Monday, April 6, 2015

Disclaimer: I do not speak for every adoptee

Red-Sox Fan Me
I identify many different ways.  For example, I identify as a woman, who happens to work in a STEM field.  There are times I have conversations with people that are uniquely shaped with what I have experienced as a woman working in a male dominated field.  I can give statistics, I can explain how it feels to know I make less than my coworkers, I can explain how I've been in situations where my gender has influenced my coworkers to ignore my thoughts and ideas, and I can state my experiences as the only woman on a six man team.  I never have to say "and of course not all women working in a STEM field feel this way".  It's accepted that I'm speaking based on my experiences.  I've never had to qualify or defend my feelings.  My male coworkers except it.  They've seen it.  And they value my opinion on the matter.  I've even had some adjust their behavior because of these conversations.

I identify myself as a college graduate.  I went to a Jesuit school where I was also a Resident Assistant.  I've had conversations regarding my experience and education.  There were good and bad parts of my college experience.  I can explain how I happy felt when part of my education was based on service to others and how I was encouraged to go on service trips.  I can talk about how frustrated I felt when tuition was increased during my time at college and my scholarship did not increase with it.  I can tell stories about finding people I cared about sick with alcohol because they were too scared of getting in trouble with the school to get medical help because they desperately needed it.  But never do I have to qualify that not all college graduates feel this way, nor do all Resident Assistants see the same things.

Bride Me
I identify myself as a wife.  My relationship with my husband is something that we work on together everyday.  I can tell people what it felt like to plan a wedding around what worked for my terminally ill mother, and what it felt like to have a supportive fiance.  I can explain how happy I was that we had our reception on a boat.  I can describe the joy and sorrow of knowing it was the last family event that my family was intact for.  And I can speak to the ins and outs of my daily life, now linked to another person.  But never in any of this must I describe that not everyone deals with this stuff and some people may have completely different experiences.

There aren't solid statistics about how many children and adults are adopted each year.  The only statistic that I've seen is that roughly one-third of people have some connection to adoption.  It's not an insignificant number.  One-third means roughly one in every three people you know has *some* connection to adoption.  That's a greater percentage than women in my department at work.

Yet somehow, I often have to defend my feelings or experiences when I'm talk about adoption.  There's always the disclaimer "Not all adoptees feel this way", or "I'm only speaking for myself here".  Why is that?  Why is it that when another adoptee says something we don't agree with, the first thing we see is another adoptee jumping in and saying "Well, I don't feel this way" or "You don't speak for me".  Why do we do this to one another?  I see this all the time.  Adoptee A pours their heart out on the Internet (or sometimes in real life).  This takes immense personal courage.  Then Adoptee B chimes in "Well I don't feel that way!" and leaves it at that.  The conversation is over.  There is no dialog, no explanation.  Just a wish to express that they feel differently without any context or without wanting to further the discussion.  They don't seek to understand or communicate, they seek to drop something that to me appears to be silencing.  I read that as "You don't speak for me, so stop speaking!"

Harry Potter Fan Me
As an adoptee, I don't speak for you.  I speak for ME.  I speak to my experience and what I feel and how I think about adoption.  But somehow, that gets overlooked.  First, I thought it was because there are so few adoptees that people may only speak to one adoptee in their entire life.  But really, that's not the case.  Taking out the people I've met through the online adoption community, there are four adoptees in my adoptive family (counting myself).  My elementary school class had four or five adoptees.  My parents' friends were adoptive parents in some cases.  I grew up around adoptees to a certain extent and I don't view us as being some mythical creature that everyone only meets one of during their lives.  Sorry, but I don't buy that.

Maybe it's because we often don't speak openly about adoption.  Adoption is DEEPLY personal for so many of us.  For me, it encompasses who I am as a person.  It defines so much of who I am and how I grew up.  Talking about something so personal and at times raw is difficult.  Maybe that's why a lot of adoptees shy away from the topic of adoption.  To some, it's not something they care to discuss for a variety of reasons.  For others, it's something they've tried to speak about before, but are encouraged to stop for a variety of reasons.  Maybe some of it comes from the fact that we're constantly being told that our view isn't the only view about adoption.  It gets tiring.  Really really tiring.  Because of course my view on a complex subject isn't the only view!  I think that's obvious.  And yet people keep pointing it out, as a way of silencing.  It's not just the adoptive parents, the natural parents, and the bystanders, it's other adoptees who are doing it!

We all have views.  They are all valid.  One speaking their truth, their experience, their view does not nullify another or pretend to be more important.  All are important.  And we really need to stop silencing each other with this "Well you know I feel differently" stuff.  If an adoptee feels so moved as to respond, please respond with more than "I don't feel this way at all".  Continue the conversation.  Make it mean something without trying to step on another person's feelings.  Maybe then we can start digging into complex and varied emotions and actually move the conversation forward rather than asking the other adoptee to stop speaking their truth and their feelings.

*Disclaimer: The opinions above are the opinions of one adoptee (yes, it's all the same person even if the hair changes all the time).  Please do not think that every adoptee ever feels the same way.  ;-)