What does it mean when a teenage girl finds it necessary to adamantly state she would never give her child up for adoption? What can it mean other than an absence of agency? What does it mean to use “[put you up] for adoption” as a menace or a threat, jokingly or not? What can it mean other than an acknowledgment of the dispossession and displacement of adoption historically as well as how we understand it today? What does it mean to read the same language concerning adoption whether we are talking about animals or human beings? What can it mean other than a tacitly accepted class-based power differential at work in society?
In the post entitled “Adopted as an epithet”, I described how the only people who take offense at the idea of using “adopted” in a pejorative way are those who have an (in)vested interest in adoption. For adoptees, I think it might be fair to say, there is an understanding of the stigma of adoption within society, and for all intents and purposes, we much prefer that society be honest with us instead of formalize, mediate, or mythologize reality away from what is, in fact, a cultural norm.
As a kind of informal proof of the cultural bias against adoption, I did a search on Twitter on the phrase “up for adoption”. At first it was kind of a lark—and admittedly an exercise in programming for me—but it has ended up intriguing me on a variety of levels. The results are striking in terms of how they map onto many current conversations and discussions that adoptees are having on the subject of adoption.
First and foremost, the majority of “up for adoption” posts have to do with animals. The disturbing link between the view of what or who is “adoptable” in terms of language used, power differential involved, and self-aggrandizement concerning the adopter is thus readily researchable. Secondly, the next largest group of such postings have to do with adoption as a “punishment” or an ultimate wished-for banishment, either for oneself or directed at someone else.
This is very striking to me. In a conference paper I wrote years ago based on the presentation I gave at the Adoption Initiative Conference at St. John’s University, I elaborate on the Qur’anic and Biblical invocations concerning the weakest members of society, namely, orphans. An analysis of displacement within these Books reveal it to be a punishment. I state:
The removal of someone from their family is an ultimate act of self-inflicted alienation (a seen-as God-derived punishment) in the Qur’an, since the only instances of such separation used in the Qur’an are metaphors for the punishment of removing oneself from the community of God—meaning, the result of one’s own sin. Thus you have the son of Noah drowned, the wife of Lot left behind and destroyed, the progeny of Abraham as being “on their own” in terms of their deeds and the judgment thereof, the exile of the Israelites in Egypt, Benjamin’s punishment to serve the king, etc. The point being that it is this separation—superseding the strong familial bond otherwise implied—that is the greater punishment, above and beyond the physical form it takes, now giving us a sensorial/metaphorical equivalence.
In the Adoption Honesty feed, you can hear this almost visceral acknowledgment of our connection to place, and what familial separation “stands for”. It is thus no coincidence that in the political and economic aspects of life concerning “modern” citizens of a cosmopolitan bourgeois class, members of this class are obliged to swallow the Lie that displacement is the norm. And thus the bizarre post-modern references to “nomads”, “border crossers”, “hybrids”, etc. Of “starter homes” and the destruction of the hometown. Of immigration and migration as means to a “better life”. It’s all connected.
I want to make it very clear that I do not find these posts offensive, despite how much my automated feed of them at @AdoptionHonesty might resemble other such efforts, such as @YesYoureRacist, for example. I do not wish to mimic the false outrage of adopters whom I decry for the hypocritical mythologies they espouse. I find it enlightening that economically and politically speaking much of this expression comes from those who, historically and otherwise, are of the classes targeted for adoption, and who have experienced displacement and/or dispossession, which forms a primary aspect of their (expressed or perceived) identity.
This resistance historically runs deep. At the top of this post is an image which is from the UK-based CORAM organization’s museum exhibition entitled “Threads of Feeling“. Here is a red heart that was sewn onto a child’s clothes as a memento of connection that the child’s mother hoped to use to be reunited in the future. This is not desperation, but one of active agency.
The background image in the header of the Twitter feed is from the PBS documentary on the Orphan Trains. In similar fashion, these, the “street Arabs” of the cosmopolitan centers of the East coast of the United States were shipped inland as indentured servants. To note is that this term was actually an anti-Semitic slur, used by Charles Loring Brace founder of the Children’s Aid Society, with Arabs seen as more lowly than the urban Jewish population. Here we come full circle to the general disdain for the poor, the displaced, dispossessed, and disinherited, that is not an aberration of American society, but is fundamental to and structurally of it. What is taking place today at the border can only shock those who remain at an elitist remove from the majority of the population.
In this light, to speak honestly of adoption likewise becomes a liberating and resistant act. To challenge the mythology of adoption becomes a primary obligation. To reveal the truth of the inherent cultural disdain for displacement and dispossession is our necessitated prerogative. There’s no middle ground; no compromise position. The voices that I am channeling here are that of resistance, and should be acknowledged as such, and I thank all of the authors for their indulgence of my use of their Words. I’ll gladly untweet anything should there be any disagreement along these lines.
The Adoption Honesty project will be an evolving one. Currently I am pulling a search feed off of Twitter every quarter hour, and retweeting a few of the resulting hits, without much in the way of discretion or discernment. As my understanding of the monstrous Twitter API grows, this will likely change. To this end, I am welcoming of feedback, (theoretical or practical) criticism, as well as comments for improvement. Also, if anyone is interested, I’m happy to discuss the tech aspect of this (I’m working in Perl, and running a cron job off of of a throwaway netbook computer. Thanks for reading.