Dylan: Full Interview
Interviewed by Ray Larman
9th March 2020
RL: So do we need to say a little bit about how you identify first because that's going to be relevant to the story isn't it?
D: It will, it will definitely come up in the narrative.
RL: OK, OK. So do you want to tell me how you first got interested in adoption
D: Yep. Because I'm queer I had never assumed that I was going to find a nice boy and get married and settle down and make babies with him, and so like adoption had already, always been sort of like in the very back of my mind as a sort of possible option for my future even from when I was quite young. And then when I was in my mid-twenties I was sort of getting stronger and stronger feelings that I wanted to have a family and that I wanted to parent. It did not help that lots of my friends were having kids and, you know, I'm god-parent to half a dozen children and I was, but it, yeah, it reached a stage when I was ‘yes definitely I want to have a child’.
I'm single so I'm going to have to put some effort into making that happen. What are my options? And I really briefly considered the possibility of like carrying a child myself. And it was, the doctors rang me that that was a possible option for me made me realise actually no that's not what I want to do. I want to adopt. I want to offer a home and be a parent for a child who needs one. I would rather not bring a new child into the world when there are children who are waiting for parents to look after them.
I am non-binary and bi-sexual and I have always been sort of quite... I've never let that stop me from doing anything even when I've suspected or known that I would face transphobia, or biphobia, homophobia, I've always just done it anyway and sort of like charged my way through a situation. And... I, I knew that there were lots of same-sex couples who have adopted and that's becoming increasingly common but I didn't know whether or not trans people had adopted at all.
So I looked up and I discovered that there was, was nothing in the policies against it but I wasn't able to find any examples of trans people who had adopted.
RL: Not even online?
D: Err so like a couple of, couple of references, some in America, but yeah it is few and far between but I wasn't able to find any examples of any non-binary people anywhere who had adopted and so far as we know I am the first non-binary person to go through the whole adoption process whilst out as non-binary.
RL: In the UK?
D: In the UK, yeah. So like that's partly from my own research trying to find other people with that shared experience but also from talking to adoption charities and social workers and New Family Social, which is the charity for LGBT adoption and fostering. As far as we know I am the first and so far the only, but hopefully there will be others in the future.
RL: Congratulations [laughter]
D: Thank you [laughing]
RL: Do you want to tell me about the process
D: Yeah, so the first thing that I did was I rang round all of the agencies in my area – so you've got a choice, you can either adopt through a Council or through a voluntary agency like a charity. So I rang through, rang round all the different councils and local authorities and said: 'Hi, have you ever had a trans adopter before?', and none of them had, which I was sort of expecting, but their answer to that question gave me a lot of information about whether or not they were going to be sort of helpful and supportive.
So some people who had literally no idea what I was asking them; some people who got very confused and started talking about lesbians; some people who were sort of like quite brisk and off, off-putting, and other people who were like 'No we haven't but you know we're really open and welcoming and we've got lots of experience of supporting same sex couples and we're really willing to do any training or any sort of, and we want to work with you to make sure that you are able to adopt and...’
So the organisation that I picked was Barnardo's and I am glad that I did because they have been really supportive over the six years [laughs] that it has taken to get to this point. They definitely haven't been like perfect, particularly in the early days but they have always tried and that makes a big difference.
So my first, so I sent them an email. I said 'Hi, I'm interested. Please can you, please can I have an initial meeting'. They sent a social worker round to meet me at my home and I could tell that this person had done some research except that she'd obviously got the wrong end of the stick and she thought that I was a trans woman. And so she was asking questions that didn't make any sense to me and I could tell that my answers didn't make any sense to her so I ended up having to do a bit of a sort of trans and non-binary one-on-one explanation for her but once we got past that it was, it was OK we were doing well. And we also had a funny moment where I mentioned being 'queer' and she said: 'Oo! are you allowed to say that?' 'Yes, I am!' [laughs] 'I am describing myself' [laughs].
