Matthew Argenti and Michael Billy: Making Jersey City Shine

Michael Billy Jersey City

I met Matthew Argenti and Michael Billy in the afternoon at the fabulous Vogue Coffee Shop in Jersey City, NJ. If you’ve seen Billy’s name in the news recently, it’s because he organized the Rally to Stand with Immigrants and Muslims, as well as the Rally to Stand with Victims of the Orlando Nightclub shooting. He’s an activist and a filmmaker, currently working on a feature about meeting his birth family in Columbia.

Matthew: We met in Teaneck, NJ at an Irish Pub. It was a fraternity thing – I was part of a fraternity – and I was there with friends. This striking gentleman was singing Boyz II Men’s End of the Road (doing karaoke) and the whole bar was singing along. That was my first impression.

Michael: We were different people back then. I’ve been sober from alcohol for 9 years – and we’ve been together 11.

Matthew: – and I work in the liquor industry! But we’re able to communicate –

Michael: – and we’ve changed together.

Matthew: That’s why it works. When people ask us ‘How have you stayed in a relationship for so long?’ I always mention how we grow together. Like when he became sober, I was at a point where I was also ready to stay away from bars, too.

Michael: Our core values have not changed. It’s almost as if we’ve been in relationships with different people –

Matthew: (eyebrows raise)

Michael: No – I mean like, the person you were in college was a different person. I would not date that guy today, who you were in college. That’s what I mean. Our core values were different then. And it was ok then. But now they’ve changed. And we changed together. Right?

Matthew: (nods) We’ve been together for eleven years but married for one. And now we’re ready to have a child.

Michael Billy Jersey CityMichael: Because we have a dog, and that worked out. (laughs) And we’re home a lot… This past year, I found my birth parents [in Colombia]. I found my birth mother and found out my birth father had been murdered by Escobar’s people. It was a huge bomb dropped into my personal life. And then Matt brought up the idea that we should adopt from Colombia.

Matthew: We have family there that we could trust in the process. There are so many kids that need a home. Michael was adopted from Colombia – we would want to do the same for someone else.

JCFamilies: Do you have an idea of what kind of parenting philosophy you would have? Or what would be important to you as parents? Like what did you appreciate about your own childhood that you would want to replicate?

Michael: I really wanna screw this kid up. (laughs)

Matthew: (clears throat) We had different experiences of growing up. My mom owned a travel agency, so I was able to travel a lot. I was able to experience different cultures and adapt. That’s would be very important for me. And maybe a city lifestyle. Jersey City is such a melting pot – it would be a great way to expose our kids to all the things we value.

Michael: In a larger context, I think it’s become very clear that we need to reform education on all levels. I believe being a parent allows us to educate our children on quiet, on stillness…On all things – from gender, to meditation, to different ethnicities. We have an opportunity to correct some of the wrongs that have been taught. Regarding the school situation – who knows? I was partly homeschooled. I know there were benefits, but for me there were also missed opportunities.

Matthew: – and I grew up in a Catholic school. As far as high schools go, my school was actually very accepting and open to different kinds of kids.

Michael: We were Jewish. I went to Catholic school too but at the end of the day, my mom would tell me the “real deal” as she said… We also have to mention humor. And dancing. Those are all so important in raising children. The energy of the house, the energy we give off… It’s not just the things we say. We come from a generation of people who are wildly horrific at communication –

Matthew: I think that’s one of the things I love about our own relationship – the communication. Even when we’re having a bad day, we always make each other laugh. We connect with humor.

Michael: We keep a little journal to surprise each other with.

Michael Billy Jersey CityMatthew: It sounds corny, but think about it. Your husband surprises you with a card or a note or something, you’re not sure how long to keep it, it ends up getting thrown away, then there’s guilt about that – like what’s the expiration date on those cards? But if you had a journal book where you had all these surprise love notes, like when you come home from a bad day to a love note – and then you have this book to keep –

Michael: Take a moment for someone. It’s your fricken husband for godsakes!

Matthew: It’s a “remember when” in a sense.

JCFamilies: Can we talk about raising queer children? What are some of things to keep in mind?

Michael: Start with an understanding that gender expression and fluidity are all about love. It’s not about putting the child in a box or a label. Experimenting and questioning is part of evolving.

Matthew: There’s a part of the world that you can’t provide for your child. But providing love and acceptance in the home will school the child for their whole life. Be open, loving, accepting. It’s stability.

Michael: I’ve been attacked myself, and that one event kicked off my entire life. My parents could not control that. But they did provide me a home.

There’s an assumption that adversity is bad. But the pain that trans and LGBT kids are feeling only makes the community stronger. It helps to create a voice that is undeniable for years to come. Don’t judge adversity as bad. Give up control and prepare your child for the array of things that may happen in their lives.

Matthew: There was a guy I bonded with in high school – he was straight – and he got made fun of for being gay too. So it doesn’t matter. Energetically, we’re all the same.Michael Billy Jersey City

Michael: We are every one of us.

Matthew: Whether it’s a queer family, or straight family, or whatever – we’re all one and we’re all part of the community. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity we are, we’re all part of this community. And we’re awesome.

Mel Kozakiewicz blogs at www.urdoingitright.com.