Bastards, gays and respectable people…

February 21, 2014

I am not – by any stretch of the imagination – a regular blogger, but there are times when you simply have to speak up, and this is one of them. The following is written in a personal capacity.

The bastard, like the prostitute, thief, and beggar, belongs to that motley crowd of disreputable social types which society has generally resented, always endured. He is a living symbol of social irregularity, an undeniable evidence of contramoral forces; in short, a problem – a problem as old and unsolved as human existence itself.

Davis, K. (1939) ‘Illegitimacy and the Social Structure’.

American Journal of Sociology, 45(2): 215-233.

I have always thought of bastards (and I will explain my use of the term below) and lesbians/gay men as compatible brethren. Both have been despised and considered a ‘problem’ (often by the same groups of people), both are misunderstood, both experience discrimination and prejudice, not to mention the assumption of underlying deviance, and besides, for reasons as yet unknown, quite a few of us in the adoption community (myself included) also happen to be lesbian or gay.

Thankfully, it is becoming more and more unacceptable in Irish society to use words such as ‘queer’ or ‘gay’ as insults, but think about how many times you use the word ‘bastard’ as a derogatory term? And so, taking a leaf out of the LGBT book, many of us in the adoption community have reclaimed the word and proudly call ourselves ‘bastards’. Indeed, the name of the US adoption rights organisation ‘Bastard Nation’ is inspired by that of the gay rights group ‘Queer Nation’.

I grew up in an Ireland where getting pregnant outside of marriage was considered one of the worst sins imaginable. Much of the focus has (rightly) been on the women and girls who gave birth outside of marriage and I would argue that they have yet to have their day in court, for they endured their suffering without so much as an iota of support or compassion. But what about those of us who were adopted and forced to live our lives not knowing who we were? We grew up listening to contradictory messages about what and who we are – on the one hand, many of us were keenly aware that we were the products of something bad and yet on the other we were supposedly ‘chosen’ or ‘special’ and worst of all, the world tells us we should be ‘grateful’ for being adopted. As Rev Keith C. Griffith put it: ‘Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful’.

As I listened to Panti Bliss’s Noble Call at the Abbey, I was struck by another similarity between the adoption and LGBT communities. I am referring in particular to this part of her speech:

Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people – nice people, respectable people, smart people, the kind of people who make good neighbourly neighbours and write for newspapers. And they are having a reasoned debate about you. About what kind of a person you are, about whether you are capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether you are safe around children, about whether God herself thinks you are an abomination, about whether in fact you are “intrinsically disordered”. And even the nice TV presenter lady who you feel like you know thinks it’s perfectly ok that they are all having this reasonable debate about who you are and what rights you “deserve”.

And that feels oppressive.

Adopted people know exactly what that feels like, to have ‘respectable people’ debate about whether you should have the right to know who you are or whether your mother needs to be protected from you. And yes, it does feel oppressive. So, hold that thought for a moment if you will.

Most adopted people are under no illusions as to why they were separated from their natural mothers. In Catholic Ireland, the ‘unmarried mother’ was scorned and forced into secrecy and shame, and for most there was no hope of keeping the baby, there was no choice full stop. And let’s be clear about this – no man was ever incarcerated in a Magdalene Laundry or Mother and Baby Home. Men did not sign any adoption papers. This was and still is a women’s issue. More specifically, it is about the control of women and their right to make their own choices. Because of the brave souls who fought through the decades for women’s rights, domestic adoption in Ireland is almost a thing of the past. But Ireland continues to fail women in crisis pregnancy by denying them their choices.

I think I am safe to say without fear of litigation that the Iona Institute is against abortion. I think it’s also safe to say that the Iona Institute would say that it is against abortion because it wants to ‘protect’ the unborn child. As a product of crisis pregnancy, I am that child, and I’ve got to tell you Iona, I’m not feeling the love. Nobody of your kind ever came knocking on my door to ask if I was happy to be adopted, if I was safe, if I missed my mother or indeed, if I had issues with identity formation. It would appear that once a child is adopted into a Catholic, heterosexual family, that is where the ‘pro-life’ concerns end.

Over the past few years in Ireland there have been a lot of discussions about ‘the child’- what is best for ‘the child’, who is suitable to raise ‘the child’, and of course ‘the unborn child’. And yet when the issue is debated, instead of an adopted person or someone who has grown up in a single-parent family, the Iona Institute (or others of a similar disposition) has appeared on countless discussion panels as the so-called voice of the child. The problem is of course that during discussions about assisted human reproduction and adoption (and ‘the child’), the presence of these ‘respectable people’ on a panel invariably results in the real issue (i.e. children’s rights) being completely missed.

We have a long way to go in educating Irish society about the impact of closed secret adoption and anonymous egg, sperm and embryo donations. In the adoption community we are deeply concerned that Ireland is repeating history and much work needs to be done to recalibrate both assisted human reproduction and adoption towards child-centred practices. But homophobia has no place in these discussions. The rupturing of a child’s identity occurs because of bad legislation and bad social policy, not because of same-sex parenting. It is all too convenient for some to forget that straight couples are adoptive parents too and that they use assisted human reproduction, often with devastating results when the needs of adults are placed before those of children.

And that brings me to what has prompted my writing of this piece. Yesterday I read a piece in the Irish Catholic by Breda O’Brien in which (amongst other things) she discussed same-sex marriage and adoption. Ms O’Brien wondered had we learned anything from our past, at which point she went on to cite adopted people and Philomena Lee as examples. Ms O’Brien is at perfect liberty to hold whatever views she wishes, however antiquated they may be; but it is utterly disingenuous for a member of a conservative Catholic think tank to use the historical transgressions of Catholic Ireland to bolster present day prejudices against lesbians and gay men. And, citing Philomena Lee in this context is particularly reprehensible, especially given that her son Anthony/Michael was gay.

