Category Archives: Family Values

Need Reader Feedback

Hi folks.

I am going to be closing down this blog in the next several weeks. There are many reasons for this, but I won’t get into them now.

What I would like to do, however, is compile the most useful posts into categories and bind them under an e-cover for download in case really, really interested folks still want to read them, or share them with others.

This is the compromise I’ve come to between just shutting down OR leaving the blog archives sitting here forever.

What I would love from you is some nominations for posts you’d like to see preserved in e-book form. I will try to edit and/or update any posts that go into that format, so if your favorite one is old and needs some revision that’s okay too.

I have in mind a total of say, 100 posts.

Help? (Please leave your suggestions in the comments so people can see each others’ okay?)

 

P.S. I’m also taking some of the posts from this blog (mostly since 2009) and backfilling Muse of Fire with them. So much of the more recent material will still be on a blog.

Veronica Won’t be a “Baby” Forever

This is cross-posted from BlogHer, where it was originally published last Tuesday:

After the Supreme Court decided against a biological father in the so-called “Baby Veronica” case two months ago, I found myself worried not just for the family in the case, but for adoption in general. Adoption is riddled with misunderstanding and the mainstream media tends to exacerbate the problem rather than clarifying.

Now Veronica’s father has failed to return her to the adoptive couple that won the Supreme Court case, has been arrested, paid his bail and is currently somewhere unknown, presumably with his daughter. Now the would-be adoptive parents are using language like “holding her captive” and claiming to “fear for her safety and well-being,” though Veronica has been in her father’s custody, happy, and healthy, for close to two years.

This case has been rife with misunderstanding, and its high profile can only lead to more confusion among people not personally knowledgeable about adoption. Rather than leap into an argument for what I believe ought to be the case’s outcome, I want to focus here on clarifying what I see as three major misunderstandings the coverage of this case has perpetuated:

1. Misunderstanding of how legal adoption works
2. Misunderstanding of the ICWA and its purpose
3. Misunderstanding of what is in the “best interest” of children

First, the would-be adoptive parents of Veronica (no longer a baby) knew that this adoption was questionable from an early date after Veronica’s placement with them. While Veronica was still a young infant, it became clear that the adoption was not perhaps, legal or likely to be finalized because of the father’s interest in parenting her.

But importantly, the adoption was not yet final at that time. So in spite of headlines declaring that Veronica was “adopted” at birth, she was not. In my long experience of adoption study, I have never, ever heard of an adoption being final “at birth.” Babies may be placed with prospective adoptive families at birth, but adoptions typically take about six months to become final, and these six months include follow-up visits from social workers and legal work at court.

Veronica’s hopeful adoptive parents were indeed caring for her as their daughter in her infancy, but she was not legally theirs yet.

Second, the law the father has used to fight this adoption placement (which happened against his will and most likely without his full understanding, depending on who you believe in the reports, and I believe him), the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), is a matter of American Indian sovereignty, not of racial identity, as the press has widely misled us to understand.

The ICWA was enacted as a correction to and a protection against the all-but kidnapping (sometimes, indeed, literal kidnapping) of American Indian children and their placement in white families or (more often) “boarding schools” or other institutions that basically forced them to assimilate to white culture and cut them off from their heritage and communities.

The ICWA gives a tribe legal sovereignty over where its children in need are placed for care. Typically there is a hierarchy in which immediate family members are first, extended families are next, any tribal member is next, any American Indian is next and last, after these are exhausted — and only with the tribe’s approval — an Indian child can be placed outside an Indian home.

This hierarchy was hardly exhausted in Veronica’s case. In fact, her own father, as soon as he knew she was being adopted by out-of-state strangers, wanted to parent her.

Third, there is a problem in this case that comes up in adoption in general, even when there is no bitter custody battle. Veronica (again, not a baby) is bound to develop her own perspective on it all. And what is going to be best for her overall healthy development as a person?

To me, the answer is obvious. When a biological parent is ready, willing and able to raise a child he clearly loves, and has a two-year track record of doing just that, and doing it well, there is absolutely no excuse for moving her from his home to the home of out-of-state strangers who claim her based on an at-risk hopeful adoption placement that they knew was problematic since Veronica was an infant, and before her adoption was final.

Would it be heart-rending to give up a baby you had been caring for as your own for three or four months? I have no doubt of this. I am an adoptive mother myself and both my children were placed in my care at birth. Legally final adoptions or not, they felt very much like my babies — no, they indeed were my babies — the minute I held them each for the first time.

But.

Is it okay to essentially steal someone else’s baby because you love her? No. Nor is it a particularly loving thing to do.

