A Mother Reflects On Privilege, Adoption And Parenting 'Without Perfection'

Jun 18, 2020
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Race became a central issue in my guest Kristen Howerton's life when she adopted two black children. Howerton is white. She decided to adopt after several miscarriages. First, she adopted a 6-month-old who was in foster care. And later, she adopted an infant from an orphanage in Haiti. But by the time the adoption went through, he was 3 years old. After being told she would never be able to have biological children, she gave birth to two daughters.

Her new book, "Rage Against The Minivan," which is also the name of the blog she created several years ago, is about miscarriage, birth, adoption, being the daughter of a pastor and then the wife of a pastor and then leaving the church. And it's about race and what she learned about white privilege. Howerton is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She co-hosts the podcast "Selfie." Kristen Howerton, welcome to FRESH AIR.

KRISTEN HOWERTON: Well, thanks for having me.

GROSS: On Twitter, you describe yourself as a skilled catastrophizer. Now that we're actually living with multiple catastrophes - the pandemic, police killings of young black men, economic disaster - how are you doing?

HOWERTON: Well, I was joking with another friend, who's also a skilled catastrophizer. And we were saying, you know, we've sort of been living for this. Like, we've been...

(LAUGHTER)

HOWERTON: We've been assuming that something terrible was lurking around the corner our entire lives. And, you know, once the pandemic happened, it's like, here we go. Here we go. It's interesting. I feel like, while this is certainly stressful, living in the middle of a pandemic, it does feel, in a sense, like, well, I've been worrying my whole life. And now, here's the thing. Here's the thing to roll my sleeves up and deal with.

And then in terms of, you know, everything that's happening with the race conversation nationally, I mean, I definitely feel like I have been waiting for that to happen, too. As a mom of two black kids and someone who has just been desperate for America to kind of grapple with these issues that are very apparent to us, it does feel like we've been waiting for this conversation to happen.

GROSS: So let's talk about race. You have two biological white children and two adopted black children. Let's talk about what you've learned as the mother of two white and two black children. Let's start with the adoption. You adopted your first son after having several miscarriages and being told you'd never be able to carry to term. So how did you decide to adopt a black baby from foster care?

HOWERTON: Well, I knew that black children were overrepresented in foster care. And I also knew that black children were more likely to wait for parents. In fact, when we signed up and did our foster care classes, we were told that we were one of the few couples who were open to black children because, you know, when you go to adopt, you are given this checklist. And it's a checklist that no, you know, parent who gets pregnant has to fill out.

And you have to answer these very difficult questions about what kind of child you're open to, you know? Are you open to a medical condition? Are you open to physical deformities? And, you know, it's a list that you you feel like it's kind of a test of your humanity. You know, like, how good of a person am I if I am not open to a heart condition? But one of the questions on that questionnaire is race. And we were open to any race.

And, you know, we were told, well, it will be likely, then, that you're placed with a black child because we don't have as many families who have checked that box. And I was open to that. I have nephews who are black, you know? I felt, at the time, like I was well-prepared to raise a black child. Now, I would later learn that I was very naive and clueless. But at the time, I felt like, you know, we can do this. And, you know, I think we can raise a black child and make sure that, you know, they are experiencing their culture. But I had a steep learning curve ahead of me.

GROSS: You write, at first, having a black son was like a badge of pride, a badge of courage, proof that you were a kind and caring person and definitely not a racist, proof that you loved all of God's children. Can you elaborate on that for us, how it made you feel at first to have a black son?

HOWERTON: Yeah. I mean, well, first of all, I have to say that it's really cringey (ph) to talk about some of those feelings. But I put them in the book because I wanted to be really honest. I wanted to be really honest about some of the mentality that I had going in because I think it's a journey of becoming aware of my own race that a lot of white people have to be on, because I'd never been super aware of my own race. I think that's what we do as white people. We just kind of think we're default, you know? We think that other people have a racial identity and that we are just kind of, like, this void-less default or, even worse, normal.

So you know, when I adopted my first son, I felt very conspicuous all of a sudden because I'm walking around with a black child. And it wasn't that I was embarrassed. It was more that I felt like, well, you know, look; we're showing the world that, you know, love is all you need. We're showing the world that, you know, a family could look like two different races. And I just did have this naive thought that transracial adoption would be one way of fighting racism, you know, that if our - that if we as a family could show love across racial lines that that would somehow be, like, a beacon of hope for racism. And I think that that's a very misguided way of thinking. But I think it was there for me.

