Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Time My Dad Started Recording Over Videotapes of Me

My family's video camera from the '70s broke before I was born.  We never got another one, despite Dante's and my pleas for one throughout the '80s and '90s, so the only videos that existed of me before adulthood were from public performances where copies were sold en masse.

I was in annual church musicals and some school plays.  I started taking private voice lessons in sixth grade.  I remember when my parents made that decision.  I had just sung my first solo in a church musical at age eleven (the musical was "My Way or Yahweh" and I played a slave or possibly a very unimportant priest of the god Ba'al), and my parents apparently felt I had done a surprisingly adequate job.  I remember sitting in the back seat of my dad's van while they sat in the front discussing whether I should take private singing lessons in an effort to pursue this talent.  They decided I should.  I remember feeling excited.

The first time those lessons really paid off was an eighth grade talent show.  I had two years of lessons under my belt and had finally worked out the kinks of my voice that made me sing too sharp or sound worse than someone without training at all.  I sang "On My Own" from Les Miserables, and it was the first recording of a performance I recall listening to afterward and thinking I actually sounded good.

I was in high school when my dad came to my room with the VHS from my eighth grade talent show and asked if I minded if he taped over it.  I don't recall what he wanted it for -- a bad '80s movie or a rerun of MacGyver based on what I know of his taste.  We had a hoard of recordable VHS cassettes -- multiple cabinets of them -- and even now my dad has multiple hard drives filled with terabytes of old movies and entire series he has recorded from TV and never gotten around to watching.  I guess I either asked why that particular tape or paused too long because my dad prompted, "I mean, it's not like you're going to watch it again, are you?" 

I said, "I guess not," and he was one VHS cassette of old reruns richer.  I don't know if my dad taped over all the old videos of my performances, but I recall seeing others that had been relabeled in his handwriting before I moved out for college.  I've considered asking my high school classmates on Facebook if they have any old videos of performances I was in, but for now it seems awfully self-indulgent and pointless to collect old videos of myself mostly singing when I'm not sure I'll ever want to watch them.  Much like old family photos, they were simply something I wanted to be able to look back on and show to my daughter when she is older.  For now though there are simply no videos of me before adulthood.

Monday, March 28, 2016

My Sister

My half-sister Simone texted me over the weekend and it got me thinking.  I wrote the following to submit to AnonymousUs:

When I first found my biological father and his family through DNA testing, I found my only known half-sister.  Our father told her about me at my request.  She was in shock.  "I always wanted a sister," she told me.  "I can't believe I've had one all this time and didn't even know."  I knew how she felt.  We'd both grown up with only brothers.      

My sister and I look a lot alike:  same pale skin, same hair, same eyes, same jaw.  We like a lot of the same things:  hiking, baking, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  We're both half German, though only she grew up learning the language, and only she feels a connection to the culture.  And there are even more things we don't have in common -- the way we dress, the books we read, the music we like.

We've never met.  I was in kindergarten when my sister was born and moved a thousand miles away.  It was another 25 years before we learned of each other's existence.  We've texted, Facebooked, talked on the phone -- tentative efforts to become "real sisters" like ones who've grown up together.  Her parents don't approve, but we're adults and it's out of their hands now.  My mother forbade me from ever seeking out my biological father's family too.  "He was just 'a donor,'" she told me.  "It's different."  Still, even if you believe family is only who you choose to include, my siblings and I have chosen to include one another.  As far as they're concerned, I count.  I feel like their opinions on this matter hold more weight than mine since they aren't donor conceived like me. 

Families aren't exclusively made up of intended parents and the children they choose to raise.  That's a family, sure, but sometimes children -- certainly donor conceived and adopted children -- have additional family beyond the ones who raised them.  Sometimes family means shared blood in two people who look alike but grew up apart.  Sometimes two strangers are family simply because they are sisters.  I don't think it's as "different" as my mother believed.

Friday, March 18, 2016

DC Pride

There is a thread right now about what makes us proud or happy about being donor conceived.  This is my sincere and unsarcastic reply:

On Not Fitting In

I watched a documentary on Amazon Streaming the other day (free with Prime) called "Adopted."  It follows two different stories:  an adult Korean-born woman who was adopted into a white American family at the age of 4 months, and a white American couple in the process of adopting a baby girl from China.

I like reading blogs and watching documentaries that feature adoptees.  While my brother Dante is the only adoptee I've been close to, we were never close enough to talk about it.  I knew almost nothing about adoption before I found my biological father.  What I think interests me most about adoption -- or, more accurately, adoptees -- is that, while it's distinctly different from my donor conception, a lot of adoptees and donor conceived people seem to share a lot of the same feelings of genetic bewilderment, wanting to know where they came from, and wanting people to stop telling them they should be grateful to be alive. 

I know a fair number of donor conceived people who feel adoption is different primarily because the children exist before the "intended parents" find them, unlike in donor conception, but the more I read, the more I believe children (and often mothers) are commodified in adoption just like in donor conception.  Most adopted children are not actually "saved" from some unspeakable fate (though some people like my mother like to tell them they were).  The bigger difference, as far as I can see, is not between intent but between how many biological ties are broken at birth, and in some cases of donor conception and surrogacy, all biological ties are broken just as in a typical adoption.  Lines start to blur.  We have a lot in common.  There are very few blogs by donor conceived people that have been updated in recent years, so I read adoptee blogs and breathe a sigh of relief that someone else gets it.  Someone more daring than me is blogging the outrage I'm afraid to show.

