Discovering Your Identity: The Trek from Straight Boyfriend to Gay Daddy

Written by | Columnists and Letters

Kevin Phinney

Kevin Phinney

Kevin traces his personal evolution from being an altar boy fantasizing about Beatles all the way to embracing being a daddy — and everything in between.

looking back, I’ve been a straight boyfriend and a gay partner, a surrogate father and a same-sex husband, master to a human pup and Daddy to an adult boy. It’s been quite the long and winding road so far.

Before puberty, I wasn’t certain I was gay, but I was sure I was different from the other boys I knew. Watching TV’s Batman, the pixie cuteness of Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl wasn’t lost on me — but I couldn’t help but feel libidinous stirrings for Burt Ward’s Robin, too. My eyes lingered far too long on the tanned tummies of the boys on Flipper. And don’t even get me started on The Monkees.

Looming over them all was Paul McCartney. He could write. He could sing. He was almost too beautiful to be male. I loved how he could bust out “Oh, Darling!” then make my heart ache asking where all the lonely people really do belong — including me.

I began to imagine what I might become if I spent less time serving mass as an altar boy and more time exploring impulses I had been trained to find repugnant. (“That thing that makes Jesus vomit,” as playwright Christopher Durang would later put it.) I also considered entering the seminary, and went for a weekend stay to see how well I fit. As the only guy in a family of girls, I thought my heart was going to burst with joy when I was befriended by all these handsome young seminarians. At bedtime, the lights went off in our 20-bed dormitory, and I had a half dozen new friends perched on the edge of my bed wanting to know much more about me than I was ready to share. Ironically by the time it was over, I realized that for me the seminary would be (based on its evident secret society) an express ticket to Hell.

So I decided to stuff my feelings, head to high school, and date some girls. I certainly was no player, but dated enough to throw off the jocks who liked to yell “Hey, faggot!” I had seen them taunt other classmates who weren’t as good at assimilating, and wanted none of that for myself. I didn’t join their mockery, but I didn’t come to the others’ defense, either — to my shame.

That pattern continued through college, although I did manage to have a couple of girlfriends who were more than beards to me. I lost my Golden Gay Card one summer night to the tune of Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man” — giving me hope I was finally on track for a more “normal” existence. But not long after, a tour of Godspell rolled through town, and I spent a torrid night with John the Baptist in my arms. The very next morning, I was given pause when I turned on the TV to see Anita Bryant railing against homosexuality and spent a moment recalling Mike Wallace’s 1967 exposé The Homosexuals as he portrayed gays as “incapable of lasting relationships,” lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on any man too weak or drunk to resist, skulking through the night on an endless quest for drugs, booze and empty sex. By the time Harvey Milk was killed, I’d all but resolved to sleepwalk through life.

AIDS woke me up like ice water down the spine. I had been seeing girls, but periodically had “werewolf episodes” where I’d fall off the wagon. AIDS forced me to come to grips with the reality of who I was and what I wanted, even if it now seemed to be a death sentence. I partnered quickly and we embraced the safety of our couch as the death tolls climbed around us through the ‘80s.

When I fell in love a second time, it would be a much more serious move: literally — first from Austin to New Orleans while my partner finished his residency, and then to Seattle. After 15 years, we were married as soon as it was legalized in Washington State. As a doctor’s husband, I was both comfortable and miserable. I had no material wants, but lacked the things that really mattered. Our marriage was open, which meant I enjoyed the company of — among others — a (human) pup. But over time, my husband began to complain, saying he was tired of boys buzzing around me for drinks I was buying with his paycheck. We divorced, and I returned to my birthplace: New York.

Now single for the first time in three decades, I’m happy to see guys my age, but the ones who pursue me tend to be (adult) boys, who delight in calling me “daddy” (not to be confused with the Sugar variety.) And you know what? It fits. It’s my nature to nurture, and I’m a good coach at the gym (and elsewhere).

That also means I spend a lot of time explaining the differences between daddy/boy dynamics versus dom/sub or master/slave. (In brief, boys want to please a daddy they admire; subs and slaves do what they’re told out of fear of reprisals.) Much time gets wasted interacting with boys who love to fantasize via text but lack the resolve to meet. Now and then I do manage to find someone with whom I share a real connection, which is grand for all concerned.

Being a daddy may not be my last stop on this ride, but as I look back at the many skins I’ve shed, I take pride in wearing one that feels right for the moment. And I’m grateful that this time I have figured out who I am while it’s happening, rather than realizing it only when glancing back in life’s rearview mirror.                

Last modified: June 21, 2018