Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"I Wanted to be an Adoptee": a Foster Kid's Desire for Love, Family. and Security

Guest Entry by Nathaniel Christopher

Nathaniel, a photo from that summer
Nathaniel is a foster alumni, the son of an adult adoptee, and a freelance journalist in Vancouver, British Colombia.  More of Nathaniel's work can be found at his website..  Here is one last post for National Adoption Awareness Month.

“Who was that couple who dropped you off?” asked an older girl sitting next to me on the swings at Franklyn Street Park in Nanaimo.

“Uh…,well I live with them,” I respond, digging my feet into the gravel, desperate for a cushion of ambiguity.

 “Are they your parents, or what?”

“No, they're my foster parents,” I said, tightly grabbing the chain.

I wished they were my real parents. They were young and had ambition for their future. I saw them going places and desperately wanted a place in that future, but every so often someone reminded me it was all a fa├žade.

It only took one question to blow the fantasy.

“Why are you in foster care?” said the girl, her face fixed on mine. 

I was desperate for an exit but her calm mannerisms and probing interest in my affairs kept me shamefully tethered to the red metal frame.

That previous summer my first foster mother, who lived two blocks from the park, had enrolled me in a summer program there. My new foster parents, who lived on the other side of town, ensured that I remained in the program for the rest of the summer. At the end of every afternoon, like clockwork, they would be there to pick me up in their blue Chevrolet Cavalier.

Revealing the truth of my situation made me vulnerable. It had only been a year, but I had undergone a huge identity shift. I was no longer the "old" Nathaniel who was disruptive, hyper, and chaotic. I was now the “new” Nathaniel who was nice, good and calm.

Talking about my status as a kid in foster care in 1991 meant addressing my shortcomings as a child and student.

Judge me by what I am now, forget everything about who I was, I said to myself. 

The previous week my foster father, a straight  23 year old man visited every record store in town in a quest to locate a Nancy Sinatra album I wanted. “Do you have ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’’ by Nancy Sinatra?” he asked each cashier without a hint of embarrassment.

He and my foster mother stood up for me, protected me, and loved me. When people referred to me as their son I wouldn’t correct them - nor would they.

They fought with my social workers to get me a new bike; they bought me new clothes, drove me to school every day and even mused about getting me braces. "If kids ask you what happened to your teeth you can just say you lost a fight with a lawnmower!" said my foster mother with pride.

Although my social workers me as a foster kid in their notebooks, it wasn’t an identity I clung to. I saw myself as part of a new family unit the foster kid label s a necessary and unpleasant step toward my goal of family stability.

My plans were derailed when their marriage ended and I went on to live with my foster mother. Eventually that placement broke down and I bounced off to yet another home.

I thought the world revolved around me blamed myself for the breakdown. I felt intense anger and grief over the separation. In her status report my childcare worker noted my struggle with loss, anger, and confusion.

"To come to terms with his losses, Nathaniel will need to attend to his feelings about his relationship with his foster parents and process his change from extreme attachment to extreme separation from his foster mother,” she wrote.

Aside from a few board games and a record that I liked, school was the only thing I had left from that "golden era" of family, stability and hope. My new foster parents and social worker wanted to move me to a school closer to my new placement, to their practical reality of who I was and where I belonged.

“If we, as professionals, have Nathaniel's best interests in mind, we will allow him to complete, perhaps his happiest year of school life, at Chase River Elementary School,” wrote my grade six teacher in a letter to my social worker.

My request to stay at Chase River is one of the few things I said that resonated with my social workers. "My friends are there," I said in an attempt to mask my desperation for familiarity with a facade of childlike enthusiasm for friendship.

Eighteen months and four homes after my summer at Franklyn Street Park, it was up to me to maintain any links with my past.

To that end I took two GMC "goldfish" city buses to school and back every day. I paid the 75 cent fare with a book of light blue bus stamps provided by the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Families.

