The Gay Man’s Guide To Straight People’s Babies

There comes a time in every gay man’s life, usually around his thirties, when he is confronted with other people’s babies. If you find yourself elbow-deep in friends’ and relatives’ super fertile life stages, and and feeling a bit lost, read on.

There comes a time in every gay man’s life, usually around his thirties, when he is confronted with other people’s babies.

It comes slowly, then suddenly: a Facebook announcement or two, then a sibling’s phone call, then seventy thousand people seemingly agreeing to repopulate a continent at the same time. If you find yourself elbow-deep in friends’ and relatives’ super fertile life stages, and feeling a bit lost, this guide is for you.

— The Baby Announcement. “We are pregnant!”, says your favourite straight couple, and they are thrilled, and so are you! You jump, you hug, maybe you cry a little? You look deeply into your straights’ eyes (all four of them) and you say “This is going to be amazing!”.

Not so fast. Not everything about babies is wonderful and powdery and fragrant, and it’s important to be informed about the consequences this will have for your life. For starters, and I cannot stress this enough, you’ll be shocked at the amount of focus this baby is going to pull: it will steal your thunder at Halloween parties. It will soil its diaper in the middle of your anecdote. And there’s nothing you can do – not even your zombie stewardess costume can compete with Baby Wonder Woman and you know it.

Think about this for a bit. You are going to be very quiet at work the next day.

– The Sonogram. First seen around the third-month mark (your mileage may vary), you will be confronted with a grainy mess in black and white. This is an image of the inside of your friend’s uterus. Rumor has it that the baby is in there too. If you sucked at playing Where’s Waldo and hated those terrible 3D trick image books that you are supposed to stare at while crossing your eyes, you will love the sonogram stage.

Let’s play Spot The Fetus!

You know when you are ravenously hungry but you don’t have anything in your fridge because you have been working too much and forgot to do the shopping, so you pop down to the corner store and buy a can of lentil soup and it’s the last one on the shelf and it’s kinda dusty, and then you go home and you microwave it in a bowl and then you look at it?

The baby is the sausage.

Don’t worry if you still can’t see it as the parents will point it out to you. What they insist is the baby will look to you like a blistered toe, but you must keep this observation to yourself and adopt the Sonogram Face: simply picture yourself smelling a delicious batch of freshly baked cupcakes. Aha? See? That’s the face. You’ve got this.

– The Pregnancy. With all the mainstream focus relentlessly placed on the mother, people often neglect to tell you that during your friend’s pregnancy, as a gay man, your body is going to change. Not only is she going to be cancelling a lot of joint artisanal vegan Pilates sessions or whatever, but she’s always going to be tired. At some point, getting your pregnant couple friends to stay up past eleven is going to be a huge imposition even though it’s barely dinner time for you (no? just me?). You are either going to be getting a lot more sleep, or a lot more drunk by your lonesome. Which, you know, it’s a free country.

– Picking Baby Names. Save yourself the trouble and stop suggesting awesome names like Sebastian and Vincent because you all know they’re going to name it after a grandparent. And not even a grandparent with a cool name like Dorian or Rambo, but one named Norman.

– New Glossary: Replace commonly used terms like ‘brunch’ or ‘theatre tickets’ with ‘placenta’, ‘mastitis’, ‘epidural’, and my personal favourite: ‘mucus plug’. (never ever google this)

– The Birth: It’s best not to ask questions. You can’t handle the answers. Just show up three days later with a bottle of vodka and a carton of cigarettes for the mother like I did once some form of fluffy toy animal and your Sonogram Face on.

– Baby Gifts. Baby gifts are a minefield. The colours. The politics. Is pink okay for a girl? Is pink okay for a boy? Is a copy of Heather Has Two Mommies too premature for a pre-verbal child? Does this stuffed giraffe violate fundamental principles of animal ethics?

The good news is that, while you may fret about such unquestionably important things, the baby’s parents haven’t slept, showered or eaten a warm meal in a week and therefore would not care at this stage if you gave their child a box of live ammunition and a copy of Hustler if it meant that you finally went away and left them alone with the consequences of their poor choices baby.

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This has been your Gay Man’s Guide To Straight People’s Babies, learning as we go along. Coming up soon, The Gay Man’s Guide To Parent’s Demanding Grandchildren Because Being Gay Is No Longer An Excuse.

Why Is My Twitter In Italian? And Other Questions My Grandmother Never Had To Grapple With

My grandmother never opened Twitter in her iPad web browser and found herself staring at the word ‘Iscriviti’. She didn’t poke at the screen with her bony index finger curved into a menacing hook and scratched at the words ‘Nome utente’ like an unwelcome water streak.

“What is this goddamned gibberish?”, she never asked. “Why is this here, what did I do?” My grandmother didn’t have Twitter or an iPad or a browser because she only read the newspaper, and within that newspaper she only read the ‘Happenings’ section — the ‘sucesos’, or happenings, which is where you would go when you wanted to read about people who had been murdered in their sleep, or become tetraplegic after falling from their balcony.

