Adoptee discourse and male voices: where are they?

I am often struck by the lack of male participation in online board discussions of adoption in general, but especially in terms of those activating against adoption. I have some theories why this should be so, but I am interested in what you all have to say on the subject.

11 thoughts on “Adoptee discourse and male voices: where are they?

  1. All the male adoption reform activists I know of are academics. I say adoption reform because not all of us adoption reform activists are totally against adoption. (this would even include myself, believe it or not)

    I believe this is because the adoptee is always disempowered and our voices are suppressed, so some think the only way to gain audience and authority is by being a recognized expert, and that distinction is conferred upon academics. In the case of men, adoption disempowerment can be an emasculating experience as well, so being in a position of some power may compensate for that.

    Adoption boards are for mutual support with members who are peers. Mutual support or seeking help is not something people in a position of authority typically seek. And, for those pursuing an academic career, they must budget their words and maximize their efforts to produce written artifacts. In addition, they are often micro-analyzing some thesis in pursuit of a niche of expertise.

    Sorting through adoption issues requires a great deal of introspection, which is counter to what most perceive as the male role of strength. I think that’s pretty common in society in general that the male voice in discourse about emotions or trauma is conspicuously absent.

  2. The emasculating aspect of it is was what I was thinking about, especially as regards the “perpetual child” status of adoptees, and how this is contradictory culturally speaking to being a man (excuse these strict gender labelings, if just for the sake of this argument), whereas unfortunately it isn’t the same problematic for female adoptees. I was also thinking it ties into the rate of suicide among, say, Korean male adoptees in Scandinavian countries–meaning, the cultural definition of manhood, and assuming manhood, how this is undone by adoption, with the resultant tragic consequences….

  3. Both of your observations are quite accurate. Since 2000, I’ve been involved (passionately and dispassionately) with the first generation of Vietnamese adoptees, as I was adopted from Vietnam in 1974, and I finally needed to come out of my whitewashed shell, so to say.

    But I soon experienced and learned that critical introspection of the history and reasons behind our adoptions was generally frowned upon in our little community. I know of only two other male Viet adoptees who are seriously engaging the subject of adoption, either through academics or the arts, but both view the continued international adoption of infants from Vietnam as a wholly positive thing.

    Psychologically and culturally, adoptees are both encouraged and forced to divorce themselves from their true pasts and assimilate as quickly as possible into their “new” families, thus submerging any separation trauma and squelching any meaningful debate about their origins later on in life. These methods probably contribute to the dearth of male adoptees in discussions about adoption.

    However, I have witnessed and noticed among my Viet adoptee peers that when male adoptees are called upon or volunteer to share their stories, they overwhelmingly play the “eternally grateful” and “lucky to be an American” cards. More often than not this is due to the audience they find themselves in, e.g., adoptive parents. But even within our peer group the same song and dance are played out, as if the adoptees are afraid a whiff of any authentic emotion or difficulty with their upbringing that they display could reach the noses of their parents or other adoptive parents, which could then set off a shit storm.

    I guess I could go a little deeper, but I think I’ve written enough. I look forward to any feedback.

  4. “But even within our peer group the same song and dance are played out, as if the adoptees are afraid a whiff of any authentic emotion or difficulty with their upbringing that they display could reach the noses of their parents or other adoptive parents, which could then set off a shit storm.”

    I agree with this. It’s difficult to display one’s emotions so deeply when you know the only reaction you will get is how lucky you are to have been adopted.

  5. A first inquiry would be whether the dearth of male adoptees on online forums is consistent in all locales. Leaving that as a question to be answered, the first answer I arrive at is that perhaps most male adoptees are effectively satisfied by their situations. Males being valorized over females, it may be easier for males to encounter less bullshit from adoptive parents,a nd thus to see adoption as the crux or origin-point for issues they wind up having. The fact that males are socialized not to express their feelings would be an additive afterthought to this, I’d expect. I also wonder if there isn’t a a lack of brown male adoptees, because the State locked them up. For me, my burgeoning anti-adoption consciousness is very much tied into a much broader anti-oppression critique; that’s how I found out about Daniel’s blog, and how I came to be here. Otherwise, I’d’ve simply come to terms with my (adoptive) parents’ parenting, and left it at that. Consequently, it will be those males who did not (for whatever reason) assimilate to male cultural patterns (heterosexuality, stoicism, critique via academics, non-emasculation in general) who might constitute the bulk of online adoption-critical male adoptees, and that number will (of course) be smaller, maybe considerably smaller, than the number of male adoptees in general. That’s my guess.