The second social worker that I had sort of like who actually was with me through the whole process was the Barnardo's LGBT Champion. So, whilst she's cis and straight herself as far as I know, she has yeah been consistently on my side and trying to do the right thing.
D: So the way the adoption works is there's two stages to the approval process and once you are approved you go into what is called Family Finding where they're trying to match you up with a child or children. And then you go into, then the child comes to live with you and then you apply to have that legally recognised as an adoption.
So the Stage One part is where you are gathering lots of information about yourself so you've got to go for lots of medicals and references and they've got to speak to your friends and family and you've got to write essays and essays about yourself.
RL: What was that like?
D: It was... well it’s a very, the whole adoption process is quite strange. It is very different from most other ways of becoming a family. Sort of, one of the things that was tricky they needed to get a reference from anywhere I'd worked with children. And so there were some places where I'd worked where I wasn't out, or I'd used a different name, and so there was lots of confusions around the reference-checking process and trying not to have them out me to people from my past, which was a bit challenging.
But it was also actually really nice because like your references say lovely things about you, particularly my friends and family references and so it was nice to sort of like have it written down on paper, like my friends and family saying what a great parent they thought I'd be and how much they were going to sort of be there for me and support me.
RL: Did you have to go on any parenting-type courses?
D: Yes there's loads and loads of training. So there's compulsory training, which is... there's, I think it’s four days of compulsory training and there's also lots of optional training which I went on. I went on training about, I went on sort of paediatric first aid training and I went on training about supporting whether you're parenting a child who might have been sexually abused or parenting a child who might have been affected by foetal alcohol syndrome. I went on, I went, basically every course going; I wanted to be as informed as I possibly could because I knew quite rightly once I had a kid I wouldn't be able to go on any training or do any reading.
RL: And was that useful?
D: It was really helpful and it helped me sort of work out which sorts of children that I would be a good match for and some of the things that I learnt in my initial training I have used in my parenting so, yeah,
D: definitely worth doing.
RL: So after all the training and those initial stages what happened after that?
D: So after Stage, so after Stage One you go into Stage Two which is where the social worker comes to your house and interviews you in depth. And they do really mean in depth. I had not ever spoken to anyone about my conceptions of life after death and how I might explain that to a, to a child before. But you know they get, they get pretty deep with you.
And then they write a massive, massive report about you. My report is eighty pages long. And [pause] I got her to do Find and Replace for 'she' and 'her' when she was writing it, because she was pretty good about using 'they/them' pronouns for me in person but didn't always get it right and she, I think she found it even harder in writing to remember because she'd just be sort of typing on automatic and would definitely misgender me frequently throughout, but... yeah, I got to sort of read through and correct it and correct it and correct it until I was happy with it.
And there were also sections of the report that my social worker asked me to write because it would be better to have me talking about things in my own words rather than trying to filter it through her understanding.
RL: Like what kind of thing?
D: So where the, particularly the section where I was talking about my gender and talking about sort of yeah my experiences of gender and parenting and what I predicted about how I wanted to parent and how I thought gender might come into that. I had to do quite a lot of work in terms of [pause] because I am the first I was having to do lots and lots of explanations sort of like what it might look like.
So one of the things I did was I contacted trans people all over the world about gathering together all the different things that their children call them and all of the different understandings of their children of different ages have of their gender. So I managed to find some trans people who had adopted, some of whom were out during the trans adoption process, some who came out afterwards. I was able to find a non-binary person who is a foster carer, but then they weren't out during their foster caring process. So being able to talk about how adopted children have experienced having trans parents was helpful to my social workers and it's definitely more, like no other parents who are going through the adoption process has to do that, but I did and I think it helped.
RL: Did you feel OK about doing that or was it a bit annoying that you had to do that? Or…?
D: I shouldn't have had to do it. Like I shouldn't, I shouldn't have had to do non-binary one-on-one explanations. I shouldn't have been having to educate my social workers and the social workers of all the local authorities in the country whilst I was doing something that was already extremely emotionally intense and challenging but I was willing to do it if that's what it took.
