On the false equality of the adoption “triad”.

A body needs at least three points of support, not in a straight line, to fix its position, so Roithamer had written.” —Thomas Bernhard, Correction

Whenever I hear the term “triad” to describe adoption, I am awed by how great and willful a misrepresentation it is.

By this I mean to say that the equation implied by the term “triad” is skewed for very particular reasons.

It might be helpful to break down this equation as it were.

As a starting point, let’s note down all-inclusively those effected, in varying degrees, by adoption.

In one grouping, you have: Adoptee. Mother. Parents. Extended family. Greater community. Culture of origin. Nation/state/class of source.

In another you have: Adoptive parents. Nuclear family. Adoptive culture. Nation/state/class of adoption.

Two “sides” in no way make up a three-pointed “equilateral” structure.

Most importantly, the former, in terms of action, are “intransitive”, meaning, they are functionally objects of an action.

The latter are “transitive”, meaning, they are active subjects.

The tools of agency in terms of action and power—legal, medical, governmental, cultural, media-based, and religious—are completely different one side from the other.

One side experiences loss, the other side nonesuch.

In fact, one side serves the other.

And so the terms used to describe adoption, such as “constellation”, “mosaic”, and “triad” are hugely reductive.

Either they are reductive in terms of scope (triad), or else they are reductive in terms of effect and agency (constellation, mosaic).

They are furthermore reductive in terms of effective “distance”, as well as positioning in relational “space”.

For example, in adoption-speak, these terms are often employed to categorize those involved as “touched” by adoption.

To note is that “to touch” is a transitive verb.

Just like “to adopt”.

Both imply a non-mutual reduction of distance between subject and object.

We should compare and contrast this to the verb “to birth”, also a transitive verb, but one that inherently implies a connection, a “mutual non-distance” if you will, between the transitive and intransitive “actors” involved.

The conflation of these terms leads to conceptually obscene metaphors such as “paper pregnancy”, “post-adoption depression”, and other lurid comparisons between adoption and childbirth.

As noted, this is a deceitful attempt to reduce “distance” between the agentive and the objective.

As stated, this is an attempt to falsely equalize those involved in the adoption process.

Such an attempt is patently offensive.

This attempted equalization cannot be defined as objective, nor is it naive.

We also cannot assume it to just “be”, or to be “destiny”, or to be outside of agentive “will”.

There is subjectivity involved, as well as motive, whether acknowledged or not.

As a tangent, we might discuss “murder” versus “involuntary manslaughter”.

We might speak of motive, and will, intent, and purpose.

We are basically discussing degrees of difference.

In neither case would we deny the crime committed.

The only cases in which the crime is denied is in terms of capital punishment, or extrajudicial killings.

In these cases, great lengths are gone to in an effort to redefine, mythologize, and render palatable the crime.

There is also a great effort to “share the burden” as it were, by spreading the culpability, or by wholly blaming the victim.

We might call this a “false expansion/distillation of agency”.

I don’t see any other category or status for adoption.

We can compare it to other attempts within the culture to “welcome in” and “include” which employ terms such as “mosaic”, or “rainbow”, or “big tent”.

This superficial “equalization” is readily confused with the notion of inherent “equality”.

It is seen as “giving voice” to those without.

This is obviously deceptive.

We are thus the “direct objects” of a falsely inclusive action.

The falsity thereof is easily demonstrated.

Those whom we refer to as being “in the fog”, or “drinking the Kool-Aid”, or otherwise “colonized” are welcomed into the adoption discussion with open arms.

This is a given.

To note is that when we attempt to empower ourselves, and truly regain our agency, we are likewise just as readily “welcomed back” into the “discussion” by the use of these terms of “inclusion”.

This should give us great pause.

This is evidently manipulative.

It might help to find a proper analogy to compare this situation to.

For one example, we wouldn’t readily refer to a bank CEO, a bank manager, and a bank account holder as being members of a “triad”, much less a “mosaic”, or a “constellation”, etc.

The “actions” and “direct objects” involved in bank transactions are different for each of these banking “agents”.

Furthermore, there is an implicit understanding of the power differential involved, whether stated or not.

Unless we were hoping to obfuscate this differential, any such equalization is therefore seen as ludicrous.

