Fellow Vietnamese adoptee, friend and hero, Indigo Willing has been kind enough to offer a few thoughts to make up for my lack blogging. Same sex adoption is a subject that I rarely speak about on my blog, but I think it’s a subject that deserves our input as adoptees. Thank you, Indigo!
The Same Sex Adoption Issue – Challenging Prejudices and Improving Collaborations
–by Indigo Willing OAM.
The question of what adopted people think of Gay and Lesbian
adoptions is most timely and the issue deserves our deep
consideration. Before I detail six particular thoughts I have on
the matter, I feel it’s important to disclose that I do not have any
personal experience of being adopted by Gay or Lesbian parents. My
interest in the topic arises from a social justice perspective, from
being an adoptee and from my professional work researching the wider
topic of adoptive parenting.
My first thought is that I think it’s important to commend people
like Sume – who amongst others, shows much resourcefulness, courage
and community spirit in gathering her cohorts’ views and experiences
with adoptions. Adopted people hold remarkable personal insights into
the practice and are also steadily building up additional
professional and academic expertise in the area.
My second thought is that, personally, I am very keen to see
Heterosexuals, Gays, Lesbians, Bi-sexuals, Queers and Transgender
(GLBQT) populations ALL collaborating with adopted people under the
common aim of developing a range of strategies to improve the well
being of children who are adopted from overseas.
Thirdly, and this thought cannot be made clear without some back up
details, is that I think there is a need to identify and then resist
how a lot of the moral discussions, as well as much of the political
discourse that opposes Gay and Lesbian adoptions, almost always
relies on reproducing damaging stereotypes and myths about non-
heterosexuals. Sadly, there are many arguments against non-
heterosexual adoptions that ignore the body of sociological and
psychological literature that demonstrates how the presumption that
children with parents who are same-sex attracted will fare worse than
those raised by heterosexuals has no scientific basis.
For example, an upcoming article in The Gay and Lesbian Issues and
Psychology (GLIP) Review journal by Philip Duffey, a legal scholar,
directs us to the work of Jenni Millbank who revealed in a 1998 study
that, to date, there is not “a single social scientist conducting and
publishing research in the area of children’s development who claims
to have found that gay and lesbian parents harm children”. She does
however, observe how the “data is often ignored or overlooked in
favour of the speculative view”. Damien Riggs, an Australian scholar
in psychology, has also published work that assists with moving past
the myths and exploring more informed assessments. Across the
Pacific, Suzanne Johnson and Elizabeth O’Conner’s psychological
research on Gay and Lesbian adoptions in a 2002 study in American
also stands as one of the more recent efforts to break through the
prejudice and stereotypes and instead focus on proper data.
My fourth thought is that there is a need to gain a further
understanding into what the current laws on adoption by Gay and
Lesbian populations actually are, and to learn from overviews that
are more detailed than those provided by newspapers and other media
reports. The problem is that very few researchers have been able to
clearly communicate the legal intricacies of the issue, and
outline the status of same-sex attracted people’s rights in a
comprehensive yet easy to understand manner. Such work is absolutely
necessary if the general public are to be able to truly understand
issues of rights for Gay and Lesbian populations in matters of
parenting and adoption.
My fifth thought, following insights from adopted colleagues such as
Lynelle Beveridge (founder of the Intercountry Adoptee Support
Network) is that adoption is a complex field, and that we should
continue to be open to considering a much broader and richer number
of approaches in adoption rather than thinking there’s one magic
answer. In addition, because there are multiple ways that people can
experience adoptions we need to always stay aware of how the numerous identities that can come into play are currently subject to an unfair hierarchy of privilege in society. Thus, there remains a need to identify and understand how the politics of (White) Gay and Lesbian adoptions in Australia, while marginalized, still intersects with wider questions of race and class privilege (as with White heterosexual ones).
The point here is that there is an enormous gap in access to power
between those who are most likely to adopt and those who are adopted;
this is particularly the case with inter-country adoptions.
Questions of power and their connections to Gay and Lesbian adoptions
that are transracial and inter-country can be explored in more depth
in some of the emerging literature by authors such as Damien Riggs,
David Eng, Laura Briggs and (transracially adoptive parent and
Lesbian) Arlene Ari Istar Lev.
Finally, my sixth thought concerns the need to continue to work with
adopted people themselves. Whilst the use of sociological and
psychological literature on the levels of self-esteem and social
identifications of adoptees works well to reveal how negative
attitudes towards Gay and Lesbian adoptions have no ‘rational’ basis,
I do not believe that the best interests of children who are adopted
across perceived lines of ‘racial’ and ethnic difference can be
easily assessed by some of the more traditional (colour-blind)
research approaches used to date.
Thankfully, a number of social scientists and particularly
sociologists and anthropologists are now beginning to learn from the
advice, research and general life-experiences of adopted people.
Texts that are authored by adult adoptees include a growing body of
academic and creative literature, as well as personal narratives and
memoirs by those who were adopted by Whites (mostly heterosexuals but can include people who are same-sex attracted) and have now reached maturity. What is important to note is that this body of work clearly reveals that for many adopted people their sense of well-being went awry due to a politics of identity in their families and society based on perceived racial and ethnic/cultural differences; this is separate from any impact that their adoptive parents’ or own sexual identifications might have had on their identity. The question of how to best work with cultural biases in adopted people’s birth countries also needs to be worked upon (rather than being allocated to the ‘too hard’ or ‘impossible’ basket) with adopted people and a
range of others.
In closing, I think a good way forward is to resist subjecting GLBQT
populations who wish to adopt to old stereotypes or measuring them to
heterosexual notions of parenting. Instead, everyone should be trying
to improve the practice of caring for children in general through
seeking more collaborative approaches and by referring to
contemporary research rather than outdated and damaging speculation.
I look forward to seeing a task force on this topic eventuate and am
open to hearing more about how adopted people (who are also parents)
like myself can offer their support.
Ms Indigo Willing is a doctoral candidate (sociology) at The
University of Queensland in Australia. Her dissertation is explores
the experiences of adoptive parents with children from Africa and
Asia. Willing is also a Vietnamese adoptee and founder of Adopted