Have you felt like you’re always searching for something?

This is the 12th question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].

The following question originally appeared on Yahoo!Answers:

Adoptees have you felt in your life like you’re always searching for something? [Note: A non-adoptee replied that she always wished she were adopted.]

Answer: Those who claim that they used to “wish” they were adopted have the luxury to do so; it is the equivalent of those who hang out in places normally off limits to them—referred to as “slumming it”—meaning, doing something that is considered outside of their norm, knowing that at any time they can retreat to the safety of their “normal” world. It speaks of someone comfortable in such a world, but wanting the “edge” of those—and this is important—they do not consider to be like them. In this light, compared to those not comfortable wherever they might be, or not afforded the benefit of the doubt as starting from the “norm”, it is offensive to say, much less even consider, and reveals our starting power differential.

To search implies a quest for something that is definable, nameable, even if unknowable, or intangible: “The search for the Holy Grail”, for example. Here the above question explicitly stresses on the undefinable—“searching for something” which is a phrase most often used for the forgetful. “I got up and went into the bedroom, but I forgot what I was looking for; but I knew I was searching for something”. Even here, benefit of the doubt is given to the one searching; their relation to place or space is not questioned, and the object of the search, though forgotten, still exists in its unnamed state.

It is, on the other hand, not possible to define the feeling of “searching” when you have no connection to what it is you are searching for, much less a relationship to the places you might search. By this I mean to say that the “luxury and privilege” of being of a place allows me both to explore that place, as well as “slum it” elsewhere. Without that connection, searching takes on a paradoxical if not existential significance.

This is similar to trips and destinations: I might very well say, “I’m going to the store” or “to the movies”, implying that I am sure of where I am, where I’m going, and how I’ll get there. But it is much rarer (and infinitely more sad on some level) to say: “I’m getting in the car and am going to drive, but I don’t know where to”; or “I’m leaving, but I don’t know where I’m going or how I’ll get there”.

This latter statement, as odd as it might sound to those of a particular class, defines many who are displaced, including emigrants, immigrants, refugees, migrant workers, etc. Yet even here, there is a sense of agency and actionable will implied in the verb, meaning, despite the “not knowing”, the active agent is still the one fleeing or leaving; their movement is still of their volition.

This leaves us with those displacements that do not involve such agency: Trafficking, kidnapping, and, contradictory to how it is viewed, adoption.

Adoption can thus be categorized as a violence of displacement, and the discussion of it cannot take place in terms of willed action. As such, it is only a compounding of this violence to ask the adoptee to accept their circumstance and attempt to ascribe to them the agency or ability to search that their very displacement robbed them of. For the sake of comparison, we would never ask someone kidnapped or trafficked to consider themselves to be in a better position or stature, and the entire notion of the resolution of their status legally and physically speaking revolves around their bodily “return” to a place that they are “of”.

In this light, the migrant worker demanding rights, or the Palestinian refugee demanding return, or the immigrant demanding acceptance in a foreign land is a furtherance of their sense of agency, and implies a knowledge that they’ve left something behind, yet there is validity in such a self-willed exile. This is often referred to as seeking a “better life”, but it doesn’t deny the validity of their sense of self as relates to their former place. Exiles of a different class position speak of this in literary, psychological, and sociological terms.

For the exile, we would never think tell them that they are “better off”, yet those of the nether classes hear this all the time. That the adoptee hears this is thus the very contradiction of the class position they, at the very least, might feel belongs to them, as a function of their adoption. And so it can be seen that for the adoptee denied such “place” the notion that one life is “better” than another life is an unbearable discrepancy, as well as a fundamental fallacy. It is a sick and twisted judgmental view that can only come from a culture that considers itself to be dominant on the planet, and is only expressed by those of such a culture, or desirous of belonging to such a culture.

Exacerbating the problem in such places is the complete destruction of any valid local culture seen as a manifestation of place. Everything is WalMart and Disneyland, former-suburbia-now-exurbia, and this false market-based culture aims to re-establish a Hollywoodized existence via nostalgia for things that never were and never happened. And so Martha Stewart; the Disney Channels; Celebration, Florida and Las Vegas; and the like. In some way, then, we have all been rendered “without place”, only some of us are much more painfully aware of it than others. The definition of one’s “place” thus becomes a game of comparison with those who are placeless; the placeless are thus needed for those of a particular class and culture to literally feel “grounded”. This explains the attempt to “save” only the children of those whose non-existence as “lost” forms the basis of the “First World’s” sense of well-being.

And so living as an adoptee in the United States is a double whammy of dispossession from anything resembling an identity or culture that would make one want to put down roots of any kind: The roots one puts down don’t match the soil or the climate; they won’t hold one steady; they aren’t nourishing; they are painful to consider. A grafted rose is no less alien for its beauty or perfume. The adoptee is asked to consider these superficial aspects as valid in and of themselves, and to ignore his or her transplantation: This is not a valid request, and the problem remains with the one asking such a thing of him or her. This question thus has no validity whatsoever.

To live as an adoptee is to understand what Limbo is.

To live as an adoptee who returns to his or her land of birth, or who searches for his or her roots or origins, is to understand what Purgatory is.

To live as an adoptee who is denigrated for such searching, who is put down and castigated for seeking a sense of self, who is thus denied a footing in the place they were brought to against any concept of will or agency, and who is asked questions that of their own stating define verily the adoptee’s inability to answer them, is to understand what Hell is.

Cultures Of Globalization

The work of Mike Davis

“The New Abolition: Ending Adoption in Our Time”, by Daniel Ibn Zayd

“On trauma, memory, community, place. | 0/31”, by Daniel Ibn Zayd

Debate Tactic: The power differential in this question requires an analysis of who is able to say what, as well as a comparison to other displacements and dispossessions in order to provide a kind of “hierarchy” in which to put adoption. This reveals the true nature of the question, and the truth behind its asking.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in Q&A and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Have you felt like you’re always searching for something?

  1. Janes Pain says:

    Ya I understand I started to travel the world at 16 looking for somthing….Amazingly enough I spent a year in india which at the time I didnt even realize was the other half of my heritage. I also loved paul simons song………I ended up in Canada which I now call my home but it is home to many displaced people it is the mixing bowl of the world…..

  2. It is interesting for me to now review my words from a while back now that I feel I am very close to finding my family here in Lebanon. The sense of sheer groundedness and re-establishment of sense of place as described here is exhilarating and is, for the moment, quite enough for me….

  3. This post was much more greatly developed for the introduction to a book on adoption narratives. The file can be downloaded as a PDF here:


Your thoughts, comments, remarks, additions....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s