I’m not the activist type; never have been. I’m more the lay-low, wallflower, live-and-let-live sort. And, truth be told, I’ve never been the most faithful ‘Glee’ watcher, though I’ve seen enough of the hit Fox series to get the gist. But when I learned what was going on this season, I had to get involved.
‘Glee’ prides itself on teaching tolerance, acceptance and general “be nice to one another” behavior. The obligatory TV drama is ever-present; however, the messages are typically admirable and authentic – that is, except the one about adoption.
This season has cheerleader Quinn (Dianna Agron), who placed a daughter for adoption a year prior, vowing to take back “custody” of the child, and angrily telling the baby’s adoptive mother to stop acting like her “real mother.” Not-so-coincidentally, the baby’s adoptive mother is Shelby (Idina Menzel), who we now know is the biological mother of Lea Michele’s Rachel (one of Quinn’s peers). The teaser for later episodes shows Quinn with a bottle of hot sauce in-hand, devilishly vowing to “PROVE she’s an unfit mother” in her quest to get the baby back.
This storyline, while perfectly dramatic for TV purposes, perpetuates some of the most harmful myths about adoption. It is perfectly appropriate to show Quinn struggling with the decision she made; that is a side of adoption that is rarely exposed and it is great to shine more light on it.
However, the stereotype of the young birth mother who comes unhinged a year after the adoption and becomes hellbent on getting the baby back is, for the most part, a myth.
Furthermore, the vast majority of adoptions in the United States are open to some degree. This was touched on briefly through Quinn and Puck visiting their daughter, but so much more could be done to shed light on this very important point. Even the use of the word “custody” in Quinn’s rant isn’t entirely accurate, as custody of an already-adopted child is not in question, at least not in a legal sense.
Finalization of an adoption means that a child is as much a part of the adoptive family as they were of the biological family they were born into.
As a member of the adoption community myself, I noticed that message boards, blogs, and Facebook were abuzz the day after the episode with talk of how adoption was being portrayed. Adoptive parents, adoptees and birth parents alike said that they felt birth mothers were being portrayed badly through Quinn’s downward spiral. Adoptive parents shifted uncomfortably in their seats, and some adoptees were downright frightened. One adoptive mother in particular posted that her pre-teen child (who was adopted in childhood, not infancy) was scared by the episode and the idea that her birth mother could appear and take her back.
I kept thinking of a 14-year-old girl in small town America facing an unplanned pregnancy. She is the epitome of ‘Glee’s’ target demographic; she’s scared, young and impressionable, and she’s desperate for a resolution to her situation. Perhaps she knows she wouldn’t be allowed back in the house with a baby. The idea that she could see this show and – because she desperately wants to – could believe that adoption works the way it is depicted on the screen would be an injustice to her and her baby alike. What she took away from the show was that one phone call after the baby’s birth: a picture-perfect couple who would come get the baby, her life would go back to normal, and everyone would live happily ever after. And then she could get the baby back later when she felt she was ready to be a parent.
That, for me, was the last straw. I had to DO something. I started a petition on change.org, asking ‘Glee’s’ Executive Producer, Ryan Murphy, to produce a public service announcement about the realities of adoption. It is not an anti-Glee crusade; I’m not asking them to scrap the storyline or even to change it. I’m asking them to point people to reliable resources where they can get accurate information about how adoption really works. When I started the petition, I was expecting my closest friends and family to sign it, and then for it to shrivel up and die.
What happened instead has blown me away.
Within a couple of days, there were more than 100 signatures, and the wonderful staff at change.org contacted me to ask how they could help me with it. Together, we began to spread the word. Less than two weeks later, more than 1,700 people have signed the petition. I have received countless messages of support, not only from fellow adoptive parents but also from adoptees and, best of all, birthparents. People on all sides of adoption agree that a PSA would be a positive addition to the dramatic – but maybe not realistic – storyline playing out on ‘Glee.’
Of course, not all of the feedback has been positive. I have received various nasty messages, mostly from people who had negative experiences with adoption many years ago. One accused me of “refusing to believe adoption is not all rainbows and puppy dogs,” which is particularly humorous, considering our family went through a whole lot of adoption-related negativity and heartache before being blessed with our precious child.
Another informed me that I am the equivalent of a drug dealer or a person who uses prostitutes because I adopted my son, thereby creating demand for more babies for “trafficking.”
Some insist that adoption is nothing more than the act of coercing a woman to “give away” or even to sell her child so that an agency can get rich off desperate adoptive couples. And still others beg and plead with me to open my (presumably closed) mind and understand that the best gift I can give my child is the opportunity to wonder about his birthfamily and ask questions.
None of them have bothered to ask me about our adoption; if they had, they would know that it is very open and that my son already has a great relationship with his birth mother.
They assume that if our son hadn’t been adopted that he would be with his biological family living happily ever after. They don’t realize that he would have gone straight into the already overloaded foster care system and stayed there, possibly permanently. They also assume that I plan to lie to him about how he came to exist in this world and why he is a member of our family.
Not the case at all. But they never bothered to ask.
So to all those who have decided to attack or dismiss me based on their own assumptions and without even trying to understand, I say: I do realize it’s “just a TV show.” This is why I’m not asking for it to be scrapped, only for them to tack on a quick message during a break pointing people who are interested in adoption toward good resources for accurate information.
I do realize “kids shouldn’t be watching this show.” It’s funny how many people assume I started the petition because MY child was the one that got scared of being taken back by his birth parents. My kid is still just beginning to grasp ‘Yo Gabba Gabba,’ so don’t you worry about that.
I do realize that I’m “oversensitive.” Well, maybe. Wouldn’t you be? We’re talking about human beings here, not library books. We’re talking about an adopted child being distraught at the thought of being taken from their FAMILY. If it was a child potentially being taken from their birthfamily (that is, without any history of abuse or neglect), would you take issue with that? Is it simply biology that makes it okay to take a child from the only life, home and family he or she has ever known?
I do realize that “it’s our job to raise our kids, not a TV show’s.” But tell that to all of the wonderful parents who have done everything right whose kids still pick up ideas and habits from things they saw on TV. A few examples of this would be tastes in music or movies, fashion, driving skills, speech habits, how to treat fellow human beings and animals, that smoking cigarettes is cool, and that drinking until you pass out is harmless. It certainly is not a TV show’s responsibility to raise any child – quite the opposite. It just wouldn’t hurt for children to be exposed to some truth alongside the embellishment thereof.
I do realize that “TV shows aren’t obligated to be accurate.” Sure, that’s why TV is so often an escape from reality. However, this show constantly takes on REAL problems that REAL kids have. Everything – from homophobia to racism, sexism, and bullying – have been covered on ‘Glee.’ And the show has done an excellent job examining these topics and helping kids deal with them productively. Yet when it comes to adoption, it falls short of the standard it has set so high for itself. Whether we like to admit it or not, some kids trust this show because of how honestly these issues have been treated. Unless they know better already, they may not think to question this depiction of adoption, which is unfortunate. The show has a unique – and very valuable – opportunity to really educate people about the true nature of adoption.
I have had moments during which I’ve wondered if I did the right thing by starting this petition. However, every time I see the vote count (currently more than 2,600 people have signed it) and compare it with the number of “haters” (about 20), I realize I did the right thing.
After all, they call it the lunatic fringe for a reason.