"You're going to be parents!"
Harriet* is 24 and lives in the south west, with Lizzy*, 40, and their two adopted children. Here she tells their adoption story.
“They’ve said yes,” our social worker said on the phone. “You’re going to be parents!”
Those two short sentences marked the transition between the eternity of waiting and the euphoric reality of becoming a parent. For myself and my partner, Lizzy*, the news did far more. It proved what we already knew — that transgender people can be parents too.
My own journey starts in primary school, aged five, when I realised that something was wrong. I had a boy’s name, a boy’s body, and everyone told me I was male. But something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t a boy. I was a girl. And I liked girls. Those feelings continued for years, skewing my perspective on life. It wasn’t until I was 19, that I started confronting them. I wasn’t a straight man. I was a gay woman. And I needed to transition. As soon as possible.
“You’ll never work with children,” my university professor told me a few awkward seconds after coming out to her. “You’re going to throw your life away.”
My partner’s story is similar, although played out on another shore. We met through an online support group, and fell in love. She moved to the UK in 2002, shortly before my gender reassignment surgery in London. As any trans person who has experienced it will tell you, GRS is liberating and painful. And it generally means you’ll never have children biologically. If we wanted a family, adoption was our only hope. So, in 2006, my wife and I started to explore the possibility. We contacted a local adoption agency and booked on an information morning.
After hearing presentations explaining what adoption was like, we plucked up the courage to broach our past with a social worker. “We’re both post-operative, male-to-female trans women,” my partner said. “We know you expect prospective adopters to be completely open.” The reaction was swift and distressing. “Do you know anyone else in your situation who has adopted?” she demanded. “You’ll need support from people... like you...”
“You mean lesbians?” I offered.
“No, people who have had a sex change,” she said bluntly. We asked for more information, but were met with a lack of interest. It was clear we were not the type of adopters they were looking for.
Several years passed and we moved. Our attention turned to raising a family again. We wanted to be like our friends, both straight and gay. We wanted a family of our own. We felt unsure, but decided to give it another try. We found a new agency. The difference was like night and day. After preliminary chats with the social services team, we outed ourselves. They put all of their staff behind us. “If you’re not mad, bad, or sad, you can be mummies, just like everyone else,” we were told.
Just like any other adoption journey, ours was full of paperwork, hours of discussions, and course after course. We were approved in just over ten months. Our social workers and agency were unfazed by our past. It was time to see if other agencies were as welcoming.
I’d like to tell you they were, but that’s not true.
For months we expressed interest in children we wanted to adopt, only to be told we weren’t suitable or that our past would cause ‘problems’. The agencies knew we couldn’t be discriminated against under UK law. In some cases legitimate excuses were made. In one, however, it progressed as far as the home visit. We’d cleaned the house. Everything was in its place. The social worker sat uneasily on our couch, not even removing her heavy raincoat. She scowled at us for the whole visit while our social worker made calming faces. The report was damming. “The house has not been cleaned,” it said. “There is food left out, and dogs have free reign of the entire house. This couple is not suitable.” Our social worker was in disbelief. She saw it for what it was – lies to prevent us from adopting.
As Lizzy and I discussed giving up, the call came. “Remember those two children you asked about back in May?” our social worker asked. It was now the following February. “Their social worker wants to know more.”
After a lot of hard work we were placed with our two wonderful children in summer 2010. The final adoption order was made the following autumn. Because of the age of our children when we adopted them (six and seven) we had to tell them about our past after meeting for the first time. Thanks to wonderful social workers and their foster carer, they never batted an eyelid.
Two years on, our family is happy and strong. Sure, we’ve had to deal with the usual adoptive parent stuff – but we’d never change our family for the world. As a book once told me, love really does make a family.
This article/list was printed in We Are Family magazine, issue 1, Spring 2013.
Details may have changed - please do not rely on this information solely when making decisions - do your own research, make your own checks and get legal or health advice as appropriate.
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* names have been changed to protect identities