Addressing the Second Offense

In reading some of the posts on birthdays, in experiencing as a result some of my own vast, unexpected sadness behind that topic as well as reading it in others, I saw how the trauma expressed, though it references and refers to the past, seems pointedly to occur in the present. This makes me suspect something more like the occurrence of a “new” (second) trauma–an offense, rather–rather than the re-opening of an old wound, a first trauma. Or in other words, I see this less as remembering an old wound or sadness that happened and more like someone, here and now, standing before me at this very moment advertently or not harming me with how they speak to me, more than what they say. I’d rather call this an offense than a trauma, to the extent tht it seems like a (deliberate or indeliberate) re-production of an older trauma.

That’s not a nice thing to do.

I would like to say I have some clever solution for addressing this, but my best “trick,” which involves pointing to the fact that the person speaking to me, right here, right now, by what she or he says, itself harms me, doesn’t succeed very often. People have a difficult time acknowledging that their innocently offered words have harmful effects, but even emphasizing that point to them does not typically induce self-awareness or self-consciousness.

So, for my own sake and ours, I ask what else have you (we) collectively discovered or worked out as strategies for dealing with these sorts of people who inadvertently insist on harming us with how they speak to you (us). I don’t mean so much the patent assholes, because often we may simply walk away and not associate with them, but in other areas of our lives, where distancing ourselves from such cruel innocence (or deliberate ignorance) be infeasible, what techniques (other than avoidance) have you (we) come up with?

10 thoughts on “Addressing the Second Offense

  1. I started a blog…

    In all seriousness though, I appreciate this question because I think it brings up some important thoughts about boundaries. What I’ve learned is to name how I feel, and own it, and if someone is stating something related to my adoption that’s based on opinion I ask them to own it, ask why they aren’t asking me any questions before jumping to the asstastic commentary, and then tell them that what they’re saying says more about them than it actually does about me.

    I also think it helps to remember that the rude assumptions come from a place of their own hurt. So rather than muddling that up for them, I try to respond in a way that doesn’t give them any more information to misconstrue, and keep the boundary – because ultimately I’m just willing any more to deal with other people’s thoughts and feelings about my… thoughts and feelings.

    Don’t know if I read that right, or if that’s what you’re looking for, but that’s just my two cents.


    • Thank you.

      I don’t know exactly what I was looking for; I was hoping the question could elicit things I don’t already know. At the very least, I now that the word “asstastic”.

      But I think starting a blog is a very on-point suggestion. The scenarios I described assumed face-to-face confrontations where the very speed of the exchange and whatever (unequal) power dynamics exist become extremely difficult to negotiate consistently in person on the fly. A blog slows the discourse way down potentially and also reverses the power dynamics. The trolltastic spew will occur on a blog, of course, but having some degree of control over the content of the blog over time allows us to address that in a public way.

      The point in the original post really gets less at the content of any discussion and rather how that discussion plays out, the quality of interaction between two human beings discussing something. So, whatever the disposition of an asstastic or inadvertent comment on a blog, whether deleted, highlighted, emailed to all our friends with cackling laughter, &c, simply to have the capacity to maintain the boundary, to address the comment on an equal footing for once, points to a very material way of addressing the offense.

      All of this may be obvious, but I don’t always find no value in belaboring the obvious. I sometimes find out what seemed obvious to me first turns out to have more detail than was apparent.

  2. What many people find so traumatizing and offensive about the verdict in the Zimmerman trial in the United States, where a jury found a man innocent of murdering a black boy he’d stalked and harassed, involves two aspects: (1) the not-guilty verdict of the outcome of the trial itself and (2) the way that that outcome continues to be raised and discussed by people, especially those ensconced in the dominant culture.

    Maybe this is already obvious from the initial post an from the above, but I want still to make it unambiguous.

    Whatever wound someone might or might not inflict in speaking in a mediated way to others about #1, the particular wound of the second trauma (as an offense) hits home more immediately. I mean, when someone begins with the premise that the outcome of the verdict indicates the correct or proper or right one–and by no means does everyone who takes this premise comprise some convenient caricature of a racist that permits “kinder, gentler” racists to go on thinking well of themselves–then this can have the quality of saying to the one listening, “So, you too: if someone murdered you that way, that too would be the correct or proper or right outcome as well.” A reply to this might well be, “When you say that, you might as well stand there, right here and now, and say you’d shoot me too.” Similarly, when you say you have issues with marriage equality, you may as well say that you actively desire to deny me (and a a whole host of people within humanity) the recognition of our inalienable human rights simply by virtue of being human beings.

