| December-January 2010
RETURN TO HOME PAGE
By Heather World
|Psychologist James LaCroce is not just monkeying around in his new children’s book about a chimpanzee. He also hopes to advance the cause of gay parenting. Photo by Pamela Gerard|
When James LaCroce decided to write a book that would speak to gay families with adopted children, while appealing to anyone who has ever felt like a misfit, the Noe Valley psychologist turned to someone who had soothed him over the years, an illustrated chimpanzee he created with a friend in college.
“He was a character that endured a lot of stress in his life, but he was always resilient,” says LaCroce, whose richly colored illustrations match the upbeat theme of his 74-page paperback.
Chimpy Discovers His Family is the story of an orphaned chimpanzee who prefers giving himself banana facials to having banana food fights with his fellow primates. He is shunned by the other animals because of his differences, until he meets Juan and Benji, gay men honeymooning on the island where Chimpy lives. The men love Chimpy for his unique tastes and decide to adopt him. But the three quickly learn that the world finds them odd, and the trio must overcome prejudices and great distances to become a loving family.
“I wanted to write a story that addresses the fact it doesn’t matter what gender your parents are or what their relationship is, so long as they are committed to each other and they can love the child the way they are,” says LaCroce, 36.
The book is targeted to children ages 6 to 12, but it’s great for people of all ages, says LaCroce. The Maryland native has lived on High Street off Clipper Street since 2001, practicing psychology and volunteering at a children’s mental health center in the Mission. He has worked with children adopted by gay parents and gay parents who have adopted children, but he was also inspired to write the book by the shop talk of his partner, an editor with the Bay Area Reporter.
“I have contact from him about news about gay issues, like adoption and marriage,” LaCroce says. “That is a lot of the reason I wanted to do something political.”
He also took a page from his own childhood, which was difficult and awkward, he says.
“I never did stuff the other boys did,” he says. “I gravitated more to art and drama—things seen as more gay.”
The youngest of five children in a Roman Catholic family, LaCroce grew up hiding his sexuality from his family and his peers.
“My coming out was delayed because it would have been really unsafe for me,” he says. He dealt with his stress through drawing, and by college he and a friend were swapping illustrated exploits of Chimpy the chimpanzee.
LaCroce’s book started as a back-story to Chimpy’s life, but the result is something he hopes will resonate with the next round of soldiers in the battle for gay rights.
He has passed the book on to friends for literary criticism, and so far the reviews have been positive, he says.
“They like the angle—it’s not just about getting adopted,” says LaCroce, who looks forward to having children someday. “It’s also about being accepted.”
LaCroce has made part of his life’s work helping “misfits” of a different kind as well. He works at Oakes Children Center on Treat Avenue, which serves mostly students from San Francisco’s public schools who have debilitating behavior and emotional problems. LaCroce interned there while working toward his doctorate degree, and now he trains other interns.
“There’s a lot of behavior that is in your face,” he says. “I’m teaching them to look past that to their needs.”
True to his misfit theme, LaCroce bypassed commercial publishers and published Chimpy himself. The paperback is available at Lulu.com and Amazon.com, but LaCroce says he will also be sending it to publishers in the next few months to see if he can find a “more traditional” home for his beloved ape.
From Chimpy Discovers His Family by James LaCroce
Hey, you! Welcome to my story. I may look successful now, but my life started off a bit differently. I can’t remember my birth family. I grew up on an island where baby chimpanzees who have lost their families live. As far back as I can remember, I was always different from the other chimps on the island. I liked picking flowers. No one else cared about flowers. I also enjoyed lounging by the stream and sipping cold drinks. I even put little umbrellas in them to make them fancier. No one else did this either.
The other chimps used to scream at me. They said that I acted weird. Tears flowed from behind my sunglasses. After a while, I just closed my eyes and pretended that I was far awayÉ.
ÉAt night I dreamed of traveling to far-off places. I dreamed of flying into space and visiting distant planets. I loved to dream. I was pretty lucky to have a few nice friends to feed and take care of me. Charlie was a very friendly person. His voice always made me feel happyÉ.
Excerpted from Chimpy Discovers His Family, copyright © 2010 by James LaCroce, Ph.D.