Friday, June 26, 2015

The Twinkie Emerges from Isolation

This girl. She sat in the classroom, mostly alone between two seas … one black and one white. Listening … always listening.

Giggles would explode from one group or another. I would often laugh with the white girls, in hopes of “fitting in.” But when the tables turned and either group would make an Asian slight, I was utterly alone … and left laughing nervously with everyone, hoping it would end.

Recently, at the American Adoption Conference (AAC), I had a similar experience that Lost Daughter sister, Amira Rose documented. It went like this …
“Whoa, there was a hospitality suite? How did I miss that?!” (This was me, joking.) 
“Yes, we have been waiting just for you to arrive!” exclaimed the black bartender. I returned his warm smile and said a “thank you.” But then from the only other couple in the room … 
“Can’t you read?” asked the white man, deadpanned.  
“Yes.” I replied. 
“It was in here the whole time. Did you not read this?” he says as he points to the conference schedule book. “I mean, you appear to be an educated woman … ” There was a slight smile and hushed giggle from the white woman. At this, I just needed to flee. I had been here before. 
When discussing the many incidents at this predominantly white conference, I messaged this incident to Lost Daughters founder, Amanda Woolston. I had already heard excuses about why the man was “defensive,” how I needed to get a tougher skin and how I needed to get out more. But Amanda changed me. She said the words no other white person had ever said, “If [you] were white, would he have felt so free to be rude, specifically question [your] abilities and intelligence? The power imbalance of a white male speaking that way to a woman of color in a space where most people are white is incredibly hostile and racist.” When I read her words, I sobbed uncontrollably.

My perforated soul … each blow pierces my heart and bruises my self worth. Each time someone says something demeaning, I shrink … go into my hidey-hole. 

At the AAC, my fellow adoptee Lost Daughter sister, Angela, asked why I laughed nervously sometimes. I couldn’t really answer her. She then said, “You seem fragile.”

I am. I was. I have always looked at women like Angela and wished that I could feel as strong and empowered, like the united front of black girls from my high school with their confidence and bravado. In the 1980s, I longed to emulate them and Lisa Bonet. Having finally secured a job where I could buy clothes, I began to morph into Denise Huxtable. I shrank from the white girls group that I had once coveted. I found my isolation tank.

The most validating moments of my senior year in high school came from the black girls. They wrote me beautiful, sincere notes in my yearbook.

In the Dear Wonderful You video, I speak of this cyclical self I created. Over and over again as I entered a new environment, I began my cycle as an outgoing, white wannabe. I did whatever it took to assimilate. Polo shirts … check. Join a fraternity little sis group … check. Be the graduate school student representative on committees … check. 

But none of this worked. The off-hand comments, the “you almost look normal,” the references to Yoko Ono or Connie Chung, the tokenism of being the “model minority” … all served to place me below the white privilege. Eventually, I would shrink and hide. 

In this solace of aloneness, I would find my voice again and reemerge strong, yet guarded. Each new environment or new acquaintance began the cycle again. 

Today, Twitter has allowed me the freedom to speak strongly and hide, but when I blog, I reveal more of my vulnerabilities. Having these two parts of myself is exhausting. 

Each tweet or means of speaking out gives me so much validation and relief, but then, the adoptee guilt and adoption loyalty set in. In public spaces, I use walls, podiums and my reading glasses to separate myself, protect myself and hide in the open. I use laughter and my comical façade to mask my pain and humiliation.

The Lost Daughters will speak this weekend at KAAN (Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network), and I will fear the notice. I may hide in my room just as I did last year at that same conference.

I realize I like the loneliness and isolation. It’s comfortable and safe. And yet, I know that by hiding I am not claiming my space to be heard.

The valve on the radiator has held back long enough. There have been long pshhhhhhhhts and short, angry spurts of steam. Pressure is building.

Originally published on mothermade.

