[What do you think of this] “Gotcha Day” celebration? I read with horror on Facebook that one of my high school friends is having a Gotcha Day celebration for her son at his school tomorrow. I haven’t seen this woman in 23 years and we only chat once in a while on FB. She adopted her son in a foreign country while living there four years ago (the child is now six). What horrified me most about the whole “gotcha” thing—and yes, she actually called it that—is that she is ‘celebrating’ it at the child’s school! It’s not his birthday; it’s the day she adopted him. I find this exceedingly creepy. Any thoughts?
Answer: To answer your question, I’d like to take a step back and talk about birthdays for adoptees. For those of us from the orphanage here in Lebanon, most of our birthdays are set to prominent Catholic holidays that we were likely born “on or around”. This slight shift was a huge preoccupation of mine when younger; everyone else was sure of the exact time and date of their birth, and I had an approximation. In and of itself this is not such a big deal.
Later I was astounded to find out that many adoptees shared a hatred for their birthday like me, and only in looking back does this make sense. The birthday is in and of itself a marker that is erased, changed, altered—officially and unofficially—in order to suit bureaucratic needs and not any concept of “arrival”. And so to promote “Adoption Day” or “Gotcha Day”, which is purely bureaucratic in this sense is, to me, adding insult to injury.
Furthermore, when i recreate the timeline from the day I was “begotten” into one family to the day I was “gotten” (ugh) by another, it reveals a devastatingly sad story of likely procurement, not abandonment; I was not “chosen” as much as provided, and thus “gotcha” rings very trite and very hollow. Linguistically speaking, there is no other use of this word in English except in a pejorative way, or else in a way that implies a trick or a sending up of some kind.
And so the whole concept of “Gotcha Day” saddens me infinitely. For again it celebrates not so much the arrival of the child, but the action of the parents. It is an active verb that is done to a passive child, and this reminder is painful. This is very different from saying you were “born”, or “birthed”, which implies an action that the child is fundamentally part of. And thus the loathsome analogies such as “paper pregnancy” and the like.
It fundamentally reduces something very complex and multilayered into a cartoon parody; it forces something private (especially to a young child—I remember not wanting anyone to know about my adoption when I was younger) into a public sphere that is not always welcoming of such a fact (the first question I was asked in school was: “Why are you brown?”).
I’m glad it wasn’t around when I was young; I don’t know that I’d be able to forgive my adoptive parents such a thing.
Talking Power: The Politics of Language, by Robin Tolmach Lakoff.
Debate Tactic: The linguistic aspect here is, to me, rather startling. That I would never say “gotcha!” in any other way except to startle, or else entrap, pin down, or otherwise “grab” someone against their will is phenomenally astounding as far as its use in regards to adoption. In and of itself, this is enough reason to argue against it; everything else is downhill from there.
Addition: To further note is its genesis in animal adoption.