GROSS: But eventually, having a black son made you realize the optics of your own race for the first time and your understanding of white privilege. How did it help you understand what white privilege means?

HOWERTON: Well, first of all, I think I had to come to terms with white is a culture and a race, you know, that whiteness has its own set of values, of behaviors, of cultural norms, you know, that we are not just a default. And, you know, I even think of how we use the term ethnic. And we use the term ethnic to describe something that's not white, right? Ethnic food means it's a food from another country. And I think I had to come to terms with the idea that, like, whiteness is its own ethnicity and culture. And I had to figure out what that looked like for myself.

And then I had to recognize, in the middle of that, how many privileges I had as a result of being white. And those privileges could look like something small, like the fact that I can walk into a target and know they're going to have a shampoo that works for my hair. But when my kids were younger - now, this has changed quite a bit over the years. But when my kids were younger, I didn't know, if I walked into a store, if they would have a section for black hair. Or it look - you know, and these are benign examples. It could look like I could find a Band-Aid that matched the skin tone of my white kids but not my black kids.

But, you know, then there are much more troubling aspects of that white privilege, which is that I can reasonably assume that if I get pulled over, I won't be yanked out of the car and placed on the ground even if I got mouthy, or that I can reasonably assume that I'm not going to be shadowed and followed in a store and thought of as maybe someone who's going to steal something. And, you know, as my kids have grown - and I have two white children and two black children - the disparity in the way that the world sees them and perceives them has become very obvious to me.

GROSS: You describe an incident where you were hearing noises in your backyard, and you were afraid it was an intruder. You call the police, but then you started to worry - what if the police officer saw your son, one of your sons, and thought he was an intruder because he was black and you're white? Can you run through what your nightmare scenario was there?

HOWERTON: Well, you know, to be honest, the worst part of that is that I actually didn't predict that. I didn't have that fear until it was too late. I didn't think it through. And this would be another example of me sort of being confronted with my own privilege is I called the police as one does. I heard something crash in the backyard. I thought maybe there was someone back there. Instinctively called the cops, thought nothing else.

The cops show up. My kids are still asleep. They weren't woken up by the noise. And the cops go into the backyard, and then they decide they want to come into the house. And they come into the house with guns drawn, and my son hears this, bolts out of bed and runs to my bedroom. And I just had that realization of if these cops had been in the hallway at that time, which thankfully they weren't, they were in the living room, but if they'd been in the hallway at that time with their guns drawn looking for an intruder and watched a black preteen who was as tall as them run down the hallway in a house where maybe they weren't expecting to see a black male. That could have ended very badly.

And for me, that was a real scary lesson in thinking through how I interact with the police with two black sons. You know, that, first of all, maybe I shouldn't have called the police. But second of all, if I was in a situation where it really felt necessary, that I should have described the makeup of my family to the dispatcher and then again when they arrive. Like, I should have - that should have been top of mind. There are two black children in this house - so that everyone was on the same page of what to expect, but I didn't do that. That was a blind spot for me.

GROSS: Yeah. When you adopted your second son, you wanted to make sure that the son was black so that your first son would have somebody who looked like him in the family 'cause you're in a white majority neighborhood, and your children go to white majority schools, and you and your husband, your now ex-husband, are white. So was that helpful to your older son to have a brother who was also black?

HOWERTON: I think it's been invaluable, and I just instinctively felt that. I mean, I knew when I adopted my first child that I would need to give him a racially matched sibling some way. In fact, when I first signed up to adopt from foster care, you know, on that list that I described before, where you're answering all these difficult questions, one of the questions is, how many children are you willing to take? And I'd been willing to take a sibling set up to three, so you know, I kind of thought even at the beginning, like, maybe I'll just adopt siblings, and then they'll all - you know, then they'll all have each other. But we ended up being matched with one child.

But I felt really strongly. I want to give him a mirror. You know, I want to give him another person in the family who he shares this experience with, and I think it has made a huge difference. They're very close, and you know, they can talk about being adopted. They can talk about race. They can have that shared experience. And they're actually at a, like, Mexican majority school that they attend, which that's been really nice too because, you know, their school, while they don't have a lot of other black students at their school, it's a pretty diverse school, and so that's been helpful as well.

