Thursday, October 30, 2014

What the Fog Took: A Halloween Story

I was nervous as I rehearsed the conversation in my mind.  There were so many ways to say it, and most of them felt wrong – overly sensitive, accusing, weak.  I knew I had to approach one of my dearest friends with caution, because matters of race always seem to get volatile

I checked the photo again, just to be sure of my position.  One of my closest friends (we’ll call her April) had posted pictures from a Halloween party.  In them, April’s husband (we’ll call him Mark) wore my husband’s old Army uniform, with my married name embroidered above the left breast pocket.  April wore a silky kimono, a black wig, and her face painted chalky white (she is not Asian).  The photo was captioned “Geisha?  Or mail order bride?”

For context: I am a Korean adoptee, my husband is white, and we both graduated from West Point and served in the US Army.  I had recently come out of the fog – like many adoptees I had an awakening that opened my eyes to the reality of many uncomfortable things.  I harbored a deep, wrenching pain.  I was still surviving trauma.  And I could no longer pretend to feel white on the inside.  My awakening had happened over a series of years, probably from 2008 through 2010, and I was finally on the other side.

On the other side, though, things look different.  Being on the other side sounds like I was beyond the difficulties of the awakening, like a child who has finally realized the nightmare wasn’t real.  But instead of waking up from the nightmare, I had to wake up to it, acknowledge its reality, and learn to live with the pain of so many things.  

On the other side, looking at a photo of my dear friend dressed as a geisha while her husband wore my husband’s Army uniform and called her a mail-order bride – well it felt a little too personal.  And extremely wrong.

I decided to write her a letter.  

“Hey, I wanted to mention something.  I don’t know if you saw the link I posted to FB recently about racially charged Halloween costumes.  Basically it’s a campaign against certain types of costumes.  Look on my FB wall if you didn’t see it, a couple days ago.  It reminded me of some pics I had seen on Mark’s FB probably a couple years ago, of you and him at a Halloween party.  He wore Brett’s BDUs and you dressed as a geisha.  I’m telling you this because we’re friends and I feel I can be honest with you, and also because I know you always strive to be a better, more open-minded person.  That type of costume is offensive to some Asians.  It is the type of costume that reinforces bad stereotypes – the submissive, fetishized Asian woman.  I HATE that stereotype.   I also found Mark’s captions a little disturbing – writing “GI dude and his Geisha prize” sounds a little like a soldier getting his “oriental trophy wife”.  I’m sure that’s not what he meant, and I know he calls you his prize all the time.  But that stereotype is so disturbing for me because it was often assumed at Ft. Hood that I was the little “oriental wife” rather than the American soldier that I was.   Also, his caption “mail-order bride or geisha?” reinforces the same thinking – subservient, fetishized Asian women.  None of this might make sense to you, but I have lived with this stereotype my whole life and it’s hurtful to have my own friends involved in reinforcing a negative stereotype of my ethnicity.  That kind of stereotype supports racism – maybe not racial discrimination, but rather the kind that gets my kids made fun of in school.  It would be an insult and hurtful if a kid called one of my kids a “geisha girl” which is the same as calling them sluts or hookers, but with a worse, racial connotation.  I’m not angry or complaining, just being honest with you and because we’re friends we owe each other that kind of honesty.”

The backlash was terrible but predictable.  It started with simple disagreement.  It escalated to accusations that I was the jerk,that I was accusing April and Mark of racism.  I was told it’s “people like you” who take the fun out of Halloween.  I questioned myself, was I really being too sensitive?  Was I overreacting?  Was I throwing the race card, which sensible, mainstream minorities should never, ever throw?  Or was I simply asking for acknowledgement from a close friend that something she had done made me feel extremely uncomfortable with the stereotypes it reinforced for both myself and my daughters?

I still don’t know.  Neither of us backed down, and after weeks of back and forth via email and phone, we essentially broke up.  She couldn’t tolerate my intolerance.  I couldn’t tolerate her inability to acknowledge the validity of my feelings on the topic.  Over the phone, just before Halloween, I hung up the phone on the last conversation of our friendship and wailed.

I wailed because I had lost one of my closest, most trusted friends.  She was the one who taught my oldest daughter to ride a bike.  I had stood in her wedding.  We were raising our children together, and suddenly our children and husbands wouldn’t be friends anymore either, all because of this stupid sensitivity I had gained.  But once awake, I couldn’t lull myself back to sleep.  I was aware and gaining my racial and adoptive identity, which had both been denied to me for so long.  That meant some of my previous friendships – friends from inside the fog – wouldn’t be able to cross to the other side with me.  I wailed with my heart in my throat, our memories in my hand, and a desperate loneliness in my lungs.  I wailed like an abandoned child.

