By Jeff Walsh
Jon and Michael Galluccio met in college in 1982 as frat brothers. They were each other's first boyfriends in a love story that has lasted for more than 13 years, and is still going on to this day. But after 13 years of living happily together, they began to examine their lives and relationship, and found something was missing. They wanted children. For Michael, it was always just a given that it wasn't a possibility.
"I figured I'm gay, therefore I can't, and for 13 years, we never even brought up the subject," he says. "Both of our mothers says the same thing when we came out to them, which I thought was interesting. The first words of their mouths when we told them was, 'Now I'm never going to have grandchildren.' And to our young, impressionable minds, of course that was true. You believe, or at least we were taught, gay equals not as good as everyone else and therefore you can't have children. And we believed it and believed it. After 13 years together, we started really working on our relationship, which led to working on a lot of things, and in there we had this conversation about where are we in our lives, how do we feel about everything, do we have any regrets.
"We concluded that we had no regrets, everything was great, we're so happy. And then all of the sudden, I said, you know what? I do have a regret, and that is I'll never have kids. And Jon gave me one of those looks and says, 'Really? You would want to have kids?' And I said it would be my biggest dream in life to be a father. And then he told me the same thing about him. So, after a little bit of work, because our first thing was 'too bad we can't,' then finally someone said to us, 'Why not?' And we were like, 'Oh yeah! why not? What would be wrong with that?' And it wasn't until we were together for 13 years until we even talked about it. But once we knew that we could do it for ourselves, we were doing it."
The couple now has three children, and spoke to Oasis in San Francisco during a jam-packed 12-day book tour, the longest they have ever been away from their kids. They are on the road talking about "An American Family," their book which documents their journey to parenthood, which included their successful lawsuit against the state of New Jersey for their right to adopt children as a gay couple.
The book wasn't planned, but then again neither was the lawsuit or any of this publicity. In fact, the Galluccios actually moved to New Jersey because it was supposed to be easy for them to adopt children there, because the state Supreme Court already allowed for second parent adoptions.
"A woman had a baby and her partner co-adopted a baby, so if New Jersey is allowing two people to co-parent the same child, then of course they'll allow us to do it," Michael says. "And when we went to the Division of Youth and Family Services, our first statement was 'we're a couple, we want to adopt a child together. Will that be a problem?' And they said no, none whatsoever. And we went through the whole process that way and it wasn't until we sent the paperwork in and the paper came back without a consent to adopt form. They weren't consenting for both of us, because we weren't married. They would only let me adopt because I had the job. Jon stays home with the kids. And that started all the legal stuff and every day since then my life evolved into different things I never expected."
The lawsuit resulted in New Jersey becoming the first state to have a policy on their books that unmarried couples are equal to married couples when it comes to adoption. Once they had the green light to adopt a child together, they didn't want to wait any longer to become parents, so they opted to adopt at-risk kids. Both Adam and Madison were HIV-positive and drug-addicted infants, and Rosa was Madison's older sister, who was also at-risk and lived in group homes.
"When we were in our adoption classes, one of the things that is there in your face all the time are pictures and stories of the kids who don't get adopted. The older kids, the sick kids, the handicapped kids, and so on," Michael says. "After we got approved, we got a letter saying that the wait for a healthy baby was up to ten years, and we thought why don't we do the foster thing and look at the sick kids. They need a home. And once we started getting into it, these were absolutely kids who need a family. And we really had it in us, personally, to do what we think needs to be done for these kids. But it was certainly not the plan."
Michael bluntly admits that the reality of parenting compared to what he expected was night and day.
"I don't think it's something you can really prepare for. I have to say, we got a lot of good instruction. We had to go to all the classes, and adoption classes are tough. They take you through essays, and questionnaires, and role-playing, but once you have them there, you never know what to expect," he says. "We knew the medical thing. We had sick kids, so when something went wrong, we were trained on what to do. But what do you do when you make the baby cry for the first time? I freaked out the first time I made Adam cry. He went to bite the cable wire, and I yelled 'No!' But he looked at me and he started crying, and I thought my world was over. You can't prepare for stuff like that. All the little things you can't prepare for, but you do it."
This interview is taking place on a wooden bench outside of a coffee shop in San Francisco's Castro District. The entire time the interview takes place, a parade of club kids, businessmen, leather queens, and everything in between is walking by and staring at us, since we are obviously conducting an interview with our little tape recorder oing back and forth between the Galluccios. I can't help but wonder what some people of these people would have to say about raising kids. The two words I imagine I would hear most are assimilationists and breeders. Michael says that he and Jon were the same way throughout much of their relationship, so they understand where that mentality comes from, and why it exists.
"I abused people who had kids," Michael recalls. "We would be those guys who walked down the street and somebody would squeeze past you with their stroller and we'd be like 'breeders.' But what I found out about myself is that was anger. It was anger because they had something I wanted and couldn't have. I think there's a lot of that out there. Most of the flak that we've gotten has been from within the gay community. They don't think it's right. And I think there are two pieces to that. There are people who are genuinely not meant to be parents, and can't even understand someone wanting to be. And I think there's another big piece there with the same thing I had when I was young, it's that anger, because you don't think it's an option for you and it's something you'd really like to have. And if you can't have it, you're going to dislike the people who do."