I still maintain that as soon as her prospective adoptive parents discovered the legal and interpersonal complications of this case, they should have handed Veronica (then an actual baby who might have had enough resilience to thrive in spite of the disruption) to her father and wished them all well. Would that have been hard? Absolutely. But if we are going to romanticize the relinquishment of babies to adoption as a “loving, selfless” sacrifice on the part of birth parents (and we do, all the time) why is it that these hopeful adoptive parents shouldn’t be expected to do the same with grace?

A legal trick is not what should decide this case — as in: when did Veronica’s father sign away his rights and did he know what he was doing? A decision about which adults ought to have more rights is not what should decide this case. What should decide this case is Veronica’s right to her father.

“Best interest” should not be about which parent lives in the better neighborhood, has the better school to offer or takes the most expensive vacations. If that were the grounds for deciding where children should be, would you (if you are a parent) be allowed to keep yours if your wealthiest friend took a shine to them and decided to sue you for custody?

If we can agree that people of any socio-economic class who provide for their children adequately and lovingly deserve to raise them in their own families and communities, we must look elsewhere to decide where a child should be when a contest like this comes along. And when I listen to adopted people (who are no longer babies), they tend to say that they have a right to their biological heritage when it is available.

Adoption disrupts families. No matter how loving and stable the new family, the original family is forever broken. This should be prevented whenever possible. A child with an enthusiastic, loving and fit parent has no reason to be adopted.

Veronica has known her father as her father now, for two years. She will be four years old next month. She has a right, not only to the stable family she has known for probably, all of her conscious life, but to the biological connections that are available to her.

Importantly, Veronica is not a baby anymore and from here on out, she will do nothing but grow in knowledge and understanding of what is happening to her. If her adoptive parents end up with custody, I hope they are ready to answer an angry teenager when she googles herself and asks them, “Why did you take me from my daddy?”

I find it hard to swallow that “we love you” will be enough for her.

Not in My Name, or, Whiteness Goddam

In the days immediately following the George Zimmerman acquittal I was in a state of shock. I wasn’t alone. I was stuck home with children too young to take to after-bedtime demonstrations, so I sat in front of my computer and tweeted with like-minded, grieving, angry fellow travelers.

But now that a few days have passed, I have moved from my sense of helpless, hopeless horror to my version of an action phase. I’m going to share it with you, and perhaps you’d like to join me, or if it doesn’t apply to you, you might pass it on to a friend to whom it does.

As a white woman, I feel a special responsibility (I almost wrote “culpability” and I’m not sure that’s far from wrong) regarding this case. I’m not saying it’s my personal fault, but my “identity” (not necessarily one I choose, but one that is put upon me by everyone who looks at me) is an enormous working piece of the machine that killed Trayvon and denied his family justice.

Because of this, when I first heard about the makeup of the Zimmerman jury, I was really, really worried. I hoped against hope that maybe being moms of teens might help these women empathize with Trayvon. But (especially after hearing from the anonymous juror on CNN), we all know that didn’t happen.

The fact is, throughout U.S. history—especially after the Civil War—white women have been the rhetorical foil white men have used to justify violence and terrorism against Black men. In the 1880s and 1890s there were several lynchings of Black men per month. In fact, in some years of those decades there were three or four lynchings per week. The overall “reason” given for these lynchings by almost everyone in the press—even in the Black press, which decried lynching but didn’t always challenge the accusations leading to it—was the rape of white women.

But Ida B. Wells (my favorite dead person of all time), challenged this claim by investigating every lynching she could, finding that in fact only 30% of lynchings were actually claimed to be about rape, and that very few of those actually were rape cases. (Many of the cases involving sex between Black men and white women, were in fact consensual relationships, as Wells pointed out, garnering death threats for her pointed honesty.)

No one accused Trayvon Martin of rape. But the icon of the threatening, always-already criminal Black boy or man is an icon perhaps not invented, but certainly refined, in the heyday of Strange Fruit, and is made out of white men’s need for sexual (well, and everything else) control of white women. This is well accounted for. Just go watch D.W. Griffith’s Birth of Nation  and you will see the story unfold there just a few years past the height of the lynching era. In that film, anxiety about white men’s loss of political and economic control to Black men is finally too much to bear when control of white women’s sexuality is added to the pile of straws.

So when George Zimmerman assumed, based on appearance that Trayvon was a criminal, a big part of why he assumed it was this history of Black boys and men being considered threats to white women. Sadly, though it’s been nearly sixty years, the twisted logic that made Emmett Till’s life worthless and let his murders go free has done the same to Trayvon.

