How has/Has being a transracial adoptee affected your sexuality? June 10, 2012 · by girl4708 If yes, please explain what you think race and culture have had to do with it. Spread the word:FacebookTwitterEmailPrintMoreRedditTumblrPinterestLike this:Like Loading... Related
A recent NYRB has a review of Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, and the review contains this quote:
I think there needs to be a lot more focus research-wise in terms of the sexualization of the female TRA and the emasculation of the male TRA, and how this has an effect on their sense of self and identity especially when they come from a more fluid culture and then find themselves in a strict binary that demands an essentialist “toeing of the line”.
Even worse than the racism experienced is the sexual exoticism that is simply a “consumptive” form of the same. This has been written on in terms of the colonial subject (especially by Fanon) and I think it applies to adoptees as well. In positions of powerlessness, we are “consumed up” into the culture, but with little agency to do the same for ourselves, despite a class upbringing that is different than most in our ethnic grouping.
It does seem to me, in talking to my fellow adoptees anecdotally about this topic, that a higher number (higher than the general population) of adoptees (or people of color) are queer: Some were born gay, some felt society pidgeon-holed them as such, some embraced being queer as a reflection of and statement about the reality of being different, and some choose to be queer as a refuge from predation. Males had to deal with being emasculated and females had to deal with being sexualized to a higher degree than their white peers. The dominant culture tends to trivialize how we feel we are regarded, but for many of us it is extremely traumatic being both chosen and other. Again, this is only anecdotal and not formal research. But we talk. And this is what I’ve derived from what my sample has told me. This is what my experience has told me.
Adoptees ARE chosen, and that can weigh or be made to weigh heavy on an adoptee. We are objects of desire long before we arrive and the adjective used to describe us – our country of origin – connotes all manner of exotification. Whether girl or boy, it seems to me that the word exotic itself is feminized, connoting suppressed passion, desire, submission and servitude. Oh wait – maybe that’s erotic I’m thinking of. Exotic/erotic; an easy mistake to make. Or maybe it is the word orphan I am thinking of. Orphan is so intimately entwined with circumstantial submission and gratitude. And servitude can be expected from gratitude and exotic and submissive are often hard to separate. Oh my, these connotations all bleed into one another. What is it to live under the weight of all the connotations associated with being a desired other?
How has transracial adoption affected my sexuality?
It hyper sexualized me. I was not only my immediate family’s object of desire, but everyone else who dreamed of far off places’ object of desire, and everyone who couldn’t have children’s object of desire. I was the mythic concubine of conquering marauders. I was the delicate lady walking (hobbling) twelve steps behind her man; feet bound. I was the fallen woman who not only took it rough but washed her master’s feet and served him dinner after. I was every g.i.’s fantasy and every father’s fantasy and every son’s fantasy and every grandfather’s fantasy. Fantasy without respect. Object to own and serve. I felt hounded. I couldn’t walk down the street alone – ever – without getting cat calls from these men, being followed, being harassed; sometimes even stalked. I guess the only way to describe it is being under siege…
This is why adoptees turn to and sleep with other adoptees, to insure that exotic has no bearing on their being desired.
It is also why, and really doesn’t surprise me at all, so many female Asian adoptees have turned away from Western men, disgusted. It really doesn’t surprise me at all that so many male adoptees, having been hyper parented at home while emasculated in society, have turned away from mother figures and Western heterosexual roles. I mean, we seek to have something of desire left for ourselves where we can have some control.
In a land where queuing in line was rewarded with being ignored, where your accomplishments were written off as being only because you were that model minority race, or due to your saving parent’s good graces, where you had to put down stereotypes every day, a little inappropriate attention was still some attention that wasn’t negative. My only value to anyone seemed to be as an object of their desire.
Never feeling a part of anything, yet being desired was confusing. Being desired became a major focus in my life as a result. This is how I became hyper sexualized, in order to get a moment of something that made me feel valued socially. However, the very same thing that fed me also threatened me also filled me with self loathing, for how disturbing is it when you realize you are nothing but a geisha doll in someone else’s role play fantasy?
But we learn. Most of my life since it has been hard to trust any desire from anyone at all. Nor do I trust my own need for validation sexually. I hope that I can find others I can trust who can put aside the romance of me being from far off mythic lands, but that doubt it is always there. That is not a good feeling.
Living in the country of my birth I have none of that unwanted attention. I’m invisible here. That invisibility has allowed me to observe and take note how objectification and sexual harassment doesn’t happen as much when you match the dominant race. On the other hand, being totally invisible is a lonely place to be. This does not even attempt to include all the cultural differences.