But I felt - I remember because the adoption of my second son, we thought that it would take about a year, and we were matched with him when he was six months old, and he ended up not coming home until he was 3 1/2. So by that point, his older brother, Jafta, was 5. And so he lived with us till he was 5 being the only black member of our family, and I remember it just - it killed me because we were, you know, we were trying, but the adoption was just taking a long time. And it just killed me that he was the only black member of our family. And he would say things about that. You know, he would say I don't match anyone else or, you know - because by then I had had my biological children too kind of in the middle of all of that. And he would say, you know, I don't look like my siblings or you all match and I don't. And I found that really heartbreaking, so I was really glad to be able to give him a sibling that he can relate to in that way.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Kristen Howerton, and her new memoir is called "Rage Against The Minivan: Learning To Parent Without Perfection." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Kristen Howerton. Her new memoir, "Rage Against The Minivan," is about being the parent of four children - two white biological daughters and two adopted black sons. So what do you think of transracial adoption now? Have your feelings changed about it?

HOWERTON: You know, I still am a proponent of adoption, but I have a lot of caveats behind that. And I mean, first, I think adoption needs to be ethical, and I think that family preservation needs to be completely exhausted. So what I mean when I say that is I think if children can go back to their birth family and poverty is the only barrier to that, then I think, you know, we as a society as, you know, global citizens should be helping facilitate kids go back into their families rather than helping facilitated options. But for children for whom that isn't possible, for children who do not have families that are able to raise them, yes, I think children should be adopted. I think that an orphanage or a foster home is not an appropriate place for a child to grow up. I think kids need the love and attention of two parents or one parent, you know, of a parent. And in regards to transracial adoption, you know, I have caveats that are similar, too, that I think, you know, if someone is adopting a child of another race, they need to make sure that they have the ability to give that child experiences of being the majority, the experiences of being in, if their child is black, in all black spaces. You know, people who are adopting need to understand that you're not just adopting a child who's now a transracial adoptee. You become a transracial family.

And so for us, what that looks like is, you know, we are involved in the black community in our community and, you know, all of us, not just my boys. And I think parents need to really think that through when they're adopting that this is going to be something that they have to add to their lives. But I will say this, for myself, adding that has not been a burden. It's actually brought a lot to us. It's been, you know, something that has I think - it's added a lot of value for us to, you know, to push myself and my daughters into all black spaces and learning to be comfortable there but also showing the boys like, hey, like, I'm sharing this experience of, you know, myself being in the minority sometimes. But I think that adoptive parents really have to be committed to that and if they can't provide that, should maybe rethink.

GROSS: When you say you've been involved in the black community because of your sons, what's the nature of the involvement?

HOWERTON: Well, you know, we attended a black church for a season. At present the boys are involved in an organization called 100 Black Men, which is a fantastic mentorship organization. And they meet every other week. And they get to be around other black teens. And they are mentored by black men. The kind of motto of 100 Black Men is what they see is what they'll be. And so it's really about black men showing up. And, you know, they have conversations on everything from finances to, you know, school success, it's, you know, occupational success. So it's really great. And then, you know, we've just gotten involved. And when they have family activities, like the Kwanzaa party or whatever it is they're doing, we're showing up. And we're rolling our sleeves up and helping and just, you know, being a part of the organization in the same way any other family is.

GROSS: What kinds of discussions have you been having in your home about race and about the police since the police killing of George Floyd?

HOWERTON: It's interesting because our conversations haven't changed on that as much because we were already having them. And I think that's probably true for most families with black children. You know, for either white or black parents of black children, I would hope that these conversations were already happening. And, you know, it almost is like we're watching the world catch up with what we already knew to be true, which is that there is intense bias against black men and intense violence at the hands of police officers, not every police officer but very disproportionately. And so we have had those conversations since the boys were much younger of just what do you do when you're pulled over and how do you interact with police officers and what do you do if you feel you're being accused of something you didn't do.

And the thing that our conversations always lead back to is coming home safe is the priority. That's the priority. And that has to be top of mind in those situations and any interaction with law enforcement. I need to get home safe. And I need to behave in a way that will get me home safe. And it's confusing because you know, we are giving our children messages around, you know, in life in general most parents are giving kids messages of stand up for yourself and, you know, be bold and be assertive. But for parents of black children, we then have to say but but, right? Like, but in these situations, don't be bold. Don't be assertive. Be compliant. You know, listen to instruction. If you're being accused of something that you didn't do, you know, just be kind.

