Friday, June 21, 2024

Meet gay dads and expat entrepreneurs, Mike & Sebastian

With our community under attack from right-wing forces, and wild allegations of grooming, gay parents are also in the firing line of conservatives who want to take our hard-won rights back. So it’s heartening to meet a committed couple who are raising the bar for LGBTQ visibility, and raising their daughter as they do so.

The brave dads come from outside America, too and yet are moving here from their native Vienna to live their best lives. Austrians Mike, 42, and Sebastian, 34, have relocated to gay mecca Palm Springs with their 7-year-old daughter Mia. Public figures in the German-speaking world, they are being featured on the high-rating reality TV show, Goodbye Deutschland.

As well as being LGBTQ influencers they are successful polymaths and businessmen with more than a little bit of celebrity behind them — Mike has been an award-winning member of the Austrian pop band Sugarfree, trained to become a lawyer, ran a successful business, and published — as Dr. Michael Hilscher — an international bestselling children’s book Blake the Drake and the Enchanted Egg.

Sebastian won a major, lucrative national competition to develop an app for politics, ran a profitable family business which has now grown into an international venture in the prefabricated house market. What become clear when speaking to them both, is that they are optimistic, adventurous, driven, and supportive of each other’s dreams — while tending to the needs of their daughter. So how did this all come about?

Mike and Sebastian first met in 2015 at a black-tie event that was a pre-party for the famous Viennese HIV/AIDS fundraiser, Life Ball. Mike was oddly dressed for the formal event, having misread the invite and wore his risque Life Ball costume. “I’m going to do one more night of partying before being a dad!” recalls Mike. “I had these little red trousers and the rest was body paint.” Sebastian thought Mike must be a stripper. “I was just waiting for someone to get a ghetto blaster and play. I asked the host, Who’s that guy, what is he doing here?’ It was definitely fate,” says Sebastian. They later met on the dancefloor and started chatting. “And we’re still chatting.”

Sebastian says, “We spend so much of our time chatting and communicating. We have a very interesting creative process. Someone starts the sentence, the other finishes it, and somehow we end up at a certain idea, like Let’s move to the USA,” he says.

Most importantly they share the desire to live out the best versions of themselves. Whether it’s perfecting their social media account or spending quality time with their family, “We always try to find the best version of things,” says Mike. “We love to spend evenings talking about our dreams. How can our life in the U.S. be?”

But going back to the fateful night on the dancefloor: they connected after Sebastian realized he had come out without his wallet. Three dates in, Mike revealed to Sebastian that he was in the process of becoming a dad to a little girl, which he had planned via surrogacy. Mike reveals he always had a future vision of himself as a dad, and when he visualized himself, age 60, living his best life, it was as a parent, surrounded by family.

Sebastian, Mia, Mike on holiday in Hawaii

“I could not imagine not having kids,” he says. He was single and prepared to have a family on his own. Same-sex adoption was not allowed in Austria at that time, and international adoption was complicated and difficult. Mike was 30 when he started the surrogacy process.

But how did Sebastian, who was just 24 at the time, react to that news, so early in the dating process? He wrote a heartfelt letter addressed to Mia, who was born on July 2, 2015 — just a few weeks after the couple had started seeing each other!

“In the first moment I was just so impressed by a single man in his thirties doing this journey on his own,” says Sebastian when Mike told him of his parenthood plans. “We didn’t have an established relationship but what I knew was I felt very comfortable around Mike and I just followed my heart. Of course my mind was saying a lot of responsibility comes with it but I just felt the urge to call him, to meet him, to be around him and Mia and after some time we became a family.”

And so in a powerful statement of love and commitment — not to mention the optimism that characterizes both of them — the two men embarked upon a relationship and a journey of parenthood together. Mike and Sebastian were married in Bora Bora in 2021 with little Mia smiling like a fairytale had come true and she was the little princess with two daddy-princes. “She was so happy that day!” says Mike.

Mike, Mia, Sebastian in Bora Bora

I ask Mike and Sebastian about the disapproval in the U.S. about LGBTQ people being around children, which has flared up once more because of drag queen story hours and the online targeting of “groomers.”

