On the denial of our adoptions.

The recent comment that I received here on the blog reminded me of this response that originally appeared at the Dissident Voice web site in reply to the first article I wrote about adoption, which was also published (in Arabic) in the local press. I’m bringing it back up because it is rather mind-boggling the lengths to which those who support adoption will go to make this purely and only personal. By this I mean to say purely personal about them, and purely personal about us as individual adoptees, and this despite any framing of adoption outside of these parameters. That the above comment managed to disregard this entire web site literally floors me.

This is hugely insulting on many levels. It wraps up everything of the adoptive-class mentality in one gobsmack: “know your role”, “be grateful”, “we saved you”. And yet, at the same time, it doesn’t even have the respect to rise in turn to the “great gift” (from them) that supposedly was our education, or our eloquence, our ability to speak English, dare I say it (again, which we are to be grateful for). Furthermore, it dares to suggest that we should just “get over it”; that we should, in a logical contradiction of epic proportions, deny the very act that the adopter esteems above and beyond any other act of charity or beneficence. Should we deny our adoption via frameworks that are not based in the personal, we are taken to task. In being so taken to task, we are told to deny our adoption. It is like wrestling with a black hole of narcissism, selfishness, and willful ignorance. I know this will fall on deaf ears, but for the record, here is that reply I posted so many years ago, unfortunately still just as necessary to state out loud today.

Anonymous said on April 23rd, 2009 at 2:04pm:

Daniel, shouldn’t you be grateful for all that you were given by your adoptive parents? We always complain. There’s always something missing, always an excuse to nag about something isn’t there? Deprived of our origins? Really? You were given a home, a roof on top of your head, food on your table—a table to have food put on to begin with, the wonderful opportunity to be educated to one day write this blog. Do you think you would have gotten more out of a life in Lebanon? Through the war and turmoil? Would you rather have been thrown onto the streets at the age of 18 to fend for yourself? Had you not been adopted, chances are you would have wished you were. Do excuse me for assuming these things, it is far from my intentions to extract things from your life, but im taking you as an example, because your thoughts pushed you hard enough to write an article about them. You had the opportunity to live a life and the ability to make the recent choice to move to this other country that you seem to claim to be home—not in those words but in the same effect.

The concept of adoption is to help a child. What is a parent anyway? Someone to take care of us, help us out until we can stand on our own two feet, to teach us of the dangers of life. Why does it matter if that person is biologically related to us or not? Or if we are raised in the country we were physically born in? In the end of the day we are individuals. Surely ignorant kids at school might treat us differently if the colour of our skin doesn’t match that of theirs but life is what we make of it. You weren’t satisfied with the life you were living, so you went “back” to Lebanon. Isnt that amazing? you got the chance to live 2 lives. You got to learn the country’s language, you breathe in it’s smoggy air, you pass by the beggars on the way home and deal with the stubborn selfish people around you everyday. Isnt that what you wanted to feel complete? What else is it do you want to make you feel complete? To go back in time and change things? Why?? I might not understand because my feet are not in your shoes, I’m writing to you not to judge—but to understand. I cannot think the way you do, and I am no one to tell you that my way of thinking is the superior out of the two, but to let go of the past and make do with what we have just makes more sense. Why start an introduction with “hi my name is Daniel, i was adopted”? Why not “Hi, I’m Daniel? I’m a living breathing person, I love art. I’d like to do such and such before I die.” To give weight to “I was adopted” deprives you from everything else you are as a personality. Why look at it that way?

My reply:

Thank you for writing. Please note in my article where i say: “This article will paint me as an ungrateful adoptee, which is the furthest thing from the truth.” You can ask my parents or siblings if you would like confirmation of my status within my family. I hope you won’t mind me saying so, but the basic faults in your argument are answered by my article, so I might ask you to re-read it. I am going to assume that you are honest in your desire to understand, despite the many words you’ve put in my mouth and against which I am rather loathe to defend myself. But it seems that you are willing to engage and listen to a reply, and so I will try to answer your questions.

To re-iterate: there can be no understanding of the instant of adoption if we don’t see it as the moment that separates two sides of a crucial instant: a new beginning, yes, but one that nonetheless mirrors the violence of a ruptured family and community. The instant has two sides, not one; it cannot be described without invoking both what happened before as well as what happens after.