And so, you know, it's tough. It's a tough balancing act of wanting our kids to be able to be who they are and be themselves, but at the same time wanting to protect them in these interactions.

GROSS: Have you and your children joined the protesters?

HOWERTON: Oh, yes. Yeah. And we were involved in protests around Eric Garner. We have been involved in protests for a long time. But yes, we've done several since the murder of George Floyd.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here. And then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Kristen Howerton. Her new memoir is called "Rage Against The Minivan." We'll talk more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Kristen Howerton, author of the new memoir "Rage Against The Minivan." It's about miscarriage, birth, adoption, being the daughter of a pastor, then the wife of a pastor, then leaving the church, and it's about race and what she learned about white privilege. Howerton is white and has two biological daughters and two adopted black sons.

You worked so hard to adopt your son from Haiti. You thought it would be simple; it was not - it took three years. But in addition to that, in 2010, when you went down to visit him - because during that period, when you couldn't have him home with you yet and the adoption wasn't legal, you'd make a lot of trips down to Haiti to spend time with him. So during a trip like that in 2010, you were there with your baby daughter, and there was an earthquake. It was the big 2010 earthquake. And so you were with both of them at the time.

As we've said, you're a catastrophist. You're always waiting for the worst to happen. Wow - it really happened. If you're a catastrophist, you always worry, I think, and when the catastrophe comes, will you be equipped to deal with it? Were you equipped to deal with it? Did instinct work for you or did you just stand there, panicking?

HOWERTON: I think a little of both. I did panic a lot, and I was under a lot of anxiety. I do remember once the earthquake hit, and it was - I live in California. You know, earthquakes are a part of our lives here. But this was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was so much bigger. It was so much more dramatic. And I remember, right after it happened, having the thought of, like, aftershocks - there's going to be aftershocks.

And I think that was probably the most terrifying part of that experience, is that after the first earthquake, we were then having more earthquakes that - you know, every hour that were still bigger than any earthquake I had been through in California. And so just wondering, you know, for, really, until I left the country, like, is there going to be a bigger one? Is there going to be another one that topples the house that I'm in? You know, we were - knowing that there was, you know, mass casualties and so many people whose homes had crumbled and so much loss of life. And so I don't know that anyone could be prepared for that, no. I was in a state of real terror for many days after the earthquake.

GROSS: (Inaudible) Baby daughter had a fever, and you knew you had to get her home. At the same time, your son - who was not officially your son yet - was still living in an orphanage in Haiti. You couldn't take him with you, so you wanted to be there with him during this, you know, horrible and dangerous period. You ended up flying home with the help of the U.S. Embassy. Tell us a little bit about what went through your mind as you had to make that choice - like, what to do and what it was like when you had to leave your soon-to-be son behind.

HOWERTON: It was devastating. It was absolutely devastating. I mean, to leave him in a country that, you know - and there were growing fears of, you know, people running out of food and, you know, would there be, you know, people searching for food and, you know, coming into the house we were staying in or - you know, there were safety concerns. There were health concerns. There were concerns about, you know, more aftershocks.

And my son was living in an orphanage, and the wall in front of their orphanage had toppled, and they were sleeping in the driveway, which is what a lot of people in Haiti did after the earthquake because they were scared to go back into the buildings. The buildings is what - buildings were how people lost their lives for the most part, you know, having a building collapse on them. And so people were sleeping outside. They were finding the place they could sleep where they were away from any walls that could crumble. And so when I left him at his orphanage, he was sleeping outside, and that was the plan.

But at the same time, I knew that Karis and I - my baby daughter; she was 10 months at the time - you know, we were a drain on resources. We didn't - you know, we were visiting, and she was sick. And, you know, I just knew that we were better off in the States. But I also knew if I came back to the States, I could advocate for kids like Kembe, who were just literally waiting for a signature to get their visas. And then those kids could come to their homes in the States, and then the places that they were occupying in orphanages could then be available to, you know, what was so tragic, which was so many more orphans that were created from the earthquake.

GROSS: You write about how when you were finally able to bring him home and make him your legal son, that, you know, you loved him, he didn't initially love you back, and you had to learn how to keep loving him when it wasn't reciprocated. He missed his friends from Haiti. The orphanage was the only life he knew, and...

HOWERTON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...He missed it. And, again, like, you worked so hard to adopt him, and you get him home, and he misses what had been his home. What was that like for you, emotionally?