I say 150 years (at least) of being used as an excuse to terrorize Black boys and men is enough. I’m out. I’m a white woman and I am not afraid of Black boys and men. If some white man is afraid for me, well…he needs to learn to be afraid of me. Because I’m not taking it any more.

How do I change one of the keystones of white supremacy all by my little self?

Fine, I can’t. But I can sure kick against it with all I’ve got and if you’re a white woman, you can join me and recruit all your white female friends to join too.

It is time (way past time) for white women to ally with Black boys and men with all our hearts and minds, with every shred of power we’ve got, and when it comes to this issue, we’ve got more than most of us realize.

Here are a few small things we white women can do almost every day to fight the ideology that Black boys and men are our worst enemies and to refuse anymore to be theirs:

1. Stop using the phrase “I was the only white person there.” It’s code for some kind of perception of vulnerability at best, real threat or danger at worst. But the truth is, if you’re the only white person somewhere, you’re likely to be a guest, and treated as such. If you stumbled into the “wrong” neighborhood, the history above should assure you that you are perceived to be a threat–much more so than a target.

But when you say, “I was the only white person there” with no other context for why this was relevant, you are leaning on that history to explain what being there meant. You are underscoring the idea that generally, Black people are a threat to white people and specifically that Black men and boys are a threat to white women.

Besides not saying this yourself, you can refuse to support it with your silence when other people are saying it.

When you hear someone toss the “I was the only one…” line into conversation, stop the speaker and say, “what’s your point?”

This will either force the speaker to unveil the racism behind the phrase, or to be clearer about why race legitimately mattered in the situation.

This isn’t the only phrase of this kind. What are some others you hear in what seem to the speaker to be white-only conversations? Interrupt them whenever you can.

2. Make a friend. No, your Black friend won’t be your get-out-of-racism free card. (And trying to wield it as one will lose you your Black friends fast. Because doing that is racist.) But let’s face it, if you DON’T have any black friends, you’ve got a problem. (I’m talking to U.S. Americans who live in the U.S. here, not the people of Iceland.) And everyone knows that the best kind of friends not only reflect our sense of self back to us, but challenge our sense of self, stretch us to empathize with others’ experiences and teach us new skills and ideas.

Real, honest, vulnerable friendships (based on something other than “hey you’re Black and I need a Black friend!” of course) are always valuable. When they are made across the boundaries society polices the most, they can help undo the implicit bias everyone in our culture carries around. (According to this research, seeing anti-stereotypical images helps combat implicit bias. What’s more anti-stereotypical than a true friend?)

Meanwhile, cross the daily thoughtless, race boundaries society has erected whenever the opportunity comes your way. Smile, and say hello to the Black man in front of you in the grocery store line, look those Black teen boys in the eye when they pass you on the street (whatever you do, don’t cross the street!), sit by a Black man, instead of another white woman, on the bus.

Seek out integrated spaces as much as possible. Don’t settle for the easy thoughtless comfort of being around a bunch of other white people. Try putting yourself in the minority often enough that you learn to be comfortable there.

3. Stop identifying with whiteness. I don’t mean stop allowing yourself to be labeled white by the census or the law or whatever, but to identify with whiteness within yourself. Identifying with whiteness is a pillar of white supremacy. Whiteness was made up. It didn’t fall from heaven decreed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You may have to be it in the eyes of others and ironically, in working to undo it you must acknowledge the unearned privilege it gives you. But you don’t have to give a flying fig Newton about it, yourself. You don’t have to take the wrong side in historical stories, for example.

Back when I was teaching race in U.S. history and culture to college students, the white ones would eventually come to me all distressed that “white” people had done such terrible things in U.S. history. Half these kids’ families weren’t even in  the U.S. at the time of some of the events that troubled them. I told them there was no reason to identify with Thomas Jefferson and no reason not to identify with Frederick Douglass. Your heroes should be the people who share your values, not your melanin levels.

Again, I’m not saying Jefferson didn’t set it up sweet for you if you are white nowadays and you must acknowledge that, but you can be proud to be a U.S. American because of the heritage you share with others–a heritage that includes people like Harriet Tubman and W.E.B. DuBois.

TrayvonMartinHoodedDo you have any personal examples of how you’ve carried out any of the things on my list? Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? Please share them in the comments. It’s time we U.S American white women got together to form a ring of love and protection around our Black boys. But first, we have to recognize that they are ours.

Watch Out World, There Are Two Cates Online

My brother started blogging. He just couldn’t hold back after receiving a letter from his congressman assuring him of all his (congressman’s) hard work to end Obamacare.

Go say hi and tell him I sent you.