    This second kind of trauma (as an offense)–the kind that re-traumatizes one here and now, in the immediate conversation with one’s interlocutor–seems a key experience for the adoptee. For all that the content of a discussion may have difficulties or upsetting details, the very playing out of the conversation itself–how the dialogue transpires–tends to reproduce the issue in question in some way. The topic of the silencing of the adopted child gets reprised in the offensive dismissal by one’s speaker, “You shouldn’t say that”; the topic of the anger of the adopted child, justified or not, gets reprised in the offensive dismissal, “You’re just an angry adoptee”; even simply to disagree with a point can re-open decades of being offensively told that your (the adopted child’s) perceptions err or mistake how things actually, really stand.

    Anger constitutes a particularly vexing topic, since dominant white culture (in the United States) demands the suppression of certain emotions when confronting conflicts. Black folk run into this continuously in the social realm, where expressing anger used to get you labeled “uppity,” but now simply gets you branded “racist”. But I received my own full complement of this unilateral emotional suppression from my mother; to raise your voice even a little above normal meant you lost the argument. If, these days, Godwin’s Law gives us the ad Hitlerum, such that whoever first brings up a Nazi analogy in the course of an argument by social convention gets publicly acknowledged as having lost the argument, we might similarly coin the ad Affectum (the ad Emotionalum, in dog Latin), such that whoever raises their voice in the course of an argument by social convention gets publicly acknowledged as having lost the argument.

  3. Anger is a valid emotion and very necessary when there is injustice.It doesn’t require the raising of voices.
    I blog, it is a useful tool for addressing injustices, trauma, stigma, myths and exploring the deep dark secrets of adoption, the taboos and the no-go areas. I publish all comments because they reveal so much about the commenter and sometimes blog about the comments if they are interesting/challenging/illustrative enough.
    In real life I challenge outright stigmatising remarks head-on if it is worth it, say with a relative or member of the wider family e.g. the use of the word ‘illegitimate’. I find the firm, calm, humourous approach often gets best results.
    I am fortunate to be Australian where adoption has been a topic much on the agenda for the last two years.I expect more, as we are to see the first of a series in which a LDA and her reunion are central.These things are seen by many and useful because the central premise can be challenged along with the finer points.
    I always make a point of commenting on articles etc because I believe it is important for adoptees to be heard in whatever places adoption appears and is misrepresented. It requires commitment and time but these things are read by many.I keep presenting the ideas that adoption is made of multiple traumas, proceeds in stages as we age and forever leaves the wound of motherloss, ambiguous loss along with the damage of being adopted. It is complex, has many facets and cannot be simplified in its effect. When non-adoptees know that we’ll be getting somewhere!

  4. Much to reply to. The idea of boundaries stands out for me, in the sense that adoption mythology disallows us any privacy. The given is our acquiescence, and our resistance is an affront. So when we are faced with a reminder of this, it is difficult to reply, because this reply is voided by the nature of the discussion.

    The notion of audience is also important. I have in the past framed much of what I have said or written such that it is directed at those “in the background” listening; by not (allowing myself the thought that I am) engaging with the one attempting to undo my agency or voice, I expand above and past that interlocutor. Or so I thought.

    A newer approach is to up-front admit the mythology; I out-and-out say “well, that is one of the myths of adoption practice”. As always, trying to even the playing field first and foremost is of ultimate importance.

    Locally, my efforts to expand the discussion (to others also displaced/dispossessed) is much easier, given the (sad) fact that 50% of Arab children are not registered with their governments for reasons of fear, poverty, distance, corruption, etc. Above and beyond this is a dismal in-your-face migrant slavery, as well as refugees of various historic references.

    Then again, when asked by a former boss (an adoptive mother) why I wouldn’t want to adopt since, as an adoptee, “[I] should be the first one who would want to adopt” my simple two-word reply of “…or not.” in my reckoning was likely one of the reasons I am no longer working in that department.