RL: So what did you find the most challenging part of it?
D: So the approval process was not that bad. So, cos my, my social workers were on board and they would make, you know, they would misgender me and they would make some mistakes but they were sort of generally well-intentioned and I'm also, as someone who has been out for like ... more than, like... – oh I'm so old – more than a decade; yeah as someone who has been out as non-binary for more than a decade I am very used to people misgendering me and saying slightly transphobic things, and yeah, I just have, I deal with that in my daily life so I could deal with that in the adoption approval process.
And all of the people on the panels who decided about my applications they all went on trans awareness training before they were able to sit on my panel which helped a lot. They didn't even ask about transness in my panels; it was all covered. What I found really difficult was family-finding.
RL: So is this the point where you're dealing with the child's social workers?
D: Yeah, so I, yeah so I first applied, inquired about adoption in 2014, the end of 2014, and I was approved in spring 2016 and then it took me more than a year family-finding before I was sort of matched with my child. And it was really hard seeing other people who had gone through the process alongside me who were then being matched and having their children move in and even getting adoption orders before I was ever matched with my child.
RL: Were they people that you knew from like the courses and [unclear]?
D: Yeah, they had been on the training with me or they had been at a panel with me, or same time as me. That was tough.
D: So in family-finding, each adopter or pair of adopters has a social worker or a family-finder and each child or sibling group has a social worker or family-finder and those social workers are trying to match-make. Basically, they are trying to think which adopters are going to be the best parents for these children? And I was open to a really broad range of children, so I was approved for one or two children between nought and seven, which is a really broad age-range, and I was open to almost any needs. So I live in a second-floor flat so I was, there were some mobility issues that I couldn't sort of consider and I said that I didn't think I would be able handle adopting a child who was likely to die in childhood but other than that I was really open to anything. So there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children that I could potentially have been matched with and over the sort of eighteen months or so that I was family-finding I did express interest in hundreds of children and just faced constant rejection, [pause] which is, hits hard [pause].
RL: Yeah, so how did you receive that rejection, like were you just told 'no', or sort of 'no because...' you know, were you given reasons is what I'm asking.
D: So, some of the social workers were comfortable to put in writing that the only reason they wouldn't match with me is because I'm trans, because I'm non-binary. And I was shocked by that. I was expecting a certain amount of like covert transphobia, but I was not prepared for the idea that social workers would be explicit in their transphobia and would be willing to write down that they were breaking the Equality Act. And like, yeah, I was shocked at how blatant some of it was.
There was lots of social workers thinking it was 'too confusing'. So like my social worker would contact a family-finder and say: 'Hey, I've got this couple and this, this adopter; here, here's their information, what do you think?' And they'd say: 'oo yes, tell us more about that couple please'. And they'd say: 'What about Dylan?' And they'd say: 'Oh no, that's too complicated; I don't want to deal with that'. There was another where the social worker, the family-finder, was really interested in me, really excited, and we were having some really positive conversations, but then their bosses, the social workers' bosses said: 'No. It would be too confusing for the child. We are not, we're not going to place with them'.
RL: So 'confusing' and 'complicated'?
RL: ...were the words that were often used.
D: ... 'confusing' and 'complicated'. And you, I was, I was surprised by how, sort of... how outdated some of the attitudes I came across were. So I saw a profile for a child which said that they needed to have a 'male and female couple/parents only' because the child needed to have 'a strong male role model' and 'also someone to provide nurturing care'. Those are the sorts of attitudes that some of the social workers who are still practicing have and are willing to put in writing.
There would be other times where I would, we experimented with whether or not my initial profile should say that I'm trans or not and where we did say that I was trans we would get very little sort of interest and there would be very few people asking for my full report. When my profile didn't mention that I was trans people would be very interested because I've got lots of childcare experience, lots of training, lots of sort of experience around mental health, and additional needs, and so people would be really interested in me and then they'd get my full report which mentions that I am trans and then suddenly they wouldn't be interested any more.
