The personal is political and the political is personal

Several years ago when I became a SAHM, I joined a “mom’s group” in my city. I thought it would be a good place for me to connect with other SAHMs and give my kids an opportunity to make friends too. Let’s just say it was a miserable experience. I had hoped that I would find some SAHM’s that shared my world view, but unfortunately this group just wasn’t a good fit. For a few years, I avoided other SAHMs because I believed they were “all the same” and I thought I’d be unwelcomed.

As it turned out, I just had to look some more, because eventually I did find some SAHMs that I connected with.

I had the same experience with finding my TRA community.

I originally joined a group of korean american adoptees back in 2000 because of my friend K. I ended up going to Korea with some of them later that year. But after some bad experiences, I almost stopped hanging out with other adoptees all together. What I didn’t realize was that I had expected this first group of kads to fulfill all my expectations and share all the same experiences and opinons. But we didn’t – we were a very diverse group in age, geographical location, marital status, professions and adoptive experiences. Oh, and we had completely diverse personalities as well.

What I have since learned is that when we are deep in the middle of some kind of search for a community of others who share our views, we are likely to be the most judgemental and defensive. Then we say hurtful things or become argumentative, instead of listening and understanding. Naturally, we are looking for others to validate our experiences. I remember thinking I’d found some kads that shared my experiences and felt betrayed when it turned out they didn’t. I know it was silly for me to have felt betrayed when these kads were just
expressing their experiences, but I was just longing so much for someone who thought like me.

Recently, a post on another kad blog spurred on a comment from a fellow kad who
disagreed with the contents of said post and proceeded to make some pretty nasty comments.

My first reaction was to raise the hackles and want to post a comment skewering said adoptee for the very unsavory comment. Then, I felt an immense sense of pity, because in my own judgemental mind I immediately *assumed* that this poor kad must be in complete and utter

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I know there exists this very deep and divisive canyon of extremist thinking regarding international and transracial adoption. On the one side are those who are against the practice of IA and TRA, and on the other side are the proponents.

Or at least, that’s what everyone wants you to think. The reality is, most of the adoptees I know are somewhere in the middle. And a lot of other non-adoptees are too.

But, as if we don’t have enough things to navigate through because of our experiences in adoption, TRA’s are double sucker-punched each and every time someone wants us to “take sides.”

I still have a hard time believing the kad who commented is not in denial about his/her experience because the words used sound suspiciously close to what I’ve heard for years from a-parents or from the general non-adoption-triad public at large. Words such as “lucky”
and “grateful” and “blessed” thrown against “selfish” and “bitter” and “ungrateful.”

I was thinking that perhaps it all came down to the very last sentence of the comment, where the kad writes, “Stop sounding like a selfish teenager and making those of us who appreciated our adoptions look bad. We all aren’t ungrateful, sorry souls.””

There it was – the reason why this kad was hatin’ on the TRA’s who speak about the negative side to TRA. I can only speculate that maybe this kad was angry because s/he is feeling the pressure to defend the positive aspects of adoption in order to avoid being categorized as a
“bitter, angry adoptee.” Because there is no middle ground to take, in this debate of either/or. Adoptees are left feeling that they must either “appreciate their adoption” as this particular kad stated, or they are labeled “bitter.”

It is to everyone’s detriment to continue this charade that adoption is always a perfect, shiny, sparkling thing. Refusing to acknowledge the problematic nature of adoption is irresponsible and potentially damaging. Sticking your fingers in your ears while singing “la la la” does not mean that the complexities and problematic issues of adoption go away, it merely means you are participating in the continued growth of said problems and issues. Maybe even fanning the flames a little.

If you fell off your bike and got an ugly road rash on your knee, would you clean it (even though it stings) and treat it well, hoping to minimize the scarring? Or ignore it until it becomes a big, puss-filled, raging infection?

Adoption seems like a very personal thing because we are dealing with the most intimate and personal of all human functions – procreating and continuing the species. Of course, it’s personal to the a-parents who find themselves wanting to parent. It’s personal to the
birth mothers who find themselves unsupported and pressured by society to “give up” their children for other people to raise. It’s personal for the children caught up in between.

But adoption is not merely a personal thing, it’s much bigger than that. It’s a function of very large and very impersonal societal, governmental and institutional systems. Adoption is a multi-million billion dollar industry. There are people who profit off the agony and despair of children being forced out of one pair of arms and into another. Including social workers like myself, working in the field of “child welfare” [but trust me, I would be more than happy to find another profession should we find ourselves in a world where every child was healthy, safe and living with their families]. Adoption is also a reflection of how societies value women and the mechanisms of social control used to force certain behaviors from women. It always makes me scratch my head to think that the countries that proudly and publicly wave the feminist banner are the ones who profit most directly from the abyssmal treatment of other women through the mechanism of adoption. Why are we not supporting and fighting for women to keep their children – if not with the mothers individually, then within biological family systems?

Sometimes we get so caught up in the personal that we forget to think critically about whether we’ve been suiting up to defend a bad idea. Our societies have had numerous such incidents in our recent and not-so-recent pasts. Those who question the establishment are always the first to be thrown to the lions. We need those who are willing enough to put themselves forward to criticize and critique systematic processes and policies and fight for change.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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