Adoptive Parents! Not Your Story to Tell.

[Update: Some fellow adoptees and myself are working on a statement concerning this book and its promotion; stay tuned!]

Are you tired of adopters telling our stories? So am I. I received word of a Zoom event taking place via email due to a conference mailing list I still belong to. It is sponsored by @lsupress (Louisiana State University Press) and the Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies, and will be moderated by Prof. Ruth Milkman of CUNY Graduate Center. It is a discussion among adoptive parents an adoptive parent and a parent via surrogacy examining the book Creole Son, written by E Kay Trimberger. Here is my response:

I’ve gotten used to the negative aspects of living as an adoptee in our current pro-adoption world, but I feel compelled to inform you that this email hits like a ton of bricks.

The web site ekaytrimberger.com is hugely problematic on about 100 levels. I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps with the title of her book? The use of the term “creole”—with obvious missionary, colonial, and imperial connotations—is misguided at best, distressingly offensive at worst.

Or perhaps with the reactionary, classist, and racist idea that we carry dysfunction in our genetic makeup—the remaining unseverable link to original family and community—that we are “The Bad Seed”?

Such ideas are evocative of the genocidal eugenicist bent of this country; the very concepts, methods, and modes, masked as beneficent and charitable, that gave us adoption in the first place. They should have died with the theater play and movie of the same name in 1956.

Furthermore, the antiquated idea that adoptive parents are “half the story”; or part of an equilateral triad; or indeed, that they are the transitive framers or sources of our narratives, with our voices a literal “afterword” and with us relegated to direct objects, is deeply disturbing given how this exactly maps onto the disagentive transactions that define our adoptions.

Adoptive parents have become brazen in their idea that they are part of our conversation. Contrary to the image the sponsors of this event might have that there is a neutral ground for them to promote such narratives, such events are, in fact, disturbing and dangerous manifestations of the dominant discourse on adoption.

The notion that there is an even playing field concerning the topic of adoption, or that there are academic and neutral “equal sides” of a debate to explore, has been untenable for decades now.

This is especially true for those of us who frame adoption within social justice and other liberatory frameworks, often censored from conferences and other promotional settings like this one.

Adoptive parents making brands out of themselves via White Saviorism and at our expense is redolent of the “good plantation owner” debates during the days of Abolition; they deserve contempt, not accolades.

They are pyromaniac firefighters, and should not be encouraged for the destructive nature of their narcissism. To what lengths will they go to literally erase us and our Voices?

This is beyond the pale for me in terms of the hegemonic mediation of adoption that many of us have been fighting for many, many years. It reflects poorly on all of those sponsoring this event.

I reiterate: This event is ill-advised and insulting to the long history of adoptee and adoption activism, and it should not go without rebuttal.

I recommend that adoptees attend and make their voices heard on the date of this event, Tuesday June 2nd at 4 p.m. EDT. To participate in this event, go to https://ucla.zoom.us/j/91508433359; the event number is 91508433359 and the password is 702044.


I am posting Kay’s response, submitted as a comment, here:

This is Kay Trimberger. Daniel, I wish you had read the book before you stated your outrage. I especially wish you had read the afterward by my bi-racial son, now in his late 30s and his approval of my research and analysis, of how it made him better understand his life. He liked that I wrote our story. Some of what he said is on my blog site, Adoption Diaries on Psychology Today,

I wish you had read what I had to say about behavioral genetics, how it rejects a biological determinism or a eugenics perspective, how it gives a lot of weight tot the environment, and how it uses adoptive families for its longitudinal studies. I have some criticisms of the field (as do others) but I think it brings a needed and responsible view of biology back into the study and practice of adoption.

I wish you had read what I say about the word Creole in the Louisiana setting, how they use it themselves and how it has a rich cultural heritage there. You might want to read a 2018 book, Creoles of South Louisiana, Three Centuries Strong.

I’m tired of those in the adoption field who hold a stereotyped view of adoptive parents or of anyone, and don’t listen to our stories. Adoptee and adoptive mother Amanda Baden will join us as a discussant on the zoom talk.

Andrew Solomon is writing a book on parents in non-nuclear families, including adoptive ones. He is not an adopter. or a therapist. I have seen him quote Daniel favorably, maybe in his amazon audio book, New Family Values, or in an article.