RL: So how did this make you feel? You know, you'd got this far in the process.
D: It was really hard. Just... yeah, a year and a half of sort of daily overt transphobia. It's tough to handle. I think my social workers were worried that I would give up. They thought that I wouldn't..., yeah. They told me afterwards they thought I was going to give up but I didn't. I carried on. And there were some times where I had to sort of take a bit of a backseat and let my social worker handle the family-finding and there were other times where I was feeling sort of like I had more resources and more resilience and I was sort of contacting those social workers myself and going along to events where – because there's events where you go round and you meet social workers and, a bit..., and sort of talk to them about the children that they are family-finding for and tell them about yourself. And I found that really helpful because it let me work out which places were realistically never going to match me with a child and which places where the social workers seemed to get it and were sort of not phased by it.
And I had to, yeah I just had to do a lot more than any other adopter would ordinarily do in family-finding. I went to every single event. I re-wrote my profile. And my report got re-written over and over again to try and tweak it, trying to sort of explain. We ended up writing a fact-file, a trans [unclear] fact-file, that went with my profile for a while, [chuckles] saying 'Yes, this person is trans. This is what it means.'
I was, was ended up, I was given an additional, a placement student to help my social worker manage the workload of family-finding for me and eventually I had two social workers because it was so much work trying to family-find for me because, yeah, I was expressing interest in loads of kids and getting nothing back.
RL: Yeah, OK, so but you do have a child now so tell me how that all happened?
D: Yup, so in, I think, sort of in the summer of 2017 my social worker told me about a child and they were, they said that they weren't able to tell me much information about the child yet because they weren't, they hadn't got all the paperwork because they weren't freed for adoption yet, but that this is what social workers were expecting so they had started to sort of family-find for this child. And from what I heard about this child I thought 'yes! This is exciting this would be a brilliant match' and so I submitted an expression of interest and my social worker submitted an expression of interest, and we were given some more information about the child. And the more information about the child that we were told it showed that the child is trans. And, yeah, it said that the child was gender-questioning.
And I have lately discovered that, yeah, this kid's definitely trans and that was so exciting to me because the difference... I can't, I can’t imagine how different the experience my kid would have had if they had been adopted by a cis person, or a cis couple, versus being adopted by a trans person. Yeah, the possibility for a trans child to be parented by a trans adopter is just perfect because I know that trans kids in care have really, really, really difficult experiences and I am so glad that I was able to protect my child from that.
So, yeah, I met with the child's social worker. I met with a bunch of staff from that child's, from the local authority, from my child's local authority, I met with their foster carer, I met with their, some teachers and staff from their school, I met with the doctor, I met with loads and loads of people, I had loads and loads of information, so many conversations about this child. I read through all of their paperwork and I was like 'Yeah, no, yeah definitely I can totally do this; this kid is the right kid for me'. And then, in November 2017, went to panel and the panel said: 'Yes! You are the right parent for this child!' [laughs]
RL: [laughing] and how did that feel?
D: I cried! [laughs loudly] Yeah, very overwhelming, very exciting, very, very emotionally intense. And also they were wanting to move really quickly. So I think it was panel was on a Thursday and introductions started on the Monday.
RL: So you hadn't met them before that?
D: Well, actually... So typically you don't meet the child until you are approved as their adopter. In this case, because my child was seven they decided that it would be a good idea to do some, what's called some 'bump-into' meetings, where you meet the kids just like in a park, or in the play-area of something, as just like a sort of ‘friend of the family’, ‘friend of the foster carer’, so I had met them and we'd had a very, very frenetic play-date in the park, but this was the first time that they were going to meet me knowing I was going to be their parent.
RL: OK. So what was it like when you first met them in the park then, if that was the first kind of bump-into meeting?
