Does anything anyone say about adoption hurt you anymore?
Answer: The original question was speaking of the “pain” of those adopting when they hear adoptees speaking out. But I want to turn this around, because the question is not valid. It’s like a plantation owner being upset by being called a racist—there is an inherent power differential that needs to be revealed.
This claim of a kind of “victim” status in this way does not stand. More importantly, I think it is important to understand where the “hurtful” accusation is coming from. We know that adoption is a violence, based in inequality; it is candy-coated to make it seem about family and children, but it is an economic and political crime, a treating of symptoms and not of disease; it is a negation of families and an annihilation of communities that are not seen as having an intrinsic human value equal to that of those adopting, for reasons having to do with race, with class, and with a preconceived notion of what makes for a “valid” life in this world. In this light, adoption is in and of itself the “hurtful” act, with any reminders of that act being in and of themselves “hurtful” in turn. This is known. To circumvent this Truth, an attempt is thus made to turn tables.
For many of us who are vocal concerning adoption and what it truly represents, it is problematic when the response to carefully (or angrily, emotionally, scientifically, or literarily) expressed statements concerning the subject at hand are not met with proper responses, or rebuttals, or arguments, or any kind of discussion, but instead with dismissal, personal invective, insinuations, accusations, or as here, an accusation that what we say is “hurtful”. The problem is much deeper. The problem is not what is said, but the fact that what is said reflects inherently the initial violence and rupture of adoption. Just having the discussion is “hurtful” to many of us, but we are told to check our words, which make those who adopt “wince” as stated here. Hearing “that is hurtful” puts many of us in a place where we are fearful of another rejection, when what is sought is simply understanding and empathy.
On some level, those who would parrot the dominant discourse on adoption know that this pressure and weight is on their side; that the slightest offhand remark or casual dismissive word in fact carries the full punch of adoption’s original violence in terms of dislocation, uprooting, rejection, and annihilation of family and community. In this light, the accusation of “hurtful” directed against us is yet another weapon in an arsenal used to keep us quiet. This makes such minor reflex actions all the more reprehensible, because there is no adequate defense against them. The power differential here is not on our side; we are playing on the downhill side of an uneven playing field. If everyone simply stands still and keeps quiet, we lose all the same.
Personally I have chosen to no longer reply in the singular. Alone I don’t have the energy to go up against such a prevailing force. And so I seek out not just those in the same situation, but those whose voices are not even considered as being valid, that we too, because of our acculturation, might likewise dismiss or ignore. For the amount of time due to those who have remained silent for too long—mothers whose babies have been taken from them, the adopted who had no say in the matter, the communities missing their most vulnerable members—is infinite if you ask me. If the debate were one-sided for the next thousand years this might only start to equalize what has been one-sided in the other direction for far too long.
We are not living something new, and it is vital to understand this. The history of the dominant discourse is one of trying to stifle, co-opt, buy out, assimilate, or purge any and all resistance discourse. The label “hurtful” is used to do just that. Note that it is a remark about form, not content. What we are saying is not even being heard. This is the sign of someone thinking like a child, not like an adult. This is an immature and, dare I say it, narcissistic statement to make. An adult in a debate defends his or her position. A child slings epithets, or claims “hurt”. In other words: We are being told to “shut up”. This is the same kind of stifling that takes place when a Black American is told he or she is being “uppity”. It is to be told: “Know your role”.
Ignored is the “why”. Why should there be a resistance discourse in terms of adoption? It isn’t about personal “hurt”, but social injustice. We need to make this clear. And sometimes we have to borrow the tactics of those who would silence us, as much as this might run counter to how we usually act. Those who would ignore us need to understand what that discourse is—whether they want to hear it or not, and whether they like hearing it or not.
Only when the other side of the story is fully heard can the dialogue move on to address and hopefully fix the problem. We have yet to hear a valid defense of adoption; only exceptional cases that cannot be used to validate a position; emotional accusations that we are the heartless ones. Where are the adoptive parents who might stand up and admit, at long last, what we know and what they know to be the truth about adoption? What we are witnessing now is an attempt to spin wheels, to run in neutral—to crush the discussion before it can even take place.
The problem is made worse if we take this to heart. Because to soften the blow—to make of it Pabulum—is to further weaken one’s already unequal position; it is to undermine oneself. And so the only reply must carry the full weight of the original statement: There can be no middle ground. To pull one’s punches is not resistance, but compliance; it is not defiance, but complacency. My adoption story does not focus on me personally, but reflects backward to the greater injustice that was its source, and which had an impact on more children than I can sometimes bear to think about. I may have a great amount of empathy with someone who cannot have children. But I also have empathy for those whose families are destroyed as a result of such “First World” problems. And if I have to choose sides, it will be on the side of those downtrodden, those who are silent, those who have no Voice. Because their “hurt” is infinitely beyond anything that most can imagine living day to day.
And so in an attempt to respond in an equivalent manner, every time someone punches me with the phrase “get over being adopted”, I will say: “get over being infertile”. Every time someone uses the word “adoption” I will respond: “abduction”. Every time someone tells me, “you were chosen”, I will correct: “I was procured for a tidy sum”. Every time that I hear that adoption is “God’s plan”, I will state: “To even conceive of such an ignoble, spiteful, and heinous God is the work of the monstrous; the arrogant; the conceited and narcissistic; the infinitely vain, and that those who espouse such a God do not deserve children.”
And every time someone suggests that I have no feelings for these children, I will respond: “I am these children; and I have returned to live among these children; and I dare you to live my life, where I am living now, and see what I see every day; to live the wars, and the poverty, here in my land of birth, among the to-you non-existent strangers who, beyond all expectations have welcomed us home, and to fathom what I know of my orphanage, and of the plight of thousands of children who passed through its halls and to experience it, and see if you can bear this, the fruit of your far-off day-to-day life and decision to adopt, for one single solitary second. I dare you.”
Wittgenstein and Justice, by Hanna Fenichel Pitkin.
The Grammar of Politics, edited by Cressida J. Heyes.
Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, by Leonardo Boff.
Debate Tactic: There is much pain in adoption, as well as what leads up to it. We can talk about what is “hurtful”, or we can focus on what the source sickness is. Healing belongs to all, not to those who have a leg up in terms of life’s advantages. Remove the personal; reveal the narcissism inherent to the discourse of adoption; reverse the power differential of the discussion; qualify/quantify “hurt”.