the queerness of transracial adoption

Thinking about how to “solve” the problems inherent in transracial adoption, that is, those of white supremacy, systemic racism, and overall, the rush to place children of color (CoC) in “good” homes, might be missing a more theoretical framework. Bear with me, as I’m working through my research ideas here but tell me if I’m onto something. But if we’re to consider transracial adoption and all of its current flaws without discussing not why, in its current form, it harms CoC, but instead how its existing and historical theoretical structure functions to oppress rather than serve, we might actually more successfully challenge the present practice and finally rebuild it.

Drawing on Kathryn Bond-Stockton’s* queer child theory and Hannah Dyer’s exploration of childhood innocence through the lens of the “queer contours of childhood…those that exceed the confines of normalcy and resist normative assessments of emotional and social growth” (6). Remember, Dyer and Bond-Stockton aren’t necessarily queering every child or saying every child is “gay” as we know it, but rather applying queer theory (as I understand it) to speak to “nonnormative gender and sexuality but also [emphasis my own, because that’s key] all that is deemed strange and unruly” (5).

What can be more “strange and unruly” than transracial adoption? Setting aside for the moment that the heteronormative, same-race family structure still persists as “normal” for most of American society, transracial adoption is not only “queer” in the sense that it challenges, both openly (obviously a CoC and their white adoptive parents will stand out as queer) and through its channels of family-building (legal, home evaluations, etc.: all very counter to the interior and private family life), but in that it uses as its capital a child. Not just any child, but a child already marginalized–or queered, as Bond-Stockton says–by color. In this sense, how does transracial adoption queer, twice, transracial adoptees?

Queering transracial adoption, then, is already done. It is “done” in the sense that it queers traditional American family norms and it is “done” because the child involved is queered by color and queered by transracial adoption’s racial disunity. Transracially adopted children have no option, within this framework, but to grow sideways (thanks again, Kathryn Bond-Stockton). Growing up transracially adopted means being forever marked by difference–queerness–between yourself and the individuals designed to help you grow upwards. It is this inherent queerness that encourages sideways growth, forcing the child to thresh out new paths of belonging, both to their adoptive family, the members of their race, and their multitudes of social networks (not ACTUAL social media, but sure, that works, too).

Sideways growth isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. Actually, for the transracial adoptee, the child’s horizontal growth means establishing a multitude of new coping mechanisms designed explicitly to react against normative structures. This doesn’t mean that transracially adopted children possess some mystical inner strength, and most certainly there are those who find themselves pressured into upwards growth no matter how much they resist, but instead the CoC is implored to create an identity unlike any one offered by the various social groups with whom s/he would “normally” identify.

Such sideways growth, and the transracially adopted child’s external pressure to resist it, might account for the transracial adoptee’s struggle with racial identity and familial security. Underlying the stability offered by an adoptive home is a normative violence. Though dramatic, that violence is the adoption industry’s historical tendency toward ignoring or erasing grief and loss and racial needs. Dyer asks: “What could happen for the adult’s politics [because transracial adoption is undeniably political and colonial] and sense of well-being if we took seriously the ways that aesthetic experience can cause interruptions to the symbolic contexts in which one grows up?” (3). Despite Dyer’s reference to her own great study regarding the material aesthetics of childhood, this question fits transracial adoption theory, because “in the visual and aesthetic cultures of childhood we can glimpse and indeterminate future that doesn’t calibrate injustice but locates hope in the wreckage of violence” (3-4). In other words, all those haters of critical adoption scholarship would finally understand that making “transracial adoption” for the child and “making it better” means not eradicating it (**sigh** I’ve never said that or supported it) but improving it through theory and extensive critique.

Hopefully, I’m able to pursue this line of thought. I think that Foucault’s philosophies work well here in establishing theory. And yes, I’m an over-eager doctoral student just reading this and ready to apply it, but man if anything can help me get ready for publication, I’m going to use it! LOL.

Let me know your thoughts!!!

* I initially did not like her work. And then I found myself returning to it more and more, organically. I think that means I love her. Ha.

2 thoughts on “the queerness of transracial adoption

  1. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on queering transracial/transnational adoption. I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersections between transracial adoptees and LGBTQ people, some of which I wrote about on my blog here: ( https://redthreadbroken.wordpress.com/2020/05/19/lgbt-folks-and-adoptees-building-coalition-across-community/ )
    Let me know if you end up publishing on queer theory and adoptees or continue your thinking in this area — signed an over-eager Masters student who wants to pursue a PhD.

    Liked by 1 person

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