D: Oh, it was so exciting! I was so there! And I was with the social worker and I didn't, I was trying to, I was looking at all the exits, and all the entrances to the park, trying to work out if like if there was, like any child that I saw, is that them? Is that them? Is that them? But of course the second I saw them, even from maybe three hundred metres away, I was like that! That's them, I know, I recognise that child, because I'd seen some pictures, and I'd heard of so much about them. And they came bounding over and, yeah, we played football and chase and lots of kwame and lots of running and I was like ‘phew, fuckin' hell, I'll have to get really fit to parent this child’ [laughs] very, very, very, like, a hundred miles an hour, really exciting, really fun.
Yeah, they're so, they're so quick, they're, like, their body's quick, they're really fast and fit and sporty but they’re also their mind's really sharp, they're really, they're really bright and really quick and really funny. It was, it was pretty incredible.
RL: So what was it, what was it like when they were actually here with you? So, the, sorry, the proper first time when they realised it was you who was like adopting them?
D: So they... at panel... so before, so when you come, before you come to panel you have to give, you have to prepare a book for the child with photos of you and of your home and sort of telling them what to expect and I also made a CD of me singing lullabies and I made a little video introduction to me in our home and the school they were going to go to and the local library and the local park and I bought them a little teddy [chuckles] who featured in the book and the video.
And so I had prepared all these materials not knowing if definitely this was going to be my child and it would have been so heartbreaking if they hadn't, if they'd said no, but they said yes. And so I had given this to the social worker who then took it to the child, who took the book and the CD and the video and the teddy to the child and told them, told, told them about me.
And the foster carer sent me a picture and they'd, the child had, had my photo next to their bed [chuckles]. It must be very strange to have a photo of your parent looking down on you when you haven't actually met them properly. But yep.
RL: OK. So what was it like then when you, that first, then the meet up when I guess they were moving in?
D: Yeah, yeah, so the beginning introductions... Introductions are without compare! Like there is no other experience like adoption introductions because you go from not knowing each other to being the parent within a space of like two or three weeks and it is... yeah, so incredible though!
Like they were really excited that I was going to be their parent. I was really excited that I was going to get to parent this kid. And yeah, we played lots of games and we sort of read, they read stories to me and I read stories to them and we went to the park and the cinema and we had lots of like time together.
The foster carer was brilliant, she was really sort of really helpful, helping show me various routines and sort of like working through sort of like you know, what, how, how do they brush their teeth? What's their morning routine like? What are the foods they like to eat? Sort of trying to incorporate me as much as possible into their family life as it was then and then helping to introduce them to what our family life together here in Leeds was going to be like. You know, I took them to school for them to say goodbye to their old class mates and then we went and looked round the school that they were going to be moving to in Leeds. It's, yeah, just the most incredible time!
RL: Can I take you back to when you were talking about in the kind of the preparation for the adoption you were sort of having to say how you would parent. What were you saying at that point?
D: Yep, so one of the things that was a real sticking point with the social workers was would the child call me 'mummy' or not? And would the social workers refer to me as the child's 'mum' or not? And I was really clear that I wanted the social workers to refer me as the child's 'parent' and to use 'they/them' pronouns for me and to be upfront with the child from the beginning that I am non-binary and they were really stressed about that and they were really, really, yeah, they were really, really worried because they had never had to do it before. So they didn't know how it would go.
And so I had to sort of like talk them through it and per... partly to persuade them that it was a good idea, that it was the right thing to do, and also to help them work out literally the words that they would say. We got them, I got them some books that they could read with the kids, and as it happens when they did tell Sarah – as they were then called – when they did tell Sarah that I'm trans, Sarah was like 'Oh, you mean like me?' which was just, yeah, perfect.
RL: And I suppose to kind of bring us up to now, just, just how has it been? So you adopted... when did Sarah come and live with you?
D: So Sarah came to live with me in November 2017 and then last month in February 2020 I got the adoption order to say that I am legally and officially their parent.
