June 18, 2021
A new photo book captures the intimate moments of queer parents in the USA.
It was 2015 when Bart Heynen showed up at the house of a Brooklyn family who wanted to take pictures, but their models weren’t quite ready. One father was ironing and the other was cleaning the house, holding his newborn son in his arms.
For Heynen, a father of two, the scene seemed utterly normal. “They were like any parent who loved their children,” he said.
This family was the first of many Heynen photographed for a portrait book about gay parents and their children. His original idea was for each family to pose on the corner of their block to show that, “You see? We’re all over town, ”he said. But after the session in Brooklyn, she changed the concept to focus on the parents in the midst of their everyday realities. She spent the next four years with 40 families across the country, collecting her quiet moments in Dads, her recently published book.
American culture has not been particularly deprived of images of gay parents, especially in recent years. Celebrities like Anderson Cooper helped normalize the idea of gay men raising their children, and seeing them on TV is no longer revealing, as it was when Modern Family premiered in 2009.
According to Heynen, pictures of fathers who are not ready for Instagram, such as two men combing their daughters’ hair or throwing a soccer ball in the garden, are less common. Capturing these honest and personal moments wasn’t always easy. She says her models often wanted to present their families as traditionally as possible, wearing their best outfits and smiling at the camera. An understandable impulse that he traces back to the wish of gay parents to feel “normal” after their parenting skills are constantly being questioned.
Over time, the families relaxed and allowed her to capture their intimate moments. In one of them, two shirtless parents have skin-to-skin contact with their newborn. In another, a gray-haired couple smiles and watches as their son kisses his partner. The pictures are not conspicuous, said Heynen, but celebrate the everyday life of gay parents.
Not just a youth thing
Clyde Rousseau, 61, and Ryan, 12
Clyde Rousseau, who lives in Manhattan, was first photographed for Dads three years ago after meeting Heynen at an event at New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Community Center. Rousseau said he gave Heynen “a lot of credit” for taking in a father like him – a 60-year-old single father – because, in his opinion, older gays, who tend to focus on young and fit, are often not represented in art and painting Men focus.
“I’m not a millennial dad with a defined belly,” said Rousseau.
A non-comedy dad
Dennis Williams, 47, lan, 7 years old
“This is not the first time that we have taken professional photos,” said Dennis Williams of him and his son Élan. The couple was featured in L’Uomo Vogue magazine, among others. As a black gay man raising a child alone, Williams says he pays attention to not seeing themselves as one of those stereotypical families that pop up in comedies.
Though single, Williams, who works for Warner Media on social and corporate responsibility, said he had a lot of support from the people in his life, some of whom even helped him become dads. For example, “an amazing black lesbian friend” donated her eggs, she said. Seeing the people around him mobilize to help him gave him the confidence he needed to achieve fatherhood.
The last chance to start a family
Al DiGiulio, 52, Chris Soucey, 50, and Tommy and Luca, 5
Al DiGiulio, an attorney, and Chris Soucey, a video producer, of Jersey City, NJ, chose surrogacy versus adoption because of the hoped-for control over the pregnancy process. “I was completely wrong,” says DiGiulio. Her first surrogate mother suffered a late miscarriage, forcing her to mate with a second who couldn’t get pregnant.
Two years after the surrogacy process, the couple was left with no embryos, “let alone the money,” DiGiulio said. “Part of me wished I was straight so I could sleep with someone and have a baby.” Encouraged by their reproductive endocrinologist to give surrogacy one last chance, the couple mated with a third pregnancy carrier and transferred two embryos from which their twins, Tommy and Luca, were born.
Learn to enjoy the moment
Harrison Thompson, 50, Christopher Hibma, 45, and Genhi, 5
Harrison Thompson and Christopher Hibma frequently posted photos of their daughter Genhi on social media, in part because of the visibility she gave queer parents. “LGBTQ people around the world watched the posts and sent us messages saying they cared about it,” said Hibma, a small business owner.
One evening, Thompson, director of marketing at software company RedHat, went to dinner with Genhi while Hibma was away. After Thompson took a picture with his daughter, he began putting together a “perfect little date” to post on the internet, but Genhi scolded him. “He said, ‘Dad, stop and have a chat,'” said Thompson. At that time the girl was only 3 years old. The family who live in Minneapolis, Minnesota have stopped posting on social media.
Suddenly a full house
Jonathan Bloom, 45, and Eric Pliner, 47
Several years after the adoption of their eldest son, who is now 8, Jonathan Bloom, a copywriter, and Eric Pliner, a counselor, began exploring the possibility of expanding their family. Their adoption attorney introduced them to two potential birth mothers to work with. “We chose both,” says Bloom. “We call them twin brothers,” he said of the babies who were born five days apart.
A few months later, the parents took part in Heynen’s photo project, but hardly remember it. “The kids were very young and we were delusional,” said Bloom.
Skills You Need for Daughters
Ido Bendet-Taicher, 43, Eli Bendet-Taicher, 41, Milo, 10, and Demi, 7
A few years ago Ido Bendet-Taicher asked a stylist in a New York hair salon to give his eldest daughter a haircut with bangs. An assistant who was uncomfortable with the request went straight to his daughter and asked, “Are you sure? Where is your mother?
People are not used to seeing fathers comb their daughters, said Ido’s husband Eli Bendet-Taicher. “But it’s a skill you learn when you have daughters.” Fathers, who are both technical executives, have mastered many hairstyles for girls thanks to tons of YouTube tutorials over the years, Eli said.
“Also, a lot of practice with Barbies,” said Ido.
The unexpected sports parents
Mike Lubin, 49, Tom Eagen, 58, and Jack, 19
As a child, Mike Lubin, a Manhattan real estate agent, never played team sports. Her son Jack couldn’t get enough of it and played everything from lacrosse to soccer. “For me it was a chance to connect with sports clubs for the first time,” said Lubin. “It was incredibly exciting, if daunting, to learn this new vocabulary.”
Lubin and her husband, Tom Eagen, who works in finance, cheered on the court at almost every game Jack played. “We were always the only two-parent family,” she said, which was isolating but felt important. “It was probably the first time most other parents had seen families like ours.”
A fly on the wall in an intimate moment
Pablo Lerma, 34 years old, Txema Ripa, 51 years old, and Gael, 4 years old
When Heynen asked Pablo Lerma and Txema Ripa if he could fly to Minnesota to capture the moments after their son was born through surrogacy, Lerma and Ripa had reservations. Did you really want a photographer to be there to document and live such an intimate moment with you?
“But he’s also a father,” said Lerma. “So I knew how important this moment was going to be.” The couple said Heynen was “curious but respectful” when they first held their newborn son to his skin. “To be honest, I don’t remember him being there,” said Lerma. “There was a fly on the wall,” Ripa agreed.
Vernon Leftwich, 29, Ricardo Cooper, 31, and Harper and Knox, 2
Vernon Leftwich and Ricardo Cooper, who work for the federal government and live in Clinton, Maryland, have been together since 2013, but their relationship only lasted a few years. “However, we knew we wanted to be parents before a certain age,” Leftwich said. The couple decided to be friendly parents together, working with an egg donor and a surrogate mother
The unorthodox institution of raising children with a friend has its advantages when it comes to parenting, Leftwich said. After dating, the parents are familiar with each other’s communication styles, “and what works and what doesn’t,” added Leftwich. Platonic upbringing “allows us to focus our full attention on girls.”
David Dodge is a freelance writer who focuses on LGBTQ topics and non-traditional families.