Wednesday, July 01, 2015

burden of proof

Friday morning I was pulling into CVS to buy baby sunscreen in anticipation of the Homeboy Family Picnic. A basic errand, but compare it to the day of last year’s Homeboy Family Picnic, when I was trying to finish four grants and text with a potential birthmom who ended up dumping me later that day, all before getting on a plane to New Zealand. I mean, the New Zealand part was good, but I was appreciating this year’s hard-won simplicity.

My coworker Sierra with two-year-old Marla. Sierra claims to hate kids. Clearly.
I turned on NPR just in time to hear Barack Obama say, “…and then there are days when justice comes like a thunderbolt.”

As he continued to talk, and I sat in the same CVS parking lot where I’d once called AAA for a dead battery, I soon found myself in tears, the kind that come when a weight you didn’t even know you were carrying is finally lifted.

People say this about finalizing an adoption: Sure, you’re out of the danger zone as soon as your child’s birthmom signs her papers, but there’s nothing like a court saying that you are your child’s parent and no different from any other child’s parent in the eyes of the law. No more agency visits, no more limbo, no more wondering if the mosquito bite on your baby’s shoulder will prompt his daycare to call DCFS, which will then open a case, and how would that look to a judge?

Same-sex marriage has been legal-ish in California for years. It’s hard to keep up with the laws and court cases, but it was clear that we, and the rest of the country, were moving in the direction of LGBT acceptance. There were fits and starts, but there was It Gets Better and Laverne Cox, and Ellen DeGeneres had long ago stopped being the face of controversy and become shorthand for soccer-mom TV.

The enormity of being able.
But Friday’s ruling was nevertheless a thunderbolt: Now the burden of proof was on them, the homophobes. Now, homophobia becomes like racism in America—still pernicious and pervasive, but even the worst practitioners have to say, “It’s not that I’m homophobic/racist, it’s just that I think [something ugly and homophobic/racist].” Now, being homophobic is the cultural and legal crime, even if it’s one people will no doubt get away with for years to come.

I think I learned the phrase “burden of proof” in high school, probably when we were studying the supreme court. I use it more than the average non-lawyer. I was raised by a highly logical engineer who himself grew up being told to keep quiet and stop asking so many questions and just eat your oatmeal please by stiff English grandparents. So he thought he was doing me a favor—and he was—by letting me argue my case as much as I wanted, so long as I could make a case. It turned me into a good mini attorney and a good critical thinker, but it also instilled in me a sense that the burden of proof was always on me. Doing something or being something because it appealed to me wasn’t enough; I had to prove it was a Good, Responsible Idea.

In L.A., this house would go for somewhere in the low 400's.
Most recently I’ve been trying to explain to my dad why I don’t want to buy a house, even if he helps with the down payment. Such is the nature of my first-world problems. But still. Do I really have to make a case why I don’t want to be a homeowner? (Because I just spent years wanting something big and difficult and it’s positively glorious to exist in a place of satisfaction for a while. Because C.C. and I don’t want to spend our weekends building a deck. Because, aforementioned down payment aside, we can barely make ends meet paying for part-time daycare, and sometimes I feel completely schizophrenic economically, like the world’s poorest rich person or the world’s richest poor person.)

Anyway. Once you are your child’s parent in the eyes of the law, his adoption will still and always be part of his story, his life, his identity. But it belongs to him and to you. Maybe there will always be a part of you that feels a little less legit than women who can talk about their epidurals or say He has his father’s ears, but there will also be a part of you that feels more legit, for having fought. And while you might feel like you have to prove yourself, technically you won’t. I think there are parallels here, with all struggle.

Stephen and Pedro at brunch, the meal of our people.
On Friday afternoon, our friends Pedro and Stephen got married. They’d been engaged for a while. We’d joked about them getting giant bedazzled rings in the shape of their pit bull, Sugar. When Pedro texted us a photo of his actual ring—a simple but chunky/asymmetrical band—and said “Something happened today,” we thought the thing that happened was that they got rings. No. The thing that happened was that they both left work early and went to the courthouse and got married. Their marriage, and the burden of its upkeep, belongs to them, not to the state or country. And that is the privilege and the right. That is the unburdening.


Unknown said...

This whole post is such a testimony to the strain of carrying multiple burdens--and to the joy of unburdening!

Cheryl said...

Thank you! And yes, lots of joy and lightness today.

Claire said...

Congratulations, Pedro and Stephen! I don't know them but I feel like I do a little bit from your blog, enough to be happy for them. :)

And I'm glad another weight has been lifted from you.

Cheryl said...

Aw, I will pass along your congrats!