Texas HB 984 is probably going to pass within the next 24 hours. Some people will be celebrating “open records” while some of us will heave a big sigh and then put our heads back down to keep pushing through. I think that, as a community, those of us touched by adoption somehow feel like we are such a minority that we cannot afford to disagree about anything. I probably felt like that myself at one point. However, I think that it is time for us to possibly deal openly with the fact that we don’t always want the same things. And we need to deal with the fact that we are all in different spaces as it relates to what we are willing to do to get what we want and what we are not willing to do.
So using HB 984 as a starting place, I will go ahead and tell you where I stand. Feel free to say your own piece, even if it is directly opposed to where I stand. I can take it.
Getting a non-certified copy of my Original Birth Certificate will not give me anything I don’t have already. There is some law here in Texas that allows me to get the non-certified OBC already. I think I just had to know the names that were on it or something. So that law is no good for searchers, but it gave me a piece of paper that I didn’t already have. And at that point, technically, I did not have to do anything any other Texan does not. If I want to get my birth certificate as Carolyn Evaine Shaw (adopted name), I can fill out the application with only my info and get what I want. It helps the people at Vital Stats if I give them the mother/father info, but it is not required. If I want to get my birth certificate as Patricia Ann Fryer (birth name), I fill out the application with that info and get what I want.
When I got my non-certified OBC and finally held it in my hands, I realized that I felt very little joy or accomplishment. Why? Because I was asked to wait next to a separate door for a lady to come hand me the OBC. I cannot remember what exactly she said, but it was along the lines of asking me if I knew what she was giving me. Like she was handing me a grenade and asking me if I knew that she had already pulled the pin. When I said “yes” and did not break down crying or pull out a gun, she seemed surprised. I wondered if they had to draw straws in the back to decide who would handle such a delicate matter. Everyone else who was requesting birth certificates that day just stood at the counter where regular business was being conducted.
And the information on the Original Birth Certificate, or more specifically the lack of information, was sad. No father. None. Because a teen-aged girl got knocked up in the back of a pickup back in 1969 (or the end of 1968), I was not allowed to acknowledge that I came into existence through a totally normal biological process. I guess I could consider myself magical since I evidently didn’t need what other people needed to show up on this earth. Maybe I am a unicorn or something. Except that if I were a unicorn, would I have had a sealed birth certificate? Or would it be necessary to protect me from all of the rabid unicorn killers? (that is rabid “unicorn killers”, not “rabid unicorn” killers) I would like to think that if I were a unicorn, there would be somebody willing to go and avenge me against all of the kids who treated me like a dork instead. Yet I have seen no avengers.
I realized as I was sitting there holding that paper – a black and white copy – that what I had really wanted was in some ways already mine and in other ways something that I will probably never see in this lifetime. I had wanted THE TRUTH. And what is THE TRUTH, exactly?
Well, I found out in 1992 who my birthmother is and in 1993 who my birthfather was. Thanks to a great group of adoptees and birthmothers who were hanging out on the Prodigy bulletin boards (and a few people from Adoption Knowledge Affiliates in Austin), I was able to figure out how to find my birth parents and given the moral support I needed. My adoptive mother – Mama – took me to the courthouse in Lubbock to face the evil Cecil G Puryear of the 137th District Court. He gave me NOTHING, and acted like Mama was crazy for supporting me. Mama also drove me over to the Smithlawn Home (a fundamentalist part of the Evil Empire) to get my de-identified records. An employee at Smithlawn – who interestingly enough left that job two weeks later – had left one important “last name” on one of the records, and that gave me what I needed to complete my search. Did this person (I forget her name) know that she was leaving that name there? I have no idea. I just know that it happened. So I found out the truth of who my biological family is.
In 1997, with Bastard Nation backing me and letting me use their precious name, I lobbied hard at the Texas capital for a CLEAN open records bill that had bi-partisan authorship. Actually, I am the one who got us the Democratic author (it started with a Republican author). It was a wild time. I had support. I had my former 7th grade Texas History teacher (by then a state rep) act like I was trying to rip the soul out of her assistant (an adoptive mother). I had a senator from Houston ask me if I was part of the Republic of Texas (a militia). I had one representative wrap his arms around me to show me how to putt a golf ball and another stare straight at my breasts the whole time I was talking. What I got to do was tell person after person that they were not allowed to re-write my story and my history to make themselves feel better. I told them that nothing they could write down on paper could change the facts of my conception and birth. I told them that giving me an amended birth certificate could not cause nor prevent any type of psychosis. I told them that my amended birth certificate did not make Mama love me more than she would have otherwise. Proof is that she raised my Dad’s two biological children from his first marriage and loved them just the same even though she was not on their birth certificates. And as I said it all, I realized it was true. Nothing that can be written on paper in Austin can change what has happened biologically and emotionally and spiritually in my family. So even though (then) Governor George Bush made a horse-trade and had our bill stalled in committee (and even though our sponsors tried to amend it to another bill on the House floor and used up plenty of goodwill doing so), that did not change my truth either. Once I decided to “own” my truth (sounds like 1980s psychobabble, but it works for my purpose), there wasn’t enough paper to change it. Nobody got to change The Truth.
