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[Table] IAmA: I am Zach "the kid from Iowa with two moms" Wahls, an advocate, published author, Redditor and, most recently, guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. AMA

2012.05.03 06:18 tabledresser [Table] IAmA: I am Zach "the kid from Iowa with two moms" Wahls, an advocate, published author, Redditor and, most recently, guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. AMA

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Date: 2012-05-02
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Questions Answers
IAMA TDS connoisseur, as I'm a massive fan and have seen every episode for the last 8 years or so. Therefore, also your episode. So I have great comparison material. Yeah, as an avid fan of the show, I've seen that happen a few times, so I made sure to stay seated. We just talked for a brief second. I thanked him again, he said he was really glad it had worked out for me to be on the show and then he presented me to the live audience, which to both of our surprises actually gave me a standing ovation. Really cool moment.
What is Jon like off camera? He was absolutely amazing. 100% pure class. He came back stage to talk with me beforehand--none of the other hosts of any of the shows I've been on have done that. He came back again after the show to meet my moms and sister. Super friendly, super respectful. Further, he also read the entire book, which it turns out he does for 80-90% of his book guests, but, again, is highly unusual for hosts.
My wife has two moms and she was fascinated by your interview. Would you be willing to sign a copy of your book for her for mothers day? Everything I dreamed about and more.
(Edit) I'd be happy to pay for the book and shipping :) And if you'd like a signed book, PM me. I'm working with a local independent book store in Iowa City to get them signed and shipped out.
Holy shit, he reads most of the books? There are talk show hosts that do this? Some of them are just huge tomes that would be too much, but even those he skims through and reads summaries, I was told. My book weighed in at about 240 pages, so it wasn't too hard of a read.
Even so, 2-4 240 page books a week requires serious dedication. He's a seriously dedicated guy. You can tell he cares a lot about the show and puts in a lot of effort.
I live in Illinois is Iowa any different? Haven't spent a ton of time in Illinois, but I imagine that if you love in the rural part of the state, it's not too different. Chicago is definitely different from Iowa.
If you could have to animals spliced together what would it be(ex: bumble bear upper half bear bottom half bee with wings basically a 6 foot killing machine) If you could have a lunch with one superhero who would it be? Same question as above but with a historical figure? That's a hard one. A Bumble Bear sounds pretty terrifying. Maybe a whale and a hawk. A whawk. Flying harbinger of doom. Or figuring out some way to give dogs a dolphin's intelligence. I've always been a huge fan of both Spiderman and Batman. But I think lunch with Rorschach would be amazing, if not particularly pleasant.
Theodore Roosevelt, or Kurt Vonnegut Jr. if he counts as a historical figure.
You skipped your favorite pokemon question. Just edited it. Thanks for pointing that out!
What has been the hardest part about all of this for you? This story takes place in early February of this year. I had woken up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the first flight out of Eastern Iowa so I could be in central Michigan for my talk that evening at a university out there. As far as talks go, it was a good one.
Good energy, great turnout—laughter at my jokes but solemn silence as I explained the struggles of early adolescence—a standing ovation when I finished. After the Q&A and after the mingling, there was only one person left: a young woman my age, who had waited patiently through it all. We’d exceeded our time limit in the auditorium, so we made our way to the lobby, and she explained that she had “recently come to terms with the fact that [she’s] a homosexual.” Now it was my turn to be shocked. I had never heard someone refer to herself like that. But I simply nodded.
She took a deep breath, trembling, trying to maintain her composure. “I always knew I had been different,” she said. “Since I was a little girl, even. And I thought for the longest time I’d never be able to have children—was told I couldn’t. But after listening to you tonight I...” she trailed off, looking away. I realize in retrospect that she simply couldn’t believe she was able to say she was about to tell me. “I can be a mom.” We hugged for a long time—I’ll never forget the look on her face.
Edited for paragraph breaks.
Hey man, Great job at the interview, and great work all around. What's next though? Any big plans or just going where the wind takes you at this point? Thank you very much! I'm starting my book tour literally later this afternoon which will be a few more weeks of traveling and promotion and all that fun stuff. After that wraps up after Mother's Day, I'm going to be focusing full time on Out to Dinner, an advocacy project I recently started.
Link to vimeo.com
I'm really excited about it.
After that's wrapped up in June, I'm going to be doing more speaking during the fall, and then probably back to school in 2013 or 2014.
It was a great interview, you did awesome. How much of it was "planned", in that you knew what questions may be coming? How much did they interview for topics/anecdotes for him to bring up, or come around to in conversation? Thank you much! The way it works for a show like this is that you do what's called a "pre-interview" first and you just talk with a producer abou some possible areas of conversation. So Jon has, on those blue cards, some info and some possible questions, but there's no pre-defined order or anything like that. Pre-interview lasted about 20 minutes over the phone.