Their life now revolves around their three children, and they come first. But a priest who counseled them on parenting before giving them an adoption reference made the Galluccios promise her something.
"One of the things she said was that we had to promise her that we would spend one night a week together, forever," Jon says. "Without the kids. Even if all we could do was go down to the corner and sit on a bench for an hour, we had to do that because we're the foundation of this family. And we do do that. Sometimes we do just sit for an hour, and other times we go out clubbing and plugging ourselves into the wild gay scene. But most of our life is around the kids. Dinners, play dates…"
"But I have to say, on the flip side of that," Michael says, finishing Jon's thought, "is that we are ten thousand times closer than we were. We were very happy and in love and close, but on a much more … the word superficial seems bad, but in a much more superficial context than we are now. Our relationship is much more significant than it was."
"Plus we work harder on it now, too," Jon says. "You have to work harder when you have children and have all these other little things taking your time away."
One issue that comes up when I've talked with people about adoption is the pure genetics of it, in that there is no genetic link between you and your children. The Galluccios say this issue disappears the moment you hold your child.
"I'm adopted myself, so I'm an adult adoptee," Jon says. "I've witnessed birth and I don't know that I can have the experience of having a baby grow inside your womb and have that kind of bond. But I'm pretty sure that when they hand you a baby, whether it's out of someone's womb or out of the O'Neill Center in Patterson, there's just an immediate bond."
"I could not love my kids more if I gave birth to them myself, were that possible," Michael says. "I can't imagine loving them more than I do. They are so everything to me."
The Galluccios have found nothing but acceptance from the media, their families, and neighbors, but they never really sought the spotlight. They just wanted to be two gay guys with kids in the Jersey suburbs. Michael says their putting themselves out in front of this issue is part of their job as parents.
"We, as a minority, have … I don't know if it's a luxury or a curse, but we have the ability to hide, where other minorities of the past have not. They had to stand up and fight for themselves, most recently would be women and blacks. You can't hide that," he says. "Since we've been able to, a lot of mystery and prejudice has been allowed to grow, and what I've seen personally is that when you put yourself out there as person who's not ashamed of who you are, then people accept you that way. To me, my job as a parent is to do everything I can to make the world a better place for my kids, and if that means that I have to show people, whether it be on television or in a book or at the mall or one-on-one that 'this ain't no big deal, I'm just a regular person,' that's what I've got to do."
"We also get lots of letters from teenagers, young men questioning their sexuality or just coming out," Jon says. "And their parents are telling them they will never have a life or a stable relationship, children, a church, and then they see us having a holy union with our kids there on the front of the paper and they e-mail us that they're not thinking of killing themselves anymore, because they know they're right. How could you not do more? I always thought if you could just touch one person, but I know that we've been able to touch more than one person and the book is a natural evolution to touch as many people's lives as we possibly can."
One interesting pattern they noted in the mail they received is that they were able to tell which letters came from gays or lesbians before they ever identified their sexuality. After the first or second sentence, nearly all the mail from gays and lesbians says, "This is not hate mail." None of the mail they received was hate mail, but the perception was that the gay community expected to be the exception to the negative feedback.
"That's the fear in general that our community lives under, and we found most of that fear not to be valid," Jon says. "It is valid, some of it. We have experiences of boys being hung on fences to die or being burned on tires, but I don't think that's the norm. Hate is really ugly and hate is really loud, but I think that love is much stronger and there's much more out of it than anyone really realizes in our community. If people did realize it, they'd be easier on themselves, accept who they are and stand forward and be proud of themselves."
Both of them think it was God's will that they speak out about this issue.
"If you don't believe in God, then make plans," Jon says, half-jokingly. "Because God had other plans for us. We weren't supposed to be this quiet little suburban family because there's too many things that happpened which were unexplainable."
Michael says an amusing "bitchy" comment they get from some gay guys is that their mothers never bothered them about having children, but after seeing them, they start asking when they might be grandparents.
"That's a comical one to me," Michael says, "but it's real, and I'm so happy for those mothers. That says a lot for them."
Michael's own family did not accept his and Jon's plans to adopt initially.
"When I sat down with them and told them we were going to have children, they were very unhappy about it," Michael recalls. "They didn't think it was a good idea. They thought we would get hurt, the kids would be hurt. But, that conversation led to a few more conversations that were really important that I had with my parents as an adult, and it took some convincing. And the first time my father held my son in his hands, that was it. My father -- you know, big old butch dad -- picked up my son, looked at him at arm's length and he started crying. And so did I. And everything changed. Once we got into the media, it was a pronounced change, because my parents' biggest worry all along was 'what are people going to say?' And we got into the media and they got to find out what people would say, and it was all good. They started getting letters from people they never even met about how happy they must be and proud. Since then, they are model parents and grandparents."
The Galluccios are getting ready to do their book signing now, and are only two days away from returning home, and being back out of the spotlight, and doing what they normally do: share their lives in a house full of kids and love in Jersey.