    I’m not sure there is any use speaking to this class of adopters, rather loathe to do or admit anything that might challenge their class status and all it brings them. I’m convinced that we need aim at those on the lowest rungs of the class ladder. I’m trying more and more to shift in this direction.

    • So, with boundaries and evening the playing field–which cn also be described as suspending whatever hierarchies exist between two interlocutors for the purposes of a conversation, a suspension that must be conscious, deliberate, and is not necessarily easy or simple–again frames the sort of setting that a blog proposes.

      A blog may not suffice so well for reaching “those on the lowest rung of the class ladder”; a blog may run afoul of failing to have any “use [for] speaking” to the (more or less) dominant class of adopters. But it does serve as an outlet for adoptees to discuss, in public, in a way that the dominant class may or may not overhear and, if they do or do not participate, must do so under conditions of boundary and relatively suspended hierarchies.

      I know that adoption resembles polo–it’s not a sport for the underclasses–but I find myself resistant to allowing class to reduce to economic class. All down the hierarchy, reproduced at every level of it (just as we find the sexism of patriarchy reproduced at every level of it so that, for instance white women or the daughters of Sumerian kings or veiled women practice oppression against other lowerer-class women), we find the class distinction between adult and child. I’m convinced that childhood represents the original condition of slavery, which humankind in its earliest days found itself in vis-a-vis “the world” (or Nature) and has since articulated far and wide as paternalistic “whiteness” beneficently saves the (admirably but sometimes difficult) child-like people of the “Third World” etc, etc. I see that the class analysis brings out especially the disparity between 9compatatively) rich and (comparatively) poor, with all the usual rigors, AND the local concreteness of that still opens up for me to the broader, authentically human-wide, problem of the adult/child distinction.

      I say this because perhaps part of the difficulty you encounter in addressing this rests on the (assumed) character or qualities of adult/child relations. Part of the myth of adulthood (not adoption) is that parental love trumps all mistakes. As a son, not necessarily as an adopted son (though that remains a part of the picture), one I confronted my father with some of his mistakes rising me, I could tell it hurt him and he was sorry for it, and he said, with a tone of resignation, “You know, I tried my best. That’s all any parent can do.” And I distinctly remember not being convinced or moved by the statement, though I didn’t say so. Since then, I encountered Winston Churchill’s remark, uttered in a context of a world war, “Sometimes to do your best is not enough. Sometimes, you must do what needs to be done.”

      For a child’s own psychological sake, it probably makes sense–may even ultimately be necessary–to let our parents off the hook, to allow them to say “I did my best” and not reply with Churchill’s entirely correct sentiment. But I don’t think tht makes the moment any less an unlevel playing field; I don’t think it represents an honoring of boundaries. i see it as an emotional blackmail, because no parent will ever really step down from his privilege and say, “What can I do then?” (by which is meant “be sure to choose from within the range of things I am willing to do, even if you find none of them adequate”). Instead, the rescuer’s “anger” may show up first, the accusations of ingratitude, the “well fine, if you won’t accept my apology, fuck you” in so many words, if not those word. As if “I tried my best” amounts to an apology. They even have a hard time making the apology itself–we get instead a lot of egocentric self-flagellation in the form of guilt, a whole bunch of self-muckraking that just substitutes the egotism of paternalism for the egotism of groveling. (In thinking of the refusal to genuinely apologize, as a problem of privilege itself, I remember that so far only the State of Alabama has officially issued an apology for slavery).

      In theory, to say “I’m sorry” should be the easiest thing to fake, but luckily (I think) it’s not. As a queer person who’s never had children, I’m sure the adults with children will say, “you don’t understand.” Nnn … I’m not so sure about that. More precisely, I don’t accept their premise that parental love trumps everything, whatever else I do or don’t understand.

      It’s infantile, it’s the opposite of adulthood, to not admit one’s wrongs. The childishness of this seems telling to me. People fuck up, most assuredly, then we acknowledge the mess, clean it up (hopefully) and move on. but this requires admitting the wrong. If my father said, “I was a bad parent” I’d remind him that that’s an overstatement too much in one direction, but that’s still very different than “I tried my best.”

