This is the final question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].
This is the “meta” question that is only revealed after years spent answering such questions as represented by the past month of answers, and which themselves only skim the surface of what need be discussed. Reframed, this might be asked thusly:
When is it our turn to ask the questions? When is it our turn to find answers? At long last, at what point do we assume any kind of position of strength among all of this seemingly endless back and forth, both with others, but more importantly, among ourselves?
Answer: In considering this whole exercise of questions and answers at face value, we ignore the unstated but now quite obvious “dark matter” of adoption discourse. By this I mean to say the systemic nature of what we are up against; its existence whether we acknowledge it or not; it’s actual need for a “useless debate” that leaves us spinning wheels and not accomplishing much; and beyond that—and perhaps most importantly—the intrinsic danger of our own mimicry of that system. As mothers, true families, adoptees, and communities thereof, half of our battle is being aware of how our actions resonate within the abysmal echo chamber of the mediated adoption landscape, and then how we might act in ways that do not in and of themselves exacerbate the societal injustice we are activating against.
I once joked to a friend that the discussion of “Democrat” vs. “Republican”—or of any two-party electoral conflict—was like that of docile cows, awaiting their turn in a slaughterhouse, discussing “ketchup” vs. “mustard”. This maps readily onto any discussion which ignores the context of the debate, or how such a context itself frames its very structure, and thus predetermines its outcome. Despite the positing within the media of a recent “anti-adoption” activism, the roots of this resistance are long and deep. How many decades have adoptee activists been in the trenches trying to change states’ laws concerning birth certificates? A century ago, women were sewing symbolic scraps of fabric onto their absconded-with children in the hopes of reunion. What does it mean that 100 years after this, and after 50 years of my own displacement, that nothing has significantly changed in the world of trafficking/adoption, except for a particularly obnoxious formalization of the process? A spoonful of sugar to help down the bitter pills otherwise very hard to swallow? There exist architects whose sole responsibility is designing slaughterhouses such that entering cattle do not sense their own impending doom; that they do not react, or manifest any fear, so as not to spoil the final “product”. We have been cajoled by similar “architects” to not react by the “designed” and “designer” discourse surrounding the subject of adoption.
But first, an aside on such bureaucratic context, that I know many can relate to: I was working locally for a time with a group that does research for adoptees returning to Lebanon, similar to such organizations in other source countries. They are not an NGO, they are not registered with the government, they are not a non-profit charity. They are working for a local television station, which makes of our life stories much in the way of broadcast soap opera. In the absence of anyone else doing this kind of research, they have built up a network of connections that has no official status outside of the commercial nature of their work. When they move on to something more lucrative, we will once again be forgotten, with no record left behind. This is of course extremely bothersome, but this is how it works. I have been offered many occasions to speak on such television programs, but I have refused.
I had little choice but to work with this group. We went through my collected bogus paperwork, bogus passport, and bogus references and one by one checked off the information contained in them as being useful or not (mostly not). We made full connection inquiries, meaning, everyone within the process was tracked down for any kind of information they might have (or not; mostly not). For the million times I’ve gone through this on my own, it is somehow exponentially more painful when it becomes “official” in this unofficial sense, and is thus the “last ditch effort” before calling it quits. That it is inherently invalid on multiple levels concerning its propriety; its legality; the disturbing reaction of those supposedly advocating for me who still express much in the way of unwanted pity; as well as my wholly absent sense of agency in the matter is viscerally disturbing. Yet there is no real alternative.
The bureaucracy of it all is stunning, and the hoops my lawyers have jumped through—in an effort to “rectify” a falsehood designed to remain unrectified—are rather phenomenal. For just one example, I needed to obtain a letter from a lawyer in order to look into the archives of a government ministry where police reports are kept. This is where the local police say the report made about my purported abandonment (as documented on the two scraps of paper furnished by the nuns of my orphanage, later corroborated by my orphanage register entry when they finally deigned show it to me) would be kept if indeed this is how events transpired. I say “if” because I have my doubts. A lot of doubts. It wouldn’t be so bad if anyone treated my doubts as valid, but this minimum is not forthcoming. I mean to say that I tend to call everything into question, such as my passport (was it made at the orphanage as well? Does it share the same handwriting of all my other papers?); those I work with tend to give these documents credence. Which is my main point here: What does it mean to be an active player in the burlesque charade of one’s own life story?
This charade has many bit players. For example, I heard second-hand from the family of the priest who baptized me that apparently they were “touched” by my story. Yet they maintain that he “was not aware” that he was giving children false names. This is patently ludicrous. In Lebanon, there is a finite set of valid family names, and there are Arabic words which are meaningless in this regard. There is no way, therefore, he did not know. Especially when, as we are finding out now, these “names” often moved into the realm of mockery: “Noel Hefleh (Christmas Party) for one child born around December 25, for example.