Makes sense, otherwise the interview could be awkward I guess. And after the interview is over, he leans in to talk to you... What was said? And did you two talk after the cameras were turned off? Yeah, for sure. And I just thanked him again and he mentioned he was really glad that it all worked out.
Your speech was extremely moving and touching. Thanks so much for doing this AMA! Ignorance. And I don't mean that in a hateful, condescending way, so much as to observe that most people opposed to LGBT rights simply don't know any openly LGBT people in a meaningful capacity. Once you build that relationship and get past the myths, stereotypes and misconceptions, it becomes really difficult to maintain that anti-LGBT stance.
From your personal experience, what do you think is the biggest reason homophobia still exist? What is this biggest obstacle standing between gay couples and obtaining all the rights heterosexual couples hold? We fear what we don't understand.
What do you think needs to happen for Gays to obtain 100% equality and what is helping to get the ball rolling most right now? I actually think Out to Dinner, this project I'm working on right now is a pretty good way of changing minds.
Www.outtodinner.org.
Thanks for everything you're doing. I am a straight male who is firmly pro-LGBT rights, and there is a huge need for people like you to be a public face of the movement: just normal, next-door neighbor type dudes. Peace. It really wasn't until 2004--and my publisher wants me to tell you that I write about this in the book--as I was watching the GOP national convention that I fully understood the degree to which there a lot of powerful people opposed to my family's existence. It was a scary moment.
Wow, thanks for the response. Goes to show that educating your kids at an early age about sex and orientation does not ruin them for life. What do you say to people who say they don't want to have explain to their kids why, for example, you have two moms? Link to i.imgur.com
But that aside, if they don't want to, nobody is forcing them to do so. Unless I'm missing something, there's no individual mandate forcing kids to explain this issue to little kids.
I love the cell phone bars your family and Jon make in that picture. Are you really that tall or is Jon really that short? I'm 6'5" aka super-duper-freakishly-tall.
Are you or your parents religious at all? Yes, but probably not how most people understand "religious." It's something I talk about extensively in the book, actually. There's a chapter called "Reverent," and I talk a lot about faith. I'm a Unitarian Universalist, which is a very open and affirming denomination. Very much a "come as you are" church.
Do you believe in God, heaven, Jesus and all that kind of stuff? God yes, heaven not so much--although the "universalist" part means "universal salvation" is there's any saving going on at all; Jesus seems like a cool dude, and a brilliant philosopher, but probably not a divine man any more than you or me.
Did your moms have joint custody of you and your sister? If so, how did that work for school/hospital/other official stuff? Was it strange for you to find out that other kids had parents of differing genders? Was it strange to find out that not everyone approved of your moms being together? Have you ever lost friends due to your moms? Also, I think you're awesome. They do now because they're married. Before that, they had to have some legal documents drawn up that were really expensive. But yeah, that wasn't always easy. There was an experience we had in 2006 in particular--I mentioned this during the interview with Jon, actually--that was really bad.
Wasn't strange to find that kids had parents of different genders. But it was weird to find out that kids had parents who didn't sit their children down and have purposeful conversations about values.
I'm sure you've gotten hate mail over your testimony and your book. What's the volume of it, and how terrifying is it? What's the ratio of good mail to bad mail? Overwhelmingly positive! Literally 99.99% positive. Which is awesome. I was really worried my sister might catch some flak, but she hasn't at all. Certainly nothing about which we were overtly concerned.
How did the decision to build the book around the Boy Scout virtues come about? Well, at 20 years old, I couldn't really write a conventional memoir. So there had to be something more to it. After some heavy thinking, I figured that there were really two big parts of my life growing up: my family and the Boy Scouts. What better way to explain my family than with the values of the Boy Scouts? Allowed me to talk about my experience in a way that transcends the experiences of a 20-year-old and gave me an opportunity to really comment on the values that my moms instilled in me, showing, hopefully, that families like mine are not, in fact, an assault on family values.
Does it bother you at all that BSA bans gay people from being Scoutmasters? So this is a national policy that is enforced at the council level (which is the level one higher than troops, the individual units). Many, many councils, including my own, do not enforce this policy.
In my mind, it's similar to the United States. The US federal government does not recognize SSM, but this is implemented or not implemented at the state level. Increasingly, more states, like Iowa, recognize it. And even though it's a policy (both the BSA and the USA) that I want to see change, I'm not emigrating away from the USA over that policy. Same thing with the Scouts, in my mind.