Later on, as she got older, she would share the obituaries section with my grandfather and they would recognise the name of a long-held acquaintance and not say anything to each other.

“Why are you throwing yourself off an airplane? Is it because of me? What did I do?” is another question my grandmother never had to ask herself, because her boyfriend never came home one day and said “I am going skydiving in Kolín this Friday afternoon”. Her one and only boyfriend who then became my grandfather would have never contemplated jumping off a plane. And if he had, she certainly wouldn’t have snapped at him to get a haircut instead if he felt his life was so devoid of meaning. (My bad.)

My grandmother never once wondered, “What are 13 little things that can make a man fall hard for me?” because she intuitively knew that it’s her empanadillas.

And she never reflected upon “the five questions to ask when discovering your personal brand”. Her personal brand was the purple and silver blouse she bought herself after my grandfather died but she didn’t think of it that way because grandmothers don’t have personal brands.

The mere mention of “Which Sex And The City Character Are You?” would have gotten any of us yelled at and thrown out of her house. She was all of them, by the way, except Carrie. She would have yelled at Carrie and thrown her out of her house.

It’s days like these when all I have is stupid questions in my head that I miss her the most.

Her and her empanadillas.

(Seriously, why is my Twitter in Italian?)

A (Mini) Love Story

Have I ever been in love? Yes. I have been in love three times in 34 years, and also maybe more, and once I may have been in love with a very small car.

Have I ever been in love? Yes.

How many times have I been in love? Maybe three, and maybe more.

The truth is that it depends on what we talk about when we talk about love. it’s not that the question has no answer, it’s that it has infinite ones depending on how the light hits it. I have been in love three times in 34 years, and also maybe more, and once I may have been in love with a very small car.

It was a cream-coloured Morris Mini 1000 that belonged to my mother. When she was a single girl in the late 1960s she would use it to dart around Madrid and when she married my father it ended up plonked on our street in Almagro. On my favourite Sundays I went down with a big bucket of soapy water and washed it. They let me sit inside and needed moderate to severe threats to get me out.

It had black race stripes on the bonnet and yellow fog lights in the front grille. On the back, my mother had added a Playboy bunny sticker (when we were old enough to ask her about it she looked aghast for a few seconds. She had no idea it was a Playboy bunny; she just thought it looked cute. “Although that explains a few things”, she trailed off in a half-whisper).  It looked so cute and tiny and so bad at the same time with its accidental porn sticker and there was no other car exactly like it anywhere else in the world.

My brothers didn’t seem to care very much about it; they liked big cars, sporty cars, and this one looked like a toy; if asked, my father would occasionally say he loved the way it drove (I am told by those who know that the classic Minis moved like insanely fun go-karts) but otherwise ignored it; even my mother didn’t seem to pay it much attention. I often asked her questions about it and she always responded fondly but unattached. She didn’t drive it for years. I think for her it was just, well, a car she was happy to have owned once upon a time, in a different lifetime when she took care of hundreds of people aboard DC-10s rather than three noisy boys and a husband at home. But just as I loved the little flakes of that other lifetime of hers casually falling off her daily conversation — talking about theatres in Manhattan and earthquakes in Mexico while we peeled potatoes for dinner — I also loved her Mini, our Mini, and I don’t think I have ever truly moved on.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 6.11.39 PMMy working definition of love involves forests and trees. Specifically, one particular pine tree in a garden back in the village, to which I kept coming back day in, day out, for a long time. It was a bit secluded and surrounded by a tiny sort of moat that filled up when it rained, and one day when I was maybe seven I found it and decided it was going to be my tree. And to my tree I went nearly every day I spent in the village, sometimes in the morning, sometimes after lunch when the Castilian summer heat was deadly and everyone was having a siesta, just to read or to listen to music, or to daydream and imagine things.

So I saw that tree, and because I saw it, I loved it. And because I loved it, I cannot unsee it. It will remain seen, by me and others like me who love it, amidst the rest of the garden, which I liked but didn’t love. To love is to see. To love is to distinguish, to bracket, someone or something, and hail them — and then if they respond you’re happy.

And so to me our Mini wasn’t a car, but more like a family pet. I would greet it every day on my way to school, and again on my way back, and I made it a rule of sorts that if I crossed paths with another Mini on the streets it would be a very good and lucky day. If I was with my parents and we were heading in the opposite direction, I made them wait while I run to it to say hello; it seemed rude not to. Like the object of love, I forgave it for everything — for the black seats that would get so hot in summer that the flesh would melt off your thighs; for the cramps and contortions from fitting a family of five; for the noise; for how messy it always seemed to be — but I couldn’t forgive it for leaving. And if that’s not love, then I don’t know what love is.

We took it to the village and parked it in the courtyard, and there it stayed among the much bigger cars of the neighbours, and still I washed it when I could and I greeted it always, and it never moved from its spot and it slowly got rusty. Minis, I am told, die of rust. Ours, I am told, had practically dissolved by the end, when my parents had it shipped off in the back of a flatbed truck because it was in such poor shape it couldn’t even be driven to the scrapyard. I was at school in Norway and when they told me about it during our fortnightly phone call I said that I understood, and I did, and that it was the only thing to do, and it was. Afterwards I went to my bed and cried. And cried, and cried, for a car I had never driven, and I would never drive; for a car like no other, that I had loved like no other seemed to have.