RL: So that's the final thing. So what was it like when it came through then?
D: A huge relief. I wasn't I wasn't, obviously because I'd been their parent for two and a half years nearly, I wasn't expecting it to feel quite so different knowing that I was, it was legally recognised now but it feels different, it feels important that I am legally recognised as their parent, and that I get to make all the decisions; I don't have to sort of negotiate with Social Services how I am going to parent or what I am going to allow them to do or not allow them to do.
So being a trans adopter of a trans child is an unusual thing to navigate so Social Services were in some ways really on board and really supportive and in other ways just had some really unhelpful approaches to sort of like looking after a trans child.
RL: Like what?
D: So I was instructed to discourage social transition.
D: That's a very good question. So, I... So my approach is that I want to be led by Leo – as they've chosen to be known – I wanted to be led by what Leo wants and how Leo wants to understand their gender, how Leo wants to express their gender and to be led by them. Social Services wanted me to discourage social transition and encourage them to sort of live as Sarah and to... yeah, I'm, I think wait until they could go to see GIDS, which is the Gender Identity Development Service, but the Gender Identity Development waiting list is like two-plus years; like we've been on the waiting list all the time, all this time and they're still nowhere near the top of it.
I don't see how that helps a child to force them to pretend to be someone that they're not but it was really difficult trying to sort of, you know, negotiations with school about how the school should respond to Leo, whether or not, what pronouns they could use at school, whether they had to play with the girls football team or the boys football team, all sorts of questions, you know, what should happen, what should happen with school swimming lessons?
All sorts of things where my approach as a parent was different to the Local Authority's approach as loco parentis, sort of corporate parent. That was really challenging. And there was two and a half years of that. It was strange to me that they had in some ways deliberately placed this child with me knowing that I was trans and would have the, understand and support them and then not listened to what I was saying about what were the best ways to understand and support them.
RL: And when Leo started school here were they Leo when they started school?
D: No. So at the moment they are Sarah at school and Leo outside of school and that's what they want and that's, they've chosen to continue doing that even after the adoption order so that's where they're happy at the moment, but Social Services didn't want me to let them be Leo anywhere. They wanted to make them be Sarah in every aspect of their life.
RL: That sounds complicated doing that, being one thing at school and one thing at home. So how do you find it? How does Leo find it?
D: I think it's quite common with trans kids that they will sort of start exploring, expressing their gender in one area of their life before they're ready to express it in all areas of their life. I think it's a bit easier for me because I'm trans that I am like just totally open and relaxed about their gender; and I'm, it's fine for me if they change their expression from minute to minute, day to day, I'm cool with that. It, you do have to keep track of where you are and who's around. And sometimes if there's people from both circles who know them as different genders and different names that's complicated.
I think the main problem I have is if we're out in the park or something and there's lots of different people there and I need to tell them to stop doing something quickly, I have to remember, I have to try and remember which name, because like if you just call them 'Darling, come over here', you can use pet names and you can sort of fudge the question of their name, but you can't say 'Darling! Come over here! Now!' But yeah, to sort of keep track of where I am and who I'm talking to and keep track of pronouns accordingly.
I think it is hard for Leo but at least they know that our home I am totally supportive, their family is totally supportive, we accept them for who they are, however they want to express that and however that turns out as they grow up.
RL: So have your kind of initial expectations of parenting changed? Is it, is it what you expected?
D: Yep, I think I did so much reading and so much training and I'd spent, I knew, I had lots of childcare experience. I think I knew what I was signing up for. It's definitely hard work. And yeah, Leo's got some additional needs so it's definitely parenting-plus, but I wouldn't change it for the world.
RL: OK, so you were going to say a couple of incidents where things kind of went wrong in the adoption process.
D: Yeah. So there was, I mean there was one example that was, so really stands out for me. So there was a child who I had expressed interest in and the family finder was really sort of positive about my app, my expression of interest and said 'the child is going to be at an activity day. You should definitely come and meet them and you know then we can talk more about sort of potential link meetings and match meetings. It's just you or this couple in London that we are considering for this child'.
