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Why I Still Lobby by Carolyn Evaine Counterman

May 25, 2015 News 5 Comments

Bastards side doorTexas 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.

caro;yn2Carolyn 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.

 

Why I Continue to Lobby is crossed posted to Bastard Bytes.

 

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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Wendy Ganza says:

    I am trying to understand this point of view, I really am, but I can’t wrap my head around it. I can’t get my OBC – no matter what the author says – because I have spent ten years looking for my birth parent’s names with zero success. Without the name, the “…some law here in Texas” that she refers to is utterly useless. To say that HB984 is no good for searchers is beyond misinformed. There are so many things that the author rants about that a law can’t address. The fact that the father isn’t on there is a distraction, as is the fact that adoptees are stigmatized. That isn’t what we’re attempting to solve here. I just want to know who I am. To be able to get to my own family health history. To learn if I have any family that does want contact with me. To be able to move on without this dark cloud over me, caused by uncertainty.

    I love my adopted family, and I know that my adoptive parents would encourage this search if they were still alive. Please get informed on issues before you take a stand on them. “Some bill in Texas” indeed. It took me ten seconds (years ago!) to understand what that bill was about and how it would NEVER help me and others like me. I just want to know who I am.

    • Carolyn Counterman says:

      Okay, everyone take a deep breath. And another. Okay?

      Wendy, I did not say that HB 984 was no good for searchers. I said the bill that let me get an OBC *IF* I already knew the names was no good for searchers. I was out of the loop when that got added to adoption law (sometime after 1997, when I was lobbying in full force), but it reads like it a bone that gone thrown out to adoption activists to keep us quiet for awhile. Whoever said, “Yes, we will take it,” did not do you any favors.

      Also, Wendy, you seem very offended that I am not in agreement with you. I am sorry for that. I was not trying to offend anyone. I’m not even sure that I was trying to not agree. I just don’t, that’s all. If you will go back the first paragraph of my “rant”, you will see that I said:

      “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.”

      I said that for a reason. Because I am not in the same place you are. I should not be expected to be in the same place. Whether or not my search was easy or hard, it is done. Once I got past that VERY important step in dealing with my adoption on my terms, I was left to see that many of the things that hurt me most over the years were not fixable with legislation. I had so hoped that I would feel differently, but I didn’t. I was still very much “other” in my world. That is why I was surprised that you said, “There are so many things that the author rants about that a law can’t address.” Yes, that was my point. I did not write the essay to tell you of all of the reasons I was rooting for this bill to pass so you could get your OBC right away. I was writing the essay to talk about what is important to me with regards to adoption legislation and reform. I was being honest in telling why I still even bother. I know you want that OBC so badly you can taste the ink of the printer down at Vital Statistics that pops out those bad boys. I was there, too, and so I respect that is what is most important to you. I do wish that you could respect where I am at, but you might not have that in you right now.

      As for your comment, “Please get informed on issues before you take a stand on them,” that is hardly fair. That does not reflect reality at all. I have been taking a stand on the issues of sealed adoption records for at least 22 years. I have used every opportunity that has been given to me to educate people on the fact that adoptees have been treated badly and with unfavorable bias in so many more ways than just an amended birth certificate. I can promise you, if HB 984 passes, there will be some adoptees who will get their OBC and take off without a backward glance. But I will still be here fighting to change all of the other ways that adoptees – including you – are treated as “less than.”

      I feel like your intense reaction to me was driven by you feeling that something you want/need/desire on a cellular level is being threatened. I am not going to say something cliche like, “This will hurt me more than it hurts you.” It won’t. If HB 984 does not pass, I will still know my birth family and have a copy of my OBC. I won’t pretend that I will feel anything like you will. But when the bill I lobbied for in 1997 died a spectacular, fiery death, I did not lash out in anger against my fellow adoptees. I did not lash out at the people who said, “there is more to it than just this, so focus elsewhere.” I told them they were right and I would catch up to them when I could. I did not lash out at the people who would have supported the bill if it had a contact veto. Most of them had very well-thought-out reasons for their positions, and none of them were trying to hurt anyone. We just didn’t agree. One of the things I got out of lobbying was being able to peacefully exist around people who do not agree with me. I did not sign up for the process to learn that particular lesson, but I got it anyway. It has been very helpful in so many ways.

      Wendy, I hope the dark cloud that is over you moves on quickly.

      carolyn evaine

    • Carolyn Counterman says:

      Marley, I sure wish I still looked like that photo from 1998, even if I had to keep wearing the bandages. 🙂

      Here are some more thoughts on how I feel about HB 984:

      It is possible that my constitutional right to be free from prior restraint is about to be violated. If someone wants to get a restraining order against you, they have to show cause of why the order is necessary and you get a chance to respond in court. If both of you attend the same gym and church and bar, then the other person is going to have to convince the judge with proof that he should prevent you from being in that gym or church or bar whenever the other person is present. Your free movement cannot be restricted without proof that it is necessary.

