Baby, plan your birth!

A couple of queer expats in Singapore on a quest to make a baby


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Tangent about firing of gay pregnant teacher (Part 2 – My experience as a gay teen at Marian High School)

This is Part 2. In Part 1, I discuss the recent firing of a gay pregnant teacher at my old high school, an all-girls Catholic institution in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Please read that part first, so you’ll understand the context in which I’m sharing my own personal experience as a gay teen at Marian High School.

(-H)

 

[First, let me disclose that I was a very unhappy teenager: depressed and suicidal and struggling with intense feelings of shame, anger, and self-loathing common to LGBTQ youth. I was no picnic to be around, and many of my peers were ill-equipped to deal with what I was going through. What I really needed was a different environment and/or decade to grow up in, but in absence of that, I needed counseling. (Good counseling. I had bad counseling instead.) I just want to acknowledge all of that right from the start. It was a bad situation, and I was a handful. I am lucky that my wife, who met me when I was 16, has a selective memory.]

I first started to notice my attraction to women when I was about 11 or 12. I had crushes on girls in middle and high school. If I’d had crushes on boys, it could have been a healthy normal thing. I would have talked about it with my friends, laughed, enjoyed the solidarity of growing up and developing romantic feelings. I would have been rejected sometimes, but my friends and family would have supported me, and I would have moved on a little wiser.

Instead, it was all a very shameful secret. It wasn’t cute or exhilarating or romantic to have a crush on another girl. It meant I was a sicko and my feelings were disgusting betrayals of my friendships. Those ugly, sinful affections had to be hidden and destroyed. To add to this, the girls I had crushes on (whether they were aware of it or not) were not always very well-adjusted teenagers themselves, and their rejections were sometimes especially cruel. I wasn’t actually out (in middle or high school), and I didn’t really have people to support me through my angst and heartbreak, in part because I couldn’t even admit, to myself or to others, that those things were happening. For a long time, I told myself that these were standard “friend crushes.” Later, when this seemed less likely, I fought my feelings. I prayed. I researched organizations that claimed to be about to convert homosexuals. I MacGyvered aversion therapy. I fought hard to be straight.

On top of the isolation and rejection, there was the gossip. Not just among the other students, but among their parents as well. The mothers at my public middle school talked about me. Some even talked to school staff about me. When I enrolled at Marian, one of the girls I’d crushed on in middle school also went there, and her mother wasted no time in spreading the word to parents and some of the staff at my new school. Because the girl’s last name and mine were close in the alphabet, we’d have been in the same homeroom and had nearby lockers, but her mother got the school to separate us, to move me. I was made out to be a threat.

I was devastated to learn that my fresh start had already been ruined. And because she was an adult, I had no recourse. When I saw her or her daughter (as I often did), I had to make nice. When the mother would greet me, I had to respond politely, “Hello Mrs. P—” and smile like she wasn’t a bully. She was the first of many adults who made Marian a damaging, exhausting, and unhealthy environment for me.

As a freshman at Marian, I became increasingly depressed and reached out to a teacher who was kind and empathetic and had the best of intentions in reporting my situation to the school guidance department. My school counselor, Mr. D, was another story. His only strategy was damage control. His stated belief was that my depression was a contagion that would infect other students if they knew of it. Therefore, it had to be hidden. (Anecdotally, I understand that he took the same approach with eating disorders.)

Mr. D notified my parents (as was his obligation under the law) and required that I begin seeing a private counselor the school picked. Failure to continue treatment with this specific counselor would result in my expulsion. Unfortunately, the counselor was a bit of a dud, to put it kindly. But he was all I got. I was forbidden to talk with anyone else connected with the school about my feelings. Not the students, not the teachers, not any of the other school counselors, not even the school priest.

Mr. D provided a list of subjects I could discuss: schoolwork, sports, and boys. This last one was interesting. It is possible but unlikely that Mr. D was unaware at the time of my sexual orientation. (The other student from my middle school was also one of his counselees.) In any case, he instructed me that talking about anything else or upsetting any of the other students would result in my expulsion.

I’ll be honest. I was not very good at keeping my sadness to myself. After some missteps that landed me back in Mr. D’s office, I learned which students I could talk to, which students were unlikely to get upset or report me. I made some good friends who cared about me, even if I still wasn’t completely honest with them. In time, I also made a lot of friends from other high schools, friends who were beyond the reach of Mr. D. (Hey, E! Thanks for being my friend back when I was a mess!)