Pushing the point, the account holder is, herself, a “direct object” of the first; her account a “direct object” of the second; her money a “direct object” of all three.

Yet she’s made to believe she is in charge of this situation.

In terms of agency, if a bank CEO referred to her as being “equal” to him, he would surely be taken to task for such a statement.

In terms of agency, if an account holder demanded “equality” of the bank CEO, she would quickly be put in her place.

In all of their communication, this power differential would be maintained.

I don’t see any other way to honestly describe adoption.

All the same, an attempt to create a perceived equalization is useful, but only to those in power.

For example, banking advertising works along lines of false power equalization.

This equalization attempts to mythologize the agency of the one lowest in the power structure.

Banks “serve” their customers, for one such myth.

The one so coerced into believing her equality might then pay less notice to what is taken from her.

For example, fees, penalties, the imbalance of low interest rates, her entire retirement savings in a bad investment, her house in a foreclosure.

She might similarly be contented with what is given to her.

For example, “free” checking, “gifts” for opening accounts, higher interest.

She might furthermore describe her transactions with the bank as a “relationship”, and her relationship as being one of “love/hate”.

Such a description, unfortunately, does nothing to challenge much less change the power differential we are alluding to.

Finally, she would be hard-pressed to imagine the bank as not directly tied to her reality.

And so it can be seen that this false sense of agency, in terms of the system of banking (or adoption), is only useful to certain members of this so-called “triad”.

The desire to impose such an “equality” on the discussion thus serves very particular purposes.

The need to state this reality as a given reveals very particular intentions.

Given an awareness of this, we can readily state that what we are talking about is a willfully imposed disequilibrium.

This disequilibrium is, contrary to how it is portrayed, designed to undo voice, and silence those affected by adoption, by falsely “welcoming” them into the status quo, by cajoling them, coercing them, placating them, rendering them docile.

This disequilibrium, which demands “respect” for the very concept of the imposed triad (now treated as a given), inherently undoes any protest, resistance, or voicing out against adoption.

This disequilibrium is thus a tactical move of the dominant culture to silence, repress, and render powerless.

This is in sharp contrast to proper notions of consensus, non-hierarchical communication, and restorative justice.

Such outside-the-system notions would allow for the “intransitives” to be heard until such a time as their voices balance out the “transitive” status quo.

The equivalent concept in terms of banking might be a credit union, or a group of immigrants pooling money on a monthly basis, or a community chest.

This is a completely different “equation”, and it is equally telling that it is not offered as an option by those in power.

And so we should not be seduced or cajoled by vows to “listen” and “hear us out” and “place us at their table” and “welcome us into their halls”.

This is tactically designed to divide us internally as we choose “sides”, and to keep us in our place, no matter which “side” we choose.

This could be referred to as the history of all activist movements.

In this light, and returning to the subject at hand, any attempt to establish as a given the terms “triad” or “constellation” or “mosaic” should be considered suspect.

Along these same lines, the media we use to communicate—with an audience of few and controlled by fewer—should equally be considered suspect.

There is a world outside of this so-called “triad” that we are not reaching via this type of communication.

A discussion amongst ourselves is but a starting point; it should not devolve into an ending point.

And therefore yet another reduction.

We are not reducible to geometric shapes of one or two dimensions.

We are at the bottom of a pyramid of power dynamics.

Those at the top, looking down and ignoring their weight, see a “triangle” that they wish to impose upon us from above.

Those on the bottom, looking up, see but a faint point in the distance, yet they feel the weight of the oppressive structure pushing down.

This point should be our focus, in terms of undoing the power dynamics that would keep us down.

Those around us and below us should be our focus, in terms of incorporating those who are equally suppressed.

Not buying into an imposed vocabulary is just the start of this process.

There can be no discussion until the playing field is even.

I would like to suggest that we change directions.

We should be talking from our level down.

The above list of “intransitives” within the adoption process are, in essence, targets.

And much of our discussion focuses on the “post-targeting”; meaning post-adoption.

I would like to suggest that we switch the parameters around.

So that the transitive and the intransitive switch sides.

I mean this in terms of discussion, and action, and empowerment.

I mean this in terms of moving from the virtual to the actual.

I mean this in terms of moving from the online realm to our lived realm.