"Is this seat taken?" asked a smartly dressed woman of perhaps 80 years who ignored the many empty seats in favour of the aisle seat next to me. Perhaps it’s her wisdom of age or my dazed, dejected expression, but she lent a wise and intuitive voice to my grief that I thought invisible to others.

"I was young once like you, many years ago." she said in a flat almost inaudible tone. Her clipped British mannerisms belied her forward observations. "I was alone," she said looking straight ahead, but talking directly to me. "So I turned to God."

November's Online Art Exhibit: Lina Eve

Lina Eve

From the 1960's-1980's in Australia, over 80,000 mothers lost their babies to adoption during an era of forced and coerced adoptions.  Lina Eve was one of these women.  She expresses her thoughts and emotions on this experience through the song and video (below) as well as through other artistic media.  You can check more of her artwork out at

"Clayton's Mother" Lina Eve, mixed medium on board

"Loss" from the "Bad Girl" series, Lina Eve

Artwork and video/song copyright Lina Eve.  Used on this blog with permission.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Separating Adoptee Rights from Homophobia

Guest Entry by Shannon LC Cate

Shannon LC Cate is a lesbian housewife and write-from home adoptive mother to two beautiful girls. She blogs about her life at Peter’s Cross Station and about writing at Muse of Fire.

Amanda asked....
There have been a few times lately where I have seen/read adoption discussed in relation to gay and lesbian rights where it is almost framed as homophobic for the original (biological) male and female parents to be viewed as important to the adoptee. Someone might point out that a loving parent (or parents) is what a child needs, regardless of the gender of the parent(s). I would agree. However, the assumption that valuing original parents is about saying the nurturing parents, in this case, gay or lesbian parents, are not adequate or capable parents is perhaps another instance where Adoptee Rights may be misunderstood. I decided to ask Shannon her thoughts on this topic. What would you say to someone who feels that placing importance on the biological roots* provided by the male and female original parents is homophobic or offensive to LGBTQ parents?"

*by biological roots, I mean it would be placing importance on anything from a relationship with the original parents, to access to ancestral information, to access to adoption records or original birth certificate.
Shannon answers.....

This sounds to me like yet another case of a misplaced sense of who adoptee rights are about. They are not about adoptive parents. Let me say that again, the adoptee rights movement is not a comment of any kind on adoptive parents. The adoptee rights movement is about adoptee rights. Period.

I think it’s a shame that we (“we” adoptee rights advocates and activists) must keep repeating this, clarifying this and explaining this, when all that energy could go into pursuing, you know, adoptee rights.

It’s a particular shame that queer* parents don’t come by an understanding of it more naturally, as it seems to me logically, they should. But perhaps there is some legitimate reason for the confusion. After all, there are times when children’s rights—adopted and otherwise—are adversely affected by a lack of queer individual and/or family rights.

Here are a couple of the most common examples.

Queer rights to fostering and adoption: Most large, well-researched, truly child-focused fostering and adoption organizations (for example, the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Ethica) recognize that allowing full and equal participation by queer adults in foster care and adoption are in the best interests of children, because they open a pool of potential parents to underserved children who are difficult to place. In this case, queer rights further the good of fostered and adopted people.

The right to same-sex second-parent (sometimes called “step-parent”) adoption: In many jurisdictions, two people of the same gender cannot legally parent the same child or children. This leaves such a child or children unprotected in the case of the legal parent’s death or in the case of a split in the parents’ relationship. An ugly breakup can result in the orchestrated loss of one parent (the non-legal one). A death can lead to court battles between the surviving (non-legal) parent and the deceased (legal) parent’s other family. Giving queer people the right to adopt each other’s children—or adopt as couples in the first place—means giving children more security in their homes and families.

These two examples are probably the most important places in which “gay rights” align with the best interest of children. However, the rights of adoptees to basic information about their biological origins have nothing to do with either of these two examples. The rights of adoptees to know their origins are simply human rights of individuals and are no comment on adoptive parents, whether straight or gay.

