There’s a disturbing trend in adoption activism.
We all seem to write for each other, without hitting our ultimate goal: Reaching an apathetic public, a population whose interest ranges from “mildly disinterested” to “dangerously ill-informed.”
This isn’t surprising, given we’re up against issues like Anne Heffron’s points out below:
It’s not surprising, but it is discouraging. Then we have another issue: rhetoric. Are adoptees orphans (no, most are not)? Can we call adoptive parents “adoptive parents,” and should we refer to birth mothers as “first mothers” or “natural mothers” or “biological mothers”? The adoption community debates these terms extensively, confusing ourselves and definitely confounding outsiders.
And then there’s the argument over who is allowed to discuss what. Can non-adoptees speak to the adoptee experience? Should adoptive parents have any say in their children’s lives? And are birth parents really the forgotten party in the adoption discussion?
Finally–and perhaps most damningly–there’s the Angry versus Happy Adoptee distinction, an informal label bandied around to stigmatize, invalidate, and attempt to win arguments. We’re scrambling to say something new, impactful, and purposeful, but activist’s messages get lost in the flurry to push out content.
Naturally, I speak only from the transracial adoptee perspective, since that’s my lived experience and the only one I feel qualified to discuss. But even then, there’s a tendency toward defensiveness, as though I still don’t possess the necessary skill set for maintaining my position.
None of this creates an environment inviting outside stakeholders to enact change. If we’re not united, it’s challenging for others to hear our cries. But adoptees know it’s near impossible for us to agree on a stance, but we concede that adoption is not a self-directed choice.
So, as a thought experiment, I’d ask you to consider how hearing “I’m sorry you had such a negative experience” would feel if someone said that to you if you struggled with infertility before you adopted, or any of the other hard life experiences people live through that they had no control over.
Adoptees are the experts on being adopted. Still, our lives are frequently illustrated by a partially informed public, or by those whose experience doesn’t align with our own. Adoptees haven’t yet defined the line between objectifying ourselves and becoming consultants.
How do we use our voices as vehicles for meaningful change? Here’s my idea:
- Temporarily set aside our anger and acknowledge that adopters and adoption agencies, like us, believe in their mission. People are more likely to listen to rational speakers.
- Feature different adoption activists in our blogs, supporting each other even if we don’t 100% agree with a nuance in another’s view
- Stop arguing about terminology amongst ourselves and focus on our real goals
I don’t suggest forgetting that certain terms are debatable or abandoning our passion projects. Our conversations absolutely have merit and will enact positive change. But we’ll likely never agree; adoption is too personal an issue for that to happen any time soon.
Instead, for now, I argue for coherency and collaboration. Idealistic, sure. Results-oriented? Absolutely.