who we are

I walked to work today. I usually take the subway, but today I walked. I needed time to think – or, not think – to clear my head, to process the events of the past 24 hours. But instead of thinking (or not thinking) I found myself watching faces. I live in the city so, unlike people living in the majority of the country, the faces I see every day are different than my own face. The faces I see are the faces of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, Gay Americans, Transgender Americans.

These are the faces that make America great every single day.

I celebrate them. I cherish them. I count myself lucky to be among them.

So as I walked the mile from the parking garage to my office on this, the morning after our country elected a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, wall-building, tax-dodging, crotch-grabbing demagogue, I studied the faces of my fellow Americans and, for perhaps the first time, every face looked the same. By the stadium, across the bridge, waiting in line at Starbucks, on the steps of the church – everywhere – I saw written across these faces the same thing: shock, sadness, embarrassment.

I had spent the previous evening watching the election results and, with each state that turned red, I turned to my husband and asked, “Who are we?”

Now, confronted by the faces of my fellow Americans, I saw exactly who we were.

In their faces I saw the faces of all the women I knew and how it must have felt to wake up to learn that the glass ceiling had not been shattered, but reinforced.

I saw the faces of my female friends who had exercised the deeply personal right to choose and what it must be like for them to now have that right in doubt.

I saw the faces of my friends and their Hispanic children and I tried to imagine the sense of fear and uncertainty those kids would face in this new America with its walls and borders and hatred of brown people.

I saw the faces of the many incredible gay men and women who fought so hard for equality and who were now faced with losing that equality at the hands of family and friends who had turned their backs on them in the name of change or protest.

I saw the faces of my transgender friends who still have to fight to use a public restroom.

I saw the faces of the brave parents who fight every day for their special needs children and how much harder that fought just became for them.

I saw the face of my African American foster son and what it must be like for him in a world where all lives matter and blue lives matter, but only sometimes do black lives matter.

I saw the faces of my adopted children and I understood that in a world run by Mike Pence they would not be my children.

I saw the face of my husband, a man I have loved for almost twenty years of my life, and I thought how easily everything we had could be taken away.

And then at last I saw my own face and I felt my anger, my disappointment, my sadness.


i’m coming out

I never came out. My sophomore year of college I just started kissing boys. A few months later I brought home a guy to meet my family and as we sat around the Thanksgiving table I casually began referring to him as my boyfriend and end of story. Looking back I feel like I missed a real opportunity to create some top-notch drama complete with tearful scenes of me throwing heirloom china at my homophobic uncle while dressed in a pair of short shorts, the word QUEER spelled out in pink glitter across my once upon a time 21 year old rump.

Ah, regrets.

Today, no one comes out. It’s passé.  Everyone is what they are and if they aren’t sure what are is they identify as something called pansexual which we used to call “going to college”. Twenty years ago coming out was quite the affair. I knew people who planned actual coming out parties that included tears and short shorts and the throwing of heirloom china, but always ended with a good group hug and someone’s grandma saying, “I’m glad you like kissing boys.”

I might have missed the boat back in 1996, but not today. Today, I’m coming out. It’s time I blew open the closet doors. It’s time I threw off the shackles of political oppression. It’s time I admitted the truth to myself.

I suspect this late-in-life admission could cost me a few friends and I know that it will undoubtedly lead to sneering derision and further condescension on social media, but I will no longer be shamed by info-graphic posting know-it-alls, nor a public who has been seduced into confusing opinion with fact.

Consequences be damned.

I am a moderate.

At last. I am out of the political closet.

I am a moderate.

Wow! that felt good.  I feel like a weight has been lifted from my not-as-liberal-as-I-thought shoulders. I feel as if I’ve lost twenty pounds from my formerly progressive frame.

I am a moderate. I am a moderate. I am a moderate!

I should clarify. I am a 21st century moderate which is really nothing more than a 20th century liberal. I believe in personal freedom and I believe that we should all contribute which is to say I stand for the same things today at age 41 that I did yesterday at age 21. I have neither progressed nor regressed, but also I have not remained fixed.