If anyone who argues a pro-adoption stand cannot consider that there is an equivalent break involved, a similar loss—that the gain on one hand of a child is counterbalanced by the removal of that child from a family and community—then this is simply another imposition of one particular world view over another. I will try to explain further.

At the end of the day, we are not individuals. We are part of a community. The nuclear family is a construct of a given part of the world, but it is not universal. All of the things that you argue on my behalf and which I agree with wholeheartedly concerning my place in my adoptive family have their counterargument in my absence from the lives of my parents and my extended family in Lebanon, as well as my community there. To argue as you do is to assume that given my life, I should ignore my past. This is like denying one’s own reflection in a mirror.

Your position assumes that one side of the equation has more validity, or a greater claim to its actions, simply for being on the right side of history, or on the right side of a class divide. It is also to argue that a child growing up with the benefits of this class (or the aspirations thereto) somehow has a “better” life than one who doesn’t. I don’t judge the world this way, nor its peoples, who have the right to a life lived according to how they define living, not based on superficial values or subjective ideals imposed on them from without. It seems to me that much of the world’s problems stem from this kind of assumed superior position of modernity, civilization, and universalism, and a denial of the validity of how life is lived by four-fifths of the planet.

As painful as it is, I am simply trying to shine some light on the countervailing reality of the act of adoption. Meaning, what I am arguing for is true equivalence—my parents in Lebanon had as much a right to a happy, healthy family as my adoptive parents do. No, I cannot go back and change things. All the same, I cannot consider my adoptive mother’s gain without acknowledging my mother in Lebanon’s loss. Life is not “what we make of it”; life is largely made outside of our ability to do anything about it. And thus my engagement with this issue.

International adoption is the function of systemic differences that can be traced back to colonialism, racism, and inequality between First and Nether worlds. It does no one any favor to deny that the Anglo-Saxon concept of adoption comes not from family creation, but from indentured servitude, and that such a concept in and of itself reinforces the systems of oppression that gave rise to it. To paint adoption as some kind of beneficent act of an objective status quo and benevolent culture is to romanticize and deny the history of adoption, and to basically accept these positions of inequality within the world as valid, eternal, and essential to the human condition.

Furthermore, it does no one any justice to simply claim “well, that’s the way it is: deal with it.” To do this is to validate the racism and economic injustice that is inherent to if not a desired function of a given system. This injustice isn’t simply a matter of a few “ignorant kids”, certainly we can agree on that. To state it as such is facetious, and disingenuous in the extreme. Letting go of the past is one of the requirements of a system that wishes to remove us from our context, our history, our land. I refuse this categorically, and am actively engaged to fight against it as I can; thus my article, and thus my life now.

I don’t make the qualitative difference between First and Other world lives that you seem able to make. Had my life been here, my life would have been here—nothing more, nothing less. Not better, not worse. To argue anything else is to make specious and ignoble value judgments concerning people’s lives, which I think is a very precarious if not an invalid and suspect argument to make. I would only point out that this difference in quality of life is a function of the excesses of particular classes and of a continuous and relentless undoing of any progressive force in the East at the hands of the West.

For the record: My article is only tangentially in the first-person singular, and on purpose at that. For it is not me who starts off a sentence, “I was adopted.” I have let go of all of the fragmented personality and identity markers that are so important in an Anglo-American way of looking at oneself and the world. I have started over in Lebanon from zero; I don’t define myself as anything at this point. But it begs the question: Why is the adopted child asked to “give up” all of the slivered, idiosyncratic identity markers that his or her counterparts in his or her adoptive “home” worship and hold up as defining of them as people? This is a lot to ask of someone, if you think about it. This is to render the adopted child ever infantile, invalid, and anonymous.

“I am adopted” is, on the other hand, often the second statement I make, but only because there is always that question: “Where are you from?” It would not be asked if it were not of universal import. This is asked by different people for different reasons, but to deny the importance of place in our lives—and thus, of displacement—is to ask more of an adopted child than you ask of yourself. Those who have the luxury of place and a branching family tree that goes back for generations do not have the right to tell an adopted child to “get over it”.