And, so activity days are like children's fun days except all the children there are in family, in family finding and all the adults there are either approved adopters who are in family finding or they are the social workers or foster carers of those children.
It is a very strange experience, but I went. And so I went to this activity day and the child hadn't been told about me but I knew which one they were. And so, spent some time with her and we played some games and we made a magic potion and we watched a magic show together and what you're supposed to do you're not meant to monopolise any one child's time so I would keep sort of, I'd play with her for a bit and then I'd have to sort of have to do something else or be in a different room or be with another child but she kept following me and kept sort of like, she liked me basically and I really liked her, she was great. And at the end she didn't want me to leave. And I was like 'Oh, I want this child. She's great' [laughs].
And I chatted to her family finder and her family finder was really excited and was like 'you know, we're only considering you and this couple, other couple, and they didn't even show up. So you know I'll talk to your social worker tomorrow about arranging a meeting, a link meeting, and getting the process going and I’ve spoken to her foster carers and they were really positive and enthusiastic’. And so I was like 'Oh maybe, maybe this is it. Maybe this is my child'. And then afterwards you know I sent them all the information and then they went silent and they went silent, went silent, and went silent and I thought this is strange because the family finder was talking about starting like having a meeting next week; what is going on? And then we got an email saying that 'on consideration we do not think this is an appropriate match because of your transgender status' [pause].
And I went 'What!' [laughs] 'you can't say that!' So I sort of asked my social worker to get back to them and sort of like try and explore that, try and persuade them because this was a child who was really quite hard to place; she was just about to age out of adoption family-finding. They were finding it really hard to find people who were interested in adopting her. I was like it would be utterly tragic for this child to end up in long-term foster care to adulthood when you could have been adopted because your social workers didn't want you to have a trans parent. Like that would be just too sad for words.
But it seems that's the choice they made because when my social worker challenged them they re-iterated that they thought a non-binary, a trans, a non-binary adopter would be too confusing for this child. This child had taken it completely in her stride at the activity day. There was no, I had, like she was not phased by it. The adults were the ones that were phased by it. We ended up with the head of sort of the manager of my agency making a complaint to the manager of their agency and they agreed that they were going to re-visit their decision. And we got, eventually we got the letter of them revisiting the decision. And it no longer mentioned my transness but they'd gone through my report and found every possible minor little quibble and said, you know, 'it's not because they're trans, it's because, it’s because, oh because their BMI is a bit high, and because...' and they were just sort of like, ‘because they only worked part-time, they used to…’ they were just trawling for reasons as to why they could say no to me and they were definitely nothing to do with me being trans.
And one of the things I found really hard was that I felt really vulnerable even making like an informal complaint about it. And I to this day haven't been able to make a formal complaint because I didn’t, I was discouraged from doing that by my agency from making a formal complaint because you don't want to be known as the one who will cause a fuss because you have no power in family finding. You have to get them onside with you. You need them to like you so I didn't complain.
RL: Did you, following on from that, did you feel the need to perform?
D: Yes. So when I was in family finding I found myself like still talking about being non-binary and being really open about it, but I was definitely like, particularly if I was going to go and meet social workers, I would overthink every outfit, I would overthink how I wore my hair, and I was just like, I was like what, trying to find something that is going to be socially acceptable to cis-normative social workers but also is like an honest reflection of myself was just like this really difficult balance to try and fit and sort of like having to present myself as just like I'm non-binary but you know I'm very, I’m very normal and having to sort of like downplay my queerness to try and sort of like get them over the fact that I'm non-binary, was like...
RL: So was it,
D: Very respectable.
RL: So it was kind of gender that was called into question rather than sexuality; no-one was bothered about you being bi?