If we are truly seeking equilibrium of discourse, and equality of all involved, there is no other choice.

To ask ourselves: Where is our energy best placed?

Spinning our wheels endlessly discussing moot points in false “triads” on ephemeral platforms designed to tire us out and wear us down?

Or engaged in mind, body, and spirit with those who need us and whom we need most?

To simply “deconstruct” or actually be constructive?

Many have already come to this realization and are making this radical shift.

I applaud their efforts, and hope to see more of this type of action.

It is time for all of us to join this effort.

The first step is to pointedly remove ourselves from the notion of “triad”.

To notice the oppressive body whose very existence is based on our position.

To see the body whose place above relies on our location below.

Our active movement upsets this unequal positioning.

Only thus might we remove physical support from that which keeps us down.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in resistance and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to On the false equality of the adoption “triad”.

  1. This is so inspiring. I’ve always felt that it made no sense to try to be heard by the same people whose only interest is in keeping me quiet, but you’ve laid it out so clearly. As much as I hate the “triad” term, I’m almost more offended by the constellation and mosiac terminology. I do not think there is anything wondrous or beautiful about adoption and that is the feeling that those two words evoke for me.

    Shortly after my reunion with my daughter three years ago, my husband told a coworker that I had given up my child for adoption and was now reunited with her. The coworker quickly corrected my husband by telling him that I did not give up my child. Instead I “made an adoption plan”. This is so far from my experience as to be laughable, but this coworker had no qualms at all about defining my experience for me. I’m sure that you guess what side of the adoption “triad” this person was on! I tell this story because I’ve heard so many times that it really doesn’t matter what words people use. Yet, it obviously does matter enormously or the powerful people in this equation wouldn’t be so intent on telling us how we should talk about our own experiences.

  2. Pingback: On the false equality of the adoption “triad”. « The Life Of Von

  3. Mirah Riben says:


    “One side experiences loss, the other side nonesuch.” In fact one side experiences loss, pain, lifelong grief and the other side wins the gold ring and gets what they wanted! The CLAIM they have experienced a loss of the “real” child they wanted, their fantasy child. But that occurs prior to adoption and is not really a part of the adoption process, although it does effect how they view the substitute child.

    “We are at the bottom of a pyramid of power dynamics.” YES. We are the oppressed and as such need to rise up and take to the streets in numbers as did the Blacks in the 60’s and as do the gays now.

    But in order to do that we need to educate our own sister and brother adoptees to free themselves of the shackles of Stockholm Syndrome that keeps them imprisoned in gratitude and fear of hurting their captor/saviors. THIS I see as THE challenge for the adoptee rights movement! Mass education to counter the kool-aid and empower the masses of adoptees, the ones who sneak around or wait for aps to die to ‘search’ instead of standing up DEMANDING their HUMAN and civil RIGHT to be treated as a full and equal adult citizen!

    See the oppression and break the chains! We hold the key. It is within our reach and our power to set ourselves free and MARCH in the streets until; we are given the equality we deserve. But, it will not happen as long as we continue to acquiesce and accept crumbs. BULLSHIT bills with vetoes as is being proposed in Washington. Equality is equality. There can be no compromise on equality.

    here’s a mathematical equation that’s very simple, even for a non-mathematical person such as myself. EQUAL is EQUAL. There is no sorta equal or almost equal. It either is EXACTLY the same or it aint! Any hoop for adoptee, any age limit not impose don non-adoptees is unacceptable because it is UNEQUAL!!!

    Until we educate our own that we deserve no less than full equality and demand it, we will constantly be behind the eight ball…. licking the boots and being thankful and grateful for crumbs.

    We need to organize and get the public and legislators to see through BS fed to them by the industry mogul lobbyists. But we cannot do that until we flip the damn triangle upside down and put ourselves on TOP!! Adoption should be about HELPING adoptees, not oppressing them with lies.

    Step one is beleiving and accepting that we DESERVE NO LESS!

    Mirah Riben

    PS As for my use of “we” …. While I am not an adoptee according to your diagram, I am on the same side, and have put in 40+ years working toward equal rights for adoptees. I also speak on behalf of my daughter who cannot speak for herself from the grave.

