By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Photo by Ted Soqui|
“Do you like the bra?” Michelle DarnÃ© has fit her tiny frame into a white shirt with a collar and cuffs, an ostensibly plain but subtly elegant piece of cloth that announces its fine Italian heritage to anyone who listens. Underneath, the bra is black.
“I like it — it’s sexy,” says DarnÃ©’s publicist, Anthony Turk. Photographer John Russo nods approvingly. Emboldened, the stylist moves in to undo a button.
“Oh, no, not thatsexy,” Turk objects. “Come on!”
The button gets done again, then undone. DarnÃ© folds the lapels over just a little at the top until everyone’s happy, finally striking the appropriate balance between wholesome and hip, sexy and ultracompetent — just the right tone for the rising doyenne of lesbian motherhood. “You won’t see me a lot in light pink,” she declares. “It’s just not who I am.”
In past issues of And Baby, the magazine she founded and publishes for gay and lesbian parents, DarnÃ© has looked determined, chin resting on hand, or legs akimbo in a satiny suit with a peek of cleavage, her long black hair blown back by an artificial wind. “She looked great in those other shots, but the silky thing was just too glamorous,” complains Turk. “We had to get new photos because we want her image to be, you know, different. We want her to be the Martha Stewart of the gay and lesbian parenting world.”
I look at Turk; he isn’t smiling. At least, not ironically.
I find that a little scary. As a woman who’s weighed the significant benefits of a same-sex partnership, I’ve long held to the notion that starting a family with another woman means not having to make sure the doors on your gingerbread house actually swing open. I’m disappointed: Is this what gay parenting’s come to? Later, Christina Sigwart, the magazine’s Portland-based, West Coast sales manager, assures me I misread Turk’s remark: “He was talking about Martha in the businesssense,” she explains, as she makes perfect coffee in the sunny Venice apartment DarnÃ© rents on her West Coast stays.
DarnÃ©, who lives most of the year in New York and New Jersey, seconds that opinion. “He meant it in the way that Martha Stewart has lots of tentacles attached to her,” she says. “She’s a brilliant businesswoman. She’s got the show, she’s got the magazine, she’s got the books.”
“You mean, like a franchise?”
“Well . . .” DarnÃ© hesitates, reluctant to take the idea too far.
“You know,” I offer, expecting to be laughed off, “you could have a line of clothing; like, children’s wear with And Babylabels.”
“Oh,” she says. “We’d loveto do a merchandising line. That’s definitely an option.”
It’s one of the secrets of DarnÃ©’s exuberant success: She’s an unapologetic capitalist, and she tolerates homophobes with practiced compassion — perhaps because she never had to be radicalized by adolescent shame. DarnÃ©, the youngest of 11 in a family she describes as “Puerto Rican and French,” was raised 45 minutes from San Francisco in the East Bay and says her parents knew she was out before she hit puberty. (“It was hard to ignore,” DarnÃ© recalls. “I mean, the neighborhood girl was mygirlfriend.”) She’d planned on kids, but, she says, “didn’t really think of having the white picket fence — I thought instead I’d have a career and an au pair.” Two years ago, she hired And Baby’s creative director, Kathleen Weiss, to work with her designing trade magazines; the next year, they were talking about starting a family. When they went digging for resources to support prospective lesbian parents, however, they came up with a different idea: Collect all the fragmented information they found between two fashion-conscious covers.
When And Baby debuted in August of 2001, both The Wall Street Journaland USA Todayran stories on the upscale and growing gay family market (in California alone, same-sex households jumped from 36,602 to 92,138 in the last decade); both quoted DarnÃ©. And when And Baby’s only competitor, the more defiantly political Proud Parenting, closed shop last month, DarnÃ© scooped up its 6,000-some subscribers and a few of its advertisers. “So we’re a year and a half ahead of schedule,” she repeats frequently with wide-eyed surprise, meaning that the upcoming fourth issue of the magazine has 11,000 of the 15,000 subscribers she’d planned to attract by the second year. Several talk-radio hosts have had her on as a guest, and one producer has offered her a syndicated show. “We’re in negotiations for a TV show, too,” DarnÃ© tells me, “so we’ll soon have a package that will hit our market on all fronts.”
Unlike Proud Parenting, which publisher Kelly Taylor founded in 1997 as Alternative Family, DarnÃ©’s project was born into an era that suddenly seems to take gay pride for granted. While an article on George W. Bush in the first issue wonders whether the president will ever support gay families — “I think most children should be raised with heterosexual couples,” he’s quoted as saying — a recent holiday fashion spread seems to answer: Who cares what George thinks? Ford-agency child models romp in their winter wear, dusted in white glitter as if by fairies, sparkling from their eyelashes to their Mary Jane–clad feet. Candy-colored ads for Caribbean cruise lines and high-performance home audio systems are not out of place here. Nothing beats bigotry like a robust block of consumers. “Our magazine isn’t screaming, ‘It’s okay for us to have kids!’” says DarnÃ©. “It’s assuming that it’s okay.”
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