Feminist columnist, Rosita González is a transracial, Korean-American adoptee. She is married to a Brit who refers to himself as an Anglo-American and is a mother to two multiracial children. Rosita was adopted in 1968 at the age of one through Holt International. Her road has been speckled with Puerto Rican and Appalachian relatives and her multiracial sister, the natural child of her adoptive parents. While quite content with her role as a “Tennerican,” her curiosity has grown recently as her children explore their own ethnic identities. She considers herself a lost daughter, not only because of the loss of her birth family, but also because of the loss of her adoptive parents. Rosita has recently started her search for her natural family. With the help of G.O.A.’L., she visited Korea in August 2014. When she is not supporting her children on their individual paths, Rosita spends her time as an art educator, ceramicist and an art photographer. She also shares her adventures as an adoptee and parent on her blog, mothermade.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thoughts on Family after a Decade in Reunion

The definition of the verb reunite is straightforward: to be together again after being apart for a long time. But we perceive a connotation of family when we use the word reunion, don’t we?

Family is not one universal thing. It is thousands of permutations of people interacting with each other as some kind of cohesive unit. The glue may be love or duty or tradition. Blood plays into it but is not the whole of it, except in the sense of ancestry. Our spouses are family in a non-ancestral sense, by means other than blood. Our lost blood relations may never become family in the way we desire. These are our people by blood, yet we do not understand their conventions. We are foreigners to each other.

Adoption reunions can begin in unpredictable ways: we call/write/message but receive no response; we connect yet feel ignored/slighted/rebuffed; we meet, with hugs and kisses and promises.

The finders have all the control and many expectations.

The found have reactions, then expectations of their own.

After the contact or the connection—good or bad—the hard stuff begins. How to integrate these strangers into our lives. How to become less strange to our own blood. Sometimes we’re lucky and the desires of both sides align. Sometimes every communication is a struggle that will never get any easier.

We are blood, but we’re not the same. We have learned different customs. We value different things.

We are blood, but blood is only one part of family. We look like them. We think like them. We prefer the same color or flavor or style of dress. But because we lived apart for so long, we are clumsy and we stutter. We cannot put our words in the right order so that they make sense to each other.

We have lost something that can never be regained. We cannot create the family that might have been, no matter how badly we want to, no matter how much we try.

We must give up on the impossible dream. Our only chance at becoming family now is to meet each other where we are, to look ahead rather than behind. Our only chance at healing and becoming whole is to accept our reality.

For a while, we will need to cry over what we’ve lost, otherwise the pain will become a cancer that chokes compassion and understanding. We must allow the impossible dream to die, so that a new, attainable dream can grow in its place. In this dream, we own all of our selves—the self we were born with, the self we grew into, the self we choose to be now—and we let go of those expectations we brought with us to our reunions. We cannot do over the years that we’ve already lived. All we can do is start today to live differently. We can live honestly in our own truth and allow relationships with our long-lost blood relatives to grow or to wane naturally, as relationships do.

We have no control, except over our own actions and words. Our shared DNA alone is not enough material to build the kind of family in which members care for and celebrate each other. The ties that bind were cut long ago. We must create new ties if we want to matter in each other’s day-to-day lives. We must be interested and attentive, kind and respectful. This requires effort from both sides. We cannot create this family we want to build on our own, no matter how sincere our intentions are. Relationship requires active participation from two people. Here is yet another reality we must accept.

Reunion does not itself heal the wounds adoption caused. What reunion can do is answer questions, open closed doors, create opportunities to know that part of ourselves we were born with. Reunion does not necessarily return our lost families to us. We are all different people than we would have been if adoption had not entered into our lives.

Repeat it with me: There is no going back. There is no going back.

Now let go. Allow yourself to grieve what has been lost. Then get up and begin moving forward. It may take weeks. It may take months, or even years. But it is necessary. Begin today.

Karen Pickell was born and adopted in Ohio in the late 1960s. She reunited with her birth mother in 2005 and with her birth father in 2007. Her husband is an adoptive father of two children, now grown, from his first marriage, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Karen and her husband live in Florida with their two biological children. She holds a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University in Georgia; she has published poems, essays, and stories, and is currently drafting a memoir. She previously served on the board of directors of the Georgia Writers Association, as editor for the Georgia Poetry Society, and as associate editor of the literary journal Flycatcher. Karen recently founded Adoptee Reading Resource. She blogs about writing, adoption, and other topics at

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Adoptees and The Importance of Being Physically Active

Doing my daily dose of handstands

These past few months, I’ve been spending less time keeping up to date with everything that happens in the adoption world. I've needed more time, space and silence to focus on myself. Not only to find strength to continue, but also to restore the balance between my mind and my body. 