HOWERTON: It was really difficult. I think I had to - it was a constant, everyday battle of reminding myself of where he had been and what he'd been through and not taking it personally because the truth of the matter is a child who has always been in an orphanage - he was taken to the orphanage at 3 days old - and a child who has never lived in a family is probably not pining for a family because they don't even know what that looks like. And he didn't. He didn't know what - you know, all he knew in his entire three years of life was group living and group caretaking, which meant, you know, he had a rotating door of caretakers.

And to, all of the sudden, just have it be two parents who were probably a little more involved in his life than he was accustomed to, you know, and there was a little more connection and supervision than he was used to, he wasn't interested at first. And I had to just constantly remind myself of, like, you know, I'm not going to take this personally. As a parent, I don't deserve reciprocal love. Like, that's not a part of the contract. I didn't sign up to adopt him so that I could have warm, fuzzy feelings given back to me, you know.

And I just had to love him and keep loving him in the way that he deserved to be loved and keep reminding myself this is a child who was an orphan, who has, you know, a great amount of loss in his life, and just keep pushing in and keep pushing in. And today, he is a lovely, loving 13-year-old, who, you know - I mean, just the sweetest kid. I'm told all the time how sweet Kembe is. I mean, just yesterday, he was a little rude to me, and he went off to skate with some friends, and then I get a text - like, Mom, I'm really sorry I was rude to you, you know.

But the thing is, even if he hadn't come to a place of being a reciprocal or really loving kid, he would still be deserving of love. And I think that was something that I learned in - you know, in the adoption of both my boys, is that, you know, as parents, we love no matter what. And even if he had continued to have attachment issues and was not able to attach to me, he would still be a kid worthy of a home and a family and love.

GROSS: Did you expect your boys, at some point, to express gratitude to you for taking your older son from a foster home and giving him a permanent home and a permanent family and your younger son, taking him from an orphanage - who knows what his future would have been in the earthquake - you know, after the earthquake in Haiti? Did you expect gratitude? And did you get it? And do you think it was - if you did expect gratitude, do you think that that was a misguided expectation?

HOWERTON: I will tell you, I did not expect gratitude, and I definitely pushed against those narratives because I had done enough reading from adult adoptees. And what I heard, resoundingly, from people with that lived experience was that being, you know, told to feel grateful for their adoption was very painful because adoption is born of loss; no one is adopted without something having gone, you know, wrong. I mean, someone's lost a parent, you know. And both of my boys have lost both of their parents. And so I want to honor that. I don't ever want to make them feel grateful because they lost both of their parents. There's pain there.

My kids are - all four of them are allowed to be ungrateful as kids are. And, you know, they're allowed to think I'm lame and - you know, they're allowed to just be normal kids with a normal, nonsavior relationship with their parent, you know. And I've really tried to push against any of those sort of savior narratives that can be inherent in adoption, unfortunately.

GROSS: Have you had friends or even strangers, white people, who were overeager in trying to be allies with you in your decision to adopt black children and to have a multiracial family?

HOWERTON: Where I've really noticed the overeagerness is friends or teachers really wanting me to understand that their kids don't see race or that other kids don't see race. And so an example of that is - I can't even tell you how many times a parent has told me, like, oh, you know, Sally (ph) was just talking about, you know, your kids, and, like, she didn't even notice that they were a different race, or she - you know, a lot of parents want to talk to me about, like, how their kid doesn't notice, as if that is, you know, some proof that racism is over.

And, you know, that's always a little bit frustrating because I think kids do notice color. They may not understand genetics, or they may not - you know, they may not understand race as a construct, but they certainly understand color, and they will certainly understand inequity as they grow up. So I think that's the way that I see that manifest.

Or teachers - you know, me telling a story and saying, you know, I think that, you know, this topic is a little awkward for my son because he's the only black student in the room and how are you going to deal with that? And then a teacher saying, like, well, you know, none of the kids notice that, or racism has to be taught - I hear that one a lot, too, which I think is, you know - I don't know if that's true anymore. I actually think that kids can - you know, can be xenophobic just on their own. They can exclude kids that aren't the same gender. They can exclude kids who wear glasses. They can exclude kids who aren't the same race.

And it doesn't mean their parents are racists or glasses-haters; it's just that kids exclude. That's a thing that they do. And I think I've just seen a lot of people try to deny that that can happen.

GROSS: Does the expression colorblind take on new meaning for you?

