Living with Bias

I don’t even know what the first part of the conversation was about. I was not part of it. I was merely in the same room as the conversing parties, a member of my family and my friend’s husband. I am confident I could retrieve the conversation from my memory if I had to. I am also confident that it has been lost due to the fact that the parts of the conversation I do remember were so disturbing to me the earlier parts have been wiped out.

After a few minutes of conversation, family member says to friend’s husband “I cannot stand to see people of the same sex kissing or touching. That makes me sick. Don’t make me watch that.  It’s just wrong.”

I am startled and turn my head quickly towards family member.  A mixture of anger and embarrassment (at my family member’s beliefs and the way they were just expressed) causes my breathing to become rapid.  Others in the room also overhear the exchange and for a moment, all eyes are on my friend’s husband waiting for his response. Friend is clearly uncomfortable with where this conversation has gone to and seems to be struggling to respond.

A child comes bouncing into the room and the distraction is enough to derail the conversation.  I sit at the table fuming.  This family member knows my daughter identifies herself as a gay/queer femme woman.  I am offended for my child and for all LGBTQ people. I am annoyed my sons were in ear shot and that they are exposed to such homophobic views from their own gene pool. My mind reflects on the last time I had a conversation on this topic with a member of my family…

Familial Bias Scene 1
Family members and I were sitting at kitchen table discussing something having to do with the LGBTQ community.  During the conversation I offer up that my daughter identifies herself as gay (I use the word my family uses, not the word my daughter does).   I also remind them that my husband’s uncle was gay and that husbands’ father and said uncle owned several gay bars in our state. One of the family members stops the conversation abruptly and says:

“WAIT! What? What did you just say? [daughters amended name] is gay?”

“Yup.” I respond casually as I pour my diet coke into a glass.

“Well, is she REAAAALLLLLY or is she just, you know, experimenting?” family member asks.

I become annoyed and struggle to respond. Why does it have to be in question? Why isn’t it taken at face value?  I am angry at myself for opening that door. I know my families conservative, homophobic, jingoistic, racist, religious belief system all too well. The relationship I have with said gay daughter is actually a product of that belief system. I struggle to compose myself. I realize the question is causing more conflict than is likely warranted.

“Does it matter? I mean if she is experimenting or if she has her feet firmly planted in lesbian soil, does it matter?” I respond with the slightest hint of disgust at the question.

“Well, uh, um…I guess not” family member says in response. It is clear they backed down not because they suddenly feel it does not matter but rather they sense my irritation and are fearful of further reactions from me.

It is clear to me that it does matter – to them. It also clear they want to gossip on about it but they realize I am not going there.  Even if they, and friends of mine, find the need to do so.

Like the last time I met with a high school friend…

Friend Bias Scene 2
“Did you tell him she was gay?” friend asked.

Uncertain if I heard her correctly, I asked her to repeat herself.

“What? What did you say?” I asked.

“Rob. When you met with Rob, did you tell him that your daughter ended up gay?” she repeated.

Startled and annoyed by the use of the phrase “ended up” I find my thoughts swirling with equally balanced desires to be snarky and serious.  The use of words “ended up” seems to imply that her adoption caused it, that adoption did not make her better, but in the friends POV, it made her, well, gay.  I am not sure if I should be offended or if I should be offended for her adoptive parents.  I am definitely offended for my daughter.

“Uh, no. Why would I do that?” I asked. I decided I was going to poke back at her, stick my words deeply into her ignorance.

“Well, you know…” She pauses, awaiting my response.

“No, really, I don’t. Tell me why you think I should tell someone that the daughter I surrendered to adoption ended up gay? By the way, she prefers the word queer.” I respond.

I realize there is some anger to my voice. I work to control it. I don’t want her to become defensive in response to my tone. I briefly recall the moment I did share that fact with a family member wherein I was asked if my daughter was “experimenting”. I push away the anger from that conversation. I really want to explore this one.

“Queer, gay, lesbian, what is the difference? You know what I meant.” she offers.

“Yes, I knew what you meant but I wanted to be clear that she prefers queer.  If you ever meet her or another queer person, it might be considerate to use the vocabulary they do. You are Italian and never liked my dad calling you a Guinea Wop even when he claimed he was joking, right? ” I replied as I turned to grab my coffee.

“Whatever. I am still shocked she is gay. What did your entire family say when you told them?” she asks as she leans closer to me, her voice level lowering. It is as if she afraid someone around us will overhear a deviant conversation. Again, flash of memory from the conversation with my family member (who interestingly, does use the word queer but it is not meant quite the same way my daughter means it).

“I didn’t.  I don’t see the point. It’s a non issue for me. I am struggling to understand why you think I should have told Rob let alone my entire family.” I asked a second time. I realize I am intentionally poking at her. I want her to admit what she is, show her true colors.

