3 min

Baby booming

I moved back to the ghetto recently with visions of hot sex and gay boys dancing in my head. Instead I find myself living next door to what is euphemistically known as a “young family.” Translation: Screaming baby.

Actually the kid is quite cute, his parents are nice and I’d rather live beside a young family than a pack of screaming circuit queens any day. The former don’t party at all hours of the night.

But this is not exactly what I expected from the village. It’s an open secret that the ghetto has at least as many retirees as hot young things. But what’s with the babies?

Last I heard the Canadian birth rate was so low we could only maintain the population through immigration. But you wouldn’t know it from Toronto streets. Babies are still losing the numbers battle to dogs but, swanning around in those tank-sized vehicles that pass for strollers these days, toddlers certainly do take up a lot of space.

The baby boom has become so evident that Toronto Life’s May issue features a trippy cover story (“Baby Wars”) on the topic. Profiling trendy inner-city parents, it asks the pressing question: Can you still be hip and have kids too? Essentially it is a story about territory and who owns what in a public space, and whether or not it is cool, or even good parenting, to take a squalling baby to a trendy club or resto where other people might or might not appreciate the pint-size company. But it is also about what it means to be a parent today when you still feel vaguely kid-like yourself and it comes down squarely on the side of ambivalence suggesting, basically, that you can be groovy and hip all you want but your kids just don’t care. They’ll fidget and throw tantrums wherever you go.

Whatever its merits as sociological analysis (and it left me feeling vaguely irritated) the story at least confirms my suspicion that there are indeed more kids out there. Apparently we’re in the middle of a mini-baby boom with the number of births hitting a seven-year peak in 2005.

I’m sure this has more to do with complex sociological calculations — number of mothers in the mood multiplied by number of fathers, income and housing available — than any quirk of individual style. But I wonder how much it has to do with fashion and if maybe as homos we haven’t somehow helped set the fashion.

The current baby boom, after all, coincides with a major trend in gay parenting. As best as I can figure the boom’s been going on for at least 10 years, perhaps longer. (The 519 has been offering queer parenting programs since the mid-1990s.) But the idea has only really caught fire in the last half-decade and I’m sure it has as much to do with changing public perceptions as any legislative change.

Sex columnist Dan Savage made gay parenting intellectually respectable by writing a book about it and Rosie O’Donnell gave it a warm, cuddly image. “I am the gay parent,” she told Primetime’s Diane Sawyer one night in March 2002 while they were discussing gay adoption.

Docs like Gay Dads, and Daddy and Papa appeared on air around the same time and in 2004 the New Yorker published one of the most pro-gay photographs I’ve ever seen. Created by fashion photographer Richard Avedon, it showed a couple of gay fathers who were simultaneously goofy, giddy, bright, respectable and ecstatically caring. Brilliant propaganda by any standard.

Gay parenting is now so widely accepted that there’s even a book called The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting. In it a 39-year-old early childhood educator with a boyfriend of 18 years gives straightforward advice on raising your kids. A Globe and Mail article profiling the guy didn’t so much as wince at his gayness or even hint that it might be an impediment to his job. For all of you not old enough to remember Anita Bryant and the Save Our Children campaign and the many vicious corrupting-our-youth smears that have been cast at gay men over the years, this is a sea change.

Of course it’s all for the good, giving us an expanded sense of what it means to be gay, though I do wonder about its effect on public gay life. Will gay parenting change our mode of expression as much as it’s changed our sense of ourselves?

Tykes tend to bring out the nice side of people and that can be rather inhibiting for anyone, like me, who’s more interested in their not-so-nice side. So far, I admit, this hasn’t been an issue. Gays may have helped set the fashion for parenting but so far they lag behind their straight peers in inflicting their kids on the fashionable public.

I’ve met gay parents in the park and heard them talk about their kids at the gym, but never seen them visiting the “scene” with offspring in tow.

Lord help us though if the baby boom ever hits Church St after dark. As if we don’t have enough problems with twinks from the burbs.