As we all know, or maybe not, being gay parents is absolutely everything like being straight parents. However, becoming gay parents is the hard part. It is especially hard when your journey starts in a country that doesn’t allow gay marriage, starts in the conservative south, and even many of your friends and family who are supportive of who you are and how you live your lives still view adoption as taboo. Lastly, becoming a gay parent is especially hard when you don’t have a uterus.
Our journey started many years ago before the federal government decided to “recognize” us. I always find this notion of recognition quite funny realizing that I am happily recognized during tax season, when it’s time to seek out donations for various charitable organizations, and whenever anyone needs a fancy homemade bow. Nonetheless, recognition played a big part of becoming a gay parent. Who will recognize our marriage? Who will recognize our adoption application? Who will recognize our final adoption as parents? Who will recognize our union in the event of an emergency? Who will recognize us as equals when our daughter needed a parent? Recognition. Who knew that all anyone really wants in this entire process is to decide how we would be recognized? As far as we were concerned, the only ones who should be worried about recognition were us, and it was the furthest thing from our minds knowing that there was a myriad amount of seemingly senseless other tasks and hoops that needed tending before we could begin to consider recognition. Alas, recognition stayed at the forefront of all other parties involved.
In 2007, my partner and I decided that we definitely wanted to be together forever and that children were hopefully going to be part of the plan. We had both been privy to so many bizarre relationship situations and failed attempts at being part of a “gay couple” that we had decided that we would simply do things the way we wanted. There would be no assimilation to straight culture or any heteronormative constructs of any kind. We aren’t heterosexuals; we aren’t trying to pretend to replicate that construct. We are not like the norm; we are not traditional. In fact, we aren’t even part of any homo-normative construct, should such a thing exist at this time. We became keenly aware of the fact that we are just two people who wanted to be together in a certain capacity, and we had to be clever about getting there. So, here we go. Off on a journey, sans uterus, to becoming the family that we are today.
Cavelle, my partner, and I decided that although we knew this to be very antiquated and “unevolved" for 2007, we did not live together while we were dating. In fact, I had no intentions of living with my boyfriend. I would be happy to live with my partner, my life partner, my husband, but not with my boyfriend. In 2009, we tied the knot in a lovely ceremony in the not so antiquated and evolved little country to the north, Canada. It was a lovely ceremony of just us and two total strangers off the street that we asked to be our witnesses. Now, while that sounds incredibly sweet and easy, I can assure you that it wasn’t. The main thing was that we were a bonafide, legally married couple. And gay, which shouldn’t be a big deal, but it was. Hooray.
For the most part. This marriage was completely bogus in the eyes of the law and the state that we lived in, but to us it was the beginning steps to making a home for us and our future children. We had been told by a social worker that adoption would be easier for us if we were married. I guess she didn’t realize that we meant that we wanted to adopt together as a couple. She did not recognize us and our intentions. That was okay though because I have never been more excited, proud, and happy to see my partner’s face, his beaming smile and sparkly eyes on that cold July day in Toronto.
As we continued to seek recognition, we continued with our adoption process. We started this in Georgia in 2010 shortly after we had adjusted to married life and living together. We reconnected with the people that we initially questioned about adoption, the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services. We wanted to give a forever home to one of the many deserving children in foster care. We had seen tons of literature and hours of television footage for Wednesday’s Child and adopting foster children. We had prepared our hearts and minds and home for this. So we loaded up tons of paperwork and went down to start this process, to be recognized. It was at this point that we realized that recognition was a thing in all of this.
Now, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the only thing that sustained me through this harrowing process was that I was still happily co-existing on the most divine marital bliss. My spirit could not be broken. We were happily married and happily building a family. It was also at this time that Charmayne, our local DFACS social worker, realized that we were indeed a couple and were planning on parenting as such. Let the eye rolling ensue. I’m certain she was saddened by the fact that my husband was not interested in pursuing his dreams of parenting with her. Unfortunately for her, this was happening. Amidst our rose-colored perspective, we were met with the very real opposition that “being married makes it easier” should have actually been extended to “for straight people.” While it was becoming abundantly clear that we were not being recognized in this situation as a married couple, it was also becoming clear that this was going to be harder for us. Much, much harder. Not only were we not recognized as married, we had now outed ourselves as gay men “playing married” and “playing house.”
Still steeped in bliss but also aware that this was no longer a process, but a challenge, we moved forward. Over a few series of meetings and classes, we decided that the notion of fostering-to-adopt wasn’t for us. They didn’t really want us and we discovered that the process wasn’t really something that we supported because of the way it was structured in Georgia. We loaded up our forms, bid farewell to Charmayne, and regrouped. We reviewed many, many options and discovered that out of the tons of options only a few were available to us as an “openly gay adoptive couple.” We found our way! We trudged forward, we organized and reorganized, we filled out so many forms, we went through parenting classes, we did home studies, we got references, we had physicals, we proved that we were not criminals, and then we realized that we had to do everything again. Yes, that’s right, twice. Why twice? It was because that since we were not recognized as a “traditionally married couple,” we needed a whole lot of extra recognition. However, if we had just been a straight legally unmarried couple, we would not have had to do things twice because it was still “more normal than a couple of gays playing married,” as we were told.