Mr. D was a poor counselor, but I don’t believe that his approach to “counseling” me was related to my sexual orientation. There was, however, an openly homophobic teacher at Marian who lobbied to have me expelled. (Pro-tip: when you turn 18, you can request to see your file.)

Two years ago, I wrote a letter to the president of Marian, lodging a formal complaint against that teacher. Here are some excerpts:

“I took two of TW’s classes (AP US History and AP US Government) and also participated in Model United Nations. TW regularly expressed anti-gay views in his classroom. Specifically, he repeatedly called homosexuality unnatural and immoral, stated that child molesters were most often gay men, and asserted on a number of occasions that gay people should not be permitted to teach in schools or hold any other position that would expose them to children. His classroom library also included several books on homosexuality as a disorder and the need and potential for homosexuals to ‘convert’ to a heterosexual lifestyle. The classroom environment TW created was one of moral absolutes in which gay students felt emotionally unsafe, as he consistently portrayed gay people as deviant, dangerous, and without value.

In US History class, these views were not connected in any way to the material we were studying, and in US Government class, TW brought up (and condemned) homosexuality as an example more frequently than any other current events topic, save possibly abortion.”

…..

“TW repeatedly used his position of power and influence to promote prejudice and discrimination against an already stigmatized and at-risk minority group. His conduct was entirely inappropriate and counter to Marian’s stated goals of teaching students to value human diversity and supporting students as they develop intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. TW’s behavior went unchecked despite my efforts to bring it to the attention of the administration through the guidance department.”

I asked for written apologies from Mr. W and from the school, and further demanded that the administration make it clear to staff, students, and parents that “regardless of one’s personal views or the views of the Catholic Church, the propagation of prejudice, defamatory misinformation, and discrimination will not be tolerated at Marian High School.”

I cc’ed the Archdiocese of Detroit, the ACLU, and three local newspapers. The president of Marian met with me two weeks later. She expressed dismay at Mr. W’s behavior and assured me that I would receive an apology shortly. The apology never happened. I regret that I became distracted with E’s job search, our move to Singapore, and our wedding, and I never chased up the administration.

After high school, I got as far away as possible from all of this, moving to California, then New Zealand, and now Singapore. It did get better, for me anyway. I suspect that I’m chemically predisposed to depression, but it was, in large part, situational.

To be a gay teen in a Catholic high school like Marian is toxic. Apart from Mr. W’s largely off-topic anti-gay rants, there were also the religion textbooks that told us homosexuality (among other things) was wrong. There was a pervasive culture of homophobia, sex-shaming, conformism, and political conservatism that made anyone who was different in the way I was different feel dirty, isolated, and silenced. In addition, my time at Marian had the incidental cost of turning me deeply suspicious of religion and religious people. There’s an anger there that I may never shake.

A lot worse has been done to gay people. A lot worse.

But it’s also the small things that conspire to make a culture in which seriously horrific things can happen. So we have to talk about those small things, too. I couldn’t talk about high school while it was happening. I wasn’t allowed to and I wouldn’t allow myself to. But now I can.

I was a child. I was vulnerable. And I was treated variously as a sexual predator, a pathogen, and a deviant.

That’s not acceptable.

That’s not what we do to the children in our care.

 

-H

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Tangent about firing of gay pregnant teacher (Part 1)

I’m hijacking the blog today to talk briefly about something that’s not strictly on-topic. It is, however, quite personal and very important to me, so I hope you’ll forgive this tangent.

(-H)

 

A few days ago, I became aware that my old high school, Marian High School, an all-girls Catholic institution in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, has fired a pregnant teacher. She and her female partner became pregnant via unspecified nontraditional means. She has a lot of support from students and alumni who feel that this was unjust. In response, there is likely to be a lot of stuff about how she signed a contract with “morality” clauses, so what did she expect? and Why are people discriminating against Catholics and trying to force them to abandon their principles? Etc. I know this because this is what happened the last time Marian made news for firing someone, that time a lesbian security guard who’d published a memoir.

It appears that Marian has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Your life can be “nontraditional” as long as you don’t make “a public display” of it. Some may say this is fair, that students don’t need to know about their teachers’ personal lives, especially their sex lives. But being gay isn’t just about sex. It’s also about love and about family. No (good, sane, sober, still employed) teacher, gay or straight, is going to launch into details of her sex live with her class, but she might want to have a picture of her wife on her desk or get pregnant and later mention her child in passing. Straight teachers do those things all the time, and we don’t accuse them of oversharing the sexy details of their lives with students.

