In a world where some of the most common objections to any adoptee sharing any experience include "what would your parents think?" "did you have an unhappy childhood?" "don't you know she couldn't raise you?" the adoption discourse is framed with adoptees at the bottom of an upside-down triangle. At the bottom, the adoptee supports the weight of the complex experiences of two families, holding the families above them with both arms. Rather than a shared distribution of weight, adoptees are seen as entirely responsible for supporting the rest of their "triad."
I will never forget hearing this concept for the first time at a support group. Yes, I thought. Is this why I feel like I carry so much weight when I talk about adoption?
The triangle is problematic too for its visual representation that all sides are equal in power; which, as explained at Harlow's Monkey in Shifting and Changing Structures, isn't true. JaeRan Kim went on to say that a triangle also evokes imagery of a closed family system, which adoption isn't either.
Today's adopted youth adapt their family trees into neighborhoods with houses, groves of trees, interconnected circles, or trees with many rings. In a post here, Laura Dennis wrote her family tree is an orchard. I see adoptee-centric spaces pushing back that idea of a triangle. Instead, imagine if our trees surrounded us like a grove. Defending us while providing us a platform to be seen, allowing us space to move freely in-between trunks.
Today, we continue yesterday's round table discussion that asked the question: what are the rules of an adoptee-centric space?
Amanda @AmandaTDA: There are times when adoptee-centric authors will write things the broader community finds useful and may want to know more about. How have guests (non-adoptees) helped you feel respected when interacting with you in a space centered on adoptees?
Deanna @DeannaShrodes: For me respect begins with them asking a question and actually wanting to hear my answer, devoid of approaching me with an already established belief they feel is the only acceptable one from me. So often people ask me questions, with their only intention being to confirm that we believe the same way about what they have already established in their mind concerning adoption. I feel it is disrespectful to ask a question you already believe you have the answer for, with no intention of considering the other person's answer that may be different from your own beliefs.
Julie S. @JulieStromberg: Adoptee-centric means to me that our stories, thoughts, expressions, and opinions are rooted in our experiences as adopted persons. We view the world around us through an adoptee lens. This affords us a unique perspective--one that stands on its own without needing to conform to what others might want us to think or express.
I feel the most respected in adoptee-centric spaces when non-adoptees recognize our unique perspective and engage in our spaces with a willingness to expand their own world view to one that includes us. This would be as opposed to, for example, becoming defensive in our spaces and insisting that we shift our expressions in a way that would be more acceptable for them in their non-adoptee spaces.
Rosita @mothermade: Michelle's “valued on its own merit,” [from yesterday's post] says it all to me. When an adoptive parent respects my narrative by acknowledging that it is mine and recognizes that our differences may only be a matter of different narratives, that gives my life value. I’m not a fan of the “centric” term, but I do feel that adoptees need the safe spaces to feel supported … even when one adoptee’s narrative strays from other adoptees or the AP narrative. I guess I have always been a village thinker and hate that any one person would be the center. But as a community of adoptees, it makes sense that we could need this adoptee-centric space.
Michelle @MichelleWPD: I don't want to give the impression that I'm opposed to dialogue, or that I believe adoptee-centric means adoptees only; I welcome readers who are not adoptees. Furthermore, I appreciate Lost Daughters not only as a stage for adoptee voices, but also for its role as an agent of change. I value a broad readership.
I feel respected when guests trust that I am a credible witness of my own story.
Julie S. @JulieStromberg: Adding on to what Michelle said, I also feel respected when non-adoptees engage in our spaces with a sense of trust in the most basic of concepts--we are the only ones who can speak to what it is like to manage life as an adopted person. We are credible witnesses not only to our own stories but to the global practices of adoption. We are the only ones who can provide first person knowledge of how adoption practices impact the very person at the center of it all--the adoptee. When non-adoptees recognize and acknowledge this, I personally find our engagements to be quite productive and inspiring.
Mila @yoonsblur: What can non-adopted people do to help adoptees feel respected in our spaces? Remember that they are guests. Remember that they are visitors. Remember that they will NEVER know what it's like to live an adopted life. Remember that they are visiting our home, our land, our territory. And hence, they need to act and behave accordingly. I like to use the analogy of a heart transplant patient. A heart transplant patient is the only one who knows what it is like to undergo transplantation. They are the only ones who know how it feels to be a transplant patient. The doctors, nurses, family members, etc. do not know what it is like to live life as a transplant patient and none of them would insist that they know what it feels like. They can help take care of the patient, they may even have valuable knowledge that may be applicable, but they still have no clue what it's like to live life as a transplant patient. Even the doctors and nurses can only help if they listen to the patient. Assumptions are dangerous and could even lead to death. Hence, knowledge is never equivalent to experience. A White person who has a Ph.D in African American studies will never know what it's like to live life as an African American. That Ph.D does not make the White person an "expert" on being African American. Similarly, unless you are an adoptee--no matter how many books you've read, no matter how many adopted children you've raised--you will NEVER know what it's like to be an adoptee. So, respect that. Sit down. Listen. Acknowledge. Validate. Do not presume. Do not dismiss. Do not negate. Do not pit adoptees against each other by saying, "Well, I know this one adoptee who..." Turn your mouth off and your ears on. That's what non-adopted folks can do if they truly want to understand and respect adoptees in our spaces.
Join the Round Table: let us know in the comments how you'd answer today's question.
Lost Daughters truly is a sisterhood where our authors provide support and insight for each other in our own private space. Occasionally, we like to make these discussions available to our adoptee audience to benefit from and add to the discourse.
So, grab a chair and have a seat as we lean in, put our elbows on the table, and tell you what we really feel.