Angry Adoptee

Recently a friend of mine discovered that her colleague is an adoptive parent and is currently in process waiting for their second daughter from China. He had seen my film clip at the Race exhibit, due to their work, and knowing we were friends asked if I’d provide some resources. He was referred to Outsiders Within and after reading the introduction, he told my friend, "They are some angry adoptees."

This is nothing new; many of us who speak up about adoption as differing from the "sparkles and sunshine" are often called "angry." It has been my experience lately that anything that is critical is mistaken for angry. I’ve been called an angry adoptee many times. And what I think is humorous about that label is I’m far from being "angry." Critical, yes. Unsentimental? Absolutely.

I proudly consider myself to be critical but to me, critical and angry are two different things. Anger, according to the American Heritage dictionary, is "a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility," while critical is defined as "a critical review or commentary; a critical discussion of a specified topic."

One can be angry and critical, for sure. But being one doesn’t necessarily equate that one is both. I’ve known many people who are critical about a certain issue but not angry, just as I’ve known plenty of people who are angry but not critical. And sometimes you do find people who are both.

Calling people who dare to critique something that has long been presented in one way – no matter what that issue is – as angry is an easy cop-out. It’s the lazy person’s way of dismissing what might be very valid moral, ethical or social problems with an institution, practice or policy.

But don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to dismiss those people who
truly are angry about adoption either. I think our society has very
much tried to get people to stifle anger and sometimes I think a little
anger is completely justified. Do I think that those who have been hurt
by adoption should be able to own their anger? Absolutely. When I hear
angry people talk about their experiences, I listen. Usually, if you
can listen between the words or tone you find the hurt and sadness
underneath, the oppression and abuse they’ve suffered.

I also think that anger is useful in getting people’s attention. How
many of us listen to composed, thoughtful, critiques versus loud,
heated exchanges? My own kids don’t listen to me if I give them a
hundred gentle reminders but the minute my voice raises, they’re at
attention. Of course, I’d prefer to be able to get their attention
without raising my voice – and many of us who are advocating for change
in the adoption industry would prefer to have thoughtful dialogues with
others too. But sometimes, damnit, we just need to shout a little bit.

There have been a lot of practices that we humans have forced upon certain populations that needed some activated anger from those oppresssed groups in order to effect change. In any situation where some people have all the power and others none it may be necessary for the powerless to express and act on their anger in order for the power to equalize.

Recently on an adoption agency’s forum, an adoptee expressed a
critique and in the post, used some profanity. Immediately, this
adoptee was jumped on by adoptive parents and although the adoptive
parents refrained from using profanity as well (which soon became a
bigger issue than the critique itself) I noticed that there was a lot
of anger expressed by these adoptive parents too. Instead of focusing
on the topic of the critique, the adoptee was dismissed and chastized
for being too angry. In the process, as an observer of this exchange of
dialogue, I have to admit that I felt the majority of the adoptive
parents were lazy and relieved to have the reason to attack the adoptee
rather than deal with the very insightful critique that adoptee pointed
out to begin with. I’ve used this analogy before but it seems to me
like putting a bandaid on a sore without looking underneath for what
might be a raging infection that needs to  be addressed.

Behind anger there are often other feelings; sadness, despair, hurt, resentment or fear. Sometimes anger is the emotion expressed when all our other feelings are dismissed. And sometimes anger is just anger.

Is it possible to acknowlege anger as being a justified emotion? Can we look beyond the expression of emotion and dig deeper to what is propelling those feelings?

Because dismissing, patronizing and attacking adoptees because they express a differing view –

Now that makes me angry.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

18 thoughts

  1. I am ad AP, I have read Outsiders Within. I found it to be the best book about adoption I have read to date. Why is it veiwed as anger. I saw it more as, this is how it is for us. I may never “get” what my child is going through in regards to her adoption. I will make some mistakes, but hopefully avoid land mines. How my daughter will feel about her adoption and how she feels about us are 2 separate issues, in my eyes. She has lost a lot in her short life, gaining a new family does not erase that loss. If someone had a spouse die, would someone later tell them, well you have a new spouse now, so why do you care about the old one. Of course not, that would be cruel. But yet, to loss one’s birth parents, somehow they should just move on? I wonder if any one realizes how absurd that is?

