The Angrier Adoptee, part 1

The Angrier Adoptee: I have some feedback for you, Professor. Meaning no disrespect. But some of us think you haven’t gone far enough. I do appreciate the energy shown in your recent posts. But we thought we’d give you a chance to explain yourself further.

John: Um, okay? I always welcome feedback from other adoptees. Even the ones who might disagree with some of what I’m saying. And by the way, you can call me John. You don’t need to call me “Professor.”

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The Angrier Adoptee: Okay, cool. Well, John. To start with, do you think all the people at that rally in Nebraska voted against Trump? I was looking at the voting patterns data in your state. And I’m pretty sure there must have been a ton of people at that rally who voted for him. It could be that they just decided that their president crossed a line when he told ICE to lock kids in cages. Even though they disagreed with him on that one decision, they could still vote for him again in 2020. Especially if they mostly like the other stuff he’s doing.

John: Yeah, I didn’t think about that. And that would explain the lack of real outrage expressed at the Lincoln rally. We also have this dynamic called “Nebraska Nice,” where we don’t like to treat our neighbors disrespectfully. There may be a gendered and class-based element to that. I mean, it seemed like there were more middle-class female protesters, and speakers, at the Lincoln rally. I know some immigrant friends who told me they couldn’t attend, because it would violate their visa status. Or maybe they are undocumented. So the diversity among the protesters wasn’t representative of the level of outrage and anxiety throughout the community. But you make an excellent point. I wanted to believe that I was among friends and allies. Which to me means committed anti-Trump folks. Now that you mention it, the publicity for the rally did say that it was open to people of all persuasions, not just people in one political party.

The Angrier Adoptee: Next, I wanted to talk to you about gender issues. To start with, why are most of your images on your blog boys and men? I don’t see a whole lot of women. Or girls, or non-binary people. But you write a lot about women, such as birth mothers and grieving moms, for instance. Or in your example of the traumatized adoptee keeled over in the fetal position, why did you make her female?

John: That’s a fair observation. The reason that my original artwork features guys is because the people I ask to pose for my photos are friends, or people I know personally. As a gay artist, I tend to make art about other males. That’s just my preference, where my interest lies. But yeah, I could do a better job including more images of women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals. If that was your criticism.

The Angrier Adoptee: What about that traumatized adoptee? Why did she have to be female? You’re not female. As a male writer, isn’t it dangerous for you to talk about the experience of a female adoptee, as if you know what that feels like?

John: I guess I was thinking about the movie, Adopted. That movie, which everybody should see, by the way, was made by female adoptees,. You get to hear some powerful stories about adult adoptees. For me, the most poignant ones described the experience of adoptees who happened to be women. And let me add that I would hope that writers are allowed and even encouraged to write from various perspectives. We shouldn’t have  to limit ourselves to writing from one particular gender, should we?

The Angrier Adoptee: If you’re a good enough writer, yeah. Then maybe you could pull it off. Moving on, why don’t you come right out and offer people some concrete solutions? Where’s your sense of urgency? Your writing is very cerebral. It’s like you’re living in your head. What are readers supposed to do? Are they supposed to just think their way into social justice? When are you going to come down from your academic ivory tower? Children and families are suffering, yet you just blog.

John: I think about that, every day. I ask myself if doing research, teaching courses, and offering a few workshops and keynotes, when I’m invited, is doing enough. And I’m not sure what the answer is. I know that blogging is one action I can take to resist. But I also know that blogging isn’t enough. One thing I can do is put more energy into healing myself and strengthening my family. So I’ve been working on that, for a while now.

I did notice, at the rally, people seemed to get really riled up when a few speakers encouraged them to “remember in November.” As if voting for a better candidate will make much of a difference. They seem to forget that President Obama was the one who intensified the round-up of families by ICE. Obama deported so many families, and caused family separation when he deported thousands of parents out of the country. The Democrats have as much blame as the current administration, which calls itself Republican.

The Angrier Adoptee: But why don’t you tell people to conduct civil disobedience? If the adoption business is so immoral, as you claim to believe, how can you tolerate its existence? How can even you go to their agencies and give trainings? We should be chaining ourselves to the gates, and disrupting business as usual.