But a focus on the systemic aspect of it raises further questions: How and when was the list of false family names that were assigned to us produced? By whose banal efforts? Based on what incentives? And by what extent of denial do we not refer to this act openly and honestly? Why are we pretending here? Pretending that I, like most of us, was abandoned, and not, more likely, traded, trafficked, coerced for a sum of money? For what is this pretense, for whom these mythologies? Is it to save my feelings? I’ve been to the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the abyss in terms of what I’ve learned about the depravity of child trafficking, brokering, and breeding infants for adoption; do my feelings really need to be spared at this point? Please, spare me this greater insult.
This charade has a vocal chorus. This is revealed in the “protective” lies that flow from the mouths of orphanage and hospital workers, many of religious orders, protecting the power structure: “Those archives were burned during the war”. No, in fact, they weren’t. A friend’s stoic resolve resulted in her obtaining her paperwork from a hospital basement after being told such a story. How existential is this inability to find resolution? It was, for example, on the third attempt seeking my entry in the civil registry—and only after making a huge scene in the office—that my lawyer found “me”. And if I had stopped at one? At two? The vagaries of these efforts weigh us down with doubts, and later with regrets. To borrow a visual metaphor from The Wizard of Oz, it’s like being forced to address the overwhelming fire-and-smoke image that glares down at your bodily insignificance when you know there’s a man behind the curtain standing right there next to you. That he maintains his power position after you point him out reveals how Kafkaesque our situation truly is.
I have become hugely sensitive to this need to maintain mythologies. In particular, I am quite sensitive to anything I do that might solidify this mythology, and thus make it more difficult for those coming after me. The path of least resistance is to fall back on the luxury and privilege afforded to me via adoption, but I know this is a trap. I could have continued to hound the orphanage in the hopes of finding a sliver of information after they threatened to destroy all of the records in their possession; but I could not live with such an outcome. I could very easily speak on television in a vain attempt to find family; but this very act supports a super-mediation of our Voice, and it sustains a power structure that I find repugnant, and which I refuse to support to the extent of which I am capable. My “personal” needs must take second place; by this I mean to say that we must err on the side of all, and at all times.
This charade has a large and eager audience. Our stories become trifling entertainment for such an audience’s own psychological and political needs. Our dismissal becomes affirmation for their own maintenance of the power structures we decry. Many who read this will be nonplussed and say that this is “different” from their own concerns as domestic adoptees. For the record, I don’t see a difference between international and domestic adoptions, in terms of class difference and inequality of power. I don’t see any difference between my actions here and domestic adoptees trying to unseal records, or obtain medical information, or who attend the legislators’ convention every year for decades on end, or who in any other way continue to battle for some semblance of justice for what should be rightfully ours, genetically, genealogically, legally, medically, ethically, and morally. I don’t see any difference between this and mothers who feel helpless and unable to speak up about the theft of their children; mothers activated in Guatemala and Argentina and Spain demanding answers; mothers in China who leave their own homes and families to track down their trafficked children. We are united via such dispossession and displacement.
To self-segregate, to see ourselves as a passive audience, to not activate ourselves on this level is to mimic adopters who, with their class status and position in society, are able to do infinitely more than those without such connections. That an immigrant woman—without means, without access to online chats, without the basic societal acknowledgment of her status as a living human being that we all take for granted—still manages to find the energy to fight to have her child returned to her is both an inspiration and a painful reminder of how much of nothing our endless discussions and hashtag passivism concerning the topic accomplishes. That there are infinite parades of functionaries from the various pillars of society who pat us on the head and congratulate our “speaking up” and “speaking out”, but not our “acting up” or “acting out”, should give us great pause. They are functional to this system, active agents of its will, and they have much to answer for.
For how are we expected to handle the systemic nature of things at this, the end game of it all, the end perhaps of our searches, or of our very narratives, when we have absorbed the lies, the deceits, the hideous truth of child trafficking, that require of us that we still pretend that in any way the system might one day be forthcoming? That we still must give the System its due respect and honorific regard? That we still have to work within the paradigm of the adoption mythologies and infrastructure that we know to a despairing degree are false, and to an unfathomable level? A system that we must come to understand is designed and maintained to put us in our place, if not expel us from the body politic, to exterminate our Voice?
“Ketchup, or mustard?”
In a class I teach called “Voice Manifest”, I show a movie entitled Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story. One of the readings that came out of research for the class is entitled: “Rhetorical Exclusion in the Trial of Leonard Peltier”; it maintains that the discourse of the courts, laws, media, etc. conspired not just against Leonard Peltier in his case, but against American Indian culture. At the end of his trial, Peltier, fully aware of his own railroading at the hands of the FBI and legal system, made a statement in order to enter into the record the mistreatment of American Native peoples—these were the self-same Natives who were barred from the courtroom. The prosecution rebuts his statement, and Peltier tries to regain his ground. The judge ignores his questions, and then interrupts him to pass a guilty sentence. The article states:
The legal rules, regulations, and language superceded the only informal attempt Peltier or other American Indians made to attain power in the courtroom. Peltier’s cries appear to be a desperate effort to fight for legitimacy, but he is silenced by the very power structure he is trying to fight.
