By Alyssa Shapiro
This Pride Month, this Father’s Day, I had the opportunity to speak with my friend Jason Knight, who is gay, is white, and is married to a Black man named Liron. Together, they have three adopted children. In some senses, it's wholly traditional: two parents and a few kids. But it took some time and work to get there, and I’m grateful that Jason opened up to Youth To The People about his experience and journey to becoming a father.
Alyssa Shapiro: When you were a kid, did you have a picture of what your family would look like as an adult?
Jason Knight: I always wanted a family. When you come to terms with your sexuality as a really young person—I'm talking maybe nine or 10 years old in 1996—there wasn't any representation of the possibility, of being gay and having kids. There was already the hardship of coming to terms with your sexuality. I think the fear for me was really based in, "Oh, I'm never gonna have kids." Maybe I didn't recognize that at age 10, but you know in your heart and in yourself that you want to be a parent.
Were there examples in the media or among your friends of the kind of relationship that you wanted to have?
Through my work with Family Equality Council I met a lot of people who were actually our age or maybe even a few years older, who were raised by two moms, and that was something that was maybe a little more socially acceptable [than two dads] at the time. There's a lot of hurdles when it comes to same-sex parenting, and I think it's different for each group. You have two moms and two dads and or you have a single mom who's lesbian or a single dad who's gay or you have a trans parent who is female to male and actually giving birth to their child biologically. It's so complex and you learn about all these experiences.
What made me realize that I can do this was actually just when my niece was born eight years ago. Something just clicked in me and it was like, this is something that I want. I want to be a father and I'm going to make it happen.
I was really lucky growing up because, although when we were coming up we had like, Will and Grace and stuff, but that was so different from what a lot of young gay people have now. I did have role models because I was involved in the arts; where I grew up there was a really, really great community of young people in theater and dance and art. I had an example of what a gay man looked like besides somebody who was older and maybe was living with AIDS—that's what a lot of people who I grew up with thought a gay man looked like. There were all of these stigmas attached to it, whereas I was lucky to be in this really, like odd bubble in Maine where I grew up, where it’s super liberal and really fairly open-minded.
I didn't have that around me, I don't think, in Colorado growing up. I think I just wasn't exposed until a cousin of mine come out, and that was like my introduction to the truth or possibility of a person being gay.
My dad is a really simple person. He's lived in the same town for life. He's really just cut and dry. There was this older couple—two men—that lived in the center of our town. They're both passed now, but they were a couple for almost 50 years. My dad is that type of guy in town that does things for people like mows their lawns for them for free, just because. And he would always do a lot for these two guys. I think he maybe knew before I knew, and my mom was always encouraging, so I was really very lucky. For me to make the leap to become a gay parent was just... it was full of support.
I know a lot of people who face weird things within their family and where they live. Even being in Maine for two months with my family has brought up a lot, just the little that we've gone out in quarantine in public.
Oh, just sort of a lot of staring and double-taking. I think that people aren't comfortable asking when it comes to adoption, and when you factor in adoption with a gay head of household, it's like a whole other whirlwind, and when you factor in an interracial family, it's just like a lot for people to process.
I kind of like it because you change people's perspectives. Like you said, you aren't really connected to something until it totally hits your heart, like your cousin was gay so that hit something in you differently because it was so close to your home and to your heart.
We met this woman in Prospect Park a year ago right when baby sister was coming to us, she came to us when she was seven months, and we met this woman—she was just this incredible spirit and she said something to us like, “Every day you put on like this love armor, whether or not you realize it, and you're so brave because you're showing.” She said, “You are just greeting the world every day with such bravery and even on the hardest days like you're really showing people what makes a family.” She was like saying all this profound stuff to us and I just started crying after. It was amazing, because it came in at a really hard time.
It's a matter of community support. Your community and family is not just who lives in your house and who you know. The people who live around you determine part of your reality too, right? So to have this woman be able to espouse that kind of love to you, that means something.
She said she wrote a song about us because she had seen us. It changed her idea of what parenting looks like. I think it's really awesome for young children to just see it normalized, for lack of a better word. We were the first same-sex couple at our daycare in Brooklyn. Our daycare provider has been in business for 18 years, and she'd never had a same-sex parent couple.
You walk into daycare and you hear a two-year-old say, "D, your daddies are here," out loud and it's amazing. Because to them, it's totally just like that. Like, I have a mom and a dad, you have two dads, you have a mom, you just have a dad. I just think it's so important for kids to see that.
Because the relationship you’re in is both same-sex and interracial, have you noticed that one has been greater hurdle to get people to wrap their heads around than the other?
The first time I brought Liron to Maine to meet my family, we were going to see a movie, and we had time to kill so we went to like an Applebee's to have a beer. These people were staring at us, like, totally staring at us. They clearly had a few to drink and I didn't know where it was going. I was really uncomfortable. Being a gay person who was closeted for a long time, you kind of immediately have a shield up. What ended up happening was these people, a guy and two girls, were like, "Oh, my God, like you guys are so beautiful." It had nothing to do with us being gay, had nothing to do with us being one white person, one black person. They were just like, we clearly weren't from there. They thought we were cute.