Mike says he has mostly fielded questions in Austria about who will be “mothering” Mia and bringing her a female influence. “We want to be parents and two guys can be good parents and two girls can be good parents. You just have to see Mia. She is such a wonderful person. She’s such a good person. The one thing that people might not think about is, these children are absolutely wanted. They cannot be more wanted than this child.”

As for female influence, Mike’s mother (Omi, or granny) has helped during the day take care of baby Mia and she is moving to the U.S. as part of the family. Now, it might seem strange that two picture-perfect gay men from a postcard-perfect country like Austria would want to relocate the the U.S. which is going through turmoil now especially regarding gender and sexual minorities.

Mike reminds me that while Austria has a Sound of Music and an alpine image, it is also very conservative in societal attitudes when it comes to two gay dads. For LGBTQ people, California feels more accepting than Vienna. “There were moments when kids or grownups confronted Mia [about] what we are,” says Mike. “There were so many moments when we decided we needed to protect our daughter. We asked ourselves what can we do. We need to normalize it, and how can we normalize it? By making it visible, by creating a lot of awareness online. People don’t have to like us, they don’t have to love us, they just have to know that it exists. This is the one little step that we can achieve.” They embarked upon a widespread media campaign in the German-speaking world until they felt no one could ask their daughter how their lives were possible.

And, as they are currently pursuing surrogacy once more in the U.S. and the coronavirus travel ban worried them, they hadn’t wanted to risk that their baby would be born without them. So they investigated from a family perspective, looking for a stateside school for Mia, getting a house and so on. They loved California, but honed in on Palm Springs.

“The first thing we saw was so many men on the street holding hands…it gave us the feeling of being part of a majority instead of being part of a minority,” says Mike. Sebastian reveals they had never gotten into the habit of holding hands, but here was a place where they would not feel awkward. “It is important for Mia to be in an environment where our family is the most normal thing ever.”

Another aspect of gay parenting that needs destigmatizing is surrogacy. “What is not known is that surrogates really want to help the parents,” says Mike. “Our surrogate Amanda is like an angel, she is the coolest woman ever. She has three kids, she is a psychologist…” Mike explains that she wanted to be pregnant but didn’t want any more of her own children, and so she was looking for a gay couple to help. “She is so excited about the whole process with us. That is the most important part: to see there is a clear win-win relationship between both parties.”

Mike and Sebastian praised the U.S. regulation of surrogacy, and they also are looking forward to the freedom of speech that will help them raise their visibility and of course, live their best lives. To that extent, they are working with U.S. agencies on Mike & Sebastian projects and are negotiating paid partnership opportunities with various brands. Goodbye Deutschland will also be filming their progress in the U.S. Sebastian is also investigating expanding his labor-saving construction business in the U.S. “I’m so excited,” says Sebastian.

When I speak to Mike and Sebastian they are just about to leave for their new life in Palm Springs. Prior to publication I touched base with them again to see how they are settling in.

We’re still settling in, but we’re sure of one thing: It was the right decision!” says Mike with his usual enthusiasm. “Mia loves her new school and has already made many friends, and the two dads have also met very nice people and enjoy life here very much!”

Sebastian works remotely and is able to travel back to Austria when necessary.

But when they are not working or building their Mike & Sebastian brand they are exploring the recreational offerings in Palm Springs, which so far exceed their expectations. “There are new fun activities for the family every day and we spend an incredible amount of quality fun time together as a family, which is exactly what we were hoping for.”

Their Instagram account has exploded since they moved to the U.S. “We came with 30,000 followers and are now at 50,000,” shares Mike, excited about growing their vision for increased visibility for two dad families everywhere. “So the beginning of our life in America went very well and we are very excited to see what will happen next — and what is still waiting for us.”

Connect with Mike and Sebastian here.

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Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 141 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

3 thoughts on “Meet gay dads and expat entrepreneurs, Mike & Sebastian

  • Does anyone know why they’ve disappeared off of all social media suddenly?

    • Stavo ponendomi la stessa domanda.

    • I wondered this. They seemed to be enjoying US life then everything disappeared.


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