“Adopted” as an epithet.

We are familiar with this I think from our childhoods, someone calling us out as “adopted!” which becomes a disparaging term. What about from adults when we were children? What about from adults when we reach adulthood? I’m interested in hearing from adoptees your experiences along these lines.

4 thoughts on ““Adopted” as an epithet.

  1. Adopted at five days old and fundamentally, if not totally, subsumed into my adopting parents *as* my parents (also, as a seemingly Caucasian child in a mixed Hispanic/White couple’s marriage, with another younger Caucasian adoptee girl–also adopted at birth–and one biologically related boy), the distinction of “adopted” pretty much evanesced into the woodwork for me. My sister by contrast insists that she discerned an adopted vs. nonadopted distinction, but I don’t know the details of what she means by that particularly.

    consequently, I did not run about waving the adoption flag in general. My father once expressed concern bout it, and my reply was, “I never think about it unless you bring it up,” which reflects my experience accurately. Very occasionally, someone would ask the startled question, “Why do you have a Hispanic last name?” and I would say, “I’m adopted.” Whether anyone changed their view of me because of that, my lack of consciousness about the issue would not have red such a change of view as due to adoption; I would have explained it as something else. In an exactly parallel way, no one has ever denounced me as a “faggot” to my face but, on the other hand, I’ve never tracked if anyone changed their behavior toward me because they found out I’m not heterosexual. The absolute naivete I grew up with about adoption mirrors itself then in a profound, but nonetheless comparatively less extreme, naivete about (the public perception of) homosexuality.

    A positive benefit for this kind of naivete (about adoption or homosexuality) means remaining somewhat immured, if accidentally, to bigotry or prejudice (directed toward homosexuality or adoption). A negative benefit of this, especially as regards homosexuality, involved the crushing sense that i was the only one who felt like I did (toward other males). I understood there were drag queens and/or dykes on bikes, etc, but I filed to make the connection that “those people” were “my people”. In general, one could say pretty much that I did not know I was “gay”–I wanted to engage in sex with other males, but I didn’t link that with visible examples of homosexuality. if I had ever found gay pornography, depicting actual se between males, that would have provided me the “proof” that (at least in theory) others who felt like I did existed. I might have dismissed such images as merely things done by paid actors in magazines, but at least the *representation* of my experience would have been made real in a way it had not been previously.

    One may analogize all of this to my experience sa an adoptee. On the positive side, I might well have missed entirely any undesirable change of behavior toward me “because” of my adoption, but the negative benefit of that includes the (in this case, not crushing) failure to locate any representation of my experience in culture. This may simply be the case because I have an adopted sister. Even if my identification and valuation of her did not rise from any sense of adopted “solidarity,” i certainly had, in the same house with me, a living an breathing proof that I was not the only one who felt like I did as an adoptee–on those few occasions when I thought about it.

    Even so, if I grew up feeling like an extraterrestrial, my tendency to explain that in terms of what I recognized as my non-typical sexual desires might better have been explained (or at least co-explained) in terms of my atypical non-rooting in family. Certainly lately the juvenist critique (the critique from the standpoint of the child) seems more ripe with possibilities than the “gay” critique ever has.

    Because I “pass,” in terms both of sexuality and adoption, I’ve been less prone to “in your face” bigotry. However, at the prompt of this question, I remember (without remembering the details, unfortunately) a moment with a good friend who, in response to something I said, replied something like, “Oh, that’s right, you’re adopted” or something that essentially framed in order to dismiss what I said because it arose from an adopted point of view.

    Even in that case, unaccustomed to outright “in your face” orphanophobia, I remember being very surprised my friend had resorted to such a response, but it kind of rolled off me, kind of missed its mark but only because I remain naive about this, so it went over my head, so to speak. The willingness to ‘throw me under the bus” simply for the fact of my adoption resonated, but didn’t quite hit. Clearly, because I lack a biological relation with the people who raised me, I could not and would not (in my view’s knee-jerk response) “get” whatever point he represented at that moment.

    I sometimes imagine that one of the great advantages of privilege as far as social activism goes comes out in the fact that the privileged tend to bear fewer of the scars typically inflicted by the current order of things. This brings a peril of ignorance as well, of course, but in the aim of seeking to advocate for those who get made to suffer for want of privilege, the privileged at lest do not have to overcome the entanglements implicated in non-privilege to affect that advocacy.

    In my specific case, I could have (perhaps should have) flew off the handle at my (supposed?) friend’s vicious dismissal, or I might have imploded emotionally, as I have previously when someone successfully (if accidentally) made me realize clearly that “I’m the only one who feels this way.” Instead, I stood there like a great, clueless ox, his shotgun having gone off right over my head 9between my horns) … and smiled at him and went on talking about whatever we were talking about. My privilege, born of a history of profound naivete about adoption, “protected” me at that moment, albeit by luck or accident.

    Knowing this now, I would have the opportunity in parallel circumstances not simply to notice the shotgun blast but also to know I’m immured against such blasts, and may (with ox-like patience) interrogate my would-be assassin about the prejudiced and monologically framed view of adoption (or those who have been adopted) being waved around. Such “immunity” remains theoretically available to all adoptees although, again, a history of brutalization at the hands and mouth of the epithet may make one’s willingness to stand there and get shot at more times obviously a far more dicey proposition, and understandably so.

  2. As a kid, I remember being either oblivious, indifferent, or ambivalent about the facts of my adoption and my identity as an adoptee. But, now in hindsight, I’m actually quite glad my a-parents didn’t fetishize my status as an adoptee by celebrating the date of their acquisition of my infant body (I’m specifically referring to the now infamous and entrenched “Got’cha Day”) or enrolling me in a token culture camp.

    I can’t readily recall an instance when someone tagged me with any one of the variations on the pithy insult of either “That’s right, you’re adopted” or “Don’t worry, you’re adopted”. Despite the absence of this experience in my life, I have definitely not been unaware of the running joke or gag in our mass media of affixing the “adopted” sign on someone’s back, nor the outright debasement of someone’s self-image or social status within society by hurling the word “adopted” at them.

    When the word “adopted” is used derogatively, even pejoratively, I believe the main effect (and perhaps desired intention) is to segregate the victim and mark him as a target for derision based on society’s agreed-upon trope that to be adopted is to be illegitimate, even unwanted. When a person is stripped of personhood in the eyes of the violator, and the community in general, then that person is left open to acts of harassment and maltreatment.

    I can only imagine the pain and anger that an adoptee may feel once confronted with the “You’re adopted” epithet from family members and/or friends, people on whom he relies for care and moral support.

    Add to that our society’s continued snickering at “adopted/adoption” jokes and punchlines, then keeping our heads high and on straight can be exhausting.

    In spite of that, providing awareness of this particular epithet and its consequences is very important.

  3. I was in some senses oblivious to the adoption aspect of who I was until about six. I was the second transracially adopted child. My a-Parents were typical white Anglo-Saxon British. They had never, as far as I am aware set food abroad, apart from a couple of trips to Paris. The fact of my adoption (adopted when 11 months old) was used both as a “stick” , excuse and also a threat. But at the the same time it was never openly talked about. I was the elephant in the room. The more it was not talked about the hard I pushed, the more I got into trouble and the wedge was driven ever deeper between myself and the family that adopted me to the point which last year someone from the family sent veiled threats via email in an effort to silence me. Not wanting me to air my own personal opinions about adoption. For me that says it all

  4. “Oh, you’re adopted…” was usually a statement of relief for a welcomed explanation — but for that, dear ol’ mom (she-who-raised-me) might have been viewed as having been diddled by the postman… not such a good thing for a minister’s wife.

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

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