Do you get hit on constantly these days? Yes.
What are you in school for? With your talents, you have no boundaries. Studying civil/environmental engineering and sustainability studies. Hope to work in renewable energy.
EDIT: Added my second major.
At ISU? UI, actually. They have a great sustainability studies program.
Were you nervous during your big speech in the courtroom? Definitely nervous. If you look closely at the beginning, I have my hands in my pockets because they're shaking. But once I hit my stride, I kind of forgot what was going on and was just going straight from the heart. It's something that (obviously, I guess) I'm really passionate about and I found a lot of strength in that.
as it means a life of torture and ridicule because it is "not normal". And whose fault is that? Sure, there were a lot of times I was made fun of for having two moms, there are a lot of things I've gone through that kids with straight parents don't have to go through, but the exact same thing is true for kids with interracial parents and they said the exact same thing during the 60s.
Ask her if a woman is responsible for being raped because she's wearing a short skirt. It's the same--bad--logic.
And thank you very much! Doing my best.
How awesome is it that your Mom, Terry, gave a TEDx talk? Because, I think it's pretty freaking cool. link. Also, thanks for fighting the good fight. It's a really incredible story and her struggle with MS is something I write about extensively in the book because, honestly, it was her MS that the single biggest impact on my life--not her sexuality.
Do people tell you: "Your mommas are so fat..." jokes? By having 2 mothers, there are far more possibilities. I'm too lazy to make one right now, but I'm sure other redditors will, now that I gave them a start. Haha, there were definitely some situations in which having two moms gave me some great comebacks to "yo momma" jokes. Especially the ones that involved sex.
Where do you feel the BSA's view on sexuality originated from and how do we change that? It originated from the same place all of the resistance to same-sex marriage and LGBT people generally did: a misunderstanding of what it means to be an LGBT person. For a long time, it's been perceived as this immoral "lifestyle choice" when, in reality, it's simply a part of the biological exuberance that makes life worth living.
What is the biggest single difference about being raised by two mothers as opposed to a more "traditional" nuclear family? Sounds really interesting to me. I'm really, really good at putting the seat down.
As a fellow native Iowan, I've noticed that Iowa as well as a lot of other midwestern states are still quite narrow-minded when it comes to gay marriage. Have you noticed any great leaps as far as acceptance goes in Iowa since legalizing gay marriage in 2009? And is it something that just slowly comes with new generations or is there something that can greatly help move it along? We're definitely moving forward for, I think, two reasons. First, people are realizing that, contrary to the Onion's reporting, the world isn't ending. Second, more people are coming out, which is also changing public perception.
Consider signing on to my project, Out to Dinner! Details at www.outtodinner.org.
If you had to fight a dinosaur to the death in a Dinosaur Death Match using only primitive weapons and not allowed to set traps, what's the biggest dinosaur you think you win against? You don't have to name a specific dinosaur, just give us a size reference. What kind of primitive weapons are we talking about here? A mace? I'm a pretty big guy. 6'5" and about 210 lbs. But dinosaurs are, you know, killing machines. We're thinking machines. Sans traps, probably not that big, actually.
Yes, a mace counts as a primitive weapon. Probably not that big, actually. I'll allow it. Zach Wahls said he believes he could win against a "probably not that big" sized dinosaur. Gimme a mace and I feel like I could beat anything shorter than 5' or so. I've got long arms, so I've got good reach which is really important when it comes to fighting probably not that big dinosaurs.
Any backstage chat with Jon? Was he able to see/hang out with you before or after the show or was he pretty busy? Yup. He came back to the greenroom and we chatted for a few minutes before the show started. After we were done taping, he came back and took a picture with my moms and sister and talked with me and the crew for a few more minutes. Then he had to bounce to some post-production meeting.
You have an incredible future. How does it feel to know that you're on the fast track to wealth and fame? Maybe. We'll see. At the moment, though, I'm doing my best to remember who I am, where I cam from, and why I went to that hearing before the Iowa Legislature in the first place.
Why were your Moms and sister stuck in the back row? Wish I knew. They didn't mind though. They thought the whole thing was just an amazing experience.
What was it like going through puberty without any male parental influence? Well, both of my moms work in medicine so they knew all about the physical changes that were happening. Quite possibly better than most men who don't work in medicine do, actually... Wasn't really a big deal.
Do you prefer Zach or Zachary? This is of interest to me. I prefer Zach, but my full name is actually Zacharia.
Hey Zach! I can't tell you how great it is to see how much press and recognition you're getting which allows you to spread your message that families are families. Period. They come in all sorts of colours and sizes but, at the end of the day, they all deserve reverence and respect. Are you coming to Toronto, Ontario, Canada at all? Not any time soon, although I'd love to visit Canada. It's a beautiful part of the world.
