How This Transracial Family Creates a 'Safe Space' to Talk About Their Differences
Kevin and David know they can never understand what it's like growing up as a young black girl — but they strive to create a 'safe space' for their daughters to talk about the experience
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of ongoing posts exploring issues related to transracial families headed by gay, bi and trans men. Interested in being featured as part of the series? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Is adopting a child whose race and culture is different from your own something that us queer dads need to talk about? Share our experiences? Learn from others? We've been hearing from our community, and the answer has been a resounding, "yes."
With over one-fifth (21.4%) of same-sex couples raising adopted children in the United States today (compared to 3% of different-sex couples), it's highly likely, at the very least, that those families are transcultural. According to April Dinwoodie, Chief Executive of The Donaldson Adoption Institute, Inc., all adoptive families are transcultural. "All, in my opinion, adoptions are transcultural because there are no two families' culture that is exactly the same, even if you went as far as to get very specific about the family of origin and the family of experience and almost make it cookie-cutter … no two families operate the same."
While statistics are scarce around the percentage of same-sex couples creating transracial families through adoption and foster care, we do know that they occur more often than in heterosexual adoptive families, and even more so amongst interracial gay couples.
When we asked our community on Instagram if they were raising kids whose race was different from their own, 43% responded "yes." So we wanted to learn more about their experiences. Here's the first family's story in our series of gay dad transracial families.
One of Kevin Patterson's first worries about transracial adoption was when he thought about if his children would feel included by a family that looked different to them. Kevin, 36, and his husband David Patterson, 41, are two white dads to two daughters of Jamaican background through adoption. This forever family lives in Phoenix, Arizona. "We also had concerns regarding how they would be addressed in the school system knowing they were from a very diverse situation — multi-racial family, adopted, and having two dads."
Prior to becoming a parent, the dads attended mandatory training classes provided by their adoption agency to help prepare them for specific considerations for transracial families. "[The] training classes helped us work through common issues that could arise when placing kids in a new home." The also opened up a dialogue between Kevin and David regarding different situations they could encounter — and have — as a transracial family. "I do think it is important to talk about inclusiveness in these training classes. Diversity is critical, but inclusiveness is what supports the assimilation process as a family."
When it comes to the topic of race at home, the dads don't shy away from it. "We discuss it weekly, if not daily," says Kevin. "My daughters are constantly facing challenges growing up in a world that has not always been kind to people of color. They deal with hurtful comments that aren't always malicious, yet still bring up feelings of separateness. We work through those situations as a family, teaching our daughters how to stay empowered and how to educate those who don't understand.
As their daughters become older, the conversations at home have increased. "The older they get, the more conversations we have because their world views get more mature. We talk about about racism, micro-aggressions, equality and equity, and how to arm yourself with information that preserves your dignity and confidence."
Have the Patterson's encountered racism? "Yes, unfortunately, many times," shared Kevin. "We were in a supermarket, and a woman approached us and said in front of our kids, 'How dare you guys raise these kids in a family like that. Gay people are no place for kids to grow up.' She went on to use religion to shame us and accused us of 'turning our kids white' in order for them to fit in. She followed us to our car, shouting the whole time. We talked about it with the girls when we got home and explained how the fear of what we don't know or understand can cause someone to act inappropriate or mean-spirited, yet we reminded them they never have to accept that kind of verbal attack."
Some of the ways that this forever family celebrate their daughters' culture is by attending festivals, celebrating different cultures, visiting ethnic restaurants and seeking out diverse friends and families to share experiences. "It's important they know there are other kids in similar families out there."
Honoring their natural hair has been another. "Our journey with caring for their hair bonds us together because they know we went to great lengths to honor their natural hair. Even when we accidentally don't style it perfectly, they still know we care enough to help them keep it in a way they are proud to wear. We also just listen to their experiences and provide advice when they ask. I don't know what its like being a black, female teenager, adopted, and living with two dads. Therefore, I never assume I know how she internalizes it. I let her tell me by creating a safe space."
But what they feel is the most important is finding role models that look like them. "For us, it has been helping them find positive role models that look like they do and reflect back the possibilities they are hoping are available to them. We also intentionally reinforce the importance of staying authentic and true to oneself."
For dads considering a transracial adoption, Kevin and David has some words of wisdom. "Listen to [your kids]. Let them tell you what its like, how they're feeling, and what they need from you. Let them explore who they are and how they want identify with their culture. Finally, just love them through it. They will most likely always feel different or misunderstood, but they can learn to create a safe space with where they can just be."
"I've learned more about myself from them than I thought they would learn from me. They are my biggest mirrors."