Friday, April 03, 2015

The Problems with Adoption

I am a person who looked into adoption after I found out that I wouldn't be able to have another child. I desperately desired to raise another child, to have a sibling for my child, to give all of the economic advantages that my partner and I had to offer. First we looked into adoption overseas. We found out that this is an industry where children, the vast majority of whom are people of color, are often needlessly taken out of their communities and extended families and sold to affluent people around the world (mostly in white-dominated Western nations that are responsible for the social conditions that lead to families seeing no other choice than to give up their children). So, that was just too unethical for me to participate in. I couldn't justify taking a child out of their culture just to satisfy my own desires for my life.

So, we started looking into adopting here (Turtle Island aka "The USA"). Well, it turns out that the same thing is true here. It's an industry. Children are shuffled around for the sake of personal and corporate profit. The racial aspects of it are just horrific. As a Black Indigenous woman, I have seen how quickly the state will take a child of color from their family, even when there are plenty of extended family members who would gladly care for their kin. This happens while white families are given multiple opportunities to keep their children even when abuse has been proven. Those who do lose their children usually have multiple chances to get those children back. The same can not be said for families without white privilege. The majority of kids in foster care aren't orphans and the majority do have family members outside of the system. The same money used to warehouse and incarcerate them in "group homes" and "foster homes" could be used to keep kids in their own family. Of course, the state doesn't have anything to gain by that, nor do the other organizations and businesses that depend on this corrupt system of child trafficking.

The Lakota People's Law Project is doing excellent work to address this issue. They are a great starting point if you want to learn what's going on.

You know, something I've admired is the way that many majority-Muslim countries deal with these issues. Even when kids are taken care of people outside of their immediate family, they keep their names and identities. They still have the same rights of inheritance, which means you don't wind up with situations where a person gives up one child who ends up poor and then leaves everything to the children they keep.

I also prefer community solutions. If a person really cares about children, there will always be children they can care for. There's no limit on the number of people who can love and care for a child. We really don't NEED to remove them from everyone they know in order to share in the joys of raising them. In my faith tradition, we have "godparents". Even adults who are baptized into the faith are given godparents. These godparents are responsible for both the spiritual AND emotional and physical well-being of the person they are committing to. It creates family ties instead of destroying them like adoption does. My child's godparents have no children of their own. They dote on hir. If there is anything going on in my child's life, they are there. They are whiter than the driven snow, but they have made themselves an integral part of my child's life. I no longer have to worry about who would look out for my child if something happened to me. I don't have to worry about if my child needed something but didn't feel comfortable turning to me. With me, they ensure that my child will NEVER lack for somewhere to live, food to eat, loving arms to turn to no matter what's going on.

The thing is, all of these things can be done without the religious aspects. There's no reason why we can not create family ties that increase the support systems that children can rely on. There's no shortage of kids who have parents who would welcome extra mommy and daddy figures in their child's life. I don't know a parent in the world who wouldn't want an extra reliable and responsible adult in their life who can be trusted to watch the kids, have them visit over the summer or weekends or for no reason at all, make sure someone is there for open house night as school, join the cheering section in the audience when the child stars in the school play or football game, help with buying school supplies or just pretty trinkets that the kids these days like to have.

We're really only limited by our willingness to sacrifice our own preferences for the sake of children growing up with more love in their life. I've found it very fulfilling to work as a caregiver for two young people who are disabled. This satisfies that part of my heart that still wants to play a mothering role even though my own child has grown up. You can have what you want without participating in the exploitation of kidnapped and trafficked children.

Gender Stories

Today, someone in my social circle shared this article: I Was a Transgender Woman

Here's a different "story". It's just as real. It's the story of my family.

My kid always loved being naked as a kid. That kid would take off hir diaper or anything else the second I wasn't looking. When ze did have to wear clothes, ze would wear any combination of clothes without any concern for their intended use or targeted consumer. Because I loved my child, ze was allowed to wear what made hir happy except for when we went to religious services 3 times a week. This unwillingness to make clothes something we fought over made it possible for my child to make hir artistic flair apparent from very early on.

In Louisiana Creole culture, girls are expected to look like baby dolls. I preferred to let my child get hir hands dirty catching frogs (and returning them to where they were found), making frybread, using my fingernail polish to "dazzle up" everything ze could get hir naughty little paws on. I refused to limit my child's ability to explore the world around hir for the sake of other people's ideas of what a girl was supposed to do. I taught hir that girls could do ANYTHING. We have women in our family who are doctors, attorneys, politicians, teachers, stay at home moms, nurses, et cetera. In fact, the women tend to have more formal education than the men. Women play a very significant role in our Indigenous cultures and girls are prized and pampered.

Since Indigenous women are so often sexually assaulted, ze was guarded like a hawk. My mother had been assaulted as a child and so had I. We wanted to make sure my child never experienced that. Thankfully, we were successful. I never had to leave hir with strangers until ze was old enough to talk and once ze could talk, ze was armed with strategies for dealing with adults that made hir uncomfortable. We lived in a wonderful neighborhood in a four bedroom house in the suburbs as an extended family, so my child was surrounded by aunts, uncles, and grandparents who doted on hir. Ze went to a very exclusive and expensive preschool. Ze went to school with children from around the world and ze was allowed to express hir creative desires. Ze went to one of the city's most exclusive elementary schools where ze had French lessons and swimming lessons and plenty of play time. Even in the schools ze went to, ze was in both the Gifted and Talented programs which meant that ze received the very best that these schools had to offer. Ze starred in community plays, had hir art exhibited in state buildings and galleries across our region. Ze was a professional artist starting in middle school.

