Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I wish you would share the good things about being adopted

Recently, I got the tired, classic "I wish you would share the good experiences."

And I thought to myself, "I wish you didn't feel it necessary to tell me that you want me to alter my truth to validate your insecurities and biases."

It's not that I don't have good experiences in life. It's not that I don't think my adoptive parents and siblings are good, or that my husband and children are good, or my friends, etc., etc. It's not that I'm not grateful for finding my Korean family and getting to travel to Korea to meet them.

But everyone around me wants to romanticize the life that I live. Listen, folks, it's not romantic. It's not a fairy tale. I'm not saying other folks don't have it hard. But suffering is not a competition. And the hard thing about being adopted is that people still refuse to recognize that it is inherently problematic and traumatic. They still insist that adoption is universally and absolutely good.

Listen, it's not "good" losing not only your original mother but your entire family, people, country, culture, language--everything--and then being told your entire life to be grateful for it because some amazing couple was willing to take you in as their own. It's not good growing up the only Asian kid in a predominantly White community. It's not good getting made fun of and bullied because you're the one "yellow, slant-eyed chink" in school. It's even worse when your White, non-adopted siblings do the same thing and nickname you clever, witty things like "frog eyes" and "flat nose." And it's not good when you try to talk with your White parents about all of this, but they are completely naive and oblivious to it all.

It's not good when you look in the mirror and expect to see a White girl with blond hair and blue eyes just like your mom, but see a dark-haired, dark-eyed, yellowish girl staring back. It's jolting and confusing.

It's not good when the only boys and men that pay you any attention do so because of the stereotypes propagated about Asian females--and you know it, but you embrace the attention anyway because otherwise, no one pays you any attention. And again, you want to talk to your White parents about this but there remains a culture of silence in your family that you fear so deathly to break, because it might mean even further rejection by the only ones you've ever known as family.

It's not good when you can't have basic communication with your Korean mother or father, because you don't speak the same language, not to mention that you live on opposite sides of the world. It's not good when my children most likely won't meet their Korean grandparents until who knows when because of the geographic and practical barriers.

It's not good when your American family likes to pretend that your Korean family doesn't really exist and is not really a part of your life or who you are.

It's not good when you feel like your children are going to grow up feeling the same division and tension and conflict because you haven't quite figured out how to bring it all together.

And I could go on and on...

And yet still, you want to think that it is "good" to live life as an adoptee. Do you really believe it is a good thing that we must live a lifetime of being divided, stuck neither here nor there, in a daunting psychological, social, cultural limbo?

Again, I ain't saying that my suffering is unique. I'm just saying that in the current adoption culture it is most often denied, dismissed, discounted, ignored, because the current adoption culture continues to characterize adoption as the good deed of all good deeds that cannot and should not be questioned.

Or, in other words, other than the initial loss (which, of course, only occurs at that moment of relinquishment and is henceforth compensated for by being adopted into a loving family) is ultimately a good experience.

So, Mila, why don't you talk about the good stuff?

Honestly, for me, I don't often "share the good experiences," because--to burst that bubble--I don't have a whole lot of good experiences associated with being adopted. The reservoir of experiences that I deal with as a result of my adoption includes rejection, abandonment (emotionally and physically), racism, alienation, isolation, division, confusion, loss, relentless sorrow, grief, deep emotional pain, and so forth. The fact that I have a "good," albeit ignorant, American family and am in reunion with my Korean family does not magically erase all of that nor does it somehow provide "compensation" for the hardship that being adopted has exacted upon me or other adult adoptees.

What bothers me so much about the assumption that adoption is why I have anything good in my life and hence I should just shut my trap and be grateful is that it leaves no room for the complexity of my life as an adoptee nor does it consider the possibility of alternative scenarios. 


The good in my life--my husband, my children, my family, my friends--were not necessarily given to me by adoption or as a result of adoption. This is the good in life that comes to people apart from adoption--it's part of the human experience. These are the social structures on which humanity is built--we are social beings. Non-adopted people have spouses, children, family, friends, too, right? We can just as easily say that they have this good in their lives because they were not adopted.

Furthermore, there are folks--both adopted and not adopted and otherwise, of course--who sadly do not have this kind of good in their lives. But it is not necessarily as a result of them being adopted or not being adopted. I think you get my point--I'm basically trying to explain why it makes no sense to tell me that I should be grateful because adoption gave me all the good in my life. The adoptee experience is too varied and complex to be treated as indubitably good.  

I realize, however, that there are situations in which adoption does place a parent-less or family-less child within a family, and that there are situations in which adoption is absolutely necessary. I realize that there are circumstances in which a child would otherwise grow up outside of a permanent family if he or she had not been adopted. But too often people discount perspectives and experiences like mine and other adoptees with similar viewpoints as anomalous, ungrateful, and even embittered. And additionally, people often do not consider that perhaps certain children would not have been in need of adoption if the current system did not use a combination of social pressures, emotional manipulation, religious mandate, etc. to promote adoption at the expense of family preservation.

Yet my point ultimately is that the truth is more complicated than the oversimplified binary outcomes that so many people often associate with adoptees--you could have been adopted into a wholesome loving family that would provide you with material comforts and opportunities or you could have languished in an orphanage and ended up on the streets as a prostitute, hence adoption saved you and gave you the good life of which you would have otherwise been deprived.

This simply is not the whole reality. If only it were that simple. That binary. That easy to separate. But the truth is that adoption is not necessarily what saved me. And it is not the giver of all the good in my life.

And if this truth bothers you or makes you feel like something is wrong with me and my perspective, or makes you want to shut out my voice and similar voices--I sincerely call you to ask yourself why you feel that way about my experience, because my experience doesn't have anything to do with you personally.

Perhaps it bothers you, because there is a truth to it that resonates with you somewhere within--but it's a truth that just might sting or jab you in the chest in a way that takes your breath away. (I know it does that to me everyday of my life.)

Well, then, I might just say, that is a good thing. Am I contradicting myself? Not at all.

What I'm saying is not that the pain itself is a good thing, but that perhaps facing the hard side of the truth is.


To read more posts written by Mila at Lost Daughters, click here.