Please read the blog, Sunshine Girl on a Rainy Day, by Lisa Dickson. She has a great post right now, titled "Let Me Tell You My Story – One Piece At a Time." I love this because it applies wholeheartedly to those of us who are adopted, and who are asked to share our "stories" on panels or in the media.
I've probably shared this already, but one of my personal frustrations is that whenever I'm asked for a quote or my thoughts on some "news-worthy" piece of adoption, if it's media-related they always want to know my "adoption story" over my professional opinion – even if they asked me because of my professional status. One time the New York Times wanted to run a photo of me with my adoptive parents, even though I'd been interviewed as a social worker. The story had nothing to do with my personal experience, yet the photographer thought it would make a better story if they ran the feature with me and my adoptive parents, even though I am 40 years old. In the eyes of the NYT, I guess that no matter how old one is, or how professional, an adoptee is always only valid as someone's child.
Don't get me wrong – I believe that stories are powerful and are what helps people understand complex issues better. With a human face to an issue, abstract concepts become more meaningful and personal to those outside the sphere of knowledge. Many of us who are asked to speak inject some personal stories to bring home a point. But like Lisa points out in her post, sometimes we become triggered by something in a question and it is very painful to be put on the spot and recount our feelings to an audience. One of my friends describes it as "slicing open a vein so we can bleed for them."
Adoptee or foster youth panels are set up for the purposes of education and advocacy but they can easily (and often do) become derailed into messy, personal queries from the audience where the panelist is put on the spot and ends up over-sharing or rendering themselves vulnerable. Lisa writes that sometimes we have the next-day regrets over what we shared with an audience and I wanted to give her a high-five in recognition. I have felt that more times than I care to remember.
So please – adoptive parents and adoption professionals who are reading this blog – please look at the ways in which you interact with those who have experienced foster care and adoption. Read Lisa's piece on her blog. If you are a professional, I am asking that you print out or share Lisa's article with your colleagues. If you have panels at your agency, think about Lisa's points and make a plan so that your next panel doesn't exploit those who have graciously given of their time and their souls to educate you and your audience. And by all means, for goodness sake, pay them like you would pay a "professional" speaker. After all, you don't ask a professional speaker to share with them all the most painful times in their lives.