  4. Jom says:

    what exactly are you trying to say in your endless rant? Your ‘essay’ makes zero sense, please, in under 100 words, state your case, because you have blabbed on yet said NOTHING that make sense or explains your stance, whatever it may be.

    • rainstormred says:

      Where does your hatred originate? What, who and why are you so threatened by this completely logical and simplistic analogy of the truth that adoptee’s live in psychological squallier paying off the debt of being saved from their own life, existing as temporary distractions to the narcissist’s feeding whims. I feel great empathy for your pain.

    • theoldfisherman says:

      Jom….while your succinct statement is clear, it is laced with argumentative and attacking terms (eg. “endless rant”, “zero sense”, “blabbed on”, and “NOTHING that makes sense.” By doing so, you are guilty of that which you accuse the author because you have added little of value to the conversation. As a reader, I only get a sense of your dislike with no causative substance. As a researcher, the causes for your response are of great interest to me.

  5. maddogmarley says:

    Bastard Nation has argued against the “triad” for a long time. Ron Morgan wrote a very succinct piece on this for the Bastard Quarterly several years ago, http://www.bastards.org/bytes-the-triad-is-a-five-legged-stool/, and I’ve presented the idea at various conferences. and blogs. The idea never goes over well., especially with folks who have invested lots of years in the adoption deform. Newbies and those I’d not considered activists in any sense do get it. So, it appears that the “triad” is linked to defeatist statagies and organizations that attempt to be “fair and balanced” and not primarily adoptee driven.

    At one time the concept of “triad” was probably progressive, since it let first parents in the door a bit, and at least recognized adoptees as a player–instead of the usual adoption is about adopters narrative.

    That brings me to another point. sort of off topic, but related. A few years ago I did a literature search for adoption in the popular press from about 1919-1965–Life, Look, McCall’s, Redbook, The Deliminator, Liberty, Readers Digest, Coronet, etc, I was able to pull about 2/3 of them from the Ohio State University Library, then, copy , and read them. I’d have to go through them, but I’d say over 90% of the articles were adopter narratives or adopter centered (advice for aparents, for example). . I’d say about 5 were by or about adoptees (one was really excellent–an angry adoptee blowing up adoption in the mid-1930s) and less than that were first parent-oriented.

    When I did my work on adoption in film which needs updated and completed) it was hard to find a film that was actually made from adoptee POV. People laugh at me due to the absurdly melo story line, but one of the best is That Hagen Girl with Shirley Temple and Ronald Reagan. Both of them hated the film. Were embarrassed by it, but Shirley shines as an LDA full of angst. If you think adoption screwed up your life, be glad you’re not Mary Hagen! Anyway, the scene where she searches through high school yearbooks looking for a picture of his first mother is stunning. Everytime I watch it, I cry.

  6. I was thinking along these very lines when I attended an adoption conference at MIT in Cambridge in 2010. Much was made of including (birth) mothers but they were front-loaded, for the most part, in the first day of the conference Many later sessions would include only adoptees and adopters discussing various aspects of adoption, e.g. writing about adoption. When I asked one adoptee moderator why this was so she said she had not selected the panel.

  7. Pingback: On adoption activism. | adopteeidentityrites

  8. theoldfisherman says:

    Daniel Ibn Zayd, While I agree with many of your comments and I think the term triad is important, I find some of your points difficult to navigate. I have understood the “triad” or “triangle” of adoption, not to mean equal power, but to account for three main stakeholders in the adoption process: the child, the relinquishing parent(s), and the surrogate caregivers or adopting parent(s). I too agree this metaphor is a misrepresentation of power and think the power terrain underlying the triad or triangle is overwhelming weighted towards a fourth player(s): the adoption negotiator(s). Adoption regulators, who work for money or think they understand the best interests of children for which they are bargaining (eg. the state, courts, lawyers, agencies, international groups, social workers, etc.) are the true power “brokers” in most formal adoptions. As such I would think of most adoptions (and foster care placements) as a “placement trapezoid”. In this metaphor, the negotiator takes up a long power base; the two sides, that will have to struggle for every inch of respect they can achieve, are made from the relinquishing parent(s) and the surrogate caregivers or adopting parent(s); and the top of the trapezoid with almost zero power until adolescence (and then as minors, only minimal power) are the adoptees. I hope you and your readers find my thoughts useful, and I intend to save a copy of your article for further discussion, Thanks from one who has survived a dissolved adoption….

