For Interracial Same-Sex Couples Becoming Parents Means Confronting Issues Of Identity
Laura Sicari gestures toward a woman standing in the café's lunchtime crowd. "Preg-nant," she mouths. "When I see a pregnant woman, I think, `I want to be pregnant,'" Sicari says. "I didn't always feel this way. It's only in the past few years, like my uterus is talking to me."
Sicari is 25. She's petite with dark pixie-cut hair and an olive complexion inherited from Italian ancestors. She's been in a committed relationship for more than three years. Sicari is a lesbian (you probably saw that one coming). Her partner, Rebekah Oates, is 26 and African-American, and she too loves the idea of having children.
For Sicari and Oates, typical choices about starting a family quickly give way to decisions about which of them, if either, will look like their children's parents. Unlike interracial straight couples who can just mix up their DNA and have kids that reflect their unions, interracial same-sex couples, whether they adopt or use a surrogate/donor, must confront some complicated decisions about racial identity, both theirs and their future children's.
Activist Audre Lorde, the lesbian daughter of Caribbean immigrants, spent a good portion of her life considering the vagaries of "identity" when you're not white, not male, and not straight. In an essay anthologized in Politics of the Heart: A Lesbian Parenting Anthology, she wrote about some of the difficulties she confronted while raising her two black children with her white partner. "What I remember most is that we were not just like all the other families . . . but we did not have to be just like all the rest in order to be valid. Exploring the meaning of those differences kept us all stretching and learning, and we used that exploration to get us from Friday to Thursday, from toothache through homework, to who was going to baby-sit when we both worked late."
In a previous interview at the couple's Medfield home when Sicari and Oates talk about when and how they'll start their family, Sicari ping-pongs around a steady-as-she-goes Oates. "Growing up," Sicari says, "identifying as straight--I didn't date women until college--I assumed I'd have kids. Now, I think about gay people's role in humankind. I think to a certain extent there's a moral responsibility to adopt."
Oates doesn't disagree with Sicari's theory that, just maybe, gay people's noble calling is to raise the babies straight people make but can't or won't care for, but she has her own thoughts. "There's nothing I want more than something that looks like me," Oates says. "But either adopting or having our own, I feel very strongly that we should have biracial kids."
Sicari is uncomfortable with the idea of "engineering" her children, her family; she admits to being critical of straight people who, in her estimation, select their children the way one chooses a designer accessory. "Part of me wants to say, `Let's just adopt any kid,' because I know we'd love them. Part of me wants to eschew all this strategizing. No matter what, you're going to love the baby and be a family."
Oates is OK with that, but she's realistic. "If we do that, the child will be black. We won't adopt a foreign baby. So many American babies need homes."
Oates gets up and pulls a pork chop out of the refrigerator. She puts it in a pan and lights the stove. Oates is athletic with a squared-off gait and short thick hair that she's getting ready to dreadlock. She has a big easy smile. She and Sicari both say that she brings the masculine energy to their relationship, and she likes the idea of being the "provider" for their family.
"Everyone's always like, `You're so good with kids,'" Oates says. "It's because I give them a little time. It's not rocket science. When they get out of hand, you just get a little `Strict Black Mama: Don't lose your mind. C'mon back to the fold.'"
Sicari reconsiders the pros and cons of procuring a sperm donor and using either hers or Oates' egg to conceive a biracial child that she would carry. "I guess that's the ideal," she says, shrugging. "The closest to--what--the straight experience?"
"It would be nice," Oates says, "if a gay couple lived down the street, and one of them was the sperm donor."
Sicari squinches up her face. "But then what would we do? Carry a kid and give it to them?"
Oates shakes her head. "I don't know if you should double-dip."
Despite the legal and social risks, Oates and Sicari also talk about conceiving "the natural way," via heterosexual intercourse with a sympathetic male friend/donor. Sicari volunteers that she could do it. Probably.
Oates plays along for a minute before calling Sicari out. "She thinks penises are disgusting. I'm like, `They're not that bad.' She's all talk."