“Oh, come on. YOUR family? YOUR parents?  Let’s put aside their religious beliefs, their conservative nature and perhaps point out that they have zero gay friends or family members.  Do they even KNOW gay people exist? I mean, I realize your dad had his token black friend that he felt made him not racist but homosexual? Oh, wait! Didn’t you hang out with a gay dude in high school? Wasn’t there some hubbub over that?” she responds laughing at the last sentence and her memory of me and my darling friend, Jim.

She is annoying me. She has now offended me, my daughter, my family (even if rightfully so) and one of the dearest friends I have ever had. May he rest in peace.  I remember why I did not like her much in high school.  I give second thoughts to having this conversation. I am not confident it is my job to educate the asshats of the world.

“Queer” I respond, again with a touch of annoyance to my voice. She is confused as my response did not match her last statement.

“It is irrelevant.” I continue. “I don’t believe it says anything overtly interesting about her or is any indication of her as a person or is anyone’s business. I am not implying that I know her as a person, but as a general rule, I prefer not to judge people for their lifestyle choices. You like to date black men. Do I introduce you as such? Do I say Hey, Mom, this is my friend hetero friend Sarah, she likes to date black men? And you know what they say once you go black… Do I say that?” I inquire.

“Ha ha ha. No, but the fact that I date black men is very different from being gay.” She insists.

“Really, how so?” I ask.

Sarah doesn’t respond to my question. I am confident my mentioning of her desire for black men has brought back all HER family bias towards her choice in men. She shrugs her shoulders, makes a rude comment about me and my “freaky views” and does a supreme job of deflecting the line of questioning.

I decide I am definitely not having coffee with her again.

My Position Present Day
I am going to put this on my blog and I am going to say this hopefully in a manner that my blog readers (and perhaps some day, my daughter) will understand. I am also hoping I am not offensive (as if my friends and family above haven’t already been offensive enough).

A majority of American society views reproductive, monogamous sex between men and woman as “good” and places any sexual acts and individuals who don’t fit into this normative view (queer, bi, trans, etc.) as “bad”.  Same sex couples and their needs are invisible. Individuals falling into the “bad” category are subject to bias, discrimination, and much worse.

As a result of this there is a part of me, immature as it may be, that does wish my daughter did not identify as queer. However, her identifying as such does not cause me to love her any less. Nor do I feel that her being queer means there is anything wrong with her or that it is something to be embarrassed by or ashamed of. My desire for her to lead a hetero-normative life is rooted in my desire, as her mother, for her to have an easy life. When you are different, life is not easy. When society views you as “bad”, life is not easy. I know. From the day she was born that is all I wanted for her life to be easy and rewarding and for her to be happy. I want to protect her from all the bad, ignorant, asshat people in the world (and at one point I was one of those bad people – at least society said I was).  The fact that I did not raise her, do not have a relationship with her, does not negate my desire for her life to be “easy” or my desire to protect her.

My daughter is not invisible — even if her original name was changed and is not present in my life physically. She is not bad or unseemly or a threat to society as a result of her gender identification and choice in partners. Again, I realize it is impossible to protect her, but that impossibility does not diminish the desire. It is instinctual for me, as her mother, to want to protect her.  Being a marginalized member of society myself (as a birthmother) I don’t want her to experience pain.

There is nothing wrong with my queer daughter. There is a great deal wrong with the society we both live in. The same society that told me she was better off without me tells her and her loved ones that society is better off without them.

I will never accept that.

I, for one, was never better off without her.

The FormSpring Outhouse

I gave much thought to publishing this post – or not – and the consequences of doing so. This feels important to me. I don’t mean to my reunion or even my daughter, but me, my feelings, my growth, my acceptance, my living. As such, I am going to run with it.

My daughter is apparently still being followed by someone on formspring that knows she is adopted.

(And before you people in France and beyond go hollering at me for reading her formspring, keep in mind, her rules were that I could read her online life but not comment, or make my presence known in any way. I mean nothing to her but that nothingness of me bothers her when she is reminded of the nothing by my commenting or liking a blog post, retweeting a good tweet, etc.).

I felt a mixture of pleasure and sadness to see her come “out” to one of the questions that pointedly asked her about her “adoptedness” (is that a word?). The fact that she outed herself as adopted I interpret (perhaps erroneously) as a positive step of acceptance or some type of maturity and growth? I am also glad that she publicly answered the troll.

She responded in part by stating she is “lucky and privileged in this” (assuming “this” is being adopted) and it involves many parties with experiences ranging from “wildly traumatizing” to “very positive”. I am gonna guess that I am the “wildly traumatized” side and her adoptive parents on the “very positive” side.

It was interesting to read and I went back several times. Of course I can read into it — or not. I can debate the words “lucky and privileged” to be adopted. I can comment on dominant discourse in adoption (and youse all know part of me is dying to do so).

But I will refrain (well, except for what I just said above).

I actually feel rather pleased and comforted to have read it. I pondered, for a second or two, writing her and congratulating her for responding to the asshat and for speaking her truth, regardless of what I may feel about it. I didn’t of course. Maybe that is what this post is – a way for me to write her yet not.

