Friday, March 18, 2016

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. 

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