I told my roommates I was crying because I was homesick.

That summer, my mother told me the scrapyard paid them 5000 pesetas. Thirty euros, give or take. She looked mortified. She had grown to see it as my car, she said, because of how much I had loved it over the years. That made me happy, knowing that at least emotionally it had been passed on to me.

But I never gave it a name. It was a fucking car.

Aranjuez, or Adventures With ABBA On Vinyl

Aranjuez is a village less than an hour south of Madrid, where old-age Spanish royals kept summer palaces and people grew strawberries and asparagus. I know it as the place where things from my childhood go to die.

My family has a summer / weekend place in the centre of town, where my mother grew up. On Friday evenings we loaded my father’s car with more things any family of five could possibly make use of for a fortnight, let alone a couple of days, and dashed off down the highway around the Vicente Calderón football stadium, zig-zagging along the Tajo river with baskets between our legs. And all the way I would listen to my walkman — always a worn, beaten ABBA cassette clinging to structural integrity by the thinnest of threads.

In a remarkably short time even for an 11-year old gay boy, I had made my family so nauseously sick of ABBA that I was only allowed to listen to them through headphones. At low volume. Preferably inside a vault.

I didn’t mind because I was always wearing headphones and listening to ABBA. I listened to many other things, but ABBA made me the happiest by far, and so I kept coming back to them. And for many years I didn’t know why, because these were times well before that awful Mamma Mia film and nobody was playing their music anywhere. I only really found out about them because I used to hide from the world in record stores and once I went into the VIPS store in Serrano and they were playing Take A Chance On Me, and it was the most joyful thing I had ever heard; I was too shy to speak to a salesperson so I just meandered through the aisles pretending to browse for CDs and listening to half of what turned out to be their greatest hits compilation. And because this was 1992 and I was eleven and I had no money, I had to wait for months until Christmas rolled around to get my first ABBA record.

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Not these. These are fridge magnets.

Now I know why ABBA shut out the bad noise from outside better than anything else. When I was younger I was sad nearly all the time and all the edges were rough and jagged, and at the end of each day I would take a deep breath and while in bed, or while taking the dog for a walk, I would put on my headphones and listen to four Swedes, one Norwegian-born, and so many times it felt like it was the only thing I had that was right. I daydreamed of a life with lines that were smooth and simple, with soft waves instead of edges, and there you go — that’s (Almost) Every ABBA Song. Even towards the end when they got introspective and cranky at each other and wrote songs about murder.

For years, every time I would pass by a record store I would go in and search for old ABBA records. I was luckiest at flea markets, and after my parents got me a turntable one year for Christmas, the only vinyls I ever bought were theirs. I had a few really old singles – a copy of Knowing Me, Knowing You that I found in Paris and I had to hide from my mother because the sleeve looked so beat up and dirty she would have made me throw it away on family health grounds. My favourite was an original copy of their 1975 album, which in an astonishing display of creativity they have titled ABBA and which had the old cursive band logo before they did the bit with the inverted B.

Which leads me to Aranjuez. Where things from my childhood go to die. My stories always have a point.

My parents, like most parents out there, appear to suffer from a sort of crippling, neurotic guilt about disposing of their kids’ stuff when they move out. It’s just stuff taking up a lot of space! goes the head; it’s the delicate, caducous life force of our bond of love! says the heart, and in the confusion they end up throwing your stuffed bear into an incinerator and holding on to your old vaccine records. My folks have found the perfect way to deal with the fate of childhood mementos in four magic words:

“It is in Aranjuez.”

Your guitar which you played since you were five until you left the country is in Aranjuez. Your old books which you bought with your pocket money are in Aranjuez. Your stuffed bear was thrown into an incinerator but your vinyls are in Aranjuez.

I haven’t been to their summer place in many years, but last time I was there I could swear I saw none of those things. Between you and I, I don’t think they are in Aranjuez at all. In fairness, they may be – my parents have an astonishing, Harry Potter-like ability to manifest long-lost items no other mortal would be capable of even conceiving (It’s just that they are almost always very odd things to keep, such as last time when they handed me my old psychological evaluations from primary school and I really should have never read those).

Anyway. Better not to dig too deep into Aranjuez and all it represents. Now I am an adult and I am having a great time roaming for ABBA vinyls once again. Some things just aren’t meant to be listened to in digital.

Yesterday I went to the record store to pick a copy of The Visitors. Their best album, as an album. The man at the counter pointed at the box set with all nine studio albums on vinyl. It’s much cheaper, he said, and easier. I said I wanted to buy them one by one, bit by bit, like I did when I was little – and I thought, back when edges were jagged and I saved all my pocket money for soft waves.

He smiled, handed me my record, and said, “That’s the best way to do it.”