This morning, I woke up early, the result of a nightmare. I haven’t had a dream that I can remember for months now, but there was a grizzly bear in my early morning REM, pointed out to me by the bobcat that was in my house. I hate waking up in fear. It makes it that much harder to roll over and go back to sleep, so to ward off the boogey men (and bears), I turned on the light, put on my glasses, and fired up my iPhone so I could read the news.
As if the news would make me feel better. Yesterday morning, I read about two little boys who were squeezed to death in their sleep by an escaped python. I hoped things would be better this morning. And they were. On NBC.com (still listed in my favorites bar as MSNBC), is a story about how difficult it is for same sex couples to get divorced.
Normally, divorce isn’t cause for celebration, but this article warmed me to my very core because it validates my story and the reason I’ve been working on my memoir. For years now, my writing coach, mentor, and friend has been telling me that I was a pioneer, Daniel-Fucking-Boone is how she put it, and here is proof, validation from others inside the struggle, that indeed, I was a pioneer and that as a matter of fact, gays and lesbians who want to get divorced are STILL pioneers all these years later. Which makes my story, though it is 16 years old, relevant.
One of my biggest fears in writing my story about my lesbian divorce and custody battle was that I’d be a big old caution sign on the road to same sex marriage equality. Don’t get me wrong—I think it is high time that gays and lesbians who want to get married finally get the same rights and protections as straight couples. But I also know from experience that just because we have those rights suddenly conferred upon us, the legal system isn’t going to automatically know what to do with us when we want to get a same sex divorce.
I know because 16 years ago, I tried. Obviously, I wasn’t legally married to my lesbian partner 16 years ago, but I was the legal adoptive parent of two children and had been in a relationship with the co-parent of said children for 10 years. Neither of us was the biological mother of either girl. We both had equal rights as parents, or so I thought. We both had been able to adopt because, as more than one lawyer or adoption specialist said there weren’t any laws against it.
Same sex couples were not explicitly banned from adopting in Washington State as they were in other states in the 1990s, but that did not mean that the legal system had any idea what to do when two mommies split up and needed a custody arrangement. We bounced around from lawyer to lawyer, burned through multiple family therapists, mediators, and a guardian ad litem and depleted our savings accounts (or at least I did), before settling on a less-than-optimal parenting plan just to end the pain.
As Susan Sommer from Lambda Legal points out in the nbc.com article, same sex couples who are getting divorced, are pioneers, alone and without a map in this new wilderness. And while we may have embarked on our domestic adventures all starry eyed and idealistic, that idealism can fade fast when one is suddenly homeless and without access to her children. Add to that the financial woes involved (the costs of same sex divorce are currently double that of heterosexual divorces, and triple the cost if children are involved, according the nbc.com article), and same sex couples with children certainly need to start thinking realistically about their futures and the futures of their children.
It shouldn’t be a stretch. We have had to find our own paths to where we are now, many of us without the support of family or the legal system, and even now, when we might like to think the legal system has finally caught up, it hasn’t. We need to protect ourselves and our children. We can continue to learn from one another, as we have for most of history.
I am going to start thinking of my story as an important road marker rather than as a caution sign. We don’t have to all find our own ways—there are trails and maps in this wilderness if we share our stories and go into the unknown aware of the dangers. As Elizabeth Schwartz, a Miami attorney who works with gay and lesbian families, says in the nbc.com article, “sometimes divorce is the beginning of a bright new chapter for people.”