So this is not about all teachers being admonished to keep what’s private private. This is about a policy that affects only those with “nontraditional” lives. And it tells them to be quiet, to keep to the party line, to implicitly endorse the Catholic dogma that says homosexuality is a sin. So what? you might ask. They can always work somewhere else. Yes. They can. These LGBTQ adults can pack up their toys and go teach at another school. I know I would.

But what about the students? The straight students who miss out on a great teacher and a chance to learn more about the diverse ways of the world. But, more specifically, the LGBTQ students, for whom this demonstrates once again that they are not acceptable, that they are not welcome if they are different. Furthermore, these students, who are already considerably more likely to be bullied, assaulted, isolateddepressed, and suicidal, lack for queer role models in their daily lives, people whose very existence and success can show them that things are going to get better for them, too. Their school deprives them of such people, and these students don’t necessarily have the option to go somewhere else. Because they’re not adults. They’re children, they’re stuck, and they’re learning every day that they are not okay.

 

In Part 2, I share my experience at Marian High School. Spoilers, it was really, really shitty.

-H


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Updates on all the things (with a special guest appearance by Radiohead)

We’ve been enjoying answering your questions lately, but we also want to keep you up to speed on the process. So here are some updates!

On the topic of doctors

We have one! A gay-friendly one! In fact, she delivered our (gay) friends’ baby last year, so we know she’s comfortable with our crowd. At a minimum, she can do the follicle ultrasound thingy we need for the insemination, and if we like her, she’ll be E’s pregnancy and delivery doc. And if we don’t, we’ll have nine months to find someone else from our list.

On the topic of insurance

Yup, still have it. There’s a ten-month waiting period from the time we got insurance until the time the insurance starts covering any kind of maternity care or delivery (except complications to the delivery, which are covered anytime). The ten-month countdown started in early July, so an on-time delivery would now be covered even if we got pregnant today, which isn’t in the cards since we’re going to be really busy tonight watching Masters of Sex and eating tacos. (Also, we’d know if we were getting pregnant today because we’d be in Bangkok in a cold, sterile exam room.) The delivery is the main reason we bought the insurance: cost of uninsured delivery – cost of insurance = ~$5000. Maternity care is pretty inexpensive here anyway, so having the insurance cover any portion of that would just be bonus. So… baby-making can commence soon.

On the topic of my visa status

This didn’t really get resolved, but it did get less dire.

I’m still on the three-month tourist visa just as I have been for the last year, coming and going. When we applied for the Long Term Visit Pass, it was on a new passport since my old one was about to expire. On the plus side, the new one isn’t full of Singapore entry and exit stamps. But we were also worried that my failed application might have put a flag on my new passport such that I’d have trouble getting in again.

To find out before we got E pregnant, we went to Thailand for the weekend a few weeks back. On the way out, we discovered that Singapore Immigration doesn’t have my two passports linked. This was a problem because, in order to leave, you have to show that you came, and I didn’t have my old, voided passport on me. I’d assumed they’d be linked, especially since Singapore is a super high-tech country, but I actually had to go to a special desk and spent 15 minutes explaining the situation to an official who wanted my old passport number and the ticket I flew in on. That was a good discovery because it means my previous entries on the old passport won’t be visible electronically to future immigration officials. (Even an attempt to put my new passport through their photo recognition software only brought up the passport of an elderly Chinese man.)

On the way back into Singapore, the official didn’t give my passport a second glance. So it seems that there’s no flag on it, and I’m probably about where I was a year ago, seemingly on my second social visit to Singapore as a tourist.

With that in mind, I’m still applying for jobs, but I can be a little less frantic about it. I’m also going to the States for a research/writing trip for about a month this autumn, and then back to the States again for Christmas, so I will genuinely look like a frequent visitor to Singapore rather than someone who lives here.

Wow. Bureaucracy is boring. I’m sorry. There really wasn’t a way to spice that up.

But here’s a cool upshot of our visa run to Thailand: we got our Open Water Diver SCUBA certifications!

DSC09683DSC09680

DSC09663DSC09665

(Photos by Jay Chance)

 

Yeah, it might seem silly, but getting SCUBA certified was one of our top 5 reasons for moving to Singapore, and we had to do it before E gets pregnant. Apparently, fetuses don’t respond well to intense underwater pressure (…also, this).

