Growing up in Manhattan in the 1970s, Andrew Solomon always felt different from his conservative, straight-laced family. But it wasn’t until he was 23 — and told his parents he was gay and moving in with his boyfriend — that the tension simmering between them reached a full boil.
“They reacted very badly,” Solomon, now 54, tells The Post. “My mother said it was enormously stressful and upsetting to her, and she couldn’t understand why I would give up the possibility of having a family to indulge some sexual preoccupation.”
Solomon was devastated. And although she came around before her death from ovarian cancer in 1991, he never forgot the sting of her rejection. Now an award-winning writer, he spun that pain into his fourth book, “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.” The 2012 best seller, which took him 11 years to report for and write, is now a documentary, in theaters Friday. Like the book it’s based on, the film focuses on parents from across the country who are struggling to overcome the differences they have with their children.
There’s Amy Allnutt, who tearfully admits that learning her toddler was autistic was “overwhelming.” Not only did Jack not speak a word, but he lashed out physically until he was 8, when a specialist taught him to point to letters and spell out his thoughts.
Jack’s first sentence, preserved on home video, is heartbreaking: “I’m trying, and I’m really smart.”
Then there are Lisa and Derek Reese, who survived the unthinkable: In 2010, their 16-year-old son stalked an 8-year-old boy and slit his throat. With Trevor now serving life in prison without parole, the shattered couple, who have two younger children who are now in their teens, still speak to him often. “Any mother would know that you can’t just stop loving your child,” Lisa says.
Solomon also appears on-screen, sharing his story.
Even before he came out to his family, Solomon suspected they would disapprove, and fought against his homosexuality. At the age of 17, he glimpsed an ad in the back of New York magazine for gay conversion through sexual surrogacy. In an office on 47th Street, above a store selling glittering diamonds, Solomon “performed sexual exercises” with women.
‘It really was an attempt to change who I was … it was a very painful experience.’
“It sort of worked,” Solomon says, in that he was able to pass as straight during sex with future girlfriends. “But it really was an attempt to change who I was, and in that regard, it was a very painful experience.”
He came out to his parents after he realized that, try as he might, he couldn’t make himself want women.
In 2001, the former New York Times Magazine reporter met the man who would become his husband, a Newsday editor named John Habich.
By the time they married, in 2007, Solomon says his father had fully accepted his sexuality and even paid for the wedding. He’s now a “doting grandfather” to the couple’s four children, Oliver, 18, Lucy, 15, Blaine, 10,0 and George, 9. The two eldest are Habich’s biological children, conceived and co-parented with a lesbian couple. The younger kids are Solomon’s; Blaine’s mother is his best friend from college and George was born by a surrogate.
“The life I have now was unimaginable when I was growing up,” says Solomon. “The idea of having all of these children in all of these different ways … I feel like I’ve worked very hard to define an identity in which I now feel considerable joy.”
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