan: If our straight friends invite us over to dinner, it’s expected we bring him over. If we get invited to a gay dinner party, we have to find a babysitter.
How has it changed your relationship?
Ryan: You have to work together a lot more. Before the baby, we had very independent lives. With the baby, we’ve had to work together and agree on things together in a way we’ve never had to before.
James: Here he is, no matter what, we have to take care of him. We have a strong commitment to stay together for him. Not that we wouldn’t, but now we are doing this together the whole way through.
Ryan: A lot of men’s bathrooms don’t have changing stations, and we don’t have the option to send a woman to the ladies room–so we sometimes have to change his diaper in the back of the car. And we look at each other and smile and say, “Can you believe we’re actually doing this?”
What’s different about being gay dads?
Ryan: He dresses fabulously.
James: There is this idea of “gay dads”, right? But we’re just dads. There’s really not any difference in our house versus any other family’s house. It’d be good for society in general to see us as “parents” and not “gay parents.”
James: As far as being two men, I don’t think anything is missing in his life. There’s no missing element. There’s no missing nurturing. There’s no less caring or anything. He has 100% parents in us.
Do you think things are changing for gays in Texas?
Ryan: Times are definitely changing. Even in Longview, there our group of friends–James’s cousins and their friends–are very conservative. They’ve all been so wonderful to us. They threw a party for us and gave us wonderful gifts. I think the moods are changing. And I think positive images of gay couples will make it better.
It’s really not that big of a deal any more in Texas, but we seem to have politicians that think otherwise:
James: We do. And those ideas will die off. You can’t change everyone’s minds. People, like my mom, who were hesitant about gay relationships, over the years has come to accept us and be very loving to us. We’re family. But I think that people from the outside who don’t have a personal connection are the ones judging from the outside. But those ideas will die off.