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.

When guests (people who are not adopted) entering adoptee-centric spaces begin to decontextualize the adoptee-specific nature of the space, the resulting discourse becomes problematic and frustrating for adoptees. Not just here--in any adoptee-centric space. Narrative demands are placed on adoptee-centric spaces to conform to content standards seen in mainstream adoption media--the very same standards that make adoptee exclusion acceptable in the first place.

In other words: we shouldn't write for us; not even here.

One common narrative demand is that adoptees disclaimer their writing by saying any given issue they discuss could be seen in any family, not just adoptive ones. It's a given that all families have strengths and challenges. However, this specific demand overlooks the needs of an adoptee-centric space which is geared toward people already raised within adoptive families who have gathered to discuss issues within that experience. And perhaps, those of us adopted into our families have increased vulnerabilities due to adoption within these experiences all families have. And, if you listen, you might find out what they are.

Another common narrative demand infantilizes adoptees by assuming we do not know what managing both a family and an internet presence is like; for example, when adult adoptees critique the extent to which youth adoptee narratives are disclosed on some adoptive parenting blogs. We are regarded as though managing boundaries between authoring publicly accessible work about life experience while attending to the privacy of our families isn't something adoptees could possibly understand enough to critique. This is despite the fact that many adoptees are authors of publicly accessible work about life experience, manage more family boundaries than the average person online and offline on a daily basis, and make up 6% of parents of adopted children.

Furthermore, the tone-policing of our narratives serves to say the power-imbalances in adoption--the exclusion of adoptees in critical discourse and over-inclusion of adoptive parents and professionals--do not exist and do not fundamentally shape the need for adoptee-centric spaces. We are called "angry" and "ungrateful," accused of not being diplomatic enough when we discuss our own experiences and perceptions.

In five years of writing in adoptee-centric spaces, I can tell you that articles where adoptees address issues seen in adoptive parenting, closely followed by articles addressing agency/pre-adoption practice, garner the most hits and the most dissenting comments. Yesterday's post by Lost Daughter, Trace, collected over 3,000 hits in just a handful of hours followed by two editors monitoring the comments section for 24 hours to ensure adoptee-inclusivity. 

I wish to see this much passion in the form of support just simply because adoptee-centric spaces exist. Guests of adoptee-centric spaces, do you know what a triumph the existence of these spaces is? What courage all of this takes?

I define an adoptee-centric space as one that provides content that may be interesting, validating and universalizing for other adoptees. Not comfortable all the time. Not in agreement all the time. Our authors vary in their own opinions and experiences in adoption and not every adoptee reader loves everything every other adoptee author writes. Regardless, adoptee-centric means by adoptees, for adoptees.

Guests in adoptee-centric spaces, rather than asking for our content to have more of this, or less of that, or be phrased this-way-not-that-way, should consider that a post didn't appeal to you because it was written for someone else. Consider that, the way in which it was written and the very content it had actually had a great deal of meaning and made sense to members of its intended audience. That the intended audience, adult adoptees, have needs that must be met, have perceptions and experiences that are different, and that rising to the occasion to meet adoptees where they're at is worthy of support simply because adoptees are.

Amanda is an editor and founder of Lost Daughters. She is an author, speaker, activist, and licensed social worker who serves children and families as a therapist and consultant in the behavioral health field. Amanda has served the adoption and foster care communities through individual and family clinical work, group work, writing and presenting, and working for positive policy change. Her writing and presentations have reached broad audiences through multiple books, magazines, major news and radio interviews, and conferences, and she has engaged with legislators at the state and congressional levels on adoption policy. You can find her writing in various publishing corners of the adoption world, but mostly here, at Gazillion Voices Magazine, Social Work Helper, and her award-winning personal blog, The Declassified Adoptee.