      There are group of loosely affiliated people who think that I need to be restrained, even though I have done nothing illegal. In fact, the people who want me restrained are not the same people that they say I will harm in some way. But because the common bond between me and the person I might hurt is supposedly so delicate and volatile all at the same time, there needs to be some legislation that will prevent me from this relation-induced psychosis. It is a fascinating theory that cannot be backed up. What is more, the legislation proposed does have a provision for restraining the other person from harming me or my family. It seems that I am the only one in the situation that will lose control.

      What am I talking about? I am talking about being adopted. I am talking about some people thinking that if I find out who my birthmother is (too late, guys) that I will become crazed and do vile and strange things to her. Yet the woman who relinquished me – by force, coercion, or will – is completely okay now and will not seek to hurt me or the family who adopted me after the relinquishment. It is only me. I’m the one who needs to be restrained.

      For those of you who know little or nothing about adoption, please consider this story of mine. It really happened and it was not an isolated incident. In 1997, I was going to school full time and also lobbying in Austin for a bill that would give adult adoptees access to their original birth certificate. That was all the bill said. I would drive up to Austin once or twice a week and make the rounds of legislator’s offices. I would tell anyone who would talk to me about the reasons that it mattered that adoptees have access to their own information. I got some strange reactions, but this one was all too common.

      I was in the office of a senator. Senator West? I’m about 85% sure it was him. The conversation started with him reminding me what a good thing adoption is – a baby gets parents and parents get a baby. Yea! I made some polite “mmm-hmmms” and told him that I was not wanting to abolish or change adoption laws. I know he was wondering since I said that I was representing Bastard Nation (and proudly so), so I let him establish that we were not negotiating anti-adoption anything. I was explaining about secrecy and rights and all these things that I was very passionate about. And then he asked me The Question: [paraphrased out of my memory] “Well, if I give you your original birth certificate, what’s to say that your aren’t going to find your birthmother and harm her in some way?” Think that through, now. So I politely said to him, “Senator West, you just told me that adoption is a good thing, especially for the child involved. Now you are telling me that being given up for adoption is such a horrible thing that you think it would incite me to violence against the woman who gave birth to me. Do you think being adopted causes some type of mental or emotional imbalance? You really can’t have it both ways, sir. Is adoption good for the child or damaging to the child? And just so you know, I have already found my birthmother without the aid of an original birth certificate. She decided she cannot handle having a relationship with me, so I have backed off – without the aid of legislation or law enforcement. People tell other people to stay away all the time and quite frequently do not need a restraining order, but you want to restrain me ahead of time, just in case. Is that right?” He sputtered for a moment and then had a committee meeting that he had to get to.

      The conversation about whether or not I will try to harm my birthfamily in some way if I find out who they are has happened so many times in my life. All kinds of people propose that scenario to me, not just legislators. It seems there are quite a few non-adopted people who find the thought of being adopted so mind bending that they feel like it would cause an extreme reaction. They think that if they find out right now that they are adopted, they would go off the deep end and maybe even hurt somebody. They are surprised I haven’t flipped out and hurt somebody. And then they turn around and tell me how adoption is such a good thing and I am sure lucky that there were some parents that wanted me. How can a person say those two things and not realize that those two things are pretty much mutually exclusive? A good adoption and adoption-induced psychosis don’t sit at the same table, folks.

      So having a provision in a bill that lets someone tell me to stay away is pretty insulting. Is there a law in place that prevents you from contacting someone? I am not aware of one. Evidently that is a Constitutional rights issue that people usually shy away from. Except for adoptees. Now the bill I am currently talking about, HB 984, is a poorly written bill. It is not clear if an adoptee contacting a birthmother who filed a “No Contact” preference would be a felony or misdemeanor. Or it could just be the equivalent of Janie running down to Jimmy’s locker to tell him I like him. Jimmy says he doesn’t like me and to tell me to stay away. Janie runs back with this news. I cry. Janie gets to participate in some drama. Jimmy doesn’t have to tell me himself. And I am forever trapped in a scene from any given day of junior high.

      This might sound strange to you, but it is my life every single day. This is why I went from being a bastard to a Bastard. It is good to have friends who understand, yes?

    • Mary Cannon says:

      Ms. Counterman,

      Thank you for sharing your story of inception, growth and your relationship with Mama. Not certain why you would not support your own state’s adoption reform bill? HB984 will help over 540,000 adult adoptees gain access to OBC and medical history and last time I checked on HB 984, nobody will be left behind.

      Your arguments never went outside your own personal scope of being an adoptee and seems like you have more to work through? HB984 wants to free adoptees from the legal, social and psychological chains of legislation. Sorry you don’t want the ‘same thing’.

      Best-

  2. Mary Cannon says:

    Thank you for sharing your inception and life with Mama. Seems like you are on a different journey to date but I can’t understand why you would not support HB 984 – you home state? The CPF from was inserted to give rights to all parties and seems fair to me. Good luck on your personal journey and self-help.

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