Like many children raised by same-sex parents in the U.S., Jesus was raised by an adoptive parent who had no legal standing. Joseph’s child bride got pregnant after she heard some archaic form of the too familiar expression, “Baby, I wanna get with you.”
What with the hurried visit to aging relatives, fast betrothal, and shotgun wedding, it must have seemed shocking for both Mary and Joseph to be sent on the road as pilgrims of sorts – refugees in reality – to comply with the whims of a despot. We can only hope that Joseph and Mary didn’t divorce at some point in this story that has so many holes in it, because the old man could have been blocked from seeing the boy he raised.
In one sense of the term, Mary herself was adopted. She was thought to have been chosen (from the Latin, ad- + -optare) by and for God. So, too, were her cousin Elizabeth and her soon to be husband, Joseph. In the myth, they serve important purposes of assuring us that Jesus was God and man.
Mary, in turn, chose Jesus when she replied to Gabriel, “Fiat!” Presumably Joseph chose Jesus as well or this story would have unraveled long ago. The story of his parenting is nonexistent in the biblical accounts, but it is elaborated again and again in traditions around the world, traditions largely developed in Europe in the 12th to the 16th centuries. While these versions vary widely, they have in common the threads that Joseph was old, a carpenter, took Jesus on as son, and raised him as his own.
My late, well-beloved developmental psychology professor, Dr. Diane Pollard, taught me about these types of relationships, best called fictive. Fictive kinship is a term used by anthropologists and ethnographers to describe forms of kinship or social ties that are based on neither blood ties nor by marriage; they stand in contrast to traditional kinship ties. For many LGBT people, these fictive relationships are as strong, or even stronger, than kinship because these are the families we choose.
Dan Savage and many others have spoken eloquently about the challenges and joys of adoption, but far fewer have explored these other fictive families of choice. The common narrative about many sexual minorities is one of familial rejection and conflict, but these familiar story lines obscure the equally common practice of adopting one another as family.
When I reflect on my own life, I am struck by the great fortune I have had in my relationships with Paul, Doris, Bob, Jan, Gregg, Josh, Trudy, Viola, Kurt, Ann Jo, Jason, Jim, Bill, Jna, Martha, Chris, Frank, Ann Jo, and the others who have embraced me as their own.
For the four weeks leading to the annual celebration of the mythical birth of a brown baby to an unwed teen mother in a barn in the Middle East while she was a refugee complying with the rules of a political tyrant, I have elected to write about birth, neglect, abuse, miscarriages, abortion, and adoption.
In the midst of the glitter and glow, sugar and excess, work for peace and cherish life.
2 thoughts on “Adoption”
Thanks for all these reflections, Gary. They’ve left me with a lot to think about. I wonder – when one’s first familial situations are not of blood, but of choice, and then painful ones besides with the gay ax positioned over one’s neck for over 30 years, does one ever get over the desire to be family-less?
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For the weeks that this piece was in draft form, I thought of you and many of my other friends who were adopted. Along the way, like you, I took a moment to actually study the word adopt itself. I thought, too, that Jews are so often viewed as the ad optare, the chosen ones of god. I researched online those famous people who were chosen through adoption by fictive families.
I confess that during that research and mulling, I never once thought of the desire to be family-less. Your comment made return the mirror – you know the one – that says, “Since all statements are equally true, how is Tom’s true for you, too? What don’t you want to see here? Your nakedness?”
My own early experiences led me to ask, “If you didn’t want me, why did you have me?” They led me to a deep sensitivity to social exclusion, tolerance, avoidance, and rejection. The investigation of these things prompted my work as a teacher, psychologist, organizational leader, and consultant. I don’t believe I landed with a desire to be family-less, so much as a habit of waiting for a family to arrive.