As soon as I saw Westchester, I knew my kids were going to love it. They’d spent their entire young lives in a cramped two-bedroom condo in Los Angeles, a few steps from the seedier side of Santa Monica Boulevard. In Westchester, we would have a yard, with trees—maybe even a swing set. Neighbors who didn’t deal drugs from their driveway.
The realtor who showed me around was brimming with information about the different towns—where to eat, how to get around, where the good pools were in the summer. I had only one question that stumped her: “Is it gay-friendly here?”
Clearly, it was the first time she’d been asked that.
My partner had just accepted a job in New York, which meant uprooting our family from the West Coast. One nice thing about our West Hollywood neighborhood was that our little two-dad, two-kid family fit in so nicely there.
Sure, we could’ve played it safe and rented an apartment in Chelsea or Park Slope, but that wasn’t the lifestyle we wanted for our kids, not anymore. We were tired of living in the city, tired of seeing our street name on celebrity arrest reports. We wanted something simpler, something suburban, with public schools we could actually send our kids to. We wanted Westchester.
Our only worry was whether Westchester wanted us.
Some of our friends who knew the area warned us to stay away. We’d never fit in here. If there were gay people in Westchester, they kept quiet about it. They didn’t kiss each other goodbye at the train station or sit on the same side of the booth in restaurants. Even our realtor said there weren’t any same-sex parents in the area—at least, not that she knew about.
Still, after she helped us find a little house in New Rochelle that we loved, we decided to roll the dice. In December 2011, we packed up everything we owned, bought the kids their first winter coats, and headed East.
We braced ourselves for the worst-case scenario, even though we weren’t sure what that was. Flaming crosses on our lawns? Angry glares at ShopRite? Schools turning us away in disgust?
Mostly, though, people just ignored us. We took the kids everywhere: to gym class, the mall, T.G.I. Friday’s. We sat on the same side of the booth when we felt like it, and we kissed goodbye at the train station. Nobody stared, nobody shunted their own kids away in a huff, nobody said anything at all. Even when our kids called us “Daddy” and “Other Daddy,” no heads turned.
It should’ve been a relief, but not only were no heads turning away from us, none were turning toward us, either. Nobody made much effort to get to know the two dads with the two kids. We felt tolerated, at best. Maybe everyone was right about Westchester. We were foreigners here. They didn’t know what to do with us.
It was a world apart from our old home. In LA, complete strangers would see us shopping in Target and start peppering us with questions: “Did you have a surrogate?” “Did you use such-and-such agency?” “Who contributed the sperm?”
Why weren’t people in Westchester curious about those things? Why were they so…rude?
Even as we got to know more people, no one ever brought up the fact that our family looked a little different. We met some wonderful neighbors, we had play dates, we enrolled the kids in a terrific school.
After a couple of months away from LA, we started to see things from a different perspective. It was kind of a relief not having to share our life story with everyone we met, not having my Häagen-Dazs order veer off into a discussion of reproductive rights. You mean I can just enjoy ice cream with my boyfriend and my kids? Um, okay. We realized that this was the locals’ way of accepting us, that here, the nosiness would’ve been rude. It’s then that we knew we were settling in at last.
We’ve lived here over a year now, and we’ve encountered zero prejudice. All the things that made us fall in love with Westchester are just as fantastic as they were the day we moved in. What I realize now is that Westchester gave us exactly what we wanted—a great place to raise our kids where we were treated just like everyone else—no better, no worse.
We’ve even met another family like ours—two dads with twin toddlers right around our kids’ age. Their experience has been a lot like ours, and whenever we compare notes on our lives in Westchester, they can relate. Dealing with mens’ rooms that don’t have diaper changing stations, rolling our eyes at all the Romney lawn signs on our block, crossing out “Mother” on our kids’ school registration forms and penciling in “Father #2.” It’s great having another couple we can talk to about absolutely everything.
Well, maybe not everything. After all, we don’t want to be rude.
Jerry Mahoney is a stay-home parent living in New Rochelle. He writes the blog Mommy Man, about being a gay dad. His memoir about how he and his partner started their family will be published by Taylor Trade Publishing in spring 2014.