Kay


And my response:

The problem, Kay, has nothing to do with whether I read the book or not. I have often stated that my individual story doesn’t matter, that our individual stories, psychologies, or struggles are not the issue when what we are discussing is an issue of communal and social justice. The big picture is one of a dominant discourse concerning adoption, and the mythologies, historical and prevailing, that maintain adoption as a tool of a dominant class bent on the extirpation of those it deems unfit, marginal, or outside the parameters of what is seen as the status quo or the norm.

I was 40 years old when I came out of the fog. If you were to talk to my 30-something-year-old self, you might have heard something similar. The idea that this opinion is something static and unchanging, or that you can’t imagine this evolving or turning in a different direction, is in and of itself a condemnation of adopters who feel the constant need to be patted on the back for what they have wrought. In divorcing their actions from national foreign policies as well as domestic methods and modes concerning unwanted populations, they become pyromaniac firefighters putting out fires with gasoline.

And so it doesn’t matter if you write this book, or if anyone reads it, because it is the given; it is the same prevailing dominant discourse on adoption that we have had shoved down our throats for decades on end during our own lifetimes, and decades previous in the entire history of this heinous industry and practice. That you cannot see your own framing of his narrative and the removal of his agency concerning his own story as problematic—whether in this book, on your blog site, or in your writing for a magazine with its own history of censoring stories that challenge the adoption narrative—is all I need to know concerning where you are coming from.

Similarly, that any of the scientific fields that have been supportive of White Saviorism and adoption historically speaking, might, in some evolution that you have managed to bring about, challenge in any substantial way what they have wrought and continue to wreak in terms of adoption is ludicrous at best. Whether anthropology, sociology, psychology, social work, etc., I continue to wait for the voices internal to those areas of study that radically challenge the status quo that continues its incessant grinding out of adoptee bodies for the whims and whimsies of the adopter class.

The same goes for linguistics. “How they use it themselves” is not a license for you to use it yourself. I have friends who use terms for themselves that I would, out of respect, humility, and understanding, never in a million years deign to mouth myself. The hubris that allows for the study of others at a distance, and at the same time then imagines closeness, informality, and intimacy to use their loaded terms to describe them, is truly beyond the pale. In no way does it lessen the impact of those words, in fact, it only exacerbates that impact for the misuse and abuse of them.

You are tired! You are tired, you say. Compared to adoptees, you have no concept of fatigue as concerns adoption. I am not “within the adoption field”, I am an adoptee. I gave up my life to return to my land of birth. I lived their for twelve years before finding my family. What I have learned about adoption I would not wish on my worst enemy. No one has the right to tell my story other than myself. If this book had been written by the man formerly the child temporarily in your care, and you had used your privilege to support the writing, publishing, and dissemination of it, I would be the first to be cheering that on. But this is not your story to tell. You have eclipsed his very agency in the matter. This is the point, and this doesn’t vary whether I read the book or not.

Andrew Solomon, whatever “favorable” words or actions he might have for me, is, at the end of the day, still and similarly a gatekeeper of adoptee narratives. Personally I have decided, after witnessing my own time, energy, travel, and emotional labor discussing adoption with such individuals end up evaporating into nothing, that I am finished with such blocks placed on our words, our stories, our narratives. I am done with interpreted-as “stamps of approval” concerning everything I decry in terms of the adoption industry that end up being gleaned from and implied by such interactions. This holds true especially when nothing substantial of what I say makes its way into the end product, or when it is used reductively to provide an “alternative view” in a falsely constructed 50-50 debate. Amanda Baden is a colleague within the realm of adoption studies and a friend. Her work, our discussions, as well as the conferences she has worked on for two decades all allow for stringent critique and a radical challenging of the dominant discourse concerning adoption. Can you or Andrew say the same thing?