It was at this time that my marital bliss was being eclipsed by what I am definitely calling good old-fashioned discrimination all these years later. We moved forward with more recognition seeking activities. We finally found a wonderful adoption agency, non-profit, that was at least willing to help us navigate this process and had helped gay parents before. There really was no help in that none of the extra requirements were avoidable, but they helped us feel like we were getting somewhere with all our hard work and extra hard work – hard work that was extra. After, we had completed our required tasks and seen all the straight people in our cohort of adopting families adopt their beautiful children, we had to go back and repeat the whole process again and do everything twice again, because the adoption paperwork, forms, home studies, and physicals have a shelf life. Deep breaths. Breathing in, breathing out … please recognize us.
After two years of countless hours and thousands of dollars, we were no closer to being parents than we were in 2007. We moved to a new state, redid everything again. Twice. Now four years have passed and we have been waiting in the balance patiently. I was finishing up my residency year of grad school in Georgia while my partner was starting his big new fancy job in Pennsylvania. It was not ideal, it was stressful, and it was definitely not the time to have a baby, but we remained hopeful and continued to renew, revise, revisit, review, rewrite, and re-pay for everything over and over again. This time with a new state and new rules and a new law! We were finally recognized nationally and in the state of Pennsylvania as a married couple. Our lawyers assured us that this would help us and we would finally be parents. But there was one problem: our judge. Although there were supportive laws in place, our judge overseeing our request to adopt didn’t recognize those laws. Or us. Damn you, Recognition!
It was during this time that we were coincidentally matched with a young teenaged girl who had gotten pregnant. She had remembered me from a guest teaching spot I had done with one of my colleagues where I talked about some social justice issues and mentioned my personal story of trying to be a gay parent. She sought us out and asked us to adopt her baby. She happened to be in Georgia, but we lived in Pennsylvania by this time even though I was teaching and finishing graduate school in middle Georgia. All hope was not lost! However, we were very skeptical. She could have changed her mind, this was not an agency match, and then there was that judge that we were dealing with. He was not a fan of “a family like ours.” Albeit the law, he was also able to enrich this new law of acceptance and equality by requiring lots of extra hoops and trivial assessments to make sure that we were fit to be parents of the gay variety.
2013: Clay and Cavelle's daughter's birthday
Time moved on. I finished my residency and graduated. We remained in contact with our hopeful match in Georgia for a newborn. A little girl! We grew more and more excited about the possibilities as her due date drew closer. Sadly, these were just possibilities. We were being blocked in every way in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We had amazing lawyers in both states, but it was getting down to the wire and we still were not sure that we could even adopt this little girl that we knew would be coming. As it turned out, we finally got an amazing topnotch lawyer in Georgia who helped us and legally assured us along with our other amazing personal lawyer tin Pennsylvania that we could adopt this little girl, that it would happen, that we would finally be a family. Our lawyer in Pennsylvania, Rachel Thiessen, was our angel. She recognized us. She helped us. She encouraged us. She gave us real hope. Within days, the birth mother and father notified us to let us know that the baby was coming. She was early! We instituted Operation Inter-state Adoption.
The rest of this story is pretty boring and includes lots of lawyering and even the involvement of politicians, a new judge, and more hoops. Okay, well maybe not that boring, but totally pales in comparison to being in the delivery room and bringing home a baby girl. It wasn’t nearly that easy; we had to have a lawyer present to walk out of the hospital and the lawyer had to actually take the baby out of the hospital and then hand her to us outside, wait in Georgia for 10 business days to see if the birth parents wanted to change their mind, deal with the death of two family members during this ten day period, and deal with job interviews and offers for me back in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, once we returned to our home in Pennsylvania, we had to be at the mercy of the court for ten more months before we could have an adoption hearing for our little girl. Finally, we got our day in court with the diligent work of our lawyer, Rachel, and we were a family. She may not know it, but our lawyer was everything to us in this process. I guess you could liken her to birth parents’ baby doctors, but with a whole lot more paperwork.
In the meantime, two years had passed in Pennsylvania and it was time to move again for us. We were luckily being moved back to Georgia. There were still some bumps and glitches and trials and tribulations from our daughter’s final adoption hearing to her new birth certificate to her social security number, but we managed. All of that was finally done, and our family was complete. Five years, two months, and a few days later, we had finally gotten recognized. Two states recognized us as married and parents in a country that now recognized us as the same, and we were recognized as viable adoptive parents in most circles. We are recognized as our daughter’s parents at her school, and we are recognized as being our daughter’s parents by her doctors. We are recognized by our friends and family members as a legitimate family. We have so much recognition. But there is nothing more amazing and awesome than walking into a room and being recognized by this precious little girl who loves her papa and her daddy more than words can describe. That’s really all the recognition these two old gay parents ever wanted. I can truly say that I feel completely recognized in many ways. Validated. Worthy.