    • Actually, what I found in my research 10 years ago is that girls were placed 3 to 1 over boys, mainly because we are thought to be more complacent and pliable than boys. Which is one part of the explanation for the dearth of male voices. Another piece of information my research revealed was that boys received far more physical abuse than girls, perhaps because of that non-compliancy issue. Therefore, boys are taught, at a very early age, to get into line and stay in line, or else…

  6. It’s a really interesting point, the idea that male privilege manages to work enough for the male adoptee to make adoption “work” for him. I think this only works in the United States where all aspects of rootedness have been called into question by gentrification, suburbanization, work-related nomadism, etc. So when everyone is more or less “rootless”, it is easier to “start fresh” (and I think this is the point of it all).

    My sense of the emasculation of adoption comes with this same territory, in the sense that in a de facto patriarchal society, male lineage is what matters. The trafficking and importation of children/slaves follows a similar pattern in which the trafficker is able to exert control over the rootedness of the trafficked, and call into question his or her genealogy, and this is no small deal.

    I think of more homogenous places like Scandinavia, where the number one cause of death among Korean male adoptees is suicide, and I think we get a better picture of what is going on.

  7. Thank you for this enlightening discussion. As a white female adoptee, born and adopted in a multi-cultural city in New York State, I was not aware of racial aspects of adoption until about 15 years ago. My awareness of male adoptee issues came much earlier, in the late 80s, when I attended several adoption conferences in America. There were closed, male-only, adoptee workshops and, afterwards, a few of these men shared with me a glimpse of how they felt.

    It is only in this past year that I have become aware of Daniel’s writings, and another adoptee, Scott, on another forum, and noww here. On one hand, it is refreshing to read the male insight, because men don’t usually share their feelings. On the other hand, it is frightening. Especially to hear of suicide, of very white countries adopting from Korea and how adoptees are affected. At least in my city (I thought, I assumed) that we were a blending of races, but that’s just from this accepting white woman’s point of view and not from the other-race adoptee’s view.

    I am especially sensitive to hear from someone adopted out of Vietnam in 1974. I was in college in another state at that time. By 1975, an entire city block of apartments was set aside for familes who were fleeing Vietnam, or for families who were adopting “baby-lift” babies from Vietnam. I was 18-19 then, newly reunited, just begining in my awareness of adoption in general, but I knew there was something I didn’t like about this “baby-lift”. Now I know what it was I didn’t like.

    This thing that is called adoption is the destruction of personhood. And it is the male voice, and the transracial voice, that I now am thankful for. The world needs to hear your words.

  8. There’s something else here that I can’t quite put my finger on. I come back to it after being contacted by an American adoptee just coming out of his fog as it were….I had no specific reply for him as a male adoptee, and this bothers me immensely.

    For many of the reasons stated above, it seems that the expected role of the male in society, and the inverse ability to maintain aspects of “stature” and “dignity” especially as we move down the scale of social class leaves an entire group of us without any kind of safety net.

    Because I don’t think I’m making sense, I’ll try to explain….

    girl4708 is saying that in order to retain a kind of “male status” despite the “less-than” quality of being adopted, being an expert—in this case an academic—allows for a male adoptee to “retain positioning of value”. Kev Minh speaks of the “fear of true emotion”; of letting one’s guard down and still “being” male.

    Please know I’m using these terms in a purely basic socially-factual way; I don’t see the need to get into gender construct discussions or the like….All the same, I’m wondering what a valid support system for male adoptees might be which “enables” their sense of self?

  9. Great question Daniel. I have heard this question posed many times and I never had an educated response. I think that was part of my reticence to speak up. I never felt qualified to speak for adoptees or to critique adoption. There’s something in us that makes us think we’re only allowed to speak on things that we’re “qualified” to speak of. This self censure definitely hurt me. Only recently, within the last 4-5 years or so, have I felt empowered to speak my truth, the way I see things. I still feel the need to educate myself more before speaking, but maybe that’s just who I am.

    I remember reading a quote a long time ago that contrasted two different motivations for writing, to paraphrase:

    “Some write because they want to say something. Others write because they have something to say.”

    I always thought it would be sin of the most egotistical vain, to simply start talking because, simply I wanted to talk. And so, I sort of bided my time, until I really did have something to say. Just my personal take.

    Another reason is, honestly, I think there’s a lot of us men out there, adopted or not, who just at the heart of it all, hate themselves. This world doesn’t equip men to share their inner lives and we as men, suffer in silence. Silent suffering becomes the prevailing definition of manhood in this fractured view. Only now, going through therapy, really working to resolve these questions of self esteem and identity, am I able to see a little deeper into my current and past motivations. And it is my hope, to be able to transform a pathological worldview of manhood to a deeper holistic view of the entire humanity of each man. As I do so, I search for models, for examples, and yes, it is difficult to find if I limit myself to male voices. I find women’s voices incredibly inspiring and our difference in gender should not preclude my being able to learn from them.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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