      I’d venture that something of all of this gets into the mix of your interactions I’ve seen you describe, but because those interactions get viewed by your interlocutors as ONLY framed int he (artificial) context of adoption; hence, you come up against the much vaster implication of the adult “right” even to make another human being in the first place. What unimaginable hubris, made all the worse that the event was completely unintended? You didn’t even MEAN to bring me into the world? Or, because they’re “opposed to abortion,” they “inflict” life on someone? Hubris that tests the limits of language to express. The supreme entitlement, the same one the fucker Yahweh allowed himself. &c., setting the tone.

      Just as your boss mistakenly believed you should be pro-adoption, just as people sometimes assume that adoptees “should be” against abortion, we should not pretend that the living cannot question the propriety of being created. Where I am given no choice, there humanity disappears; if you tell me I can “only” live, then I must choose to kill myself just to assert my humanity; if spiritualists say i can only be being of light, then i must choose evil simply to assert my humanity. (This, I say, is why the white “spirit of goodness” we assert about people generally is rapidly trying to destroy the world for everyone.) To tell me I can only be grateful for life, that I must s a commandment honor my mother and father, demands I do otherwise, just to assert my humanity. It hardly matters that all of these things amount to self-destruction: “man does things against his self-interest in order to maintain his identity” (Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground). And then, on top of that, the self-same who insist I must be good, alive, and grateful try to blame me as neurotic when I revel against their paternalism.


      In general, I don’t mind that I exist, but that doesn’t give me no choice to critique those who caused me to exist.

      Please take the wanderlust of this post for why it was given; my point was to illustrate the broader context that “adoption” sits in as a way to illuminate (hopefully) some of the recurrent walls you run into. Adopted people who grow up to have children of their own (adopted or not) may find themselves hoisted by the petard of their own critique; as a queer-identified person, I have the luxury of not getting caught in that trap.

  5. They are definitely walls. And this brings us back to eagoodlife’s post, where she mentions the tone she uses. My communication over the years has morphed, changed, adapted…not based on the usual “mind your tone” response or “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” (which begs the question of why we’re catching flies) but out of frustration. Sometimes cutting out the niceties gets us to an actual discussion much more quickly. Sometimes the “no bull” approach brings out a kind of non-affected conversation. I admit I don’t have much of a fuse left. I’ve channeled this into writing that is more academic than vernacular, and then….I don’t think it matters how we speak. We could endlessly go off in Shakespearean soliloquy and there would still be the undercutting; the descent into the personal (for example: “Let’s not pretend you are anything other than a religious extremist”. This is very dangerous talk). I think this is what bothers me most: They psychological evaluation of adoptees is a one-way street. I think most definitely it needs to be a two-way street, and we should feel free to “analyze” away….

    • “Catch more flies with honey…” “Mind your tone.” I had a head on collision course with this two nights ago when a friend of my visited from out of town. She is not adopted, however, she has biracial children (she is white, her husband is Indian) like i do and I have always found a connection with her in some way; quite possibly now i recognize as i am coming out of the fog that maybe I have been “attracted to her” because she has a very close relationship with her parents of which I am envious. But I digress. She has been one of the few people in my immediate life to whom I have opened up about my emerging “adoption issues” and my evolving feelings (to put it mildly).

      I engaged with her about any similar experiences she has had concerning her children, citing examples I have become all too cognizant of in terms of race-based aggressions in my own life & toward my child. I began to explain how I painfully realize now how having white parents who never prepared me for what I would face in the world as a Korean woman has detrimentally impacted so much of my history, of who I am. I expressed my anger, my disappointment, my confusion both current and past. I talked about how I hope to do more for my own child, that now I am trying to acknowledge & live my race directly instead of as a “white woman.”

      I don’t think I expected her to agree with me 100% or understand my POV as a transracially adopted person but I didn’t expect her to say to me what she did. She clearly expressed that she does not plan to send her children into the world with such a “negative” purview. That her children will be better off and affect more change being “colorblind,” believing we are all “human beings.”

      Whilst I don’t disagree that we people of the world are in fact human beings I was confused & dismayed by her quick and immediate dismissal of educating my child to know how many of the world perceive Asian women as somehow not foward-thinking. That by helping my child to have the strength to combat it and not be abused by it is perpetuating more racism. That by saying “we are all one” somehow makes all the difference. That racism disappears if we don’t engage in “such talk.” That my feelings regarding my race & how I perceive needing to prepare my child are somehow a simple function of the fact my adoptive parents were blatant racists and i was unfortunate, especially as a child of color, to have been raised in such an environment. Unfortunate indeed…

      I was struck dumb. I could not articulate what I was trying to explain, maybe because of the decades of pain and grief I have silenced by biting my tongue & burying my truth, by being more aware of how others are feeling instead of allowing myself to have any opinion. Knowing my place.

