Jerry (not his real name) is an unapologetic Hollywood liberal. He drives a Prius and supports Barack Obama. He's as open-minded about homosexuality as a fortyish heterosexual Little League dad can be. In fact, as someone who's responsible for the day-to-day operations of some of TV's biggest comedies, Jerry might as well be the mayor of Gayberry. "If I'm on a set and there are no gay people, I actually get worried," he says.
Geoff (not his real name) is the same way. A history professor and author in New York City, he is surrounded by a veritable gay armyhis editor, his literary agent, his closest confidants ("Gay, gay, way gay," he says)and that's the way the happily married 42-year-old father, whose idea of heaven is courtside Knicks seats, likes it.
But while Jerry, Geoff, and other progressive dads of their generation are more than happy to down margaritas and watch Project Runway with gay friends, they're not so comfortable with the idea of their own offspring going the way of Dumbledore. And only on the condition of anonymity will they elaborate on why, exactly.
"That," Geoff says after a pained sigh, "would be tricky." He explains that it was worrisome enough when his 6-year-old son watched the Hannah Montana movie recently "with a little too much glee." Jerry too has reckoned with the issue. When his son, now 8, was 3, "he made us buy him a princess costume for Halloween. I thought, Oh, shit. Here we go. But then we went to his friend Joshy's house, and Joshy said, 'You can't dress up as a girl.' At which point my kid threw Joshy to the ground. I thought, Okay, we're gonna be fine."
If you're a father, chances are you've had a similarly conflicted inner dialogue. No matter how enlightened you are (or think you are), when it comes down to it, you don't want your kid to be gay. You may chuckle when little Leo dons butterfly wings and plays tea party for the third day in a row(hey, it's just a little gender blurring), but you're really thinking, No, God, no. This all gets especially complicated when you move in social circles where homophobia is considered as inconceivable as pedophilia, and where parents throw coming-out parties for grade-school boys to show how tolerant they are (this is actually happening in places like Berkeley, California). Caitlin Ryan, a clinical social worker in San Francisco, has heard of at least a couple of these events. "Parents have had a variety of celebrations," she says. "And this is another way to mark a rite of passage."
Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, who runs the Gender and Sexuality Development Psychosocial Programs at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., frequently sees patients as young as 2 or 3 setting off the gaydar of their parents and teachers, and says it's always a cause for alarm, or at least confusion, for the parents. "They like to appear cool and relaxed about gender issues," he adds. "But deep down they're not acknowledging what they really want, which is for their kids to be 'normal' members of society."