HOWERTON: Yeah. I mean, I think I was raised by parents, as many people were, who were proponents of this idea of colorblindness because maybe their parents were actively racist. And so this was an overcorrection of, like, well, we're not going to talk about race. We don't even see race. Like, it doesn't matter what color someone is. And I think there's a well-meaning intent behind it, but it's also very hurtful because if we're perpetuating the idea of colorblindness, then first of all, we're not seeing the fullness of other people and their experience, but then, second, it gives us an opportunity to deny real experiences of racism and to deny that people of color are having a very different experience in the world than we are. So I think colorblindness is very misguided.

GROSS: I'm going to reintroduce you here because we need to take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is Kristen Howerton. Her new memoir is called "Rage Against The Minivan." We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Kristen Howerton. Her new memoir, "Rage Against The Minivan," is about being the parent of four children - two white biological daughters and two adopted black sons.

So you married a pastor, and you had children. Your circle of friends was the people from the church.

HOWERTON: Yeah.

GROSS: And then you started questioning the church, and part of the questioning was because they - the church didn't support LGBTQ rights, and you did. You questioned the church about racial issues, about other, like, social and political issues. Was your husband at the time questioning those things, too?

HOWERTON: I think he was questioning, but I think he didn't have quite the nag that I did. You know, he was questioning, but I just had a personality that just - I wasn't OK with things. And I felt compelled to speak up. And I was speaking up, you know? And so I was frustrated with the way that the church was treating the LGBT community, and specifically my church because there are certainly denominations that have been affirming and welcoming the whole time. But my denomination was not. And so I was vocal about that. I was vocal about - I was very frustrated about this marriage between Christians and the Republican Party that didn't seem to always be in line with our faith.

I was vocal about some of the missions work we were doing. We were building orphanages. And many of the kids in the orphanage were kids that had living parents at home. And so like, why are we putting kids in orphanages when we could be paying their parents, you know, making sure that their parents had the financial means to care for their own children. And all of this was nagging me. And I was vocal. And I was a pain in the ass.

GROSS: What was it like for you to be an opponent of your church's point of view before you left that church? I mean, if your whole circle was from the church and if they share the points of view that you were challenging, that left you pretty much alone?

HOWERTON: It did. It was a very lonely time because I think when you start to unravel some of these, you know, sacred cows, it feels very unsafe for the people around you. And we're even taught that, you know? When we're in evangelical circles, we're taught about the, like, danger of the slippery slope and, you know, that when your friends are pulling you away that, you know, they could pull you away. It's a very insular way of thinking, you know? When you're in evangelical circles, you tend to look at people either as a project to be won - you know, so a potential convert - or a Christian friend. And there's not a lot of room in the middle.

And so I think people were pulling away from me because I was really - you know, I was batting at the sacred cows. And so I did feel very lonely. And then when we did ultimately leave the church - and I still consider myself a Christian and a person of faith. But we left that church that we'd been so entrenched in for almost 20 years. And it was our entire friend group. It was our worship community. It was our community. And when I left, I had a season where I really did not have close friends. It was very lonely and very difficult.

GROSS: What's your faith life like now?

HOWERTON: You know, I think my faith life is - I think I see God as a loving presence who is always available to comfort me. And I think I see Jesus as an example of love. And I think Jesus was for the oppressed. He was for the marginalized. He was for the poor. I mean, his message was so clear that the way that we share his love is by caring for other people. And so that is really at the forefront of my faith. And at the forefront of my faith is social justice. And I think my faith informs me.

As I'm fighting for racial equality or fighting for, you know, LGBT inclusion or whatever it is, it's - my faith is informing me in those things, where before I feel like I was in faith circles that said the opposite about those issues, you know, faith circles that were hesitant to talk about race, that were certainly not involved in LGBT inclusion efforts. And now I feel like it's my faith that actually propels me into those areas. So ironically, as I felt like I was learning Jesus' teachings and following them closer, I was becoming more and more offensive to the faith community that I had grown up in.

GROSS: Kristen Howerton, thank you so much for talking with us. And, you know, be well. And I hope your family stays well.

HOWERTON: Thank you.

GROSS: Kristen Howerton's new memoir is called "Rage Against The Minivan." After we take a short break, David Bianculli will review the new HBO series "Perry Mason" starring Matthew Rhys as the character that Raymond Burr played in the classic TV series from the '50s and '60s, but a younger version, before Perry becomes a criminal defense lawyer. This is FRESH AIR.

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