- November 15, 2013
This post comes from Paul Perry in celebration of National Adoption Month. Paul is the Chair of the Board of Directors of COLAGE, an organization that unites people with lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents into a network of peers and supports them as they nurture and empower each other to be skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in our collective communities.
Imagine not knowing the race of your child before they were born.
That was the case for my parents. They arranged the adoption with my mother before my birth, and to them, it didn’t matter. They were both middle-aged, gay, white men living in suburban Philadelphia. We endured the judgmental stares when we walked into restaurants together. My father would chide the wait staff by saying, “This is my baby boy, doesn’t he look just like me?" Often times, when standing in line at stores, people would assume my father and I were not together. My father would then loudly declare, “This is my son!” with no shortage of indignant pride. At the time, I’d usually blush with embarrassment but today I understand why he did those sorts of things. He used humor and the strength of his voice to reject society’s assumptions and prejudices.
I love my parents for the way they handled those things. They steered us clear of major, unnecessary conflicts and stood up to bullies when necessary. As wonderful as those moments were, it wasn’t always easy being a bi-racial child raised by two white men. I had to learn what it means to be perceived as a black man in America largely on my own. I had to forge my own path to positive racial socialization in ways that my parents were not always able to assist. Race isn’t everything and my parents knew that, so they instilled me with the same indignant pride that I might insist on being treated equally regardless of the color of my skin. Sometimes I’d come home from school after someone called me the n-word or an “oreo” (a slur against bi-racial people) and my dad would assure me in his own unique way. He’d sing a little jingle that went something like this: “White is Wonderful, Tan is Grand, but Black is the color of the Big Boss Man.” That was his own amusing way of encouraging healthy identity development within me, even if he did not know the ins and outs of Black culture. I’ll always love him for that.
Trans-racial adoption is not always easy, but it is important. To do it well, it takes a special balance of humility, reflection, learning, and developing and supporting self-reliance in one’s child. In these circumstances, parents need to be humble enough to realize that they cannot know and give everything to their child when it comes to positive identity development. They need to reflect on how they can and should support their kids. They need to learn about their own identities and their child’s identity and share that with them. And they need to simply love the heck out of their kids so that they have the self-esteem to forge their own pathway to positive identity development. In short, be OK with being uncomfortable as you learn, laugh as much as possible at the idiosyncrasies of it all, and support your kids as they find their own way.