Whiplash at the Supreme Court: An Excerpt

“…how am I to feel when the Supreme Court decides today that my partner and I could potentially be legally married, but my daughters—both Black—had their future voting rights threatened by the striking down of a key aspect of the 1965 Voting Rights Act yesterday?

I am cynical enough to think that we won the right to (sort of) marry because queers are imagined as white and middle, or upper-class, like Ellen Degeneres or Anderson Cooper. Those people are comfortably familiar enough to Supreme Court-types to “deserve” civil rights, whereas poor southern Black grandmothers without driver’s licenses to show at the polls aren’t as obviously deserving of a vote.

It’s this imaginary idea—along with the racist notion that all Black people are homophobic–that is too often wielded to divide and conquer us as minority groups with many interests in common. But queer rights and the rights of racial minorities are not in competition. If we pit them against each other, we all lose.”

For more, head over to BlogHer.

Happy Father’s Day

Thinking about my Dad this weekend.

Just Another Purim-Themed Picture Book about Gay Dads and Aliens

The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner
The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner

Because I am exceptionally lucky, I have known Els Kushner for several years, via the magic of the Internet. When I heard that her first picture book was finally released, I was eager to see the final results of something I got to watch happening behind the scenes. It was as terrific as I expected. Now I’m eager to share it with you.

I asked Els to tell Lesbian Family about herself and the book. Enjoy the results below. And be sure to order a copy of The Purim Superhero in e-format, paperback or hardcover. You have just enough time before Purim, on 25 February this year.

1. Tell us about yourself. Who are you, what do you do, how did you become interested in writing for children?

Oh, I’m just another Jewish lesbian librarian/writer/parent who plays the ukulele and periodically attempts to garden. I’m a kid person and a kids’ book person, so I guess it makes sense that I became a children’s librarian. I’m from New York and New Jersey and Seattle and, now, Vancouver, where I live with my spouse and our daughter and a lot of books and musical instruments and small plastic items. I’m addicted to text in all forms, from fiction to old New Yorkers to podcasts. I stay up too late on a regular basis.

I’ve written lots of things, for years, short stories and blog posts and bits of novels and what have you. I think people tend to write about they’re interested in, what their thoughts and feelings revolve around, even if their writing isn’t directly autobiographical. And for me, the experience of childhood and adolescence is endlessly fascinating: life is so vivid when you’re a kid, so many things are new, and you’re also so powerless and subject to the whims of the adult world. I also really like stories about community, and when writing about kids there’s a sort of automatic community a lot of the time, as they’re often in school or other groups.
2. This book began as a contest. Tell us a bit about that. What were the perimeters of the competition and what was the process like?

In early 2011, Keshet sponsored a contest for an 800-to-1000-word picture book manuscript with both Jewish and GLBT content. The contest description specified that the storyline shouldn’t be primarily didactic, and that it should have “clear, clever and interesting narrative plot with universal themes and Jewish content.”

The process of writing the manuscript had in some ways started years before I saw that contest announcement, when I was a librarian at a Jewish day school, and was looking for books to read to my students for Purim. Purim is a Jewish holiday that takes place in February or March; its customs include reading the Book of Esther aloud, dressing in costume, eating cookies called Hamentaschen, and generally being silly. It’s a very kid-friendly holiday, but–maybe because, unlike Chanukah or Passover, it doesn’t correspond with any major Christian holidays that take place at the same time of year –I couldn’t find any good read-alouds at that time that told the story of a contemporary kid celebrating Purim. (There are a few more now, but there weren’t then.)

After a few years of thinking, “sheesh, someone should write a good Purim picture book,” I thought, “maybe I should write a Purim picture book.” I noodled around with that idea a little, but I couldn’t really figure out what the driving conflict would be. Then, a few years later, I saw the Keshet contest and thought that a kid with same-sex parents would be a great protagonist for a Purim story.

The final part of the equation came when I had a writing date with a couple of friends one day while I was working on the manuscript, and one of them brought her 8-year-old son along. I was grousing to my friends about how stuck I was, and how I couldn’t figure out what kind of a problem my protagonist should have, and my friend’s son got very caught up in this question and started giving me these amazing suggestions about how aliens and monkeys should come take over the “Jewish church” and have a big fight…he got really into it and was drawing pictures of the great alien-vs.-monkey battle while we were writing. I was struck by how original and quirky his imagination was, and how a kid like him, with strong and individual interests, might have a problem fitting in with his peers, but how that kind of difference, like gayness, or Judaism, could also be a source of strength. Nate’s interest in aliens is inspired by, and a tribute to, him.