John: It could eventually come to that. But first of all, I try not to tell people what to do. And I tend to think we need to educate a few more people, first. Without education, our neighbors aren’t going to understand, or care to understand, why direct action is being used as a tactic. They’ll just write off the adoption abolitionists as a bunch of loudmouth anarchists and malcontents. I want people who have been touched by adoption to look inside their hearts. I want them to reflect deeply on what would be just, and right, and fair, if they found themselves in dire circumstances. Facing the kinds of decisions many desperate women have faced, that too often leads to losing their children.

The Angrier Adoptee: Did you ever stop and think that maybe some women don’t want to be mothers? They have a right to choose what to do with their bodies and the babies they bring into the world. Sometimes you sound like it’s okay to deny women their reproductive freedom.

John: I do struggle with this, I admit. It’s complicated. Setting aside the issue of abortion, for a minute. I will say that, as a feminist, I support a woman’s right to control her own body and destiny. As a parent, I have also tried to imagine what I would do if I found myself unable to care for my child. Or if I could not guarantee the safety of my child. Then, too, I think about my enslaved ancestors. We know that many anguished parents literally threw their children overboard on the slave ships. They must have thought their children would be better off dead than trying to eke out an existence as slaves.

But I’m here today because my ancestors did not make that choice. I am descended from survivors, from strong individuals, who endured and persevered. Our ancestors chose not to end the lives of their offspring. Instead, they raised children as best they could, under exceedingly difficult circumstances. They taught them how to struggle, how to conspire, and how to survive. So the next generation would have a fighting chance. I think that’s worth remembering.

The Angrier Adoptee: If my birth mother had aborted me, I wouldn’t be here, either. But thanks to her, I had to grow up with all the crap that comes with adoption: the trauma, the pain, the questions and insults, and the not knowing. The second-class citizenship. The denial of rights to our personal information. Some days, adoption trauma feels so unbearable that I actually wish I had been aborted.

John: Wow, that’s intense, Angrier. I want you to know that I can relate.

The Angrier Adoptee: Last question for now. John Brown or Harriet Tubman? Since you’re so fond of equating anti-adoption abolition to the anti-slavery Abolitionists, pick one to follow.

John: Hm, interesting choice. I have always admired both of those committed Abolitionists. John Brown, as a dedicated person of faith, and as a man of conscience, decided to lay down his life for what he believed in. He armed and then fought alongside enslaved Africans. He did way more than just give rousing speeches against slavery. To me, John Brown epitomizes what it means to be a genuine ally in anti-racist struggle. But Harriet Tubman was another incredibly brave and daring activist who led countless runaways away from slavery and into freedom. She risked life and limb, time and time again, to take those who wanted to flee away from the plantations on the Underground Railroad. So, for me, she’s another heroic example of what it means to be an ally.

I’d rather use the power of persuasion than violence in the cause of abolition. I do believe that history is on our side–the side of justice, which is the side of abolition. The tide of public opinion will turn against child removal and family separation. People are waking up to the crime of human trafficking, and making the connection to adoption. People will come to reject the entire child removal /foster care /adoption industry as an evil, money-making institution. Especially younger Americans, the children of the Baby Boomers.

The Angrier Adoptee: Real talk. At least we can agree on that. The Boomers have had their day. It’s just a matter of time until you Baby Boomers die off and relinquish power. Meantime, young people are making other choices about the kind of society we want to live in.

John: Right on. You all are going to figure out another way.

The Angrier Adoptee: Word. Alright, John, thanks for your time. I’m off to meet up with my DA posse.

John: DA?

The Angrier Adoptee: Yeah, man, direct action. We got work to do. Later.

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An adoptee view of adoption trauma

We’re moving into the second week of Summer, at least for those of us here north of the Equator. So much is happening. It feels like something momentous is taking place. Does anyone else feel this, or is it just me?

Old issues are surfacing in new ways. People are trying to come together. It feels like communities are gathering strength and reaching out to other communities. In a few hours, I’ll be participating in one of the nationwide protests against family separation and the detention of refugees and migrant children and parents.