Why? Because it is to reduce the violence of abandonment to a non-occurrence; and the child’s history to nothing. It invalidates and annihilates not just the child, but his progenitors. I use the word “violent” because I know more about our truths as adoptees than I care to and I dare you to suffer knowing what I know. The act of abandoning a child is not a simple bureaucratic procedure. It is thus not right to deny the mirror side of adoption its due weight and focus. It is wrong to see only one side, and to deny the rights of the child, the mother, the community from which a child comes from. It is a political statement; the silencing of adoptees who speak out a political act.

Lebanon is not “home”, in the sense you imply; I doubt it ever will be. I make no claim to be “Lebanese”. To learn the language as you state, for example, is to always know how far away you are from having learned it from birth. This is like living behind a glass wall. In any case, I have found a “place”—my neighborhood, my community—and it is much more welcoming of me coming to it from the outside than where I grew up was of me coming to it from the inside. This is not a complaint, or a voicing of ingratitude, this is a statement of fact, and one that is shared by the hundreds of foreign-born adoptees I have come to know, especially those who go “back”. And should there be any hope of changing this world, then each of us will have to review and correct our notions of what we have always taken for granted.

For example, I now live where I am surrounded by others who are displaced for various reasons—economic conditions, wars in their home countries, previous wars on Lebanese soil, refugee status from a neighboring entity, etc. In no way do I deny the advantages I’ve had in my life. But to say that the displaced have no right to the same ability to ground themselves as those who have the luxury to do so is a huge injustice. I mean no offense, but this sense of luxury is likewise pointed out in your desire to remain “anonymous” on these boards, despite the fact that [the included IP number with your reply shows] you are posting your missive from the AUB campus, or via the university’s computers. If you wish to remain hidden and yet make this a public discussion despite your ability to walk over and talk to me in public or in private, so be it. It might behoove you to admit, however, that some of us are literally anonymous, and not by choice.

There is work to do in this horrible world; I would only like to correct your notion of someone sitting and complaining, licking his wounds. I have activated myself and if I am focusing on the source of the problem as I see it, it is because I can no longer abide by the treatment of the symptoms without getting to the dis-ease, as it were. Adoption as you describe it is an attempt to treat symptoms. Ironically, it could likewise be described in terms of the selfishness and desire for “completion” that you ascribe to me. So the question remains: Why, then, actively target adoptees who speak up, who speak out? If I can come to terms with adoption as such, why can’t you?

I am no longer concerned about my adoption in personal terms, but have moved on to the institutional level, and hope to change things in that regard. If I never come to a sense of “completion” then so be it. My striving is not about any sense of personal completion, which is only made obvious by what I have left behind and what I no longer have. In any case, it has nothing to do with adoption per se, but is hugely influenced by this equally valid part of my life, which I refuse to forget, or “get over”, simply because the circumstances of my life afterwards allow such a dismissal, as you propose.

Thank you again for your reply. I appreciate your advice to “let go of the past”. Unfortunately I see this as being more problematic than actively acknowledging and working through this other side of the mirror. I could likewise accuse you of living in an endless present; I would hope I am wrong. The Qur’an invokes: “…let every human being look to what he sends ahead for the morrow”. Personally, I do not see this as involving forgetting the past, but remembering it, in order to think ahead, and move forward; to send ahead. And not for me, but for those we leave behind.

I hope I have managed to clarify my position for you, and I remain open to fruitful dialogue concerning the subject.

Salamun.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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3 Responses to On the denial of our adoptions.

  1. Lesley Earl says:

    thank you thank you(I’m doing a happy dance) this I relate to. you’ve expressed what I’ve felt but not understood.

  2. Mark Fryer says:

    No, your words do not fall on deaf ears, at least not here. Your eloquence and thoughtful articulation are a refreshing change from the standard adopto-speak so commonly encountered. Kudos and thank you for finding the words so many of us know in our minds but perhaps lack the ability to string into readable text!

  3. kathleen says:

    There are so many ironies, double standards, and contradictions that are brought to the surface in this piece. Adopted individuals are the definition of displaced, and we have every right to embark on a journey to ground ourselves. The fact that we are judged for it, or need a permission slip and censorship, is a continuance of the “indentured servant” role and the oppressive mindset to which it gave rise. I thank God that there are compassionate and intelligent people like Daniel, who speak some universal truths that all adopted individuals feel or have felt. There is so much retribution from the world directed at those who speak out about the many emotional and material injustices done to adopted people.

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