    • KarenWB says:

      There are NOT three. There are FOUR. Natural parent, potential adopters, the child and the facilitators. FOUR… not THREE. No such thing as a triad or triangle in adoption No flowery term like constellation or circle either. Adoption is a MARKET. Two with all of the power (adopters and facilitators) and two with little to none (natural parents and their babies). PERIOD. Adoption is a multi-billion dollar INDU$try.

  9. Pingback: On the false equality of the adoption “triad”. | The Life Of Von

  10. Tiffany says:

    I realize this is an old thread, but I hope my comment will still show up in some of your inboxes. It seems that there is so much pain in adoption for adoptees and biological parents and that most here feel they are victims of adoption. First of all, I am so sorry that you all experience that kind of pain. I can’t imagine what that’s like. Secondly, I would like to learn from your experience, if you would consider sharing. My husband and I have adopted three children. This is a long story, so bear with me. They are 5,3, and an infant. In each case, we did not go through an agency, or adoption service or anything like that.
    The first child we adopted was our three year old, Isaac. We were contacted out of the blue asking if we would like to adopt him. Birth mom was due in three months and she asked a mutual friend for a personal recommendation for a family. She wanted to make an adoption plan because she was trying to raise another child and was struggling with addiction problems. She knew that she couldn’t handle another and she turned down any offer for treatment. We said yes, and we truly love Isaac with everything we have. When Isaac was one, we got a call that birth mom couldn’t handle raising her other child either, so brought him home too. He was 3.5 at the time and is named Gabriel. His adoption isn’t finalized and hasn’t really even begun because birth mom is unable to complete the necessary steps. Gabriel’s trauma was evident from the beginning and I can’t imagine his heartbreak. Isaac is still too young to understand.
    Our newest child was given to us by a mom that has 7 other children and is so poverty stricken that she felt it was the best way to take care of her other children and to allow us to raise and take care of Ruth.
    I am in contact with both biological moms and genuinely love them. I do not wish to cause them any pain and I wish to help our children with their grief. We openly talk in our home about Gabriel’s other mommy and how he misses her and we will make her cards and pictures. I think his attachment to her natural and not something to be feared. I recognize that adoption isn’t the natural order of things, but I can’t see a better alternative, at lease for the two older boys. I don’t feel like a rescuer or that I should be treated as such. I think that we are all just humans that are all indebted to each other and all meant to love and serve one another. I want all three of these beautiful children to know that they are loved beyond measure and I want to help them deal with and understand their pain. If there is any advice you could offer, I would greatly appreciate it. I am so sorry that you are hurting and feel so powerless. How can I help with the future generation of adoptees? Thank you for taking the time to read all of this.

    • Sorry to be late replying. What you are describing is in the gray area between adoption and kinship care, and I wish we had different language to describe it. Adoptive parents who understand the rupture of adoption and attempt to keep bonds between child and family are performing an act of communtiy service, and not the selfish act that adoption has become. My advice would be to let them understand that any rebellion and resistance is normal, and try to connect them to the resistant groups if any within their communities so they can bridge back and understand they aren’t alone.

  11. I read this and stand firm in my believe in the triad. I represent all three as being an adoptee, a birth mother and an adoptive mother. I am desperately looking for someone that shares this representation with me.

    • It is certainly NOT an equal triad. There is one and only one paying client whose needs are foremost and who is thus is catered to and in fact whose demand drives all of adoption. The demand, in turn, creates exploitation and corruption.
      Only aps have legal representation. If mothers have legal counsel it is paid for by the aps and thus a direct conflict of interest, and of course, the child being transferred has zero rights or say in the matter at all. Could not be more, lopsided and unequal. What has been described as a win-win is, in fact, a sum zero game. There is only one winner and two losers. The adopter gains the child they long for while mother and child lose one another. I have also described as reverse Robinhoodism – takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

    • No triad. No constellation. No circle. No sweet syrupy words for natural family destruction. It’s a transaction of four: two with all the power (broker and adopter) and two with little to none at all (unprotected mothers and their babies). Tell it like it is.

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