A reader writes: “I am wondering if there are any other transgender people who have started and/or gone through the process of adopting a child ‘post’ transition (gender marker, name change, etc.), and if so, were you successful in adopting? What were the challenges? (I know about the standard background checks.)
“I am specifically looking into adopting a child from the foster care system through a national agency. I am asking because I want to become a parent once I am done with college. I am trans, single and male.”
I have actually worked extensively with the foster care and adoption systems in Colorado, both as a caseworker and a supervisor, and I continue to do so on a part-time basis. The laws regarding foster care and adoption vary from state to state, and in most cases, discriminatory law focuses on gay men and lesbians.
In most states, single gay men and lesbians are legally allowed to foster or adopt, according to HRC’s Adoption Laws page, but in some states, only one member of a gay or lesbian couple can adopt a child (in Colorado, one member can adopt initially, and then the second member of the couple can adopt later – this is called “second-parent adoption” here).
Supposedly, these same adoption laws would cover transgender and transsexual people. However, in most cases, the law simply says that a single person can petition to adopt. It does not specifically deal with sexual orientation or gender identity at all. So while there is nothing in the law in most states prohibiting adoption by LGBT people, there is nothing in the law specifically preventing discrimination against these groups either.
Individual caseworkers and agencies can make their own decisions about whether or not to license someone as a foster or adoptive home, and if that caseworker or agency determines that they don’t want to license a trans person or a gay man or lesbian, they can do so. In some states, it might even be legal to use that as a determining factor. In others, it might not be, but those making the decision could always come up with another reason not to license.
Colorado’s Department of Human Services has a no-discrimination policy regarding gay men and lesbians, and can boast many successful adoptions by gay and lesbian couples and singles. Although certain counties in Colorado have tried to circumvent this policy, the state policy is very clear, and counties are expected to follow it.
I am certain that Denver county, as well as other progressive counties in the state, would license a qualified trans person as a foster or adoptive home. In fact, there are trans foster children in the system who desperately need a loving home. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a trans person should or has to adopt a trans child, but it certainly would help these children to have an understanding and knowledgeable foster or adoptive parent.
There are three considerations that could work against you, however, even if the laws in your state work in your favor – you are trans, single, and male. Single men are sometimes judged more harshly or looked at with suspicion when they are attempting to foster or adopt. Unfortunately, a small percentage of male sexual perpetrators has cast an unfavorable light on all well-meaning and caring single men who want to foster and adopt. And because most people, even those in the human services field, still do not fully understand transsexuality or transition, this could be problematic as well.
In all likelihood, if you meet the qualifications for an adoptive parent, unless you run into a very discriminatory agency (you say you have a national one in mind), you will not be denied a license to adopt. However, it is completely up to the individual caseworker, guardian ad litem (attorney for the child), judge, and agency in charge of the case as to whether or not a child is placed with you.
It is the responsibility of the agency to find the most appropriate home for the particular child in question. As a single person, you are being compared to licensed couples, who are, in many people’s eyes, still seen as more “appropriate” for a child. As a single man, you are being compared to single women, as well as couples. As a trans man, you are being compared to non-trans singles and couples.
It’s almost like a job situation – if I am highly qualified for a certain job, and another (non-trans) candidate is equally qualified (or sometimes less qualified), it is often easier to hire the non-trans candidate, because the employers “don’t really know what this trans thing is, exactly.”
But even if the caseworker and others involved in the child’s case know a lot about trans issues and hold no prejudice toward trans people at all, they are still tasked with finding the “most appropriate” or “best” home for the child, and that might or might not be a single trans man, in their eyes.
That does not mean that you should not pursue this. You absolutely should. If you want to adopt a healthy infant, you will have a difficult time, because many adoptive parents want a healthy infant. If you are willing to adopt an older child, or a child with health or behavior problems, it will be easier, because these children are harder to place. If you are willing to adopt a child with “gender issues,” it should be even easier, because although the number of trans children in the system is smaller, it is much harder to find placements for these children.
I would recommend that you attend an information session for adoptive parents, if you have not already done so (it does sound as if you’ve looked into this). Then, when you get out of college, get a steady job, reliable housing (an apartment is fine, and two bedrooms is preferable), get on your feet financially, and establish the “stable” life that caseworkers are looking for in adoptive home.
Your age could work against you, as could your inexperience with parenting, but agencies are looking for stability, maturity, commitment, and a willingness to cooperate with caseworkers, the court, and others involved in the case. So if you can present those things, you will be ahead.
I say go for it, and good luck.
Readers, what thoughts, experiences, and knowledge do you have on this topic?