Are you surprised? A lot of people are when I reveal this super intimate detail. “Oh, I didn’t know,” they say.
To answer your other questions: I’ve always known, and I have no interest in meeting my genetic parents. My parents are my parents and I love them very much. Oh, and yes, I do like to pretend I might be the second coming of Christ. (How do you know I’m not?)
But let’s step back. What was with that reaction to the news that I’m an adoptee? Do folks have have certain expectations about adoptees that are disrupted by my coming out? Did they expect it would somehow be obvious, or that if they knew me well enough it would be something they could tell?
The funniest (or not so funny, as I’ll be exploring below) moments are when folks will tell my mom how much I look like her. (I don’t know—we’re both tall, I guess.) She’ll just smile and say, “Well, actually, Zack was adopted.” They immediately get embarrassed and apologetic. I don’t think it’s just because they realize their assumption was wrong; I think there’s some disappointment there. There is an inherent expectation that I have some special connection to my parents that they now know I don’t have. (By the way, you can see from my pic that I really don’t look at all like my father. Sorry, Dad!)
The most recent assessment of attitudes about adoption revealed that there is still a lot of stigma in our society—probably more than you think. The 2002 National Adoption Attitudes Survey (PDF) found some startling results about public perceptions. Unsurprisingly, folks have greater concerns about young people who’ve been through foster care, but even some of the numbers for adopted-at-birth children are disconcerting. A third think we adoptees are less likely to be well-adjusted or self-confident, and a fifth think we’re less likely to be happy.
Well-adjusted… well-adjusted… why does that sound familiar?
Oh, right. It’s the argument used against same-sex adoption. In fact, a lot of the opponents of gay adoption will often say things like, “A child does best with his or her birth parents.” Or as Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel recently said, gay parenting is not “in the best interest of the child.” (Handel has a runoff election for the Republican candidacy coming up on August 10, in case you’re curious.)
No voice has been more virulent against gay adoption recently than that of Bill McCollum. As the Florida Attorney General, he pushed for the hiring of George Rekers to testify on behalf of Florida’s ban on gay adoption. (Rekers, you may recall, is a fan of rentboy “luggage carriers”, suggesting that his anti-gay views aren’t so legitimate—as if any are.) Now that McCollum is running for governor, he’s struggling to defend the $87,000+ in taxpayer dollars used to cover Rekers’ not-so-expertly expenses. Here’s the latest from McCollum:
I don’t believe the gay family model is good for the kids. First of all, it’s my religious views and my principles, so I’m just personally against it. I’m not going to argue with you further the merits; there’s no point in it. You and I perhaps disagree, but I just don’t think it’s a good model.
Now, of course, when it comes to gay and lesbian adoption, there is the added stickiness of archaic gender expectations. But fundamentally, most people who speak against adoption by same-sex couples use the same language that stigmatizes all adoptions. This is how we need to frame the debate.
If you’re curious, another study came out this week confirming that children of lesbian and gay couples do just as well (news article and PDF of the study). Here’s what researchers at the University of Virgina learned (p. 11-12):
Our findings revealed, for the first time, that young children adopted early in life by lesbian and gay parents were as well-adjusted as those adopted by heterosexual parents. Our results suggest that lesbian and gay adults can and do make capable adoptive parents. We found no significant differences among families headed by lesbian, gay, or heterosexual parents in terms of child adjustment, parenting behaviors, or couples’ adjustment. In addition, reports of children’s outside caregivers were consistent with those of parents. It is important to note in particular that gay fathers and their children appeared to be faring as well as were lesbian and heterosexual parents and their children. These findings add to the very limited existing research on gay fathers and their children, as well as to the relatively sparse research on adoptive families with lesbian and gay parents. In all, our results both lend support to earlier research with lesbian- and gay-parented families, and extend these findings to adoptive and gay-father families.
While it’s nice to see some confirmation (finally!) for our gay dads, this study is nothing new. There have been many that show the same thing. Some even show that children of same-sex couples do better than children of heterosexual couples.
But these studies aren’t going to shift the argument. You see, I think people who oppose gay adoption oppose all adoption. They might not even realize it, but there’s definitely bias there. It’s no different than when John Briggs tried to ban gay teachers by suggesting they were pedophiles. Harvey Milk pointed out to him that heterosexuals were just as likely to be pedophiles, so it was a moot point. Still, Briggs thought it good reason to attack the gays (and the Catholic Church still does). Just as folks who oppose gay pedophiles oppose all pedophiles, folks who oppose gay adoption oppose all adoption. It’s the same exact scapegoating of gays and lesbians.
The proof is obvious. Look at David Blankenhorn, “star” witness for the defense of Prop 8. He supports gay adoption. He said as much at the trial. We shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure, among all the goofy literature and pseudo-research he works with at his Institute for American Values, there have to be a few nuggets of truth. He sees how adoption can be good, and so can’t come up with a reason why gay adoption is bad.
Our problem isn’t people against gay adoption. Our problem is people against adoption. It’s the little bit of privilege and stigma revealed by the surprise when I tell someone I’m adopted—as if it’s some big deal (it’s not). People don’t trust adoption, and they use it as an excuse to attack same-sex couples in their family.
Next time you hear someone challenging gay adoption, go through all the motions. Remind them of all the data that proves they’re wrong. Show them pictures of loving families (like Scott, Robert, and Riley who I met at the National Equality March). Correct all their assumptions about the importance of gender roles. But then, make sure you also challenge them on adoption in general. The attacks on gay adoption aren’t just hurting same-sex couples; they hurt all of us connected to adoption and all the children waiting to be adopted.