The “joke’s” on us- Bastard access to our own records
So a Bastard and her adoptive father walk into a bar… did I mention she had a parrot on her shoulder?
No, sorry, wrong joke. Let’s try this again.
So some time back Baby Love Child and her adoptive father walk into Vital Statistics (vital sadistics) one morning. (As they were both born in the same state they go together and are in the same office.) They each fill out the appropriate form requesting certified copies of their birth certificates and each plunk down $7 ($9? Whatever, it’s since gone up.) They hand in their paperwork, and sit down to wait.
Within a few minutes, BLC’s adoptive father is called up to the window and the clerk hands over his certified copy. His document is an authentic record of an historical act: that a womyn biologically related to him gave birth to him.
Baby Love Child, on the other hand, continues to wait. Eventually, she too is called up to the window and the clerk hands over a certified copy of a State sanctioned lie.
Surprise! “Joke’s” on Bastards!
No, we don’t get what everyone else gets. Unless someone makes a ‘mistake’ and we ‘by accident’ get a hold of the real thing, we’re left holding the ‘amended’ or ‘altered’ birth certificate, the one that lists my adopters as ‘mother’ and ‘father.’
The State does not give me a document that is an authentic record of an historical act. Nope, instead I am given a State certified piece of paper that supports a lie: the lie that the people who adopted me are somehow related to me.
There is nothing on that piece of paper that says I was adopted. There is no indication that these people are not genetically related to me. No, the only way I know that is because they bothered to tell me. And some adoptive parents NEVER tell the kids they adopted of their adopted status. The State issued false paperwork enables them to maintain that lie.
But the bottom line remains, through no fault of our own, Bastards, as a class, who come from sealed records states are barred the very basic thing almost everyone else can demand of the State, an accurate account of our own births. And we are denied it not merely as individuals, but as a class. The State is both in the ‘business’ of maintaining birth records and of denying many Bastards theirs.
As for the parrot? Well, there is no parrot, but we are left shat upon.
This is the face of inequality. Unequal access under the law.
So, in light of the fact that this is no joke, this is autobiographical, in other words I’ve LIVED this, we bring you today’s Chicago Sun-Times commentary supportive of open records. While not perfect, they are at least on the right track.
As always, I recommend reading Bastard Nation’s “The Basic Bastard” which quickly puts to rest some of the myths that continue to haunt even commentaries such as this.
It concerns me that the commentary points out an agency as intermediary, as this is antithetical to actual unrestricted access. I certainly hope they are not offering this up as a model.
Finally, let me directly address one of the other common misunderstandings inherent to the commentary.
While the commentary may speak to “a long tradition of secrecy”, the Basic Bastard shows this to be at its heart, in practical application of sealed records, a myth (see chapter II- “A History of Sealed Records in the United States”.)
Yes the writer(s) of the commentary managed to include the fact that neither Alaska nor Kansas EVER sealed their records. But what the writer(s) may not be familiar with is the rest of the history. States like Pennsylvania didn’t seal theirs until 1984 and in Alabama records were still open until 1991 (through the perseverance of Bastard activism, Alabama has recently RESTORED access!)
While closed records were first proposed by two registrars of Vital Statistics in 1931, (during the American Eugenic period, I highly recommend reading Edwin Black’s “War Against the Weak- Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race” as a vital tool in understanding the period, reproductive autonomy, and adoption itself) most states only sealed their records in the 40’s and 50’s, during the height of the McCarthy era, a period when secret government dossiers on its citizens were not uncommon. So far from any ‘long tradition’ of sealed records, what we’re actually looking at is a relatively recent piece of social engineering. Shame based secrecy in relation to pregnancy is old, but sealed records are relatively new.
The State confiscated Bastards genuine identities is a RECENT phenomenon, and part of the lag time in fighting that has been the time it takes for generations of Bastards to hit their own adulthoods. The 1970’s marks somewhat of the dawnings of Bastard activism here in the US. While (original) mothers and sometimes fathers gathered and worked for opening records while those early waves of sealed records Bastards grew up, it was not until the Bastards themselves hit adulthood and beyond that they were able to begin to work politically on their own behalves.