      It was, as you and Snow Leopard have called, another type of second offense. That I could trust someone to open up, to feel acknowledged and then to be shut down and put in my place for being just a little too honest. To speak a truth that if it is “not positive” or somehow “not promoting unity” isn’t worth speaking. That no one will listen if I use a tone that doesn’t fall into the “I want world peace” category. That speaking in a way that expresses my outrage, my discontent may somehow be a waste of time because really in the end no one wants to hear it if it isn’t sticky sweet. That it’s not worth my time, a wasted energy, to express an idea without a smile on my face and a tray of bull$hit in my hands.

      I am ashamed to admit I fell silent. In my heart I could feel the words I wanted to use to rebuke her dismissive & condescending claim, to make if nothing else an intelligent counter-argument, to engage in some
      type of constructive dialog but my mind shut down, my mouth remained motionless. I didn’t have any honey to catch any flies.

      This is, i recognize, a rambling rant of disappointment not only in my friend but of myself. I believe it just goes to illustrate that as an adult transracial adoptee–one displaced & entirely disconnected from her family, culture, country, language and people–I am entirely without the tools to address issues of racial identity and so many second offenses because I have never been able to deal with the first: my stolen and obliterated korean self.

      I wish I could have said to her some of what I have typed here.

      • It saddens me to hear you having this experience; it gladdens me that you feel safe to express yourself here.

        Because you have a longstanding relationship with your friend, this makes the shock of her attack that much more, but it also potentially promises that you two share enough common ground (still) that you can express how what she said affected you.

        I got into a hairy discussion (I’m being euphemistic) with a long-standing friend–I said something,and suddenly I felt all kinds of walls going up; n experience I’d never had with her before. She started speaking to me in a way I’d never heard. I was shaking–the conversation was on the phone, so she couldn’t see it. I finally said, “I feel like I’m two sentences away from saying something and then you’ll never speak to me again.” And she said, “What? No, no, no, no!” It was very unsettling, but because I was able to be vulnerable and state how I was feeling, even though it was frightening (she told me this the next time we spoke), she wanted to say she really appreciated I could do that.

        Because you have an old friendship, if you let your friend know how much she means to you (remind her, I mean), then she may better hear that her words hurt, even if she can’t or won’t change her mind. Because whatever offensive idea someone might hold, it is their rubbing my face in it when I ask them to stop that does the damage in my relationship with them. Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be scary.

        but, all of this aside, what would you LIKE to do or have hppen?

      • Snow Leopard, thank you for your reply and kind words. I felt exactly as you did about walls immediately going up. For me it is an instinctive reaction, one that has always happened but now I am consciously aware of it. I have lived my entire life in a constant state of hyper vigilance and realize now that this is not healthy physically or emotionally. It has taken its toll.

        What I want is to be able to relate with people, at least those I deem close, without so much fear. I would like to be able to say, as you did, that I am a “few sentences from…” but as is my m.o. I shut down and defer.

        now, though, I am ashamed of myself. It no longer feels like self preservation; it feels like a cop out. My conversation with my friend will not end our relationship. I think what it showed me is I am simply not ready to engage in these types of conversations (re adoption, race, displacement, culture). I have to learn & practice my language for it because right now I sound like the 5yo girl who was adopted to the US so many years ago.

        What I would have liked to have happen was to have been able to say that while I understood my friend’s POV I feel it is an injustice to let them believe color blindness will afford them the same white privilege she has had all her life & they will therefore never have to deal with racism. Maybe they won’t. It’s her parenting choice, but don’t dismiss my own as being negative and condescend to me about my adoption. It’s saying all this without the fear I will fall away. I have so few connections, and i continue to sacrifice myself and my opinions to maintain them. I am not looking for a fight but nor do I want to water down my ideas. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but at the same time I want to to voice my truth just like she as she is able to.

        Yes, it is scary.

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

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s