That’s all for updates at the moment. We’ll return to questions in the next couple of days.

-H


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Question Box Answers: second parent adoption

Here’s a question I’ve been putting off because we don’t really have a good answer for it:

“How will the legalities be handled with E having the baby and H being E’s spouse? (but not recognized as such everywhere) How does adoption work in such circumstances?”

Let’s start with this map, courtesy of wikipedia:

Screenshot 2014-08-28 01.04.47

 

Just before moving to Singapore, E and I lived in Michigan. We’re registered to vote in Michigan and have drivers licenses for Michigan. (For our non-American readers, Michigan is the one that looks like a mitten or, on this map, the red one in the north.) In theory, we could change our state since we don’t really live there anyway, but that’s complicated and usually involves demonstrating that we’ve set up a residence in our new state. Hard to do when, again, we don’t really live there. Realistically, we’re probably stuck with Michigan as our state until we move back to the US and take up residence elsewhere. (This isn’t strictly relevant to today’s topic, but for future reference, we were legally married in Illinois. Michigan does not recognize our marriage.)

So what does this map mean for us?

Assuming the situation is static (but hoping it’s not – c’mon SCOTUS!), it’s actually not clear what would happen in our situation. Michigan does not permit same-sex couples to adopt a child together, but there is no explicit prohibition on one partner adopting a child born to the other partner. Wikipedia calls this “stepparent adoption,” but it’s more commonly known as “second parent adoption,” even though these are technically different: stepparent adoption is for married couples, while second parent adoption is for a couple that isn’t married. But because some states are a little stingy with the marriage rights, a lot of co-parenting couples aren’t legally married, so second parent adoption is the more general term for everyone in that situation. (“Stepparent” also seems kind of misleading to me. I’m not adopting a child that E had as part of a previous relationship. I’m going to be there right from the start, as much a co-parent as E.)

Anyway, at present, Nessel & Kessel Law (no joke, that’s their name), the same firm that was part of Michigan’s DeBoer v. Snyder case back in March, is looking for same-sex Michigan couples who are legally married somewhere to file petitions for second parent adoptions to get the ball rolling on this issue.

As expats living in Asia, we’re obviously not ideal candidates, so we’re basically just waiting to see what happens, either with a Supreme Court ruling or a Michigan ruling. We’re confident that I’ll eventually be able to adopt our child, but it may be a little while.

In the meantime, we’re going to have some legal documents drawn up including a co-parenting agreement and a custody agreement. That way, everyone’s protected even if something bad happened to E or to our relationship. It’s not very romantic, and it’s definitely less joyful than signing my name to the birth certificate, but for the moment, it’s the closest we can have to an adoption.

I will leave you with the advice E was given last year by her former ob-gyn in Ann Arbor, MI: “Make sure you don’t put your girlfriend’s name on any legal paperwork. That way, if you break up, she won’t have any claim to your child.” Classy.

Send us more questions through our anonymous question box.

-H

 


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Question Box Answers: Names!

We’ve received some excellent questions through the Anonymous Question Box so far. I’ll be honest: some of them are hard. It’s going to take some time to figure out the legal stuff, for example, and it’s something we definitely need to do soon. We promise to let you know as soon as we wrap our heads around it ourselves.

In the meantime, I’d like to answer a pair of questions about names. No, not for our non-existent baby-being – for this blog and for E and me.

1) Where’d you get the name “Baby, Plan Your Birth”?

Whoa! Be so excited! I’m about to introduce you to the coolest baby board books ever. (Okay, tied with Go The F#@k to Sleep.) Lisa Brown’s Baby Be Of Use series is a set of six board books that suggest your baby start pulling his or her weight around the house. Titles include Baby, Do My Banking and Baby, Fix My Car. We thought we’d take it a step further and increase expectations for fetuses, too.

2) What will your child(ren?) call you? Is there a special name for genderqueer parents?

E is thinking “Mom” with an option for “Mama” when the wee one is at its most wee.

I don’t really self-identify as female, so you’re right that Mom/Mum/Mama/Mommy/Mumsy/Motherdearest are not quite right. But neither are the Dad set of monikers. And I’m not into having the kid call me by my first name.