There are very few authors who pass muster with me in terms of their right to use adoption in obvious or oblique ways without being adoptees themselves. One is Frantz Fanon, who, in The Wretched of the Earth, compares the adopted child to the colonized mind. It is a brilliant analogy, and is useful for those of us attempting to come out of the fog in the face of those perpetrating the dominant discourse at our expense. Another is Malcolm X, whose understanding of his historical origins, the importance of naming, and societal extirpation challenges exactly the kind of genetic predeterminism that dogs Black populations to this day. Finally, I would point to Dorothy Roberts, who presents the Black body as a site of destruction by dominant methods and modes, especially in terms of foster care. Her work does more to break outside of the constraints of the imposed status quo of government laws, sciences, and every other aspect of structural violence that is the entire history of this nation-state and the industry and practice of adoption that it perpetrates to this day.

Because this remains the difference between us—you had a choice in your act of adoption, you had full will and agency, and you write about it, and you promote that writing, and you expect no critique, no push back. Unlike you I had no choice in my adoption, I find no catharsis in writing about it, and I would give anything to not think about adoption for one split second. Until that difference is acknowledged, until adoptive parents admit their role in the violence that is adoption and its repercussions, until they own up to what they have wrought via compensatory words and deeds, I will not support their telling of our stories. When you’ve done this, when you’ve written something along the lines of the above listed authors, let me know. Then, and only then, will I be happy to support writing about adoption as framed by an adoptive parent. In the meantime, consider canceling this event, and shredding this book. I will wholeheartedly support the solidarity represented by such a decision on your part.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in Adoption activism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Adoptive Parents! Not Your Story to Tell.

  1. Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh says:

    Fabulous rebuttal!!! I agree. Adopters need to shut up. They’ve been speaking for ALL of us. Hugely wrong, disrespectful and purposefully marginalizing.

    Thank you for sharing your outrage!! Go!! Speak up loudly!! I wish you were a workshop presenter or keynote!! Voices like your are incredibly important.

    ❤❤

    • Thanks a lot. It’s interesting to me, because I’ve met a lot of adoptive parents over the years who speak on our behalf, who check their privilege, who center adoptees, etc. They are out there. This event caught me by surprise because it is sponsored by people involved in adoption conferences and academic studies. I’m thinking, you just set us all back about six decades. I don’t think there’s room anymore for this “neutral” middle ground; this bogus “all sides of the argument” stance.

    • Maggie Wilkinson says:

      With you all the way Karen

  2. Lara/Trace says:

    I watched Andrew Solomon on some TV show recently and figured out he’s an adopter and a therapist – all to sell more of his books.
    I am so sick of this shit.

    • I was interviewed for a podcast of his. Hours of travel and emotional labor. Left me upset for days, but at least I thought: “I’m challenging the dominant cultural narrative of adoption.” Not a word I said made it into the final podcast. We are pawns in their business schemes; they promote themselves on our backs. And adoption carries on as before.

  3. nancy rodgers says:

    Wonderful Daniel!

  4. [Moved to the body of the post]

  5. Maggie says:

    Past and present legislation enables and promotes the adopters, NZ Adoption Act 1955 (still in place) places the priority, safeguards and supports the adopters as the rescuers, the sainted baby stealers. The Mother erased and the baby forever obligated …no wonder adopters think they were the only ones with a voice….and society is tricked in believing this fable of legal fiction. A belief that a child’s history, identity can be obliterated by the stroke of a pen and a new one moulded on. I too am sickened by the lies, the grief. Appreciate your words and work Daniel.

  6. Kathleen Chafin says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that only Adoptees can tell their own stories. As a Mother of Loss to Forced Adoption I have experienced the Adopter narrative of my life and feelings, without any knowledge of me. I lost my precious child because of that narrative, actually. I raised 4 kids that I did not give birth to, myself, and as I would never, ever, presume to tell their stories in a for profit book, I cannot support Kay’s book. The reason I am outraged is that Adopters, Social Workers and Adoption agencies drive the narrative, then tell me I am wrong on my personal experiences and feelings and dont know what I am talking about. This needs to end.

    • Thanks for the reply; first let me say that I am sorry for your loss. Second, this is the real crux of the issue, notions of agency. When we are reduced to non-agentive direct objects of adopters’ transitive actions (to put it in grammatical terms), then even the very way we think about these situations becomes oppressive. This exists in all aspects of the dominant discourse. To take a current example, note how the media will never interview any protestor currently going up against the police state of the USA. To take another, note how no “First World” warfare is ever expressed from the victim’s point of view anywhere in the media. It is endemic to how media work in our societies.

