05.01.12

Iowa Student Zach Wahls: Why I'm Defending My Two Moms

This past week, a video of Wahls sticking up for his two lesbian moms went viral—for the second time. Wahls tells what he’s doing with his newfound fame.

Whoa.

The last week has been a wild ride. I was sitting at my desk in my apartment in Iowa City working on deadline for my new book, My Two Moms, when the volume of emails pouring into my inbox became unusually large for 2:30 p.m., or for any other time of day. A video I was in had gone viral—again. Hundreds of people were zapping me notes about it.

In the video, I’m testifying before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in a public hearing about a constitutional amendment to reverse the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa in 2009. (Yes, you’re reading that right—Iowa legalized same-sex marriage before New York.) That hearing was on Jan. 31, 2011.

In the immediate aftermath of the hearing, the video leapt to a million hits and thrust my family and me into the limelight for the first time. People were trying to figure out who was this kid from Iowa (Iowa?!?) and how two lesbians (Tall Mom and Short Mom) in the middle of the American heartland had managed to raise a normal family.

This past week, the video got a second wind after the site MoveOn.org decided to post it.

The video has now managed to rack up more than 15 million hits in all.

Like I said, whoa.

I’m not one to complain about going viral on the Internet, but I do have to say that I’m still trying to recover from the first time that video blew up, nearly 10 months ago. I’m currently on deadline for my book, writing about what it was like growing up with two moms in eastern Iowa, describing the values my moms taught me, how those values were reinforced in Boy Scouts, and explaining why Scouting and LGBT rights are like peas in a pod.

It’s incredible to me that people are still interested.

Video screenshot

Upon the book’s release in the spring of 2012, I’ll be working with a number of nonprofit organizations to roll out an advocacy campaign with the hopes of finally erasing the stigma that some people still associate with two-mom or two-dad families and with the gay community in general. With your help, I think we’ll be able to finally make this “issue” a nonissue, and I’ll finally get to go back to studying engineering.

As crazy and awesome as this ride has been so far, I had decided to temporarily suspend my studies to focus on advocacy work because of a Facebook message I received back in February. At the guy’s request, I’m withholding his name, but here it is, verbatim: “man, i just watched your video on youtube. being from the south, the deep south, I have been raised ‘anti-gay.’ Pardon the slur. but that completely changed my view on the subject. Just amazing. Im leaving for the army in two weeks and was pretty upset about don’t ask don’t tell being repealed but again you changed my view on that. I just thought it would be nice for you to know you truley opened someones eyes. Thank you.”

On the one hand, it’s cool to know that folks like Ellen DeGeneres, Ashton Kutcher, Rosie O’Donnell, and Melissa Etheridge know who I am, thanks to my video. But, sorry, stars, the previous message was way better. It’s a testament to the power of stories to change minds and a testament, too, to our willingness to reevaluate long-held convictions. And it’s that willingness—that open-mindedness—that has driven progress in this country for centuries. It is at the core of what made America possible in the first place. 

my-two-moms-wahls-book-cover
‘My Two Moms’ by Zach Wahls. Gotham. $16.98 ()

Back in February, and now today, as the video spiraled out of control, I felt, among other things, anxious, terrified, super-fly, humbled, intoxicated, empowered, and did I mention anxious? It put me in the spotlight in an unexpected way, but I think that’s a good thing. And while I’m trying to reserve most of my story for a setting in which I can tell it on my own terms, I’d like to address the two questions most frequently aimed my way over the last couple of days.

First: “Are you gay?” 

I’ve answered this question in other places and at other times. I’ve recently decided, however, to stop answering it. If the only question you have after listening to me defend my family is about my sexuality, I’m afraid you’ve missed my point. Whether I’m gay, straight, or bisexual, tall or short, male or female, white or black, successful go-getter or slacker, is entirely immaterial. I happen to be a go-getter student-turned-activist speaking out in defense of his moms, but this isn’t—and shouldn’t be—the norm. Nobody wants to spend all of his or her time defending his family, and I’m looking forward to mine no longer needing defending.

And as to that second question … 

Yes, I am single.