I enjoyed the "Adopted" documentary.  I don't share much in common with Jennifer, the Korean-American adoptee, but I related to her.  She grew up with white parents who had been raised "not to see race" and refused to recognize that she was any different from them, as well as classmates who mocked her for her physically Asian qualities.  As I've heard many transracial adoptees say, she felt white.  She wanted her outsides to match her insides.  She wanted blue eyes and blond hair and felt somewhat bewildered looking into the mirror as she grew up.  As a white donor-conceived woman who has experienced this phenomenon -- aspects of my face and body looking "off" because I can't place them in the context of my family, long before I knew this was a phenomenon that existed -- I can only imagine how Jennifer must have felt.  As she got older and attended a high school where she wasn't the only Asian student, she tried to pass as a "real Asian" since her new friends wouldn't immediately know she hadn't been raised in an Asian family.  When she reached adulthood, she even moved to Korea for a time, but still she did not fit in.  In Korea, where she'd been born, she was too American.

My best friend Jerry and I were talking about "Adopted" when she mentioned the fact that no one ever feels like they fit in -- that the very idea of fitting in is a fantasy that only makes people sad, like finding the meaning of life or finding one's soulmate.  While I agree with her to a certain extent, I think there are different levels of Not Fitting In that we experience.  I don't feel like I fit in most places or with most people -- I think I'm pretty common in this -- but I've got this Great White Halloween Costume I wear everyday that usually makes it look like I do.  I think my problem is less serious in part simply because it's less visible.  I don't expect everyone with "costumes" like mine to feel that way, but blending in has always meant a lot to me.  I've been in situations in which I stood out uncomfortably because of my race, and I've been in situations (most situations) in which I blended, and having the option to blend in simply by changing my clothes or hair or behavior -- whether or not I feel like I fit in -- makes a pretty huge difference.  This is only one of the struggles facing transracial adoptees, and it didn't even occur to me it existed until I started reading blogs in which people talk about it.

A lot of parents take their children's life challenges as personal insults.  As a parent, I get that.  It's annoying though, both for parent and child.  It makes parents defensive and children either angry or overprotective of their parents' feelings or both.  It creates an unhelpful barrier to communication.  Jennifer wanted validation from her adoptive parents, who she loved and cherished and cared for both physically and financially, but they seemed to treat her problems as a transracial and transnational adoptee as made up problems she'd invented to garner attention and pity.  What did she want them to do about it now?  They'd done the best they could.  They'd been raised not to see race and they never saw her as any different from them.  How could she ask for any more than that?  And these were good parents.  Loving, adoptive parents. 

I got the impression what might have helped was if they'd recognized that any daughter who loved them and cared for them as much as theirs always had was not baring her soul to hurt them.  She loved her parents and wanted to feel seen by them in her entirety.  She wanted them to understand and love her for all of who she was, and that included being Korean and an adoptee and not just a chameleon who could and would change who she was to gain their approval.  I get that.  I'm a chameleon too.  I think it might have meant a lot if they'd said, "I had no idea.  I'm sorry you've felt so much pain.  I did the best I could, and it's hard to hear you felt this way, but I understand that you didn't have the words to express these feelings earlier.  Thank you for trusting me with this now.  I've always loved you as my daughter, and it didn't occur to me that you might still feel adopted or want to know about where you came from.  Is there anything I can do to help?"  Empathy is important.  Validation is 50% of every cure. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sherri Shepherd Remains Legal Parent

The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court has decided not to hear Sherri Shepherd's child support appeal.  She remains the legal mother of the child she and ex-husband Lamar Sally commissioned to be born with his sperm and a donor egg via gestational surrogate, and she will continue to pay monthly child support.  She has still never met the child.

I wonder whether Shepherd will eventually file for shared custody under the logic, "I'm already paying for it; I might as well use it" (or sole custody under the logic "spite").

I look forward to Lamar Sally Jr.'s tell-all book thirty years from now.

Satirical Rhyming Verse

One of the ways I've processed my anger since childhood is through satirical rhyming verse.  This is the sort of passive-aggressive, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog coping mechanism I learned growing up with my family.  Where sharing your feelings would get you in trouble for inadvertently offending a parent or for "being too sensitive," mocking whoever upset me didn't seem to have a downside back then.  Not even my parents wanted to lash out just to be accused of "not being able to take a joke."

I remember turning in a poem in elementary school about going out to dinner with my family.  Each stanza featured a different dish my mother sent back for its unexpected imperfections.  As I recall, she was more regal in my version, but also less embarrassing.  I drew a picture of her cheeseburger and chocolate malt "with dots in it," as she'd complained repeatedly to the waiter, to accompany the poem.  I got an A on the assignment, as per usual, and it even hung on display for my school's poetry month, to my mother's relatively quiet embarrassment.

In high school I penned a series of mocking poems about a character named Fattie.  Sometimes Fattie was my mother; sometimes she was a classmate.  They were vague enough in terms of detail that the people I wrote them about could never seem to identify themselves.  I encouraged them to read the poems and then, when they laughed at my depictions of them, I fed off their reactions in a Palpatine-esque fashion.  One particularly difficult classmate who had bullied me from before I knew who she was started collecting my poems to make into a Fattie Anthology, never knowing the first one she'd read had been about her.

A December or two ago I started writing a Christmas song about my dad.  It includes lines like "My asshole dad, my psycho brother / I wonder how long till you kill each other," and ends with "Merry Christmas / I won't care when you die."  It's cheerful and up tempo.  I never finished it.