      This also reveals the problem with “50-50” concepts such as “flipping the script”, for example. If I do nothing to change the very way that adoption is structurally and mythologically framed, I am like a fish swimming upstream: A lot of movement, but not really getting anywhere. An adopter wants to describe me swimming upstream, and expects that I be grateful for their narration? I’m sorry, but no. The minimum I expect from adopters is their acknowledgement that what they have brought about in terms of their adoption is a violent act. Adoption is a familial, communal, and societal violence, and the experience of that is also violently negated when they are the ones to pick up the pen or the mic to express it in any way.

  7. Lara/Trace says:

    Daniel, I was interviewed years back for a RadioLab story on the Baby Veronica case going to the Supreme Court and they didn’t use one word I said. I was hurt but not surprised. I get it: promote adoption propaganda and the adopter rights. What gets me is that the media doesn’t challenge their narrative!

    • This is how it goes, right? No surprise, but hurt because we extend our benefit of the doubt to someone acting with what appears to be good faith which is, in fact, quite absent. Similarly for me, I had already vowed to myself due to similar experiences with the media in Lebanon that I would only do live interviews, because I didn’t trust the editing process of media outlets. Here I let my guard down because it seemed as if there was a willing ear. I was wrong; again no surprise. But the hurt and disappointment are quite valid.

    • Lara/Trace says:

      I wish I had talked to you prior to agreeing to be interviewed. I ranted on the American Indian adoptees blog about it but nothing I did changed the outcome for Baby V. And another weird thing was I wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post which they would not print.

    • That doesn’t surprise me. The media are all invested in propping up adoption as a mythology and a grace. Look at ridiculous NPR: When there was a debate about the fact that they nixed a Black adoptee in favor of a white adoptive mother whose Twitter handle is “@whitebrownsugar”, they deleted a lot of our critical comments because Scott Simon at NPR is an adoptive parent, has a book out, and they actively promote it [link]. In Lebanon, I only would deal with the left-wing Al-Akhbar. Here I refuse to engage with the mainstream media because they will never be critical of the liberal institutions they cherish as ideals. There are a lot of left-wing media out there willing to publish us: Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, etc. You might check them out!

    • Lara/Trace says:

      I did get the op-ed published (FINALLY) in a Native newspaper, which is ironic – since that audience already knew the facts. NPR is/was a disgrace. Balance? (I have published on Dissident Voice and Last Real Indians.)

  8. After promoting this post of yours, Daniel, on my Facebook, several of my adoption friends discussed it, including an adoptee friend of mine in-real-life. He is a psychologist, and only in recent years has he had any experience in facing his own adoption. He asked a simple question on my Facebook post, “What is a White Adopter?” and I honestly had to keep my laughter to myself, and quite frankly, my own shock and dismay of a man I’ve known as a friend for about 30 years. We are both white. I’m surprised that he couldn’t figure this one out on his own, but that is the white privilege he was born into and raised in. Yes, I politely educated him, which he thanked me for. Still, the evidence is all around us, with white adopters showing off their adoptees of color. It really bothers me. And yet, when I speak out against this, I get shot down every single time. No one seems to notice the glaring problem.

    But one that upsets me more is a therapist I used to know, a black man who proudly told me that he adopted his black son. I remarked to him, “You, of all people, should know what it’s like to have ancestors who have been owned. Nice going. Hope you’re proud of yourself, owning yourself the child of other parents.”

    He looked at me like I was the crazy one.

    • The realization that we’ve been colonized mentally (borrowing Frantz Fanon’s concept here) by the dominant cultural mode is a difficult leap to make, especially for those who have “arrived” professionally or otherwise within that culture. I try to remember how much time I spent “in the fog”, and my own late realization of what adoption represents, and make an effort to be patient…. I do feel in this moment though that there can be no more status quo; and that applies to everyone in Adoption Land….

  9. After all of the preparation I made with good intentions of setting aside the day and time, I had a schedule conflict on the day of the ZOOM meeting. Were you on it? How did it go?

  10. Pingback: Adoption Like This Has To STOP! – InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV)

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