Now I’m not going to bore you with a list of my specific beliefs because 1) you don’t care and 2) my beliefs are none of your business. Suffice it to say, I believe we should all talk less and listen more. I believe I am not always right nor do I know everything. I believe in common sense and the unfairness of fairness.

Unlike the extremes on both sides of the aisle, I do not feel the need to keep stomping my feet until everyone believes exactly as I do. I continue to think that the best way to affect change is to lead by example (and as a gay man and as a father of two adopted children I can assure you I’ve done more than most to affect change and alter people’s perceptions).

I understand that in a country of 400 million people, the process is slow and the middle is often where you have to meet.

Sometimes you win, and most times you lose.

I am a moderate. And I like kissing boys.

Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

u wanna fight?

It was our first Father’s Day. We had been fathers for approximately eleven months, but this would be our first year officially celebrating the Hallmark holiday as dads. It seemed necessary to mark this momentous occasion with something more than cake…or rather, in addition to cake because every holiday demands cake. We spent the weeks before Father’s Day searching online for a family-friendly, father-centric activity. The local zoo was offering free admission for all dads with the paid admission of a child so we settled on the zoo…because we like the zoo and also because we’re cheap and there is nothing cheaper than free.

In the days leading up to our zoo trip my mind was preoccupied by a single thought. It was this same thought I was now obsessing over as we drove the ten minutes from our house to the zoo. What if two dads was one too many? I imagined the attendant refusing to allow both of my son’s fathers to enter the zoo for free. Managers would be called and scenes would be made. Our first Father’s Day would be in ruins as we slunk away on principle.

The parking lot was full. We eventually found a space and made our way to the end of the half-mile line that stretched into the distance. While my husband and son discussed which animals they were most excited to see that day, I silently stewed in the soup of my inevitable persecution. The closer we got to the ticket booth the more anxious I became. I had convinced myself that this was not going to go well.  And if when that moment came that we were singled out for our sexuality how exactly would I handle it? Would I cause a scene and risk embarrassing my son just to prove a point? Or would I fork over the extra $15 and live to fight another day?

The line inched up and I pictured myself calling the local TV stations—the teaser on the six o’clock news: Gay Dads Day at the Zoo Goes Bottoms Up! The line continued to move. I envisioned our new six-bedroom house (with an indoor pool and elevator) that we would purchase with the profits from O’Donnell-Collar v. Pittsburgh Zoo. We were next in line. I saw myself becoming a self-righteous pundit on msnbc; I would be Rachel Maddow’s favorite guest and together we would sneer at those conservative dumbos over at Fox.

Have a good time. Oh, and Happy Father’s Day.

The voice of the attendant brought me back to reality. There was no scene. There were no questions. There was only, “Have a good time. Oh, and Happy Father’s Day.” As the three of us walked through the gates I realized that I was…disappointed. I was so ready for a fight, but the fight never came. There would be no profile on the six o’clock news. There would be no six bedroom house with an indoor pool and an elevator. There would be no Rachel Maddow.

My son had two dads and no one cared.

My disappointment quickly passed, giving way to something far worse: shame. I expected the worst and the worst turned out to be me. If we listen to the news and social media we become convinced that everyone is out to get us. We believe that every person we meet will judge us based on our race, our religion, our gender, our sexuality. Every day we show up for a fight that never comes.

Yes, there are bad people in the world. There are people who hate and oppress and discriminate and will hurt you just as soon as look at you, but they are not all people. Most people are kind and accepting and they don’t care if you have two dads or six heads.

I’m taking off the gloves. I’m going to turn down the noise from TV and social media. I’m going to anticipate the best and if the worst comes, at least it won’t be me bringing it.

Read more about my adventures as a gay adoptive father in my book Which One of You is the Mother? 

Available for pre-order on Amazon now. Release date August 24, 2015.