Our world spins in crisis. Trouble seems to be everywhere: Another black teenager has been murdered. Another Native woman has gone missing. Another youth is locked away needlessly, pointlessly.

Another grieving mother weeps for the loss of her child–to suicide, to drug overdose, to police incompetence, to deportation, to detention at the hands of so-called border protectors.

Somewhere, a wealthy adopted child, triggered by widespread discussions of family separations in the news and everywhere on social media, cannot find the courage to give voice to the words that would convey her acute anxiety. In her mind she may understand that it’s not likely to happen to her. That is, she tells herself she probably won’t lose her family.

Except that, once upon a time, she did. The little girl inside her remembers the feeling of utter panic when she lost her family the first time.

While concerned adults around her march to protest the detentions of migrant parents and the breakup of families, the adopted girl fears that she might once again lose her parents, this time, her “forever” family, her adoptive family. Just like she lost every other adult that ever told her they loved her: her foster parents, the kind ladies back in the orphanage, her group home parents, her birth mother.

But what can this adoptee say if she cannot find the words? Depending on her age, she acts out: She cuts. She hordes. She rebels. She hits. She wets the bed. She throws tantrums. She throws her toys. She pushes away the ones closest to her.

Or perhaps if she’s older, she runs away. She sleeps around. Or steals. If she’s off at college, maybe she isolates. She skips class. She skips meals. She fails her classes. If she’s living on her own, maybe she doesn’t return phone calls. Maybe she self-medicates. Maybe she stays in bed all day. Maybe she quits her job. Maybe she simply stops trying.

Sometimes, she’s curled up in the fetal position. But no one knows this, because outwardly, she’s a successful over-achiever. She has been taught that she’s special due to her “chosen” status. She’s been told to feel grateful that she got adopted. She hears, again and again, that adoption was the best thing that ever happened to her. She’s so lucky that she’s not stuck in some orphanage or group home. She’s blessed to be an American.

So the adoptee hides her tears and forces a smile. She shows up at family functions, feeling anything but functional. But who notices? Who really cares?

The caring people in her family are all out protesting family separation, while inside her adopted heart, she’s the one living with the separation from family. When no one notices her anguish, when nobody can help her name the trauma she inhabits, she wonders who her family really is.

But let’s keep pretending that all is well in Adoption Land. After all, adoption is always in the best interests of the child.

Or so we choose to believe. And so the delusion–sheer madness–continues.

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I mean this, Adoptees: I hope you are staying connected to your circle of support in these triggering times. Stay strong, and don’t hesitate to reach out.

Still hoping for change

A few days ago, I received a surprise email from a new student at the university where I work. Her heartfelt message touched me, and she gave me permission to share it with my readers.

I feel grateful that she wrote to me, because it reminded me that the work I have done over the years in the so-called adoption community has made a difference, at least to some people, which is something I often wonder about.

In her message, this student talks about being labeled as a ‘birth mother.’ She alludes to the anguish caused by the momentous decision to place her baby boy for adoption. She basically thanked me for my perspective that tries to bring to the forefront the frequently overlooked participants in the oppressive system that we have come to think of as adoption.

Now that I’ve given you some context, I will share the message sent to me from this birth mother. We agreed that I would not use her name on my blog, for obvious reasons. (And even that right there calls attention to the injustice created through this oppressive system…)

Dear Dr. Raible,

My name is _____. I recently transferred to the university as a nontraditional college student. I was elated to discover that you work for the university as an associate professor. Here’s why:

In 2014, I was pregnant with my first child. It was an unplanned pregnancy, and the only option I had ever considered before this was abortion. But as you know, things change in an instant.

I was contacted by a nonprofit organization in my town at that time that provides services for expectant parents as well as prospective adoptive parents. I soon learned that even before giving birth to my son, I was seen as a birth mother, and trust me, that is a title no one wants to have. Then one day, I came across a quote of yours (please see attached), and it gave me hope, hope that maybe one day birth mothers and birth parents like me will be respected, loved, and held in high esteem, like their children/our children are. Unfortunately, that has not happened for me yet, but I still love looking at your quote from time to time, still hoping for change.