In other words, ze has had the life that many parents in this country wish they could provide for their child. With this sort of background, gender wasn't really a limiting thing. Being a girl didn't mean ze couldn't do anything ze wanted, because whatever ze wanted to do, you can be sure that my politically connected and financially comfortable family could make it possible. I'm not bragging, I'm simply stating the truth. So ze never grew up with the idea that it was a hindrance to be a girl. I made it clear from when ze was young that I was having none of that nonsense about girls not being good in math or that girls can't achieve anything. My dad was a math professor and I was proof that these ideas were false. My kiddo also showed a great deal of aptitude for math (better than mine, actually). In other words, there was never a point where ze had a reason to prefer to be something other than a girl.

At certain points, my kid expressed some worries about the idea of growing up to be a woman. I thought it was because ze didn't like the idea of menstruation and ze'd absorbed some negative messages about it from the outside world. Over time, it became clear that this wasn't hir issue at all. Ze never had an issue with those natural processes of the body. Ze simply did not relate solely to the identity this culture refers to as "girlhood" or "womanhood". I had no language to describe such feelings, so like most folks I just ignored it and figured it was some passing whim. Only, it didn't go away. Ze would go through long periods where ze could not be induced to wear "girly clothes" no matter how much I cajoled and bribed. Then ze would go through long periods where ze wouldn't leave out of the house without super fancy eye shadow styles and would use her pin money to buy cosmetics that I'd never even heard of (What the heck is BB cream?).

One day, my kid showed me a tumblr page ze had created. In the part about hirself, I saw that ze had put that ze was "bigender". I thought ze was a bit confused and I told hir that I think ze meant "cisgender". Ze informed me that ze knew quite well what ze had written and that was the proper term for hir. I wasn't exactly sure what the heck "bigender" meant so I just politely backed off and googled it.

I'd heard of transgender folks and I thought it basically meant someone who didn't think the body they had matched what they knew about themselves and needed surgery to feel comfortable with their body. I'd never heard of trans* folks who were quite comfortable with the bodies they were born with and had no desire to change them. I'd never heard of people who considered both "girl/woman" and "boy/man" to be terms that didn't describe them. Even trans* folks were either one or the other, I believed.

Around that time, I was making the effort to preserve and pass on my child's rich cultural inheritance. I wanted hir to know hir French aristocratic roots and hir privileges as a descendant of the Gens de Couleur Libre, and a member of Indigenous nations that had been proudly matriarchal for thousands of years. Because we are so matriarchal and ze was (thought to be) the oldest girl in that generation of our family, I'd been grooming my child to value keeping the family together and being the bearer of our history. Ze loved it. Ze has never dealt with confusion about who ze is or where ze fits in racially. Ze decided that ze fits in wherever the heck ze wants to. That was as I wanted it. I wished I could have been so certain about these things during my childhood as a person of mixed heritage. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that ze was also just as certain about who ze was with regards to gender.

In the process of learning more about our matriarchal Indigenous roots, I came across information about gender. Of course, in our cultures there's a "nobody left behind and everything has its place" commitment that I already understood. But I'd never had any reason to focus on our gender roles, identities, and expectations. It turned out that there was a very long history of people like my child. There were still social prohibitions about who such folks could and couldn't marry, but they were also extremely prized and it was/is considered a great blessing to have such a person in your family. They are often turned to for advice about relationships because they are both a part of and outside of the most common gender identities. They saw the world as we often can not and had the role of helping others find their place in the world. My child's identity wasn't something new. It wasn't something foreign. It was lovingly appreciated.

Over the years, my child and I have been able to connect with many others like hir. This isn't a novelty for our people as it is perceived in Western cultures. This isn't something that I "raised my child to be". This isn't some disorder or dysphoria. This is my child as God, the Creator of All Worlds, made hir. We aren't some people out there fighting for "gay marriage" or to make some point about lifestyles. This just is.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Suicide and Survival as a Black Indigenous Person in a Settler Colonialist System

Racism at Core of Teen Suicides in Pine Ridge

The first time I was committed to a "mental hospital" I was fourteen. I'd already tried to commit suicide several times. I felt such despair that while I was in the hospital, I carved the word HATE into my thigh. It wasn't even a really conscious thing. I felt so numb from the horrors in my life that maybe my mind was looking for some way to finally be taken seriously, finally find some way of expressing what I felt about myself.

The second time I was committed, I was twenty-one years old. My white doctor had ignored my medical history and prescribed medication that exacerbated the schizophrenia I've had from childhood. I'd found ways to survive with the schizophrenia. I'd learned to try to keep it from being detectable. I often failed and the world around me never missed an opportunity to remind me that I was "nuts", "insane", "acting out" et cetera. The medication, a steroid known to cause exacerbation of neuroatypical "symptoms", was given to me and then the dose was quadrupled. With no support system and no medical establishment that gave a damn about me, it became unbearable and I attempted suicide again. Having caused an interruption in the daily routine of being sufficiently productive in the eyes of settler colonialists, I was instantly punished by being committed.

After that period of punishment was over, I was released into the world almost no different from when I came. The medicine was out of my system. I made the proper assurances that I would not make another infraction. And I went back to the world that was poisoning my spirit.

To be honest, I don't even know how I survived. I think it was the cancer. The cancer hardened me. It forced me to become a survivor. I had a kid that needed to be protected from the sexual assault and neglect that many/most neuroatypical Indigenous children experience. I don't think I survived for my own sake. It was the determination to try to prevent at least one child like the one that I had been from going through the horrors that I can never forget.