This tweet recently appeared on Twitter:
I WILL constantly #judge you if you #adopt a child and constantly refer to them as: “my #black #adopted child”.
It was followed up by the above question. I’ll leave it open to your interpretation and response.
Well, frankly, I will #judge either way. Adopters over-acknowledging is a bummer, and adopters pretending they are color- and gene-blind are the flip side of the same bummer.
When I was a kid, I loathed people who brought attention to it and introduced their adopted kid as such. But now as an Angry Adult Adoptee, I want to roundhouse kick the non-Korean parent who bar mitzvahs the Korean 13-yr old, or even the Black adoptee who professes he “didn’t know i was Black until someone told me when I was in High School! Ha HA!”
I call büllshitte on both tacks. Passing sucks and is damaging, and having a light shined on you for your different-ness is objectifying.
It’s interesting you should bring up Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Maybe this is the topic for another question. But the religion-via-bloodline conundrum as faced by adoptees deserves more attention I think. There was a presenter at the past Adoption Initiative Conference who spoke on adoption and Judaism and it was a torturous explanation for her to justify (to herself) how this “works” in terms of her Orthodox faith.
Later I met a Korean adoptee who at one point proudly proclaimed his Jewish heritage. Given the discrimination faced by Sephardim, Mizrahim, and Ethiopian Jews in Israel, I didn’t know how to break it to him that he probably wouldn’t be making aliyah anytime soon. On the spectrum of identities that “allow” for their affectation, this one seems particularly problematic in a “square peg/round hole” kind of way.
But what you are saying I think can be expanded a bit by going with such an analogy. I mean the “square peg” (does anyone remember that TV show???) as first-person trying to fit into a “round hole” is one thing; the “square peg” as third-person being fit by parents into a “round hole” is something else entirely. Like pounding a screw down with a hammer. Then again, maybe it’s the same thing; trying to “fit myself” is following a precedent set for me.
My adoptive father would (too) often proudly proclaim me in this “third-person” way; “We adopted Danny from Lebanon”. It made me very uncomfortable to hear it, but I never confronted him about it; it happened most often with strangers, and the moment was too fleeting to worry about. The trophy analogy is a fitting one.
Do you mean did I worship at the alter of a young Sarah Jessica Parker and relish every note of “The Waitresses” Square Pegs theme song? Check.
I think there is just no easy way to be adopted, plain and simple. What’s worse: being a trophy on display, or being a trophy hidden in a box in the basement?
When your unimaginative, unartistic, non-musical adoptive parents get the kudos for your being such a talented, creative child, it does feel like a ripoff. Why should they take the credit? Or when your adoptive parents’ friends insist you are the spitting image of your mom, say, and your mom looks at you with expectation and fear, “will she or won’t she OUT herself and us as not being real?” In my childhood, the choice was mine (at least in my presence–who knows what was discussed when I wasn’t witness). I had to decide if I was going to say: Impossible, you fool! I’m adopted! My mother or brother or father or anyone and I look nothing alike! OR: say Thank you, and share a knowing, anxious smile with my mom, OR: say nothing. Don’t react. Go blank to pass as Normal. Just let assumptions (you’ve got the same eyes as your mom!) be made and sublimate my reaction. (That was the worst, btw). I remember this first occuring when I was 5 or 6. It never stopped. Even in my 40’s. Even after I’d Reunited (the Adoptee version of making Aliyah…”so she made Reunion and it was fulfilling but now she just has more questions AND a messiah complex…oh, she thinks she belongs to another family”).
Among my current friends who have adopted (yes, I’m afraid I have a few. It’s excruciatingly challenging and frequently sad-making), I can see which ones treat their kids like objects, or a trophy that reflects back on their altruism and generosity, and which one treats their kid like an individual human.
On all fronts, however, gratitude is an issue. The adoptee is expected to be demonstrative in their gratitude, for all the gifts and amenities and treats and fancy schools. And this is both literal (“I left work early to go to your stupid school street fair you begged me to attend and now you’re crying?! You should be grateful!”), and subliminal.
Maybe the trophy metaphor does not really hold up, as no one expects the trophy to be grateful for the curio cabinet.
Some quick thoughts….our cognitive dissonance comes perhaps from this third person/first person split; I often say we are “direct objects” of a transitive verb (adopt). We don’t get to be the “subject”….when we try to shift it, we get caught up in a paradox….
I see where the trophy analogy breaks down. I would add to that the notion of someone knowing that the trophy was not “merited” as much as “bought” or “acquired” devalues even more the trophy, especially in light of trying to convince everyone else that it was “won” fair and square.
This brings me to the idea of a tarnished trophy being a poor stand-in for the actual “event”; whether compared to an actual birth or the adoption itself. We end up being the painful reminder of of what we are not, ironically enough.
I’ll leave off here….need to think of something else.