I was living too much in my head and not enough in my body. This is partly a societal problem; most of us live very sedentary lifestyles; we spend so much time sitting down at work, reading off of screens and interacting through screens. We don't inhabit our bodies enough. I know that I have to fight to stay completely connected to my body and be attuned to what it needs. 

That said, being involved in adoption work has not exactly helped me with this! I've been so caught up and excited about everything positive that has been happening that I started cancelling my boxing classes so that I could read more articles, respond to messages and chat with adoptees...even when I knew I needed to take a step back. I love being part of different adoptee communities and I love when adoptees reach out and we spend literally HOURS talking over Skype, but I've also realized the importance of setting boundaries and taking "breaks". 

Besides being in constant contact with adoptees, there's also having to deal with ignorant or "misinformed" comments that people make in adoption groups, in response to adoptees' articles and our advocacy work and then there's also self-serving articles by adoptive parents (I try to ignore articles, comments or conversations that upset me because it is just too draining). The other thing is that, while adoptees and our allies are working hard at flipping the script on adoption in the U.S., this is not the case everywhere (the non-traditional adoptee narrative and the voices of first parents are still very marginalized in Canada and in European countries). Therefore, there's still so much work to do and it's definitely an uphill battle. It's overwhelming and the negative comments and the difficulties that adoptees face really affect me at times. But I've come to notice that my anger and feelings of helplessness are accentuated when I don't maintain an intense exercise schedule. 

 I've felt the need to be very physically active in the past few years. I've done a variety of dance along with pilates, yoga or swimming. I'm currently training for boxing and doing pole dance. At the moment, I train between 7-10 hours a week without counting the hours spent biking to and from places. (Biking is part of my daily living. It's my only means of transportation in the spring, summer and fall months. I bike everywhere, rain or shine).

I've always liked being in movement and I get very restless when I sit for long amounts of time (I secretly do handstands in my office when I get fed up), yet I think part of me needing to be physically active is that I have a tendency to live in my head and to forget about my body and how I'm feeling. Being physically active, helps me get in touch with myself and allows me to release negative emotions.
I can only speculate whether adoption trauma influences the necessity for adoptees' to be physically active, but I know that survivors of trauma usually have even more difficulty connecting with their bodies (and fully living) in their bodies. Quite a few adoptees that I know have cited the importance of fitness and sports in their lives. It keeps us focused, grounded and teaches us valuable lessons about life. Besides spending time outdoors in nature, the best medicine for me has been to run, to dance, to box, to bike, to swing around and maneuver myself upside down around a pole. This is how I deal with the adopted life, on a daily basis. 

While I'm fortunate to have a beautiful family of sisters, friends and an amazing community that I can lean on for support, I am the one living my life. I need to be my own advocate and take care of my own well-being. Doing intense training like boxing and pole dance help me with this. Besides increasing my bodily awareness, they are making me work on my strengths, my weaknesses and confront my fears! Both sports also push my physical and psychological limits and force me to be patient and perseverant. I have to develop enough physical strength, flexibility, concentration and confidence to defend myself against my boxing opponent or to lift my weight unto a pole and be able to do tricks.

As a transracial adoptee, I've struggled to be comfortable with who I am, with being and looking different from most people in my surrounding. I've also struggled to have a healthy relationship with my body. Pole dance has helped me in so many ways, both physically and mentally. It's hard for most women to feel beautiful in their bodies, but it's particularly powerful when black women love their bodies, take good care of them and have a healthy self-image. 

The Charleston shooting made me think more about self-love as an act of resistance against hate and violence. This attack on bodies that look like mine represents an attack on me, on my body, on my well-being and on my spirit. But while I have very little control over the sexual and racial violence against women, I do have control over my own body. Being physically active grounds me in my body and in my mind. It centers me, bringing me back to myself and the power and control I have over my own life: power to realize my worth and to prioritize my well-being while also encouraging other women to do the same.