I am going to turn comments off on this post as I don’t want a public discussion of her statements and her position. Yes, yes, I realize I just did that myself but that is kind of the point. I stand behind, defend, am responsible to her for my words and my words alone. I realize blogs are partially intended to encourage dialogue and turning off comments works against such conversation. Just go with me on this, mk? If you have something to share, you are welcome to write me privately at bluestokking at gmail dot com.

I do welcome it, even it appearances may suggest otherwise.

Adoption Communications

 In this post, I am the Sender. I am the Initiator of this message. In writing the post, I am encoding it, that is, I am putting the idea into language while adding my own meaning to the words. I am posting it to my blog readers, or Receivers. You as a reader will receive the message and decode it. In the process of decoding it you will internally, privately translate my post into something you understand, by using your knowledge of language and your personal experience. The blog post is travelling to you through written communication channel. You may or may not provide feedback on the post via a blog comment or perhaps personal email to me, both written communication channels. Throughout the entire process, the message is subject to Noise.  In communication, Noise is considered anything that interferes with effective transmission or reception of the message.  There can be physical noise or external noise that is environmental to you. Perhaps while you are reading this, your young child interrupts you causing you to look away or begin another task. Your receipt of this message was interrupted and as such may influence your understanding of it. Other types of noise physiological (maybe you have the flue)  psychological (your own preconceptions and bias towards “someone like me”) and finally, semantic noise.  If I chose words that are confusing or distracting to your reading, that would be semantic noise.

Keep these concepts in mind. Noise is important, in my opinion, when we consider adoption conversations, particularly those that occur online, in written form, with people we have never met before.

Consider the recent comment thread between Daniel, myself, Rich and Janet.  I believe this illustrates challenges with communication and supports my belief that we need to consider these challenges in the conversations we have.

Daniel is not American. By his own words he is an adoptee from Lebanon. He writes very well, but very much rhetorically.  During our conversation, I found myself impressed with his writing (smart people who write well can always hook me) and I was interested in hearing his thoughts. I continued to prod him to explain himself when I did not quite understand. This seemed to frustrate him for in the end, rather than explain himself, again, in a simpler way; he resorts to Arabic slang derogatory terms towards me, Janet and Rich.

I am American. I am a natural mother that surrendered her child to adoption. I am in reunion with a child that wants nothing to do with me or her first family. I am a reform activist and I believe adoption should always be a last resort and even when needed ties to the family of origin should be maintained. I don’t believe in amended birth certificates.  My communication style is one that places understanding high on the list of requirements (or so I like to think). All of these factors and more impact your understanding of my blog posts.

Rich is American.  He is not personally effected by adoption, rather he is collateral damage to another’s experience, mine. Rich is my fiancé.  Rich responds to Daniel with a very American phrase that suggests if he is not part of the solution he is part of this problem. This message could have been completely lost on Daniel or offensive as he is not familiar with Rich or what Americans may mean when they suggest such things. Daniel likely thought from his own perspective he was offering solutions. The fact that I, nor Rich, nor Janet understood what he was saying did not negate the fact that he said it.  Hence, noise.

Janet astutely noted that Daniel was talking in very academic, rhetorical terms that can create confusion.  Daniel may have been doing this on purpose but he may indeed speak like that all the time.  Since none of us know Daniel personally, we cannot know but we make those assumptions based on our own personal experiences (noise). Perhaps someone in our past talked down to us like that. If so, we may be reacting to Daniel’s words from a past experience versus a present one.

I posit that communication challenges like this happen all the time in adoption circles. We are continually influenced by our own personal noise, and holy jeebzuss there is a lot of personal noise in adoption trauma.  If we are not able to identify that, see that what we are offering up or how we are receiving messages is effected by that, we cannot communicate effectively. 

Daniel suggests (or at least I think he does, again, not clear) that Americans and those of us in adoption reform discussions are too politically correct. He suggests that adoptees are told to “play nice” and their voices are squelched in conversations they have with adoptive parents.  I am not disagreeing that is done (although I am not an adoptee or an adoptive parent) but I do disagree that not playing nice is productive to conversation.  Daniel also balks at things like Roberts Rule of Order and that we must have rules on how we will engage. I disagreed here too.

While I agree that those of us that have been torched (not touched) by adoption have a right to be angry and hurt and such, I do question how discussion can be productive if one or more parties to that discussion are permitted to be uncivilized. As I shared in a different post, I tend to avoid people who cannot have a conversation with me without resorting to calling me an abandoning c*nt whore.  I don’t see how that is relevant to changing adoption. I am interested in progress, moving forward, making change, not you showing me how colorful your language can be.

Thoughts? Can we have unemotional discussion on adoption? More importantly, do we even want to, for isn’t the pain, the damage, the emotion of adoption a primary motivator for change? Do we really want to eliminate it from the conversation? How do we keep it without turning off the people we are speaking to?