Fellow IC West Grad here! What did you like/hate about the good old high school days? There was a lot to like. Loved both sports and the speech and debate team. Amazing teachers. Tyson, VZ, the Schless, Gross and Frese are all amazing. Obviously a big fan of Dr. A, too.
What's your favorite place to eat in Iowa City? Hamburg Inn #2, Panchero's, Orchard Green or Givannis, depending on my mood and the occasion.
Nothing too much to say, other than I was extremely impressed with you. You're so young! I LOVE how that picture of your family and Jon was in height order. Other than that, what did you think of the experience? How did you find Jon while the cameras weren't on him? He's absolutely amazing. 100% everything Reddit wants him to be and more.
I just wanted to take this moment and say that your guile and bravery on speaking out against our broken government is inspiring. When that video of you speaking came out on YouTube, I showed it to my mother, who doesn't speak or think very highly of same sex marriage, and she cried while exclaiming that she wanted to be forgiven for all the terrible things she said. It has yet to fully change her, but I feel like buying your book and giving it to her (I plan to read it first) will definitely help her on her journey, so once again, thank you. When you're having a bad day, what do you do to make it better for yourself? Hot shower and deep breaths. Will sometimes grab some comfort food.
Question, sir: towards the end, Jon kinda cut in and cut you off: where was that thought going? Oh, I was just going to finish the sentence and say that the differences between families like mine and "straight" families are cursory at best.
One Iowan to another, thank you for helping fight the stigma of being a backwater flyover state. My question is, what did you think of the Stephen Bloom article published in the Atlantic late last year? Ugh.
I'm guessing you're working with Prairie Lights. Is some class going to also use your book as required reading? I wouldn't be surprised. Joking, kinda. It is indeed Prairie Lights! And not that I'm aware of.
Obvious troll is obvious. What do you think of comments like this? Annoying, but inevitable for at least a few more years.
Hey, Zach! Even though we're the same age, I really look up to you. You have the guts that I will never have. I live and go to school in Mississippi, an extremely conservative state. I am all for the rights of LGBT people, but I'm afraid to do anything about it here, especially at my conservative Baptist college. Do you have any tips for ways I can help or even ways I can spread the word in my community? Thanks! If possible, think about joining Out to Dinner! It's a project I've started to do exactly that. You can learn more at www.outtodinner.org.
This isn't a serious question or anything but how tall are you? In that last picture you look tall as hell. 6'5"
I'll be waiting for "I am dating Emma Watson, AMA" That would definitely be an AMAA.
I'm calling it now. 5 months. "I am Zach 'the kid from Iowa with tow Moms' Wahls, author, Daily show Guest & Emma Watson's Boyfriend, AMA... except you phinq. I already know what you're going to say" God, we can only hope...
No question, just a comment. I have 5 children and if I do half as good a job raising them as your parents have done with you I'll die a happy man. Thank you very much. My moms were/are absolutely incredible parents.
+2. Iowans leading the way. +3. Iowa is awesome. More than happy to rep the state.
Zach I have mad respect for you, brother. you are intelligent, polite, and articulate as fuck. I saw you on the daily show and all I could think was I KNOW HIM! I KNOW HIM! Great job on the show and in life in general. I hope life takes you to many awesome places. Don't have a brother, actually. Do have a younger sister, though?
Haha no i mean like brother as in pal, buddy, friend. Oooooooh. Good lord. It's been a long few weeks!
Buckle up man... You're in for quite a life. :) I'm buying your book for my parents who are shamefully ignorant to anything LGBT related. Thank you so much! If you haven't bought a copy yet and want to buy a signed copy, shoot me a PM.
Thanks for wearing Indochino clothing during your TV appearances this past week! My pleasure. Fits really well and not too expensive.
So what did Jon say when they were fading to commercial and he leaned in to whisper. I thanked him again, he said that he really enjoyed the book and was glad that it had worked out to be on his show and then mentioned that he'd definitely make sure to visit with the whole family backstage. I was at cloud nine as I walked off the set.
Looks like we were way off. Haha, I didn't even see that thread!
Iowa, keeping your rights free since 1846. "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain."
Burlington Represent. Iowa State Motto.
TIL I'm moving to Iowa. (Man I wish) Do it. And happy cake day!
You're going to be President someday. Hopefully I'll be a college graduate first.
Pure awesomeness. Can confirm.
Gah, I can't believe I forgot to watch this! To Hulu! There's a link in the body text of my post!
Last updated: 2012-05-07 02:14 UTC
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