Currently I’ve noticed myself growing more androgynous and asexual. While this may seem sad to some, it is more a tribute to increasing self esteem which allows me to no longer succumb to what my adopting world wants me to be.
I wanted to start with two etymological bits, because I think they add further to what you are saying here:
orphan (n.) c.1300, from L.L. orphanus “parentless child” (cf. O.Fr. orfeno, It. orfano), from Gk. orphanos “orphaned,” lit. “deprived,” from orphos “bereft,” from PIE *orbho- “bereft of father,” also “deprived of free status,” from root *orbh- “to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another” (cf. Hittite harb- “change allegiance,” L. orbus “bereft,” Skt. arbhah “weak, child,” Arm. orb “orphan,” O.Ir. orbe “heir,” O.C.S. rabu “slave,” rabota “servitude” (cf. robot), Goth. arbja, Ger. erbe, O.E. ierfa “heir,” O.H.G. arabeit, Ger. Arbeit “work,” O.Fris. arbed, O.E. earfoð “hardship, suffering, trouble”).
The fact that it is the “orphan” who “changes allegiance” shows the mistrust directed to orphans–teams look askance at those who switch sides.
exotic (adj): 1590s, “belonging to another country,” from M.Fr. exotique (16c.) and directly from L. exoticus, from Gk. exotikos “foreign,” lit. “from the outside,” from exo “outside” (see exo-). Sense of “unusual, strange” first recorded in English 1620s, from notion of “alien, outlandish.” In reference to strip-teasers and dancing girls, it is first attested by 1942, Amer.Eng. Exotic dancer in the nightclub trade means a girl who goes through a few motions while wearing as few clothes as the cops will allow in the city where she is working … [“Life,” May 5, 1947]. As a noun from 1640s.
The linking of exotic and erotic is obviously explicit at the level of sailors and the like from 1947 onward. I was startled that exotic is literally “from the outside”–I thought it would have been “ex” and “otic” (“out of the ear”), something akin to hearsay, gossip, or rumor.
As I remember it, I was (what I would later learn, the Soviet writers called an) internal exile before I was queer. That is, I knew I was exotic (from the outside,and belonged somewhere else) before I realized I had sexual urges for other males. In one respect, I was raised with a marvelous (or destructive) lack of anything regarding sexuality. I was the oldest son, I wasn’t “in the mix” with my male peers. I didn’t know there were other young men who had sexual urges like me. Even when I saw “gay” people on TV (from the San Francisco pride parades of the 1970s), I didn’t realize those “were my people”. I didn’t despise drag queens … I just had no idea drag queens also had sex with men (sometimes); if I’d realized that part, I might have realized I was “gay”. As it was, it was more like I remained closeted because I didn’t want people to laugh aft me for the sexual urges I had.
I was hypersexualized also, but explicitly and only toward myself. It hd to be that way, because I was the only one who felt like I did (I thought). So my experience was one of overwhelming invisibility. To this day–with each new day being a new duration record in my 5+ year union with my mate–it takes an act of will to believe that anyone has ever desired me. In some ways, I don’t mind being perceived as unattractive–it’s going to sound like I have low self-esteem saying that, but my esteem is not tied to my looks–what bothers me rather is how getting ones needs and wants met socially often involves a beauty contest, and a popularity contest of who’s cute. So my writings, my poetry, my music–all of that will go unacknowledged, not because it has or doesn’t have merit, but because my promotional picture isn’t one people want to masturbate to.
Growing up, being invisible had me living in a zone where suicide seemed rational, and I’m sure that it is partly because I didn’t realize how unhappy I really was that I didn’t get beyond the planning stage. It was the non-representation of me in the social world that totally erased me–the abundance of heterosexual imagery everywhere not only said “boys kiss girls” (which maybe I could have lived with, Cuz I wasn’t that kind of boy) but also “there are no boys that kiss boys” (or girls who kiss girls). That double blow was the killer for me.
I have this dim sense that hypersexualization due to excessive visibility or excessively invisibility are someone two coins of the same side, but maybe you could tesae out more how. I’m also curious what this business of emasculation is. If emasculation implies that one ‘can’t have sex,” then I could link that to my experience insofar as culture convinced me that my desires were impossible. But if emasculation veers off toward something to do with effeminization, then I’m going to start getting a bit askew-eyed (like a rabbit). As my queer mate once confessed about when he was younger (and closeted and hostile toward gay people), “I wasn’t man enough to suck a dick then.”