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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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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And now for the bad news…

With insurance and some OBGYN recommendations ticked off the to-do list, we were feeling a little smug. Like maybe we were finally getting the hang of Singapore.

We filed for my Long Term Visit Pass. Straight spouses of foreigners here on Employment Passes get Dependent Passes. Common-law spouses, parents, and assorted others get the LTVP, which is like a deluxe visitor visa, allowing the family member to stay for a year, renewable up to five years. Clearly a second-class citizen type pass, but still an improvement on the three-month visitor visas I’ve been collecting for the last year through frequent and well-timed trips out of the country.

Singapore doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. But when E took this job in Singapore, the people she spoke to over here assured her that they knew of other gay couples who’d gotten LTVPs because their marriages were recognized in their home countries, putting them in a similar position to common-law spouses. Ironically, when we made the decision in March 2013 to move here, DOMA hadn’t actually been kicked to the curb yet, so our marriage wouldn’t have been recognized in our home country, at least not on a federal level. But we had faith in the Notorious RBG & co. and, indeed, the Supreme Court overturned DOMA and we were married this spring and returned here with marriage license in hand and what could go wrong?

This:

ERROR
  • E0000104 : The Applicant must not be of the same gender as the EP/S Pass holder.

This was the error message we discovered in the email chain that informed us of the problem: “Singapore does not recognise same-sex marriages, so we cannot grant H a Long Term Visit Pass as your spouse. Instead, we advise her to apply for a work pass if she wishes to stay and work in Singapore. We will assess her application on its own independent merits.” (Love, the Ministry of Manpower).

Um, cool?

Putting aside both the awesome discrimination happening here (because we’re hardly surprised at this point, right?) and the fact that I already have a job I like very much (freelance writer and academic copy-editor), let’s talk employment pass logistics.

First, I must possess “acceptable qualifications,” a term the MOM doesn’t exactly define but which I probably meet, and a job offer. Not just any job, though. A part-time gig at the local Starbucks isn’t going to tick the boxes. To get an EP, I must take up a full-time managerial, executive, or specialized job with a monthly salary of at least $3300 SGD ($2640 USD). But wait! For an added degree of difficulty, on August 1, Singapore’s new hiring rules came into effect with the aim of making it more difficult for firms to hire non-Singaporeans. Really stellar timing.

I’ll just add here that we’d also planned on me being the primary care-giver to our future wee one, one of the perks of working from home rather than in a full-time managerial, executive, or specialized position somewhere out in the glass and steel jungle of Singapore. So much for pro-family Singapore.

So to recap, because the Ministry of Manpower (and Singapore’s government in general) doesn’t approve of the combination of genitals we’ve got going on, I’m going to have to change careers, get a full-time job outside the house, and effectively use my salary to pay someone else to look after our baby.

Makes total sense.

-H


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The way it felt to be so small

With great anticipation, H and I headed to Dr. T’s office today. We navigated the sea of pregnant and formerly pregnant mothers and their children, husbands, and mothers. They gave us a tiny, pink appointment book – a place to track my visits and plot my weight as I grow and release a tiny human. We took a seat and browsed through magazines for the medical centre that offered advice on surviving the “confinement period” (many new Chinese mothers stay inside with their newborn for the first 30 days) and dispelled purportedly common myths like that eating mutton will give your child epilepsy. A nurse called my name, and we moved closer to the front of the long, narrow room. She asked my height, my last period. She whispered in my ear “do you have inverted nipples?” Precise and discreet.

An hour later, we sat down with the doctor. He was warm, professional, and he walked us step by step through the process of prepping me for IUI in Bangkok – detailing the required scans and the necessary information we need to provide. Should things go well, would he be willing to deliver our baby? Many places we called so far had said no. He paused, and he said he’d be open to it, though he’d never done it before for a same-sex couple. We smiled, laughed – it was our first time too.

We paid our $128 bill for the consultation. The nurse pulled me aside, and asked me quietly, “Do you need any home ovulation kits? I have extra. “ She has a Thai friend who has undergone IUI there, and she offered to put me in touch with her. I wanted to cry.

Dr. T called two hours later. He had thought on it and prayed on it. He couldn’t help with the delivery; it wasn’t in his beliefs. He was very sorry. I asked whether he could at least help with what we had discussed – providing a routine ultrasound and a few blood test. He apologized. He was very sorry. He offered a refund.