  2. Nothing like describing a multi-author book containing all forms of self-expression with one loaded adjective.
    I believe this reductionist tendency on the part of too many AP’s comes from fear. Unexamined fear can reach phobic proportions. There ought to be a word like homophobia for these knee Jerk reactions.
    What I find to be a constant source of illumunation, fascination and no small amount of concern is that at the tender age of 6, my first TRA daughter is already expressing the full array of the feelings and many of the thoughts that I read in TRA writings.
    What happens when those feelings are not allowed room for expression? I told JL last night that when she has been trying for too long to be good, she is like a firecracker. The feelings get tamped down like gun powder and something acts like a match, and POW. She got a huge belly laugh out of that (this was after the POW.)

  3. Anger is definitely an emotion I want my daughter to be able to express and understand. It seems like women and adoptees are always being told to stifle themselves regarding anger. That has been established to be not only psychologically unhealthy but also can take a toll on physical health. I don’t want my kid to go through that.

  4. I have to admit to really
    struggling, not so much
    the issue of anger, but my
    responsibility and yes, Sue,
    fear. For a while I felt very
    sad about adoption and my
    culpability in a system that
    favors people with means
    over those who don’t.
    I think I could make every
    effort possible, and my
    children will still probably feel anger. I need
    to be there for them when
    they do.

  5. Just catching up, Jae Ran, and just wanted to say how much I love this post.
    Anyway, people need to get away from such polarized thinking as happy is good and angry is evil.
    Without drawing on some of my own anger, I would have been intimidated into shutting up and smiling long ago.

  6. SYS: I realize that you may be directing your question at any one of the APs here, but I thought I’d answer.
    Anger is one of the words that I would use to describe how I feel about my DD’s losses. Truthfully though, I don’t think I have the words yet to fully describe the feelings that I have about her losses.

  7. Brilliant post! There IS a difference between expressing anger and being “an angry adoptee.” Just because we disagree or stray from the industry party line of the “happy adoptee” we are put in our place by this dismissive label. Scolded. Minimized. While I’m not a TRA and can’t begin to imagine its additional challenges, as an Hispanic adoptee placed with undereducated, low income, narcissistic parents who demanded constant attention, obedience and gratitude, I think it’s our obligation to point out the downsides of certain facets of adoption in hopes that future adoptees can avoid its tragic pitfalls. And anyway, I’d rather be angry than brainwashed or brain dead.

  8. Adoption is a much more complicated thing than most people realize. I get angry when people tell me that I am a wonderful person for having adopted. I get just as angry when I see people making blanket statements about adoption robbing my daughters of “their culture.” I adopted my girls because I craved to have children, to have someone to love, cuddle, nurture, and protect. I am sad for the inevitable identity issues that my children will face, but I don’t mourn their loss of the life they might have had as “orphans” in a society that emphasizes family and social status, as well as female subservience. Luckily, however, my wife and I fell in love with my daughters’ native country when we were there,and will hopefully teach our daughters to love and respect their heritage (which, unlike culture, you are born with)and to grow up thinking that it is a very cool thing to be from that country. Not all adoptive parents are alike and, like birth, it is a very scary spin of the roulette wheel when we are paired by fate with the people who raise us. Don’t know how approptriate my comments are, since I have to admit to not having read the books, but I cannot imagine that adoption is worse than the alternative for most children who live in poor countries and have no parents. My wife and I are not perfect, but we can beat the hell out of an orphanage when it comes to parenting, mainly because we love our kids more deeply than we could ever express. The kind of adoption that really creeps me out, however, is when people adopt out of a desire to “save someone”, either from poverty, or because “Jesus placed it upon their heart.” I hate like hell when people call my daughters “lucky” to have been adopted by us. I understand that they mean well, but I don’t see my daughters as charity cases and hope they NEVER feel that way. Sorry for the length and that is my comments are probably not relvant to the issues discussed here.

