Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Adoption Loss, Resilience & Cultural Identity

I've been thinking a lot about the possible relationship between how we identify ourselves culturally as adoptees, the dynamics of our response to the secrecy and shame of adoption, and the development of emotionally healthy and intellectually critical perspectives.

Adoptees know well how the social status ascribed to us plays out; we say, "I'm adopted." Usually not, "I was adopted," referring to a legal act in a moment of time; we say we are adopted; it's part of who we are, an integral component of our identity, in my opinion, whether we recognize it or not. We know well the implications of being adopted on our individual development, and we listen to many of our first moms talk about how their experiences of relinquishment contributed to their sense of identity, how the experience of giving up and living without their children influenced who they are as individuals.

I believe, too, that for some of us, as part of healthy emotional development, when we come into contact with other adoptees, with first mothers, sharing our stories and struggles and searches, we come to take our status as adopted as part of our cultural identity, our group identity; we name ourselves ("first mothers", "bastards"), form organizations, groups to network politically, socially and emotionally, and in becoming "proud bastards" or "angry adoptees," we healthily reclaim our adopted identities. Especially in light of the known personal and systemic adversities faced by those who experience the negative aspects of adoption (I feel like I'm tiptoeing around saying 'oppression' here), I think the process of group identity development is comparable to racial/ethnic/gender identity development for minorities, in that individuals tend to experience general movement from a limited awareness of 'self as other' to greater consciousness of the (usually negative) impact of difference, to an active search for positive identity (I believe this is an innate human characteristic, seen across cultures throughout history), to, finally and hopefully, achieving an internalized positive identity. In this way, "proud bastards" and "natural mothers" share political and social space with "black is beautiful," "gay pride" and "grrrl power."

So here's the question I keep coming back to (based on my assumptions outlined above):

Does our experience of adoption loss and its subsequent marginalization (for both adoptees and relinquishing mothers) lead us to a more critical worldview?

Associated thoughts/questions:
  • Do complex family dynamics and/or inherently complex family constructs lead to more complex cognition?
  • Does growing up with lies, suspicion and hypervigilance lead to a generalized critical view of power?
  • Is it by virtue of our adoption loss experience that we adoptees find so many of ourselves gadflies, de-bunkers of myth, exposers of lies, organizers, resistors, general crotchety pains in the ass who refuse to ignore 800 lb. gorillas in the room and recipients of oppositional defiant, authority disordered, borderline personality diagnoses in childhood ?!
And if so, so what? What are potential implications for further thought?

I am not generally a silver-linings type of guy (every one's got a touch of grey, ya know!), but I want to believe that there's lessons in human resiliency here. I want to believe that there really is some hope of reforming the adoption industry, or, better yet, knocking the whole thing down and starting from scratch in a way that serves orphaned and fostered children rather than the emotional needs of the bourgeoisie. Can we find ways, as folks caught up living and exploring the ramifications of that legal swipe of a pen, to take what sucks, turn it around on those who -- wittingly or unwittingly -- are complicit in the abuse, and make the world more honest and just?


Anonymous said...

I've noticed the "I am" vs. "I was" distinction when I tell people about being adopted as well. In some contexts I deliberately say I "was" adopted, as if to say that adoption doesn't define who I am, but more often I deliberately say I "am" adopted. While adoption certainly doesn't define everything about me, I do think it is an important part of my identity, and sometimes I want to acknowledge or emphasize that. I am also wary of people trying to perpetuate the "as if" myth -- "as if" I were born to my adoptive parents, which I so obviously was not. (Well, obvious if you see us together in person.) So many people want adoptees to "get over" being adopted that I can be a little hypersensitive to people who want to brush it aside "as if" being adopted doesn't really matter.

Your idea of a kind of "adoptee identity development" as a parallel to racial/ethnic identity is an interesting one, especially since I am a transracial adoptee and so in many ways am dealing with both of those things. I get a little nervous when other people try to equate racial/ethnic differences to other kinds of differences, but I think being adopted is a much bigger difference than the kinds of comparisons that I usually cringe at (e.g. wearing glasses, or being overweight). The idea of moving from less aware/accepting to more so certainly seems to appy.

You also ask an interesting question about the critical worldview, but I don't want to monopolize your comment box so I'll save my thoughts for later.

Welcome to the blogosphere!

Chris said...

thanks for your thoughts, sang-shil...i've been enjoying your blog!