On the one hand, I can understand why queer adoptive parents might tend to undervalue the importance of biological ties in their children’s lives. After all, many of us are abandoned, scorned, disowned and otherwise abused by our own biological families when we come out. This legacy of rejection has led to a strong sense of community among queer people, one that is, in fact, often called “family” in queer slang.

On the other hand, isn’t this ability to reach beyond our immediate and most obvious relations to make family among strangers—perhaps to include adoption—something that should guide us in opening our hearts to the biological kin of our children, when we have an opportunity to learn about, or even get to know them?

Adopted people aren’t always looking for a relationship when they seek their natural relatives. But sometimes they may be lucky enough to stumble into the possibility of one, and the chance to build it. But even in the absence of such an opportunity, knowing more about our children—even if it is only the names and basic identities of their first parents—can be regarded as a treasure not just for them, but for us.

My partner and I chose open adoption first for our children, second for their first parents and finally, for ourselves. After all, our children are the most interesting people in the world to us and knowing more about them is a gift. The light in my daughter’s eyes when I can tell her she has her mother’s brilliant mind or beautiful smile is not something I would trade for the world. It does nothing to diminish her love for me to be given a deeper and broader sense of herself and her connections to the world through all her inheritance—biological and adoptive. In fact, one of my primary motivations in supporting the healthy growth of her fullest possible sense of self is to add to the foundation I am laying for our continued healthy, happy, attached relationship in the future when she has a choice about whether or not to call me “family.”

*I use the word “queer” instead of GLBT. Queer is a term embraced by many activists as offering the best coverage for the varied people who find themselves—or choose to step—outside of hetero-normative sexual identities and/or family models.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Queer in Care

Guest Entry by: Nathaniel Christopher

Nathaniel is a foster alumni, the son of an adult adoptee, and a freelance journalist in Vancouver, British Colombia.  More of Nathaniel's work can be found at his website.  Nathaniel agreed to have his piece, Queer in Care, published on my blog for National Adoption Awareness Month.  This piece was originally published at Xtra! on December 8, 2005.

I hear a voice calling me from upstairs. "Nathaniel, we'd like to talk to you."

I have been dreading this moment.

I make my way through the cluttered front hallway and creep up the stairs. I enter the kitchen utterly terrified of what seems like impending doom. My heart begins to pound and my knees shake uncontrollably.

An eerie calm fills the normally busy, loud foster home where I live. My foster parents are standing pensively in the kitchen. Although it is well into the evening they have not changed from their stuffy work uniforms to their usually comfortable "at home" garb of jogging pants and T-shirts; they have been waiting hours for me. There are no signs of dinner; the only dish in sight is my foster mother's quickly overflowing ashtray.

I am pulverized by my foster father's intense gaze as he pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket.

In one thunderous gesture he slams it down on the counter and bellows: "What is the meaning of this?"

Before I can answer, my foster mother interjects in a tone of frantic despair, "Nathaniel, it's like you've taken a knife and stabbed it in our backs... Why? Why did you do this to us?" To which her husband adds, "I've worked 30 years at my job. Thirty years down the drain now. You've ruined my career-thanks a lot."

They are husband and wife, mother and father, employees of the provincial government, prominent members of the community, and I am their foster child. With one damning letter I have destroyed all that, or so they claim.

I had to do it-I could no longer put up with their flagrant homophobia, so I documented every instance and submitted it to my social worker as a formal complaint.

I was placed in that household during a period of personal growth when I was beginning to fully realize the power of being a queer youth. My mental, emotional, and spiritual stability depended on the acknowledgment and nourishment of my queer self. I needed to explore and understand this identity which was integral to my growth.

Living in a homophobic foster home gave this identity search a sense of urgency and zeal which pushed me ahead at lightning speed.

In my first week in their household I realized that their views on homosexuality were not conducive to my own development. Every member of my foster family openly expressed their homophobic views.