  9. I can very much relate to the last post aboe where the author feels uncomfortable with comments to the effect that his adoptive children are ‘lucky’ to have been adopted. I too feel the individuals are well meaning but unaware of the impact these comments have to the little ears listening closeby. My oldest has incredible insight and understanding when it comes to these comments. Who’s to say that she would not have made her place in her native country…success is relative…I have seen the poorest families in other countries have the best values, closest relationships…My kids are definitely not a CHARITY case. People are well meaning, but education on these matters would definitely be helpful!

  10. Hear, hear!
    It is counterproductive to label a deeply hurting person as an “angry adoptee” and therefore, dismiss their feelings.
    Why does adoption have to presented as one or the other – all negative/all positive?
    It is neither.
    We must open our eyes to both sides of the equation. And there must be compassion from all sides.

  11. I can see why you are so angry. You grew up in a white town. You rarely knew other TRA.
    To be completely honest, you must acknowledge that THESE experiences shaped you, and that other TRA may have different ones.
    I know that it’s better to let those orphans starve and die in orphanages, rather than have them get their feelings hurt in the USA.
    Why don’t you start a movement to yank the adopted babies in the US out of their homes, and put them back in their impoverished orphanages, to have a more cultural upbringing?
    Oh. . .you don’t actually ive in Korea, yourself? I see. Decided the cultural experience was not that important for you, just for others? Have you heard the word “hypocritical”?

  12. I am glad to have discovered your blog.
    I agree that anger and critical analysis of an issue are not one in the same, that there can be one without the other, and have both is also OK.
    Anger, however, is a complex and complicated emotion, and it scares people. Most of us don’t know what to do with anger – especially if is about a topic which makes others uncomfortable, and forces them to get in touch with themselves and think about things more critically. Because most of us are afraid of another person’s anger, the first thing we want to do is shut them down, and deny their feelings, e.g. “You’re over-reacting, you’re just bitter, you’re ungrateful, etc.” Any of us who has been marginalized in some way understand all too well those responses. And yet, if someone is moved in a positive way by my so-called anger, then, it has done its job. Conversely, my anger doesn’t have to move anyone to do anything. After all, it is my anger.

  13. All very interesting. Thanks for the blog, JR. I am not adopted but am Korean American with two adopted Korean children. I can readily identify with the anger, mostly because I went through the “OH! I’m not white” identity crisis in my 40’s after having lived a very white existence with 3rd generation Korean American parents. After adopting my children, I took them to Korean school and made sure they grew up identifying with a Korean American community. Lo and behold, I had to get myself in tune with a Korean identity of any kind! It was a huge shock to my system to realize I was Korean…sounds dumb, but true. I was very assimilated into white culture. My spouse also could have used a support group for a few years as I became “the cat” that needed space and was angry all of the time. Whew! It finally passed but it was tough work, and my two Korean American siblings have not experienced that identity crisis.
    Funny what parenting does to you, isn’t it? Both my siblings are childless by choice. I would bet they would have some self-examination to deal with if they had Korean children one day.

  14. Just discoverd your blog. We are in the process of adopting from Thailand. I really appreciate reading and hearing about all views. I think your blog will serve as a valuable resource to us, and I really appreciate your courage in sharing. I hope and pray that we never let fear stop us from addressing absolutely everything that accomapanies transracial adoption. I do have one comment. As a Christian couple adopting, I am hurt by others who automtically stereotype us into the “we want to be our child’s savior” category. We know many Christian couples adopting, for the right reasons, and yes, we do believe there is a calling involved. The same way there is a calling involved in what career path you choose, or who you marry. For us, we seek God’s guidance about everything in life, so adoption is no different. That doesn’t mean we’re doing it for some terrible reason. We’re not trying to check a box to earn an extra crown in heaven. It’s about what we’re passionate about. The message I get sometimes, from non-Christian couples who adopted because they were not able to have biological children, is that only couples who can’t have biological children are morally correct in adopting? Only they truly wanted their children in a pure, unadulterated way? Sort of got off on a tangent there, but thank you, Jae Ran for your incredible honesty.

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