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.