We actually poked around the web awhile ago to see what the other female-bodied genderqueer parents do. We found that a lot of people (usually white people living in English-speaking households) go with “Baba” because it fits into that pattern of repeated baby sounds (e.g., Mama, Dada, Papa) but doesn’t necessarily connote a specific gender since it means “grandmother” in some languages and “father” in others. But those baba=father languages include Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese), which is a problem in a country where much of the population speaks Chinese. It also sounds too much like “bubba,” which means “baby” in much of the Anglo-speaking world.

Other people intentionally used words that mean “father” in other languages, but that didn’t click for me. I don’t identify as a father, whether it’s in English or in Māori. We kept looking.

Eventually, we came across a blog post (that I can’t seem to find now) about a polyamorous family that included a man who was not genetically related to the child. His name was Daniel (I think), but the kid couldn’t pronounce that and called him Dabo instead. The name stuck.

My name isn’t Daniel. There is no context for calling me Dabo, but after E teasingly called me Dabo a few times, I started getting really fond of it. It has a pleasing sound. It feels good in my mouth. It means, variously, “bread,” “gold,” and “I give.”

I’m aware that Dabo would be a strange choice. It would probably just confuse people and anger the ones who get pissy when people make up names. But that’s the best we’ve got at the moment.

Or maybe I’ll just reverse-engineer the claim that the baby’s first word was my name by naming myself whatever the child’s first word is. (Fast forward to the kid’s 17th birthday, when he’s still calling me Duckduck.) What do you think? No, seriously. We don’t actually have an answer, and we’re open to suggestions.

-H


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Question Box Answers: eggs, brought to you by the letter E

Easy question today from our Anonymous Question Box: “Whose egg gets fertilized?”

Answer: E’s egg.

Why? Because she’s the one carrying the baby.

It is possible to fertilize my egg (either in a lab or inside my person – the latter is generally more successful, and involves me being inseminated and temporarily pregnant) and then move the party to E’s body, IVF-style. Sort of like some kinds of gestational surrogacy.

But that’s expensive and complicated and mainly just unnecessary. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this enough, but I think E is just the bee’s knees. Having a kid with her genes sounds awesome! Sorry, Darwin, but I don’t actually care whether our baby has my genes or not. We make our families, in large part, by who we choose to love.

-H


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Question Box Answers: so many uteri, so little time

Anonymous question box” brings us a question!

“Being in a relationship where multiple individuals are biologically capable (?) of bearing children, how was the subject of who should bear a child decided?”

This comes up quite a bit, and it’s exciting to live in a time when we have SO MANY child-bearing options. One of us could carry, both of us could carry, neither of us could carry.  We could use our genetics or someone else’s genetics.  One person directed us to latest developments using three people’s genetic material to create one human.  The science is almost there but the legality/practicality side of things is yet to be sorted, and we don’t want to bank on our fertility at age 80, once it’s marketable.  Besides, our lives are interesting enough without being part of a science-fiction movie.   As it is, did you know that if one parent carries the other could still breastfeed? Our bodies are awesome.

The answer we came to, collaboratively, is me.

Short answer:  Way back in the day, when deciding whether we had a shot as a couple, we had very-important discussions about whether we wanted to have children (as you do). H said yes; I said yes.  H said there was no way a human would be coming out of her person, but that she’d leave it to me to decide between adoption or getting pregnant.  Fair enough.  I also liked the idea of adopting, but I have long thought that making a tiny human would be an interesting experiment I’d like to try at least once. I am biologically equipped to generate ears! That’s crazy. Let’s do it. End of discussion. Oddly, it’s one of the easier decisions we made – picking out an apartment involved more deliberation.

[I leave it to H to describe why she has zero desire to make a tiny human inside her – in short, feeling quite genderqueer makes the idea of being pregnant rather unappealing. Also she’s very protective of her bits. Am I allowed to say that?]

We’ve been surprised that a lot of folks had thought it would go the other way – H would carry and I would marvel and buy milkshakes.  As far as we know, either uterus would suffice, and I have a job that provides us with lots of dollars, while H has a job that provides us with few dollars.  Most cost-benefit analyses would suggest that it’s more efficient, more fair, more reasonable for H to carry.

I’m not entirely sure about that argument – having children at all isn’t particularly efficient.  Besides, H has signed up to do more than her fair share of childcare – including staying home with the wee one for at least its first year of life. The bottom line is that when you’re dealing with something you could describe as “creating the miracle of life” or, alternatively, “harboring a giant parasite in your womb,” personal preference matters A LOT.

So we got lucky, it was easy to pick.  I raised my hand!

-E