That's so interesting that like your first inclination is to feel nervous though. I assume that comes from past experience.
So many experiences. And even as a family, like the white man with three black kids—and this is all in New York City—there's tension with that dynamic. When Liron is out with them, he's getting fist bumps from people like, "Yes, the Black father with three kids, really stepping up doing his thing!" But I've had really negative experiences where I've been pushed from the back when I was pushing a double stroller. I was really, really scared for our safety.
What do you do in a situation like that when you have your kids to protect?
That experience was terrifying. I was right near a crosswalk. The lady in the car who saw it happen didn't go when the light changed and she let me walk the street. I just had to address it within myself and then really talk it out with my friends and Liron. You have to really deal with it yourself. And then deal with it, remove yourself from it, and really try to figure out why that happened. Where was this person coming from? It's just so complex. And then I've had, like, a silly person call me Charlize Theron for adopting Black kids.
Every day you sort of go out in the world knowing like, this is different. We're different, but it's so awesome and so beautiful. And it's really just like preparing the kids mentally and emotionally to be able to cope with that and also having them be able to come to us and say, "So and so at school is telling me that we're not a family, because I don't have a mom." It's interesting for gay people to adopt because you're really forced to approach adoption in a way that is pretty head on.
Is the adoption conversation one that you have with your kids?
D is four, J is three, and P is one and a half. We haven't gotten there yet. Liron and I talked about it a lot; it's always an evolving conversation about how we're going to handle things.
There have been questions about babies and bellies. I have actually a really beautiful statement that I wrote to give to the pre-K teacher this fall. It's basically about how their mom—because they are all biologically related—is an angel who carried them and brought them to earth, and she's a person and she chose two daddies to be their parents. Because even in daycare, the kids have conversations about having a mom and having a dad.
I'm huge on reading to my kids, and I'll be reading a book and if it's like mommy and daddy bear, I just change it to dada bear and daddy bear. But eventually it becomes a bigger conversation so I've ingrained in their heads that all families look different. Like you said, it's all about community. Meeting cool people who you do want to hang out with that have a similar family structural makeup as you and then knowing that your kids are around similar families, that's really, really important. We haven't had the adoption conversation yet.
When you started looking into fostering, was that the route that you wanted to go down with foster to adopt?
In Maine where I grew up, I lived next to a family that fostered two kids to adopt. They were just the two kids that lived next door with their family and they all kind of look the same, but I heard my mom talking about it with my dad and her friends, and they were the only foster kids that I knew. They were eventually adopted. That made a huge impact on me, so I came to the table having that already in my heart.
Before the boys, we did have a baby that came just to us as a newborn, almost two weeks old. He was only with us for two weeks. Due to various circumstances with the courts and whatnot, a judge ruled that he could be returned, and he's actually still in the foster care system being bounced to different homes. It was just a judgment that was made that really shouldn't have been made, but it was. So we went through that and we were like, we're not doing the foster care thing anymore. It's too hard.
That was August 29, Labor Day weekend. We didn't tell the foster care agency, "Don't ever call us again," but we told them to give us the weekend off, which they did. And then the following Saturday, September 9, Liron was working because it was Fashion Week—they were literally moving a Maserati inside the Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue. I got a call from the agency saying that they have two brothers, a newborn and a one-year-old, and that they needed an answer right then. I said, "Yes." I didn't even call Liron first. I just said, "Yes." Liron was literally like, outside directing this car into the store with his team. And I'm like, you have to come home.
How did you pitch that? Like, how did that conversation go?
I just called him and I said, "I just feel like this is the right thing to do. And you have to do it." And he was totally on board.
He came home, and three hours later, they were at our house.
If you could, knowing what you know now, tell your younger self something that would have eased your mind, what would you say?
Someone will call you daddy. Definitely, it's gonna happen. And it's gonna be the best fucking thing in the world.
It's not an Instagram life, okay? This is hard and it's really overwhelming and it's straining on your relationship, and it's draining on your friendships, and it's straining on your relationship with yourself. But if I could just have said that to me back then... I would have laughed because now it's three little cuties just saying “daddy” nonstop and asking a million questions and it's the best. It's really the best.
Father's Day must be really special in your house now especially during Pride. So happy Pride and Happy Father's Day, Jason.
Thanks. Yeah, it's really cool. It's the best. The first Father's Day was surreal. I got Liron and I matching watches for Father's Day, and I ordered them in time for them to come for Father's Day because this is our first Father's Day. Something happened and they weren't coming in and I lost my mind on the phone with them. I had them overnight two more watches. I was like, it's lost, I don't have them, I need them. Anyway, I ended up with four watches. So I've saved the two extra for each of the boys for their first Father's Day gifts.
That’s the best thing in the world. It's so sweet. It's just love. That's all it is.
Even hearing my niece… she's in kindergarten, and we were riding horses and she's like, "Go ask one of your daddies if you can do this after." Just hearing that communication is the best.
I'm really so grateful for your time and for how open you are. Thank you.