Anyways, I would love to meet with you if you have some time in the next few weeks. Grab a cup of coffee, or whatever works for you. That being said, I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience!

All my best, ______

She attached the following quote to her email message:

adoption-quote

I plan to ask _______ where she came across the quote. I know that she was not aware of my blog, so I am curious to hear how she found it. I have a few other questions for her, as you might imagine, and I’ll be quite interested to learn more about her perspective and experience.

Anyway, I agreed to get together for coffee, and I will share with her the story of being found recently by my own birth family, thanks to my cousins in California, who took the 23&Me test that finally brought us together.

Damn the agencies, I say. Let’s use the latest advances in DNA science to get around their inhumane policies and the outdated laws they pushed through to keep children from knowing their parents. At the same time, we’ll keep working for justice for adoptees and our first families/birth families.

The power of the pro-adoption lobby that profits literally from the separation of children and parents is intensely hegemonic. The loudest voices in adoption discourse–adopters and those who prey upon them– adoption facilitators, adoption attorneys, and adoption agency executives– make it nearly impossible for us to envision a different way of meeting the needs of children and families in crisis. They make it difficult to imagine how women’s rights, even reproductive rights, include the right to keep and raise one’s children.

Even so, I have come to believe that the days of the pro-adoption lobby are numbered. Mark my words: There will soon come a time when society will eventually awaken to see the adoption business for what it really is: unethical, emotionally and psychologically violent, and essentially untenable from the perspective of human rights. Yet despite their best efforts to maintain business as usual, some of us are still hoping for change.

FOUND

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been keeping busy with other projects, including creating some art. But I want to let my friends and allies in the adoption community– and interested readers– know what has been going on with me in terms of adoption-related stuff.

This week, I made phone contact with a biological relative! Thanks to DNA testing (we used 23 & Me), we determined that our (now deceased) mothers were sisters, which makes us first cousins. This is the first time in my life that I have spoken to a blood relative. Then this kind man, my cousin, sent me a photograph of our mothers together many years ago. In the photo, my birth mom is standing next to her soon-to-be ex-husband (not my bio dad), her sister (my aunt), their mother (my grandmother), and their brother (my uncle).

A year and a half ago, I spat into a plastic tube and shipped off my saliva with a check for $99. To be honest, the whole DNA profiling experience felt sketchy and was definitely anti-climactic. I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know, really. I emailed a few distant DNA cousins that 23 & Me matched me with (allegedly 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins), but didn’t get much back in terms of replies. So the whole thing felt like a waste.

And now 18 months later, comes this huge news: I now know my birth mother’s name, along with her birth date and death date, and where she lived (not far from where I was born). I know her siblings’ names, and how many children and grandchildren she had (lots!). It’s almost unreal to get my head around the fact that I have actual factual relatives walking around, some of whom no doubt look like me, sound like me, maybe even gesture like me. Like Pinocchio, I can say with certainty, “I’m a Real Boy.”

Mostly, I’m feeling pretty excited and even happy to FINALLY learn something about my origins and my bio family. Sometimes I find myself feeling sad, for all the years of wondering and not knowing, for policies and laws that kept me from my heritage and my birthright.

I remember, too, and see in my mind the faces of the countless children and youth adoptees I’ve met over the years, at conferences, adoption camps, and workshops, who live with question marks hanging over their heads. They may never experience the empowerment and relief I’ve experienced these past few days, from interacting with a real live family member who shares their past, their genetic code, and their family history. I want to hug each one of them and encourage them to hang on. Hear this, orphans: One day, it can happen, and you will feel whole, and real, and glad to be alive.

I am fortunate that my adoptive family is totally supportive of my search, and thrilled for me at the results so far. Not all of us adoptees are so lucky. I hope my positive outcome (so far) might inspire my sons to search one day, so that they can find answers to the questions that weigh them down. I also think about their kids, my grandchildren, who will most likely have questions of their own that a DNA test may help provide answers for.

I feel dizzy just writing this. Finding and being found is an almost surreal experience, as I’m sure some of you who have gone through this know from firsthand experience. I’ll post again soon when I have processed some more and think I have something worth sharing.

