A Canadian Cheerios commercial has been making the Internet rounds these last few days before hitting TV channels this week. You see two good-looking, white, 30-something gay men talking. A toddler, a black girl, climbs from one guy to the other: They are her dads. The men speak English with endearing French accents, and they talk about their life together and the adoption of their daughter.
Web magazine Jezebel calls it a "touching adoption story," Slate says it is "adorable," and other less prominent websites use words like "heartwarming."
The commercial is the first in a series from General Mills Canada's Cheerios brand. Jason Doolan, the company's director of marketing for cereal, told Canadian magazine Marketing:
We were in meeting with [the advertising] agency talking about issue of disconnection in society, this epidemic of loneliness. We talked about the history of Cheerios and the role it could play in bringing people together. Somebody stood up and said, "You know, when you put two Cheerios in a bowl, they float together." It didn't take more than 30 seconds on Google for someone to say, "It's a real thing." We think it's a perfect metaphor for human beings' desire to connect.
I am a white gay dad of two African-American kids as well, and I can surely relate to the feelings of these men in an intimate way. But, honestly, I am taken aback by the commercial, and not only because André and Jonathan are selling an intimate story of a life-changing personal event to a corporation to promote a breakfast product but because, more problematically, the commercial completely glosses over of the more profound dimensions of adoption. Adoption is often rooted in dark social situations and debilitating personal circumstances: poverty, racism, mental and physical illness, restrictive social mores and so forth. There is a reason that the men's child is black, and it's connected with how our society deals with issues in communities of color, here and abroad.
The commercial -- and we must remember that it is a commercial, not a mini-documentary -- spends just one short moment communicating some awareness of the other party in adoption, the first family, when one of the men speaks about the "risk she [the child] can go back in her biological family," referring to the days or weeks after the adoption in which the biological mother is legally allowed to change her mind. The men immediately follow the acknowledgment of that "risk" with an expression of relief that that didn't happen, saying, rather inarticulately, "Now she is really cool. She has love. She has confidence." The reference to the first family is in fact not about that family but about the fears of the adoptive parents.
I wish this commercial were an isolated incident, but many representations of infant adoptions in gay and mainstream media are just as one-sided. There is a happy website, Gays With Kids, which shows mainly good adoptive-parent news stories. The LGBT advocacy organization Family Equality Council has the slogan "Love. Justice. Family. Equality," but it appears that they're only concerned about justice and equality for adoptive families and not for first families. The larger LGBT organization Human Rights Campaign has on its website a blog post titled "8 Questions to Ask Before Starting the Adoption Process" that doesn't include any consideration of where these adoptable kids actually come from.
As a gay father, I find it hard to understand why a highly successful social movement, one rooted in social activism and focused on real change, is just as conservative as the rest of our mainly straight society where adoption is concerned. It seems that many gay men, like many straight couples and single parents, don't want to see the bigger picture of adoption, a picture in which the first parents are seriously represented, their plight and perspectives acknowledged and regarded as prompts for social activism. Adopting a black child like André and Jonathan have done comes with an obligation to the family and the community of which the child was and still is a part. How to fulfill that obligation is a personal choice, but in my view, lying back and enjoying "normal" family life is not an option. I never regarded being gay as "normal," and I don't regard my "gay fatherhood" as "normal" either.
The little cheerio that floats in a bowl of milk to two already-together cheerios is a false image of adoption -- and of human relationships, for that matter -- since no person is ever an island. Every adopted child is connected to a multitude of others who are in fact visible outside the constructed world of a touching and brilliantly made if frustrating commercial.
An earlier version of this post originally appeared on Daily Kos.