After that, my biggest problem was getting the manuscript down to the requisite 1,000 words; I think I went through six or seven drafts. I’m pretty verbose normally (as you can probably tell by my answers to these questions!), so that was tough.


3. You are a lesbian parent. Does Nate’s experience with peer pressure to fit in come from your own experience as a mom in a same-sex headed family?

My experience as a mom in a same-sex-headed family has mostly been pretty undramatic. We’ve been lucky enough to live in communities where being a lesbian parent is accepted as a pretty ordinary thing 99% of the time, and the few times it hasn’t been, well, I’ve experienced that as the other person’s problem, not mine.

I’d say Nate’s experience with peer pressure comes more from my own childhood as a sort of nerdy, bookish kid who had different interests from most kids my age. I had a lot less confidence than Nate, so I dealt with that experience by being pretty shy and withdrawn. I think it takes a very solid sense of yourself to do what Nate does and maintain your individuality while acknowledging and honoring that deep desire to be part of a group.

I also wanted to explore, a little bit, the way that gender expectations for boys of Nate’s age—about 4 or 5—are in many ways so much narrower than for girls. My experience from working with preschool and elementary-school aged kids, and from being a parent, is that there’s more tolerance for girls rejecting traditionally “girly” things than for boys who aren’t deemed sufficiently interested in things that mainstream boys are supposed to like. And a lot of the time, it’s other kids who are doing the gender policing. So a story about a girl who, say, didn’t want to dress up as a princess would’ve had a very different feeling and, I think, might not have been as dramatic.


4. I loved the connection the book makes between Esther coming out of the “closet” of Jewishness and Nate’s anxiety about expressing who he really is. That’s quite a sophisticated connection and a wonderful theological point. Do you find overlaps in your own life between voicing your Jewishness and your lesbianism?

Both Jewishness and queerness are identities where you sometimes have to “come out”—they’re not so immediately apparent, in general, as race or gender, so there’s an element of choice in whether to identify publicly as part of that particular group. In my life, right now, they’re both identities where a lot of the time I’m part of a small minority: the neighborhood where I live, for example, doesn’t have either a large Jewish or GLBT community, and many of the friends and co-workers I see on a regular basis are neither queer nor Jewish. I guess, like Nate, these are aspects of my identity that in many ways aren’t the driving forces in my daily life right now—I spend a lot more time and energy actively thinking about being a parent, or a librarian, or a writer, than I do about being a lesbian. But at the same time, my lesbianism and my Jewishness are so central to who I am.

Both are also communities or groups that have been historically oppressed but that I experience as a gift—I’ve always loved being Jewish, and as an adult, I’ve found a lot of strength and creativity and just general wonderfulness in the lesbian community and in claiming a lesbian identity.


5. The illustrations for the book are just the best. Can you tell us what it’s like to work with an illustrator for your words? It seems like a relationship requiring a lot of trust.

I love the illustrations too! Mike Byrne has really captured Nate’s sweetness and individuality.  One little-known fact about picture books is that usually the author has little or nothing to do with the illustration process; generally the publisher selects the illustrator, and they and the illustrator work together to determine the visual component of the book. That was the case with The Purim Superhero: I was sent some early drafts of the drawings, but mostly I didn’t know what the art would be like until I saw the finished book. It was a little bit like meeting someone in person for the first time who you’ve only known through emails and blogging—even though I’d created these characters, I felt like I understood them on a whole other level when I saw the finished illustrations.


6. What’s next for you? Do you have any more picture books up your sleeve? What about other writing you are working on?

I’ve been working on a picture book set during another Jewish holiday, Shavuot. One of the customs of Shavuot is to stay up all through the night and study, and another is to eat dairy foods like blintzes and cheesecake, and I think the combination of staying up late and eating cheesecake could be really appealing to a kid.

And when I entered the manuscript for The Purim Superhero to the Keshet contest in 2011, I’d just finished a very rough first draft for a young adult novel that’s sort of a sequel to a short story I wrote a long time ago. The story was published in an anthology called The Essential Bordertown, which is part of a shared-world series about a city between the human world and Faerie. The story, and the novel I started, are both about a girl who runs away to Bordertown after she’s been involuntarily outed at school, and falls in love with another girl there. I was having a hard time revising the draft, and then I found out that I’d won the Keshet contest, and what with one thing and another that rough novel draft is still sitting on the side of my desk, with more and more files and books and bits of random detritus piled on top of it. I give it sort of a look every once in a while and promise the characters I’ll get back to them and work on their story and make everything better, if they’ll please, please just be patient a little longer.

Cross-posted at LesbianFamily.com