Annette-Kassaye (@KassayeBM) is a transracial adoptee from Ethiopia who lives in Montréal, Québec. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Human Rights Studies. She is the co-founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Exposing the Roots: Family, History, Community and the #CharlestonSyllabus

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes”

The melodies of Sweet Honey and the Rock filled my office on early Thursday morning, as I wrestled with the terrible news pouring out of Charleston. Like many Black Americans, I have been overwhelmed by the spectacle of black deaths and the violence wrought on black bodies. I am worn out by contrived narratives and false allies. I am sick of hearing the deafening silence of my non-black friends and family members. I am sick of watching people dance around the naming of white supremacy. I often feel like I am existing somewhere between enraged, distraught, exhausted, and numb.

On Thursday, as the cords of “Ella’s Song” washed over me, I was struck by how conspicuously historical this act of violence was. Over the last year, many historians, journalists and public intellectuals have done tremendous work historicizing and contextualizing present day race relations, state sanctioned violence, mass incarceration, community unrest, protest and activism. Often times these scholars had to work to show and expose the roots of contemporary racism. Yet some of the roots of the Charleston massacre are already visible, wrapping around slavery, rebellion, civil war, reconstruction and the civil rights movement.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

An Open Letter: Why Co-opting “Transracial” in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic

Editor's Note: Lost Daughters is proud to endorse this letter in support of transracially adopted people who are the authority on what transracial means. We encourage our readers to share this letter widely and follow/support #definetransracial on Twitter.

Rachel Dolezal. Photo credit: artist unknown.

June 16, 2015

Please direct all media inquiries to Kimberly McKee, PhD at

This past weekend the world took to social media to dissect the events surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the former president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter who came under heavy scrutiny for falsely representing herself as black. As part of this real-time discussion, the term transracial is being co-opted to describe Dolezal identifying as black despite being born white.

As members of the adoption community — particularly those of us who identify as transracial adoptees — we are deeply alarmed by the gross mischaracterization of this term. We find the misuse of “transracial,” describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of “blackness” in order to pass as “black,” to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous.

Transracial is a term that has long since been defined as the adoption of a child that is of a different race than the adoptive parents. The term most often refers to children of color adopted by white families in the Global North, and has been extensively examined and documented for more than 50 years by academics and members of the adoption triad: adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Transracial Lives Matter: Rachel Dolezal and the Privilege of Racial Manipulation

Rachel Dolezal. Photo credit: artist unknown.
“The commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling. Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.” bell hooks — Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance

“They love our bodies, but they don’t love us.” #BlackWomensLivesMatter #SayHerName

“Everybody wanna be a nigga, but nobody wanna be a nigga.” Paul Mooney. 

I was doing my best to ignore this story. It wasn’t until one of my fellow adult adoptees alerted me to the fact that Twitter (which I use religiously, but avoided specifically the past two days) had begun to use the term “Transracial” to refer to Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who has been outed as hiding her whiteness and living as a black woman that I paid attention.  I discovered that Twitter had also begun a hashtag as a sarcastic taunt — #TransracialLivesMatter. Then, I read an article that argued that "transracial identity, is not a thing." Um. No. 

For those of you who don’t know, and clearly there are a lot of you, the term “transracial” is used in scholarly research, creative writing and cultural work to denote a particular “state of being” for people adopted across race. It also describes a kind of family unit / type of parenting. In other words, it IS a 'thing'. It is disheartening and disconcerting to see this term used dismissively as if it does not encompass an entire population of Black, Brown, Native and Asian people across the globe. For the past 35ish years, I’ve considered myself to be a transracial adoptee. The “trans” in transracial for me, never meant my race changed. It meant I was a multiracial black girl, adopted into a white family. It meant I was taken without my consent from one home, one place of origin and put inside another family, another culture, another race, one that didn’t belong to me. It meant I had to learn how to navigate my blackness and my black girlness, inside an often times racist, religious, violent and rigid white world. It meant living in a house and community that simultaneously erased me, racialized me and tokenized me. It gave me a language to articulate what was happening to me. But you know what it didn't do? It never actually changed my race. An even with all the ‘privileges’ of whiteness, even with all the education, the middle class living, camping, fishing, hunting — It never made me white.