Not long after I announced that my ex had discovered my blog and made an emergency application to the court seeking sole custody of our children, I was contacted by numerous parents who had been though similar court challenges of their custody based upon their particular sexual lifestyles.
A father wrote to share his sympathies, offering to do anything he could to help. He told me his ex had won custody of their children on the basis of his involvement with BDSM. I was contacted by another parent, a woman who had retained custody of her children despite her ex's efforts to prove her unfit because she is transgendered. I heard from many other parents whose suitability as custodial parents was called into question based on their sexuality or lifestyle. Some had lost custody, some had won custody, but all knew how harrowing the court process is —not only for the parents, but for the children as well.
Those of us who choose to blog our lives do so at some risk, particularly those of us with readers who may seek to use our words against us. As it happens, parents like myself who do so enter into a gray area in the rights to free speech. In child custody cases, the basic standard is the best interests of the child. The definition of "best interests" may differ according to each specific child in each specific situation. First Amendment concerns in relationship to child custody issues remains largely undefined and untested. It is uncertain how a court will decide when faced with an author, such as myself, who blogs and has also been published in respected and “legitimate” publications over the years. Free speech is a real concern in this case: will the court decide that I am no longer allowed to write about the coexistence of my life as a joint custodial parent and as a sexually active adult?
Each of these child custody/sexual lifestyle cases truly matters to our community. As Anita Wagner, polyamory skills educator and advocate, recently wrote to me, "Child custody is by far the greatest legal challenge to people who are engaged in alternative forms of sexuality. As polyamorous parents go, fortunately we are seeing more and more interest from researchers, and we hope that before too long there will be enough scientific verification to support poly parents. Valerie White is a big part of that effort, and I was glad to see that she is supporting your cause."
I'm deeply appreciative of the support of Valerie White, Executive Director of the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund, for her advice and encouragement, and for her creation of a legal defense fund to assist in this case. I'm also profoundly grateful for the assistance offered by Lambda Legal and by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. These organizations are on the frontlines for our community. If you are unfamiliar with their work, please visit their websites and search the web for examples of the very real impact they have made in the lives of individuals and families.
As for my custody case, it continues apace. The next step is expected to be a psychiatric evaluation of each parent. In my case, this may be ordered to determine if my involvement in BDSM and polyamory is due to some type of psychopathology.
Many of you may gnash your teeth to read this. You know that study after study has shown that people involved in safe, sane and consensual BDSM and polyamory are no more likely than anyone else to suffer from mental illness. And yet the popular perception remains that submissive types are masochists reenacting child abuse or are victims of abuse at the hands of their dominant partner. Similarly, there is the lingering perception that the dominant type is in truth a sadistic abuser. And so it goes, on and on, until the end of pop psychology.
While the activist in me wants to shout out that these are unfair characterizations and wrong-minded assumptions, the parent in me is glad that courts, in these cases, are careful to protect the best interests of the children involved. Of course I'll submit to psychiatric evaluation if it is ordered by the court, confident that my engagements with BDSM and polyamory are not born of pathology.
This evaluation will add even more costs to my legal case, as the court will order that that I pay the fee of the psychiatrist. When this case began, I was told that I should expect to spend approximately twenty thousand dollars, due to the way the case was filed by emergency order to show cause, and that it was best to have the money on hand immediately. (As it happens, that estimate is proving to have been entirely accurate. To put it in perspective, that amount of money might have bought a new car or contributed to a freshman year at Harvard—and this is in addition to the tens of thousands spent by my ex in bringing this motion.) Fortunately, I've been able to pay legal and other fees in phases. The next phase will be to finish paying the law guardian and the psychiatrist as well as any further fees of my own lawyer.
Thanks to all of you who have contributed, and are now contributing, to my legal defense fund.
Make an ANONYMOUS, TAX-DEDUCTIBLE contribution to Jefferson’s legal defense by visiting the Sexual Freedom Defense and Education Fund at:
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