 

Australia apologizes for adoption pain

Forced Adoption Logo (2)How many of us in the “adoption community,” particularly in the USA, know about the heartfelt apology issued in March 2013 by the Australian government?

I want you to read the short letter from Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Read the ENTIRE thing! In fact, read it out loud. It’s not long. But it does capture the pain and frustration that many TRAs, other adoptees, birth mothers and other first family members, and various adoption reformers (and let’s not forget adoption abolitionists) have been injecting into the dominant pro-adoption narrative. These perspectives go largely unheard or dismissed as “too negative” because they do not “celebrate” adoption.

Deeply moved as I read the apology, I found myself muttering, “Wow” repeatedly. Does it change the material conditions of living people’s realities? By itself, no, of course not. But as a symbolic gesture, the Australian government’s apology is a start in the right direction of dismantling the hegemonic influence of an adoption industry that woefully under-serves children and families. In other words, I read the apology as an act by a collective of individuals who are beginning to hold themselves accountable for participating in a corrupt, harm-causing, hugely skewed system that is rooted in systemic oppression.

PLEASE  DO READ IT. It is short and poignant. In fact, share it with the adoptees in your life, adoptees of all ages. I want my sons to read it. I think they will feel empowered, validated, and recognized. At last. It won’t take away their pain, but I am certain that it will  send a message that they are finally seen, that their experience has been affirmed by people in power.

That’s how I felt, as an adoptee and as an adoptive parent. Allies, I DARE you to read it to younger children and youth. And then ask them what they think. Don’t be surprised if they burst into tears. That should be a lesson. Be ready to bear witness to the accumulated pain from the trauma of relinquishment or abandonment, from foster care, and from adoption. And if you are too scared to share this letter of apology with adoptees, then ask yourself this: “If I am too afraid to bear witness to their pain, as an adult or as a ally, how can I possibly deny them access to and connections with individuals that are making sense of a similar experience?” The least we can do is encourage younger and older adoptees to connect with each other to form supportive relationships.

CLICK ON THE LINK TO READ THE APOLOGY NOW: Nationalapologyforforcedadoptions

Distribute it widely. Let’s have this sort of courageous conversation here in North America. Finally. And thank you, Australia.

Decolonizing transracial adoption

For me, the time we are living through right now is a decolonizing moment. I realize that I need to do more to decolonize my mind from the grip of the global adoption industry. I think we all could use some decolonizing. Our minds have been colonized. In saying this, I mean that the way we think about adoption–even the way we picture kids and childhood–has been shaped and molded. Basically, so that somebody can make money. Transracial adoption will never get better until we decolonize it. This is what I believe: We have to decolonize our minds before we can empower ourselves as transracial adoptees.

It reminds me of watching women become empowered during the feminist movement of the 1970s, when I was a teenager and going off to college. It was a little unsettling, as a male, but I got why women felt they had to talk to each other without men interrupting all the time. Women met together to talk about their lives and their problems, including their relationships with men. By doing this, women were able to get some distance and some space that was free from the male energy that tended to dominate. They weren’t necessarily saying that they hated men—mostly, the women I knew still loved their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. But without men butting in and making women take care of them all the time, women were able to reclaim their power. Ultimately, I think our society benefited and moved forward because of the self-empowerment that women went through.

What’s happening in our transracial adoptee community also feels like a parallel movement to various ethnic studies and identity politics movements, where African Americans, Natives, Latinos, and Asians organized for self-determination. I experienced these exciting movements as a youth. People of color in different communities woke up and said, “You know what? The white people have been in power long enough. Now it’s our turn.” Again, they weren’t necessarily saying that they hated white people, just because they expressed their righteous anger about the way some white people had been treating them over the years. But people of color needed to tell the story of our nation’s history from their OWN perspective. No longer was the story told just going to get told by the winners and the descendants of conquerors and slave-owners. Now it could be told by the victims and the oppressed themselves, the survivors of genocide and slavery and cultural destruction. Incidentally, this is where multicultural education came from, from the need to expand the narrative voices and tell the story from multiple perspectives. While using schooling to advance anti-racism and social justice.

