Isaac Reed Age 17
I interviewed Isaac at 9am on Sunday morning, June 12, 2016. As he got ready to leave, we hugged. When the door closed I checked my phone. Someone on Facebook had posted: “ If you know a young GLBTQ person of Color, please give them a hug and tell them how important they are.” I thought, “Cool! I just did that!” Then I read on, hearing for the first time about Orlando.
Who Am I? I am unique. I am not a normal story. I have two moms and a sister. I’m gay. I’m adopted from India and I grew up in a white wealthy neighborhood. I could care less about sports. In the last year I lost one of my moms and two grandparents. I wake up at 5am. I go to bed at 8:30pm I am not a typical teenager .
I was born in Calcutta, India and adopted into a two-mom family in Minneapolis. I came home when I was 6 months old. I’ve been told it was sweltering when we got to Minneapolis, but I was fine with it since it was like that where I came from. My mom Jan was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before I was adopted, so I never knew her without her cancer. There was a point where she was in remission, but that was only for a short time. She passed away last May. It’s been a rough year.
I was two years old on 9/11. When President Obama was elected I was in fifth grade. I was so excited. It was historic. In retrospect his election was a mixed bag. We still have a long way to go.They didn’t show the inauguration at Armatage elementary school. They showed it at Kenny and a bunch of other schools. My mom was upset they decided not to show it at my school.
I was 14 when we got marriage equality in Minnesota. My moms always told me they were married in their hearts and that was what mattered. It was interesting to see different people in our community making the decision to get married or not. It is so important to have a choice. Still, for full equality, we have a long way to go.
My mom Cindy, got together with someone shortly after my mom Jan died and I really like her. Her name is Kristin. It is hard for people to understand that even though Kristin is in our family, we still love and miss Jan everyday. She was a wonderful mother, and I feel incredibly blessed to have gotten 16 years with her.
I have a sister, age 15. She was also adopted from the same orphanage in Calcutta- IMH, International Mission of Hope. She was born with bleeding in the brain which led to cerebral palsy so she uses a wheel chair to get around. When I describe her to someone I try not to say “she’s the one in the wheel chair.” That like saying, “he’s the fat kid.” But its hard. That is the description that people first see. My sister and I are incredibly close. I love her so so much. She is my best friend, and I couldn’t be in this world without her. She is a guiding force in my life.
I recently went back to India with an organization that specializes in trips for people who have been adopted. I was going to go with my mom, Jan, before she died. I went with my aunt, Beth, Jan’s sister, instead.
I have a twin, born and brought into the orphanage the same day. We don’t know if we are biological twins. He lives in Boston. He grew up with a strong Indian influence. He lives with his mom and his sister. I grew up watching American cartoons and using a dishwasher while he grew up reading Bollywood comics and eating Indian food. When I told him I was going to India he was indifferent – like, “Well good for you’.
My knowledge of India before I went was all things I made up in my head, like dirt roads. To see the truth of it was incredible. One of the things I enjoyed most was being with other kids who looked liked me and had my American experiences. They knew what a double cheeseburger was. We could talk about Dunkin Doughnuts. Usually when I meet someone from India they have an accent and family ties in India. We look alike but we don’t have anything else in common.
I went to Calcutta, where my orphanage (INH) was. I met a man who was adopted through INH, who moved back to Calcutta as an adult and started an adoption alternative, Foster Care India.
Turns out INH was corrupt. They burned their papers including birth certificates. There are no documents left about my birth. It is a huge mystery. The only thing good about INH was the superb care we got. They focused on premature babies. If a girl got pregnant and she wasn’t married, they induced labor at 6 months so no one would know she was pregnant. When I was born I weighed one pound, five ounces.
In Minneapolis I don’t know adoptees from India but I do know many adopted kids. We have a social network of adoptees with two-mom families.
I live in Southwest Minneapolis and go to South High School which isn’t in my school zone. I disagreed with my parents decision to send me to South and I still do. My parents thought I would have better Special Ed. supports. I have ADHD, depression, anxiety. Teachers always say I m great, I’m smart but I don’t finish assignments.
In Middle School I had a tough time and hopped schools : Anthony, Minneapolis Academy, Folwell, and back to Anthony, All of them were White schools except for Folwell. So it was pretty amazing at South to see people who looked like me. We have a Native American program that is incredible. Beautiful. I have friends in it.
I grew up in a very different neighborhood than where South is. My neighborhood is 95% Caucasian. 95% two parents, two kids, a dog and a cat. I feel really safe. We don’t worry about locking our doors. I take it for granted that I can walk outside at ten at night and not worry about anything. (Although people don’t walk in my neighborhood unless they are walking their dog.)
So it is interesting to go to South. I see people on the streets. There is a bus line that people actually use. Going to South has made me realize that people don’t all live in the fantasy world I live in. I think it has made me a better person.
Being at South has broadened my perspective but it has also isolated me socio-economically. It’s hard to switch over. When I say “I’m going to Hawaii for Spring break” my friends say “ I’m going to take care of my little brothers.” I can choose not to tell them things like that, but they can tell where I come from. I show up in my own car… If I make a friend, its hard to get them to come over to my house. It’s an hour bus ride for them.
Even after three years it’s still hard.
I have not joined the GLBT group at South. There are only five people in it. I don’t want to be confined to those five people. At Southwest they have a large group. More than 20, I think. People are dating each other. I would like to date someone of the same sex. That is not happening at South. Right now I don’t really have friends at Southwest or Washburn either. So I spend a lot of time alone.
I’m not in any clubs at South. I may join the South dance team next year. For eight years I was involved in Young Dance, a city youth dance company. On Saturdays we’d be downtown. Other days we rehearsed at Barton school. I did it until my sister got involved and it became her thing and not mine anymore.
This summer I am taking a course at the Loft with a StarTrib journalist. I am excited. I enjoy all kinds of music except country. I love the Hamilton Soundtrack. I love Broadway soundtracks. The Indigo Girls speak my truth. I danced with them on stage when I was 10 years old.
I am focused on my future. I have two different plans. One is to be an Occupational Therapist working with people with permanent special needs like my sister. The other is to be a Foreign Service Officer and work in a place like Baghdad. I like that whole embassy experience. I’d like to say there’s a reason behind that Foreign Service Officer thing that is meaningful and moving but the truth is I watched the TV show Homeland and thought it’d be really fun.
Someday I’d also like to go back to India and do something like Foster Care India.
For college I want to stay around here — family distance. Maybe Mankato, Winona State, UW Schools, Hope College in Michigan — it has a good Occupational therapy program and I know someone from the India trip who went there.
I go to Church on Diamond Lake – UCC. My mom Jan is buried in a columbarium there. Its a place where her ashes are – and a plaque. It’s a mixed bag going there now. Lots of support – but its a constant reminder.. .
I think my sleep habits are a reaction to grief. I don’t want to join a grief group at South. I feel like we would just all sit around and cry. I don’t want to be stuck in that place. And I might not have anything else in common with the others…..
One time that I felt a sense of community at South is when I participated in a Black Lives Matter walkout. We walked in the middle of the street from South to Martin Luther King Park where we met up with other schools. It got on the national news and helped change the story. I felt like, wow, we really can make a change. It was powerful. You know, if one person walks out, they get suspended, but they can’t suspend 500 students. We all were there for one purpose,for something we really believed in. I felt like we were unified ….
Hmmm. I think I just talked myself into going to a grief group.