It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Today’s Badass is Diana Adams. Diana is a lawyer who specializes in working with members of non-traditional families, such as members of the LGBT and poly communities, sincle parent families or grandparent child guardians. She herself openly identifies as a queer poly woman and has also been engaging in activism to foster acceptance polyamory and non-traditional relationships. You can read more about her here and here.
Without further ado, here she is!
You are a lawyer who works specifically with non-traditional families. How and when did you decide to go this route? What came first – your interest in law or your dedication to social justice?
I’ve had a passion for social justice for as long as I can remember. My decision to go to law school came later, from a desire to better understand our justice and political system, to add to my skillset as an activist, and to feel greater confidence that I could support myself as a social justice activist. Now, I take pleasure in injecting my radical perspective into the legal community and the political establishment, and try to use my privileged status as a highly educated attorney to bring the voices of the disempowered to the powerful.
I’ve explored several different varieties of public interest law, from direct legal services to families in poverty or domestic violence situations, to impact litigation, to government work. I didn’t find the job that was just right for me, so I did a lot of exploring to find the work I’m passionate about, and figured out a way to get paid for it. Diana Adams Law and Mediation, my family law and mediation practice is a business, not a non-profit, but I provide services primarily to the LGBTQ community, polyamorous community, those who choose not to get married, nonromantic co-parents or domestic partners, and other varieties of modern family who may not get the family recognition they deserve and the associated benefits. I do a lot of sperm donor agreements and lesbian second parent adoptions, so that the non-biological mother gets legal recognition as a parent. I use my mediation skills to assist families in creating intentional family agreements at the start of their journey as co-parents or financial partners, such as prenuptial agreements for those getting married, co-habitation agreements for partners who choose not to, or co-parenting agreements, sometimes between people who have gotten pregnant accidentally, parents who have split up or divorced, or between a polyamorous triad or quad who intend to co-parent, or a gay man and his female best friend who want to be parents together. I also use mediation and collaborative law to resolve divorce, child custody, and child support agreements out of court. I also represent people in child custody cases who are accused of being perverts or sex addicts, who may just have a non-normative sexuality but be great parents.
I’m on the Board of Directors of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, and do legislative advocacy and public education in favor of government support for the many nontraditional families that exist, beyond marriage, as well as comprehensive sex education, reproductive freedom, and other LGBTQ issues. My law practice is not what I would have expected for myself as a social justice activist, but I have found great satisfaction in supporting people in creating healthy families with intention and positive open communication, and in keeping families out of court with the same skills. My legal work supports the pro bono work I do in the LGBTQ community and my legislative activism, and it really works for me.
What sort of responses have you gotten for your work by other lawyers? The court systems? Is there a general interest in being more inclusive, or do you feel pretty alone with your work?
I teach alternative and queer family formation at law schools and to groups of attorneys, and I enjoy raising awareness and respect for nontraditional family forms within the legal community. Law schools teach us the perspective that everyone deserves representation; I found this challenging when it was used to justify representing corporations with unethical practices. Now, I can use that argument to teach law students about queer, polyamorous, or non-nuclear family forms, because if students want to practice family law in the 21st century, they’ll need to be aware that fewer than half of American families are married, and that these other families need their rights respected.
Although I’m a radical within the legal community and definitely stand out, both for my practice area and the fact that I’m an openly queer polyamorous woman, I’ve been impressed at how much respect and appreciation I get from local bar associations, law schools, and fellow attorneys for my ideas and my innovative solo law and mediation practice. There’s a tremendous amount of interest in alternative family forms.
Within the courts, however, I find that judges in conservative areas are much less receptive to my nontraditional clients. I can often predict an outcome of a case based on fact pattern and zip code, based on how far upstate the county is located. Child custody standards, for instance, are based on the best interest of the child, which is a very subjective standard that can be influenced by a judge’s personal experiences of family and lifestyle.
You yourself, as a polyamorous person, are living in a non-traditional family. How did you come to realize that you are poly? What has it been like living your life as a very vocal, openly poly person?
I’ve always known that I want to be a mother and have a family, but as a feminist, the idea of pledging sexual monogamy to another person never felt natural to me. In particular, traditional possessive relationships were very unappealing to me. I started exploring my bisexuality as a young adult (and now identify as queer because I’m attracted to people beyond the gender binary that the word bisexual seems to reinforce). I wanted to be able to date both women and men separately, because those are different very important parts of myself. It didn’t feel realistic to promise sexual fidelity to one person and therefore one gender. Polyamory allows my partners and me to create our own rules of conducting our relationship rather than adopting cultural traditions about the commitments we’re expected to make. It allows me to express my desires to be in emotionally connected relationships with people of both genders, with full honesty, consent and negotiation of all those involved. The communication involved has been an amazing journey of self-awareness and personal discovery, as well as intimacy and growth with my amazing primary partner Ed.
Many of us fear being ‘out’ about our sexualities, and hide those aspects of ourselves so that we can be taken seriously professionally, especially as women. I chose to be open about being queer and polyamorous to break through this cultural shame about our sexualities, and present myself as a sexual being AND as a serious academic and professional. I also chose to be open to present my polyamorous family as a model of honest, egalitiarian, sex-positive relationships, in this time of rampant infidelity and re-evaluation of what family means. Fewer than half of American adults are married, but we don’t have many other visible models of what family can look like.
When I came out about being polyamorous and queer in the NY Times and on many television interviews, many friends and family of mine were panicked that I was ruining my career. Instead, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the interest and support I’ve received. Overall, my career may even have been enhanced by boldly coming out, and it helped make my niche as the lawyer for alternative families and my power as a public speaker. I encourage everyone to consider coming out as LGBTQ or poly, if it will not affect their job or an unstable child custody situation. We often fear coming unnecessarily, and it has a positive example for many people.
As a speaker, you also conduct workshops on relationship skills. What is your aim for these workshops? Where do you see people struggling most, and what is your advice for them?
I’m passionate about open communication, and a development of emotional skills that folks generally are not taught but are essential for negotiating relationships and one’s own boundaries. I teach physical self-defense workshops on college campuses, and also teach about communication skills involved with negotiating sexual boundaries. I think this has a power to have an impact on sexual assaults on campuses, because it gives tools to navigate healthy sexual relationships and consent. With adults who are interested in forming families, I assist with navigating self-awareness, interests, concerns, and help people create stable agreements about everything from shared finances, to co-parenting, to open relationships.
I advise everyone who has trouble saying no to practice it regularly and find a style that feels comfortable to you. Congratulate yourself when you politely send a wrong order back at a restaurant, if that was once difficult for you. We need these skills of boundary setting to build healthy relationships, and if we can’t set limits everyday, we can’t expect to be able to set limits when it could protect us from unhealthy relationships or unwanted sexual advances. I recommend that people consider their personal growth to be an exciting adventure of continual evolution and discovery, and work on the emotional skills that challenge us most.
What projects are you currently working on? What do you have planned for the near future?
I’m currently working to plan Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance’s fall conference, the Sexual Freedom Summit, in Washington, DC from September 21-23. This will the major sex-positive east coast conference this year, and I strongly recommend that everyone attend who is interested in protecting our sexuality from political attack from the rightwing. This summit brings together thought leaders from the worlds of comprehensive sex education, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, sex workers rights and 1st amendment sexual expression. We all face aggressive attack in the current political environment for daring to argue that our sexual freedom and health is our fundamental human right and reject a culture of sexual shame. We must unify as a movement to understand our commonalities and strategize for a cultural and political defense of adult consensual sexual expression! I hope you’ll join the movement and see me there.