Are we oppressed as Orphans and transracial Adoptees? Absolutely. Does this mean that we hate our adoptive parents? Not necessarily. It depends on whether adoptive parents act like our allies or our oppressors. I don’t blame parents for adopting. After all, I am an adoptive parent myself. But I do hold APs accountable to do right once their eyes have been opened to how unethical and corrupt the adoption industry really is. But regardless of what parents do, transracial adoptees need to acknowledge our oppression for ourselves in order to overcome it. Just as women and people of color did in their respective consciousness-raising movements before us.

Adoptee oppression started when, as children, we did not have any say in what would happen to us right when we  were born. We didn’t vote for relinquishment or to be separated from our birth mothers. None of us chose to be abandoned. We had no say in whether we would get to stay with our birth fathers or extended family. We didn’t decide whether we should be left in a dumpster or go to an orphanage or into foster care or be placed for adoption. All these life-changing decisions were made by adults without our participation and without our consent. These decisions about our fate as little powerless kids set in motion a series of events that we now have to deal with for the rest of our lives.

Remember, Orphans, adoption is a crisis response. Plain and simple. It kills me to see people running around trying to pretty up adoption by making it sound cute and sentimental. “Happy Adoption Day!” Bring home your little angel! “Happy Gotcha Day!” It’s actually quite sickening. Adoption is a crisis intervention. The fact that some mother felt so desperate that she believed that her only move was to give up her baby –her flesh and blood—should give us pause. The fact that this world accepts the widespread separation of mothers and children almost without blinking an eye should tell us something. When we talk honestly about adoption, there is no avoiding this tragedy, this awful moment of relinquishment or abandonment. The separation of a mother and child is painful and heart-breaking. It should be remembered and honored in a deeply serious way. People need to recognize that what we know as adoption is built on this painful, heart-breaking scene, multiplied a million times, over and over and over, all around the world.

One amazing thing to consider is that many people actually benefit from our loss and our sorrow. That’s why I don’t like to celebrate “Gotcha Day” or “Adoption Day.” The winners in the adoption game experience adoption as a joyous event. (I get it. I mean, why wouldn’t they? After all, they got us!) But at whose expense? And why should their happiness at adopting a child outweigh our sorrow at losing our mothers?

Other beneficiaries are the adults who literally profit off our sorrow. Adoption agencies that charge fees (not all of them do, remember), and adoption facilitators and lawyers and others who “arrange” private adoptions make tons of money. It’s criminal, when you think about it, that people can make money off the buying and selling of children. But they don’t call it that. It’s as if the adoptive parents and agencies and social workers all wink at each other as they exchange cash, telling each other that this is for the good of the children. Children are being rescued. Lives are being saved. And adopters get to feel like saints for doing a “good deed.” Like they just bought a rescue dog down at the animal shelter.

Decolonizing transracial adoption means exposing it for what it really is. When the survivors of adoption trauma tell the tale, our perspective as Orphans will never sound like the perspective of the winners in the adoption game. We are survivors, Orphans. I am an adoption survivor. I am a former foster child and an adoption survivor. It is a trauma that I experienced as a small child. Adoption happened to me, happened to all of us.  But somehow we survived, and are still surviving. Thank goodness we found each other.

In stating it so bluntly, I am not saying that I don’t love my adoptive family, because I do. But I lived through something they will never understand as non-adoptees. I live with the aftermath of my relinquishment and my stay in foster care and my adoption every day of my life. It’s all part of one long experience. The joyous moment of adoption—when I got to join a new family—cannot be separated from the whole trauma. Adoption is part of what we have suffered. I don’t celebrate it and I am not happy I had to be adopted. I’m glad I have an adoptive family that loves me, don’t get me wrong. But I am still grieving the loss of my birth family, while missing the connection to my foster family, and suffering the effects from the whole traumatic experience.

Decolonizing transracial adoption also means we have to tell the truth about race. We must use the R word—and talk about racism. Even if it makes the white people in our lives—our families, friends, and teachers—uncomfortable. I will get to that in my next post. Until then, stay strong, Orphans. Stay up. Get on top.