D: Not really. Particularly because I was single they were chill about that. And I think also, so I have since met a trans guy single adopter and his experience was really different from mine and I think it was specifically me being non-binary rather than me being trans that was the particular difficulty for them because they could understand binary trans people. They could understand ‘ok yes’, they, they’ve got, you know, that, that narrative that people have about trans people. They could understand ‘yeah OK’ but then because they might have a difficult conversation to have with the child as far as they are concerned but in general it’s like ‘this is going to be this kid's dad, he's the father, he's a man. We don't have to change our pattern of how we think or speak or act at all to incorporate this binary trans person’. A non-binary person they are having to change how they think, how they speak, how they describe family relationships. They are having to consider gender in like every other sentence and I think that was more challenging for them.
RL: So were they concerned about gender role-models, that sort of thing?
D: Oh yes, they wanted to know sort of like you know who would be my male role models for this child, who would be my female role models for this child. I was like this kid’s going to see such a broad spectrum of gender you would not believe. They are going to know that anything is possible for them.
RL; Mmm, do you want to talk about the second, there is another instance you mentioned?
D: Oh yes. So in the middle of my family finding I very, very nearly had a foster-to-adopt placement. So I had expressed interest in this child and the local authority, which was Leeds, they had come out to meet me and they'd agreed that I would be the foster carer/prospective adopter for this baby and when that happens that, that basically means you are going to become this child's parent. You're going to foster them and assuming that they are, their plan stays adoption, that they are placed for adoption, you would then adopt them at that point.
And I was obviously really excited and I was, I was in the car about to go to Mothercare to go and buy all the nappies and baby things that I would need when I got a call from my social workers; it was the day before this baby was meant, I was meant to go and start introductions with this baby. And I got a call from my social workers, oh I'll just ring her before I set off just in, and I rang her and she said that the match was off. That they'd found this child's birth father and that therefore they had to do so many assessments that it wasn't appropriate for this child to be a foster-to-adopt placement any more so it was off. It was heart-breaking. Yeah, it was one of the hardest things in my life thinking I was about to have a baby to no baby in a phone call, but I did survive it. And I had, because it was a foster-to-adopt placement I had had to prepare myself for the possibility that I would foster this child and I would then have to give them back and as it happened I didn't even ever meet them [pause].
It was really hard. It was really, really sad.
But in a really strange way it also really helped me because in those stages of family-finding where I was getting rejection after rejection after rejection I knew there was at least one local authority who were happy to match me with a child. And it really helped also that it was Leeds that were the local authority that were happy to match with me because that's where I live. And so I was like even if I have to wait a really long time for there to be a suitable match from Leeds, maybe one day I will, I will, yeah, be matched with a child. So yeah, it was hard but it helped me to know that there were social workers who got it and that there were local authorities who were prepared to place a child with a non-binary adopter. And, yeah, now I know for definite [laughs]. It's official. I am living proof.
D: And I have since met other trans adopters and we sometimes have playdates.
RL: In Leeds?
D: Yeah, well in West Yorkshire. So we'll meet up at the park and go for a scoot and a hot chocolate. I've also met, spoken to some non-binary people who are sort of exploring adoption, interested in adoption, and spoken to them about my experiences. And I really hope that whilst I am currently the only non-binary adopter who's been out through the whole process I hope, you know, that any day now there will be a second, and a third and a fourth and a fifth.
RL: Mmm. And do you feel, do you feel you have a support network around you from sort of queer trans community?
D: It’s been definitely... My experience of the trans community is definitely different now that I am a parent. So, you know, before I'd be going to sort of lots of film showings in the evenings and talks and protests and some of those things are not so easy to do with a nine year old, but taking my kid to Trans Pride was just amazing, so moving, so incredible. Yeah, they made little placards and we marched around the streets, 'Who's streets? Our streets!' It was just really cute.
RL: What did their placards say?
D: The placards said, one of them said 'I'm me and I'm proud' and then the other one said ‘I'm a girl. I'm a boy. I'm neither. I’m both. I’m just me’
RL: Shall we leave it there?