I never came out to them as such-that was done for me.

One of their more inquisitive sons made an assumption about my sexual orientation based on my choice of music and awkward aversion to their conversations involving explicit descriptions of heterosexual sex acts. When the middle son asked me if I was gay and I answered in the affirmative, the news spread like wildfire.

Within days, neighbours were calling me "faggot" and my foster mother solemnly informed me that her husband was disappointed with my "choice."

While knowingly in my presence, my foster parents' sons used the term fag and faggot in reference to queer people and sometimes as a direct reference to me. On the issue of gay rights, the eldest son's views could only be described as vile, once declaring that "the only right that fags deserve is a bullet in the head."

My foster father believed my sexuality was a choice and went so far as to compare it with the choice of cars.

Although not a particularly religious man, he always peppered any discussion of homosexuality with Biblical quotes. In a judicious tone he would condemn homosexuality as a crime against the Bible and therefore a "sin against God."

When outlining house rules, he informed me I was welcome to live under his roof on the condition that I did not bring any of my gay friends over, yet his sons were encouraged to bring their girlfriends over. I was not to use his computer to write gay literature or correspond with prospective gay lovers.

By then, I had read several pamphlets and books on queer issues and was acutely aware of what was acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

I consistently challenged them on their use of homophobic language and let them know that I was not okay with what they were saying. Sadly, my bold attempt at educating them backfired; they felt that it was some kind of unwarranted attack on their freedom of speech.

When her four-year-old granddaughter uttered the word gay at the dinner table, my foster mother said: "We're not allowed to use that word anymore" in a hostile, mocking tone.

I needed to be in a queer-friendly space. I found one at a local queer drop-in centre.

It was a queer-positive space where once a week queer youth would hang out. We drank way too much pop, stuffed our faces with greasy pizza pops, exchanged tarot readings, listened to music and watched movies.

This downtime in a queer-positive space blossomed into a sense of community, belonging and identity.

There was a certain thrill to the drop-in, as it felt very much like a secret club. We met once a week in borrowed space. We had a queer library, poster collection, condom collection, and junk food stash that all went back into the closet at the end of the night.

The volunteers at the drop-in were mostly professional men and women. Among other things, they were professors, social workers, doctors, and nurses. There were two volunteers that had a particularly significant impact on my life; they didn't go back into the closet at the end of the night.

They were both professors at the local college. I was in awe of both of them as they were unlike anyone I had ever met before: they had lived in many countries, they spoke different languages, they had published books, and held post-graduate degrees. They both took an avid interest in what I had to say.

During my life I have dealt with dozens of professionals (doctors, social workers, lawyers, etc) but these two women were the first professionals to treat me as an equal. I was not their client, charge or pet project but a friend.

They were my brightest stars in the darkest nights.

My foster family viewed my participation in this "secret club" with suspicion and thinly veiled contempt.

Going to this drop-in strengthened a part of me that they could never understand or change. They expected me to be quiet and put up with their abuse. I refused.

I sent a letter to my social worker about my foster family's continuing mistreatment and callous attitudes. My social worker, who was acutely aware of queer issues and supportive in my endeavours to participate in the queer drop-in, promptly accepted it.

However, I later retracted the letter under immense pressure and intimidation from my foster parents. They told me that if I wanted to move that was fine, but it was unnecessary to make a "big deal" about it.

Unlike most of their possessions, which were haphazardly strewn about the floors and shelves, they wanted their hatred swept neatly under the rug. At the age of 17, I left this home, but before I did I left several queer liberation posters on my wall, which explained why I was a part of this movement.

As I left, I felt as if I were walking off into the light, ascending to better things and places-free to be queer or whatever else I wanted.

The sense of community and support I received from the drop-in centre gave me the confidence and strength to stand up against discrimination and oppression. I asserted myself against my foster family to ensure the ministry was aware of the plight of queer youth in care, sending a clear message to all concerned that the time for silence was over.