I still love and miss that friend and the bond we had.  I still question what I should have done differently, yet remain true to myself.  It feels unfair to me that, after all the other losses, the achievement of awakening should come with this disorienting new set of losses.  But I suppose that it was necessary, because I’m proud of the person I am now: strong, assured, owner of my broken history.  In the fog, I was a shape-shifter, eager to be liked and keep the peace.  Today, I am made of real substance, and I know myself and my feelings.  I miss my friend, and I’m sad to have lost her companionship, but I value what I gained even more: respect of, love for, and faithfulness to myself.     

I contribute to the Lost Daughters blog and several adoption-related anthologies, all in development. I wrote for the now-retired blogs Faiths and Illusions and Grown in My Heart.  I have an American family that raised me and a Korean family that lost and found me. Both families met in 2013.  I live with my husband, Brett, and four children (3 biological, 1 adopted from China) in Southern California. Find me at or on Facebook as Soojung Jo.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Are Adoptive Parents Modeling Enough Adoption Language for Their Children?

This post is about the lack of modeling from adoptive parents when it comes to answering questions about their child's adoption story with friends, family and even complete strangers. As an adoptee, this is extremely unsettling to me. This is the exact same approach my parents took over thirty years ago when I was a child. Thirty years ago it was a lack of information and fear that led to the absence of modeling and today it seems to be the belief is that sharing any aspect of the child's history is invading their privacy. I have heard over and over again in adoption circles that the adoption story is only for the adoptee to tell when they are ready to do so. As an adoptee that has lived through the repercussions of Adoptive Parent silence, I could not disagree more.

You see, when I grew up my parents had no information about my birth family or my adoption story. They hardly mentioned my adoption and when a friend or stranger asked about my adoption, the response was usually "we don't even think of her as being adopted." Talk about reinforcing that adoption IS BAD to your child and missing a teachable moment! I was fed the universal adoption line of the 70's, "Your Mother loved you so much that she gave you a better life." God, I always cringed inside when my well meaning Mother said this.  It never made sense to me.  It still doesn't. Shit - I love my kids too, should I send them to Dubai to live in a castle with a chef and chauffeur? Some would argue that would be a better life than what we are providing them. It's just crap. No one relinquishes their children to give them a better life. It is NOT that simple. There is typically a lot more meat in that sandwich! Any adoptee in reunion will tell you that. I will say that there has been an enormous shift in that thinking when it comes to adoption language. Families are talking more inside the home and seem to have more educated responses when it comes to the tough questions. But is it enough?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Narrative Demands of Guests in Adoptee-Centric Spaces

Recently, Adoption Today inquired on their Facebook page, "This question is for adoptees only: What do you wish your adoptive parents would have learned about adoption before they adopted you?" Unsurprisingly, at least to me, fewer than 20 adoptees responded within a space that has nearly 4,000 possible participants. The question itself is seemingly benign--that is unless we consider it problematic that mainstream media typically only asks such questions to support parents or professionals, not to support adoptees. But, don't look at the question; look at what's around it.

On the same page, the content surrounding the question consists of ads for professionals serving adoptive families and questions seeking advice for and from parents who are adopting or have adopted children. Notably, these questions did not need to be prefaced with "This question is for adoptive parents..." because it's a given in that space--an ambient sensation that goes without saying--whom the questions and content are intended for. 

Of course, that's not to say that Adoption Today is unique in synonymizing "adoption" predominantly with "adoptive parenting." If it was, I would not be writing this. No singular comment or space prompted this long-time-coming post; this is how it is and this is what I think guests in all spaces that have specifically chosen to be adoptee-centric need to know.

Discrediting adoptees like Betty Jean Lifton and Florence Fisher in your classic most adoptees do not feel the way that they do maneuver, a 1970's Child Welfare League of America changed their tune, "social welfare agencies have an obligation to listen to the messages that adoptees are sending...," they said. Unfortunately, change has been slow in including adoptees in adoption spaces. Thus we continue to both highlight our exclusion and carve out our own adoptee-centric spaces. 

My colleagues, my sisters, and I carved out Lost Daughters; we are one among many. We are one among not enough.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Adoptive Parents need to stop blogging about adoptees

My adoptive mom Edie didn't blog about me. They didn't do blogs back then.
OK, it’s a free world wide web. No one can control who blogs. But if you are an adoptive parent (abbreviated: APs), you may have missed the memo: Don’t post photos and stories about your adopting a child and raising your child since your adopted child has a legal right to privacy.