This is our plight. That we might always answer and never ask questions reveals the power differential at work. That we might attempt to “enter into the record” our protest without considering the nature of that record or its audience undoes our effort before we begin. Leonard Peltier remains in prison, and I would be willing to venture that the majority of Americans have no idea who he is, or how he ended up where he is, or in fact that the prison system in the United States is now the equivalent of what reservations/internment camps have historically been for marginalized populations. This acculturation of ignorance is quite willful.
It begs the question: Why would we continue to think that working within the system is a possibility, here or anywhere in the world for that matter? How do we get past this systemic delegitimization, barring an overthrow of every wretched aspect of it that sustains adoption as an industry and a practice? And here we come to those who have no issue with their own inherent ability to heed and heel and point and toe the line in order to acquire a sense of accomplishment. How to explain adoptees who, similar to super-mediating adoptive parents are so completely focused on their own personal narrative that they refuse to see how our stories as adoptees map onto those who are equally displaced and dispossessed? There is no explanation, except to link it to our adoptive acculturation. We are active agents contributing to our own Darkness.
This charade has its hecklers. This is a toxic strain within the adoption discourse, but it needs to be brought to light. For example, what do we make of a “support group” for adoptees that destroyed years of history found in thousands of informational posts? This targeted action resulted in the signing off of the board by many for whom it was too painful to receive from others “like us” the treatment we get from the dominant realm. Furthermore, the destruction of history and the “infinite present” are prerequisites of disempowerment, historically speaking. What then to make of the epithets that flowed behind our backs that we were “acting adopted”? Why would we use the same enfeebling and culturally based diagnostic terms that are designed to keep us Voiceless against each other? Where does that really place us in this battle? To this I counter: “And you are acting like adopters”.
What does it say when adoptees, claiming activist stances, wallow in self-advocacy, self-help, guru-isms, and other disturbing trappings of our narcissistic acculturation? Who don’t see “cultural appropriation” as a feeble stepping stone to something much deeper, but as a goal in and of itself? Who support immigrant deportation? Who state that rioters in London “have it coming to them”? In all cases, again mimicking the dominant culture in all of its ignoble classifications and categorizations and stereotypes? What does it mean when such adoptees determine that the “boat rockers”, the “radicals”, the “vocal” are an impediment to their careers, to their own arrival at the table of power, or to their ability to gather crumbs thrown to them therefrom? Following every other battle for civil rights historically speaking, can we still afford to not have a discussion of what it means to “Step ’n’ Fetch It”—or, indeed, to refuse to do so—within the world of adoption? To accept the basic premise of our “luck” or our “salvation” class-wise or otherwise is to embody the brutality and violence of our adoption and carry it forward a hundredfold.
These are, I know, rhetorical questions, and painful ones at that. Given the amount of time I spent in my own fog and happily drinking my own soma and Kool-Aid cocktails, I do not bring this up as an accusation, but as a plea. I am not concerned with whether someone agrees with me or not. I simply aim for a true starting point to the debate; an even playing field. I do not buy into the idea that we “are all entitled to our opinions”. It shuts down any discussion before it even has a chance to occur; it destroys any kind of moving forward. Linguistically and sociologically speaking it is an invalid premise that comes from a particular cultural context; an affectation of our acculturation. For our statements, actions, and agency as such all have repercussions on all whom we are connected to, directly and indirectly.
I have said this before: Unlike adopters, unlike the adoptees beholden to them, I would give anything to not write on this subject. I would give anything for one minute of one day to not think about adoption. I would do anything to avoid the constant reminder of this status, especially as it expands out to others equally displaced and dispossessed, with whom I feel great common cause. I would love to be able to understand what it means to “enjoy” this status as they seem to; this in-fact stasis. I look back at the past two months of words posted here and I am left completely and utterly undone. There is no catharsis to be found here.
Our voices, in the separate and in the singular, are but whispers in the void. Our voices, as active as they might seem to be, are not Action. Our Voice, not necessarily united, but seen as an aggregate whole, a spectrum valid only in its completeness, going from most docile to most radical, is a powerful tool for the actual change needed in society to rectify the injustice of our adoption. At the end of these two months of musings and questions/answers, I might only ask that at the very least, even among our disagreements and disaccord, can we not acknowledge the validity of this, our Voice? Not what I say, but what we say, collectively speaking? Is there any hope to be found by remaining firmly entrenched within and wholeheartedly affirming the status quo that was the direct cause of our adoptions in the first place? If so, can those happy within this Matrix at least formalize their actions, and admit to themselves the effect this has on the rest of us, with a dropping of the pretense of “activism” where none exists, and an acknowledgment of the desire to see us silenced? Can we not pretend we are changing the System until such a time that we actually have managed to change it? Me, I want to be done with this charade.
Is this even possible? This is my question.