But here is some more truth: Let me tell you what an open records bill would not do. It would not let my birthmother or anyone else add my birthfather’s name to that Original Birth Certificate. I cannot even imagine a bill that would even give me a third “pity certificate” with his name on it. An open records bill would not allow anyone to go back and change all of the legal paperwork where “legal father” was xxxx-ed out with a typewriter and the words “alleged father” were typed above it. That truth will never be recorded anywhere in official documents of the State of Texas.
And here is the NASTY TRUTH: it does not matter how many pieces of any type of paper you hand me, there are people who will always believe that I need to be treated differently – like a bastard, for instance. Who would think that, you might ask?
1. The people down at Vital Statistics who thought I might explode
2. Cecil G Puryear of the 137th District Court in Lubbock, TX
3. Everyone who went to school with me and my brother and wondered why I could not be as attractive/cool/popular/talented (I did win the “smart” contest) as he was. And also wondered why I looked nothing like him.
4. Anyone who has ever favorably associated with the Edna Gladney Home
5. The people in the church I grew up in who said I was “lucky” that someone adopted me (sometimes they said it in worse ways than that)
6. People who say “I’ve never known anybody who was adopted” and then ask questions that let me know that I might as well be a Martian (or dung or an Ebola virus)
7. People who think I must hate my birthmother for signing the relinquishment papers
8. People who think I should hate my adoptive family because they “stole” me from my birthmother
9. People who think I am psychotic, murderous, or otherwise enticed to anti-social behavior because I am adopted
10. People who think I am extra strange because my birthmother was also adopted, making me a bastard’s bastard
11. Everyone who thinks I cannot know anything about family because “blood is thicker than water”
12. People who treat me as if I will never be able to make good, adult decisions because I am an “adopted child”
13. The man (and everyone like him) at Smithlawn Home who would walk in when I would visit and say, “Hey, Carolyn. Look here! I’ve got your folder, but of course I can’t show it to you.” (how he enjoyed his power of knowing what someone else was not allowed to know)
…and the list goes on and on and on…
What I am fighting for at this point is not for someone to go back in time and change everything for me. That is done. Whether you consider me a victim or a volunteer, it does not matter. I have given up all hope of having a better past. But here is another truth for you: I am compassionate enough to not want anyone else to have to go through the same horrible experiences. I am caring enough to not want anyone else to have to feel “less than”. I want there to not be a need for Bastard Nation (except as a place for us to make our morbid jokes). The way I approach wanting these changes is by educating people every chance I get about how adoptees are treated differently. But I also lobby for legislation that will force people to start thinking about us differently. I do not endorse legislation that helps perpetuate NASTY TRUTH by making it seem as if adoptees might be emotionally imbalanced or inclined to illegal acts – that means any legislation with a contact veto/authorization/preference. I. WILL. NOT.
HB 984 hurts ME by telling people that I might need someone else to decide for me if I should or should not contact my birthmother, whose name I already do not put out in public because I am not stupid and can tell if it is/isn’t a good idea. If you are adopted, HB 984 hurts YOU by telling people that you cannot decide how to handle a family relationship on your own. If it says that ANY adoptee past/present/future needs help making decisions on how to handle family relationships, then it hurts ALL adoptees. If anyone who does not know much about adoption reads that statute and decides that there must be some reason why it is needed – if that is the only information they get about adoptees – then we have failed to help our very own.
Carolyn Evaine Counterman describes herself: I am an adoptee, a very lazy volunteer lobbyist, a former social worker (not in adoptions, thank you very much), and lover of milk chocolate. I am a recovering fundamentalist (but most likely still an Evangelical) Christian. I count it a blessing that I have family – adopted, biological, married-into, and chosen. My husband and I are raising 6 of our 15 grandchildren, 5 of our own dogs, and 2 grand-dogs. Our first great-grandbaby is going to rule the world.
Bastard Nation Describes her: a Bastard Goddess.
Carolyn. wearing her Primal Wound, which deformers declared terminal, posing with BN co-founder Damsel Plum (cow suit), Seattle, 1998.