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For Some Adoptees, a Time to Be Courageous

In most respects, Ben Cable-McCarthy’s search for his birth mother was not that unusual.

Although he was adopted and raised by loving parents, he began to have strong feelings as a teen-ager about the woman who gave him up.

Who was she? Where was she? What does she look like? Does she think of me?

Ten years would pass, however, before he would act on those feelings.

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In January, shortly before his 28th birthday, Cable-McCarthy made it his New Year’s resolution to find her. There were all the emotional twists, turns and dead-ends you usually hear about in these cases: the adoption agency that claimed it “hit a brick wall,” detectives who said they could do nothing without a name, a disconnected telephone.

He wasn’t about to give up, but he didn’t know what else to do until he read about a group dedicated to adoption reform, and with its help, quickly found Deborah Sloane, his birth mother.

She lives on Cape Cod, he discovered, where she hand-paints T-shirts for tourists. She raised three other children, ranging in age from 18 to 23, and has a 5-year-old at home. The older children live in Enfield, Conn., close to where Cable-McCarthy grew up, close to where his adoptive parents still live.

Sloane put her first child up for adoption when she was 17 and a junior in high school. She never married his father. Five years ago, she told her children they had a brother, and at that point, had tried halfheartedly to find him.

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When Cable-McCarthy made contact, the family was delighted. They spoke on the phone. They exchanged letters and pictures.

It was almost like he was being interviewed:

Are you married?

Yes, I’ve been married a year.

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Kids?

Not yet.

Tell us about your wife.

Oh, we have plenty of time to talk about that.

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It was awkward for him, because he wanted to talk about his marriage in person. He worried that when they discovered who he’d chosen as a mate, they’d want nothing to do with him.

On July 10, Cable-McCarthy flew from California to Connecticut to meet his biological family. He was terrified. When the plane landed, he was paralyzed. Finally, he willed himself out of his seat and began to walk toward the gate where a crowd of people waited.

At the gate, there were hugs, tears and television news cameras. It all went smoothly, and they made plans to meet in a few days. Cable-McCarthy went home to his adoptive family and that evening, watched the reunion on the TV news with his mother, father and sister.

When it came time to sit down and talk with his newfound family, Cable-McCarthy was prepared for the worst. In case they kicked him out, he had coins for a telephone, cash for a taxi and credit cards.

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“I knew I might just be seeing them, and looking at them, and getting some of my questions answered,” he said. “But I also risked losing them. Even when I met them, I had my barriers up. ‘Don’t get too close,’ I thought, ‘because they’ll reject you.’ ”

Just before he blurted out his news, he was lightheaded, almost faint: “This is not easy for me to say. All of you asked me about my wife. I never said I had a wife. I’m gay. And that’s that.”

Being gay is not something Cable-McCarthy feels he must hide. His adoptive family has known for many years and has always been supportive. A resident of West Hollywood, he is a member of the activist group Queer Nation. His wedding was no low-key affair; 200 were invited and, yes, he was registered for wedding gifts. He and his spouse hyphenated their last names to signify commitment.

Still, this was like coming out all over again.

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He searched his family’s faces for rejection. Among the siblings, there was none.

Jon Landry, the oldest brother, leaned forward. “We knew it!” he said.

He had wondered whether Ben was gay after several phone conversations.

“When we would say wife , he would say spouse ,” Landry said. “Also, he sent us photos without his spouse. . . . it was a little odd.”

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Cable-McCarthy’s biological mother, however, was quiet.

“It threw her,” said Jon’s wife. “It was like a bomb had dropped.”

“Well,” Deborah Sloane finally said, “when you know there’s something negative in your life, you change it.”

But Cable-McCarthy remains optimistic.

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“Nobody wants their kid to be gay,” he said this week. “It’s gonna be hard for her, but she’ll have to deal with it.”

He hopes his story gives other gay adoptees the courage to keep looking for their biological families, despite the obstacles and obvious risks.

“We’re so used to getting punched in the face just for being gay,” he said. “You just have to be prepared for the worst scenario.”

And hope things turns out for the best.

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