WHAT? I’m sure some of you reading this blog will say that’s ridiculous but according to a panel at MIT, at the International Adoption Conference I attended in 2010, it could cause APs (moral and legal) issues down the road. One panel I attended was Secrecy, Openness and Other Ethical Issues for Adoptive Parents and Writing and Publishing about Adoption.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lost Daughters Presenting at American Adoption Congress Conference

We are excited to announce that a number of our contributors here at Lost Daughters will be conducting a panel discussion workshop at next year's American Adoption Congress conference. In the spirit of our popular roundtable posts, we will discuss "Diverse Narratives within the Collective Adoptee Voice," including the perspectives of many different adoption experiences.

The conference will be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from March 25-29. Stay tuned over the next few months for more details, including our specific workshop date and time as well as the line up of Lost Daughters contributors who will be participating in the panel discussion.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The White Saviors

I had an affair with a strapping young white man. It was beautiful but then fell into ruin. He used me and ignored me. I can see his bright, blonde hair and his sea blue eyes. I remember the hurt as he left me with a destroyed family life.

Then, I woke. I had this nightmare a week ago. It spoke to me as symbolic of the way in which I felt the white world sees me … to use until I am no longer of use.

Bill O’Reilly knows how to use me. The mere fact that he uses my race, “Asian,” as a means of discounting white privilege illustrates something. He is actually using his white privilege to perpetuate the stereotypes that pit me against my black sisters. You see, I have a history. I was white in Appalachia. But not. The words “colored” and “negro” and “nigger” were commonplace in the community where I grew up. In school, I never spoke up about the prejudice I witnessed for fear of the tables turning.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Anniversary: A Guest Post by Karen Goldner

It was ten years ago this past March when I got the call that my sister had died. It was relatively early in the morning, around 7:00 am. That was my first indication that it was bad news. Nobody ever calls at 7:00 am with good news.

“Are you sitting down? You had better sit down, “ my sister-in-law Jenifer said. “There’s been an accident. Cristi is dead.”

I was shocked and confused to hear my sister, who was 14 months younger than me, was dead.  I was very upset to hear this news, but the predominant emotion I felt was confusion.  Cristi was my full biological sister, but I had only known her for about 15 years. I was adopted as an infant in a traditional closed era adoption in 1966.  I met Cristi during my reunion with my birth family in 1988. I did not know how I was supposed to feel about her death.  In my head, I thought, “I should  be really sad about this,” so I pretended I was. Don’t get me wrong, on one level, I was sad. She was young, she had two young children, it was a tragedy. But she wasn’t really my sister. She was someone I met 15 years ago. I had little in common with her, except genes. We were not close at all.

Like most adoptees, I had spent an entire lifetime denying my feelings. When you are adopted you have to deny your feelings in order to survive. It becomes a way of life. You deny your feelings, repress you feelings, stuff your feelings, medicate your feelings. You do whatever you can to try and make them go away. You learn that expressing your feelings, or actually feeling your feelings, can destroy you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Xenopbia or Patriotism

I am well aware of that this place that I have come to love so much is supposed to be our place. A place were there is no need to censor, restrain or filter ourselves, our thoughts, experiences or opinions. Since I not only am a Woman of colour since I am an Asian adoptee I also am the only European adoptee. Even though I do not like to discuss politics since the Swedish election (which happens every fourth year) was just completed. I thought I would use this post to discuss the recent developments in Europe. (This will also be the only post were I will discuss politics.) I would also like to stress that Lost Daughters does not support or believe in xenophobia. We believe that people should be treated equally and with respect people's ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation should not matter.

The last election ended with a major win for the Swedish Democratic party an traditionally extremist right wing party that now will be the third biggest party in the Swedish government. Sorry that clip is entirely in Swedish. This was the election commercial for the Swedish Liberalist Party, who wants to restrict migration and instead help people in war torn countries with aid while they stay inside the nation. This commercial is remarkable since you clearly can see that the man and woman in the clip is not ethnic Swedes. Yet they support a party who does not approve of immigrants like them. Please rewind the clip to 20 secs- that is when it gets interesting.(Sorry that it's not subtitled). Also I do not support this party's politics I choose to include it because I find it interesting that an extremist party decides to use immigrants as a way to improve their reputation. Not to mention that the girl is a Korean adoptee like me and the guy is an adoptee to- from Sri Lanka.