Sicari laughs and shrinks into her chair. "They're gross, yeah. Give me a dark room. I don't want to look at it. It's been seven years since I've seen one. But once it's in, I'm OK."
Sicari and Oates are not the first couple since Audre Lorde and her partner to wrestle with these issues. In the book Divided Sisters: Bridging the Gap Between Black Women and White Women authors Midge Wilson and Kathy Russell suggest that queer women date and mate outside their race more often than straight people, theorizing that once you've challenged one major taboo, there's little incentive to hang on to the others.
Gita Deane and Lisa Polyak, the lead plaintiffs in the suit against the state seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples, are also lesbians in an interracial relationship. Polyak is Caucasian, Deane is from India. They made their parenting decisions over a decade ago, and today they have two multiracial daughters, 10 and 8 years old. Deane carried one, using a Caucasian sperm donor; Polyak carried the other, employing an Indian donor.
"Our big criteria for the donors were race, health, and that they were legally unconnected to the children that might be produced," Polyak says. During the planning stage, "Gita's concerns on this were much more acute than mine, and they centered on the issue of race. Her fear was that if we had white children, she would be perceived as the baby sitter rather than the parent."
When their girls were younger, the multiracial character of their family was more interesting to them than the nontraditional structure. "Long before the kids started talking about the lack of a dad in the family, they talked about who in the family had the darkest skin," Polyak says. "They would rank us from darkest to lightest. We tried to listen and give information if asked, but we did not want to squelch their discussions and inadvertently communicate that even acknowledging difference is bad."
As the girls grew, Polyak says, they began asking about their fathers. "One felt very acutely that she was missing out by not having a dad. When we asked her what she might be able to do differently if she had a dad, she replied that she could go golfing with a dad. I mentioned that I played golf and would be happy to take her golfing. She said that it was not the same since I did not play in tournaments." Polyak's daughter's response stumped her, but one thing is clear: "At this time, I think the issue of parent difference is more of a concern to them than racial difference."
Kert and Forest Rawls-Blodgett fall somewhere between Oates and Sicari, and Deane and Polyak on the parenting time line. Two years ago, in June 2005, the two men committed their lives to each other. A few months later, Kert, who is white, and Forest, who is black, adopted a 13-day-old African-American boy.
"At first, we specifically wanted a biracial child," Forest says, "African-American plus any other ethnicity, so that our child would be perceived as being the son of either of us when viewed independently. After only a short period of time, however, we decided that the color of our child's skin was not important."
Their home life has flourished over the past year and a half, despite an ambivalent public reception. "In the beginning," Forest says, "when my partner and our son were out together, he received a lot of critical stares."
"I felt like I had either `stolen' a black woman from her heritage," Kert says, "or I was not good enough to raise an African-American baby because I knew nothing of their culture."
Even so, Kert believes that some of the reactions he drew had more to do with his gender than his race. "I remember being in the supermarket pushing the cart with the bassinet on top and women coming up to me and saying, `What's in there?' I wanted to say, `It's an iguana! What do you think it is?'"
"He doesn't let such things faze him anymore," Forest says. "He knows that our son is our son, no matter what anyone else believes."
When asked what they would say to another interracial gay couple who are still planning their family, Kert replies, "Go into the process knowing that there will be many people who will not know what to say or do when confronted with your `situation.' Prepare yourself for all kinds of reactions."
"Know that it may be difficult dealing with those awkward stares," Forest adds. "However, no matter the ethnicity of your child, you will love them, and they will love you. Guaranteed. No one can take that away from you. We are in the process of adopting a second child, and in general, ethnicity remains a nonissue for us."
Laura Sicari has faith in the parent-child bonding Forest is talking about. She still wants to be pregnant, to carry a biracial child for nine months of misshapen bliss. And she still wants to open her home to a child of any race or ethnicity who just needs a mother or two. But Sicari's choice is not like Sophie's. On most days, she feels really good about the options from which she and Oates will choose.
"The gift is," she says, "I can be thoughtful about this process."
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