So, Iona, it is a free country and you are welcome to hold whatever opinions you like and insert yourself as stakeholders in matters that don’t concern you. But I am that child and you do not speak for me and this bastard will call you out every time you use adopted people’s issues to encourage discrimination and prejudice against the LGBT community.

37 Responses to “Bastards, gays and respectable people…”

  1. Edel Byrne said


  2. Louise Munster said

    Thank you

  3. Wonderful piece! You captured exactly the problem when those who are the subject of an issue are never invited to decide those issues. And as for the Pro Life folk? They are Pro Fetus, not Pro Life. Well done!

  4. This is really fantastic. Well said!

  5. John said

    My gosh, when I was a very young teenager, my adopted father told me that I was “special” because I was “chosen”. I am a “bastard” and proud!

  6. Alan said

    As a proud queer Irish bastard I thank you

  7. Well said, fantastic piece

  8. charlie easterfield said

    Great blog! As an adoptee, (I’d embrace the word Bastard, but in my case my parents died), I found one book really helpful, called The Primal Wound, understanding the adopted child, by Nancy Verrier. She explains that even a newborn child, who has no words and concepts, can feel abandonment, rejection, bereavement, and grief, for the voice she has heard in the womb….the severance of the bonding process, and that these feelings can colour your whole life. Well worth a read!

  9. Michelle said

    So eloquently written. Well done.

  10. William Taylor said

    Irish society has many social crimes to answer for.Christianity is indeed a thin veneer on some conservative Catholics but not all Catholics. Much of interest in the article but it does not reflect the opinion of all adopted persons and the topic should not be used to silence debate.Conservative or radical all must be heard in the debate to ensure no side can claim later they were not heard.

  11. oisin said

    Thank You, Claire – Again.

  12. […] From an adoptee from Ireland: Bastards, gays and respectable people… […]

  13. One of the better pieces I have read in a while emotional,sensitive and truly informative !! keep speaking out!!

  14. Rosie said

    Well said, excellent article

  15. ollie breslin said

    well done, god she annoyed me this morning on marian finucanes programme – and also marian for giving her such an easy time

  16. Colleen Anderson said

    Enjoyed this.

  17. David Reid said

    Thank you excellent and eloquent writing

  18. Terri Mooney said

    Beautifully written from a person with great clarity and awareness who speaks the truth with humanity and honesty.

  19. That was so, so good, thank you for writing it.

  20. Ian Phillip Creaner said

    You have given me a voice I have never even been aware of. Thank you. I was adopted by a “good catholic family” and underwent the worst nightmare of any child within that family. I wish I had truly caring parents, gay or otherwise.

  21. great piece, personal and yet representative

  22. Reblogged this on "I care because I care" and commented:
    well worth a read

  23. Grattan said

    Thank you for your words, they ring so many bells for me.

    I’m an adopter, I’m also gay, Although the circumstances of our kids’ adoption is very different and in a very environment from yours. But that lack of recognition of the trauma and the losses the kids have experienced, by being removed from abusive ‘natural’ parents, that they loved, and then the loss of their beloved foster carers, does not make them lucky or blessed. it’s tragic. No child should ever have to experience what they went through, they have nothing to be grateful for. We’re the blessed ones, we get to witness their resilience, as they grow in confidence and self-esteem..

    Yet Iona and that vile woman pontificate about family and nature and marriage and love. They add nothing to this ‘debate.’ They hijack children’s issues. They foster hate, and they have managed to drive this queer from being anti-marriage (why ape what straights have already messed up) into one of it’s strongest supporters (for others).

  24. Claire – what can I say – this is just perfect! I couldn’t bring myself to listen to BoB on the Marione Finucan show. I guessed in advance that one “nice respectable woman” either couldn’t nor wouldn’t challenge another “nice respectable women” so I’ll replay it when I have a few free hours to write up a reply. My favorite quote from your blogg is
    “We grew up listening to contradictory messages about what and who we are – on the one hand, many of us were keenly aware that we were the products of something bad and yet on the other we were supposedly ‘chosen’ or ‘special’ and worst of all, the world tells us we should be ‘grateful’ for being adopted.”
    This needs to go up front & central on our website

  25. H. Flynn said

    Wow! Well said.

  26. Gillian said

    The word bastard was appropriated long ago and lost the power of its original meaning 30 odd years ago. I remember clearly having the meaning of the word explained to me when I was 4 prior to that it was a word you called someone who was mean to you. I am adopted and unlike my brother my identity is just fine I am the product of the parents who raised me. Don’t forget those people who were married and could not afford to raise their children in a lot of instances children were also adopted within the family.

  27. helena mccann said

    This is a fantastic piece, completely on the point. Very well done for saying what needs very badly to be said. Promoting prejudice on the back of individuals who have suffered enough is reprehensible.


  28. Denise said

    I just want to say that I am adopted and know who I am. It is not a bad thing to be adopted. If we were born, it is the way it was supposed to be.

  29. beautifully written and very well argued, well done and thank you

  30. Fran Tinkler said

    Wow, powerful piece. Well done!

  31. Tony Cooney said

    Touching, moving, inspirational and succinctly posited Claire. BoB (and her ilk) is a womans issue, an LGBT issue and a BIG issue. It’s time to call stop press and shut that issue down, once and for all.

  32. Michael McGettrick said

    That was a very educational and well thought out passage. I was born in Texas but was raised by a parent who was born and raised in Belfast.

  33. Reblogged this on An Cailín Rua and commented:
    It’s an old post but nevertheless holds true – a really worthwhile and powerful read by Claire McGettrick on why homophobia has no place in the discussion of children’s rights.

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