I first came across the idea of “acceptable fictions” from Dr. Jessaca Leinaweaver at the 2018 International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR-6) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Dr. Leinaweaver was presenting on adoption as migration based on her research and book, Adoptive Migration: Raising Latinos in Spain.
The term “acceptable fiction” in the context of adoption refers to the falsification of truth in order to create a new “truth” for a family. Going further, “acceptable fictions” are made concrete through legal policies and legislation, creating “legal fictions.” For example, adopted children are issued new birth certificates that name the adoptive parent(s) as the child’s biological parents. My birth certificate states I was born in Seoul (not true) and born to my adoptive parents (not true, they have never set foot in South Korea, much less the city of Seoul). My birth certificate also states a name that is not the name I was given when I was born. Dr. Leinaweaver shared that in Spain, there had been efforts by some adoptive parents to allow adoptive parents to change the place of their child’s birth in order to create the legal fiction the child was not an immigrant and had not been born in another country and adopted to Spain.
Many adoption laws and policies are “acceptable/legal fictions.” They are in place because our existence violates valued heteronormative family structures. Adoptive families are required to mimic a straight, white, married, Eurocentric, Christian structure of a family to be accepted. Instead of asking society to accept we adoptees have multiple parents, laws were created to make it seem as if adoptive parents are the first/birth parents. Instead of requiring government and social institutions to accept adoption decrees as valid documents of identity, we force adoptees to have falsified birth certificates. Rather than advocate to reduce the stigma of immigrants, Spanish adoptive parents lobbied to make it legal to change the place their transnational adopted child was born.
When I was 35, I legally changed my name back to my Korean name. I had to have witnesses testify on my behalf to have my original name restored in court. I wasn’t trusted to claim my own original birth name, but when I was adopted my adoptive parents were encouraged to change every truthful fact about my identity. Thankfully, my adoptive parents never kept my real name and information from me (although I’ve since learned other facts about me were changed by my adoption agencies).
Acceptable and legal fictions in adoption disempower adoptees – who we are is based on lies. Weren’t most of us taught as children that lying is wrong? As a consequence, every step we adoptees take to learn the truth about our lives and our identities is seen as being suspect and we are treated as the bad guys. In a time when falsifying one’s identity can be considered a criminal act, when it comes to adoption a fake identity is considered our “real” identity.
Instead of advocating for “acceptable/legal fictions,” I urge adoption agencies, adoptive parents, and anyone who says they care about adoptees to advocate to changing laws and policies that make us legitimate from the day we were born, with all our truths intact. There is nothing that harms a relationship more than feeling like we were lied to by those who claim to love us – the sense of betrayal adoptees feel when they learn our lives were built on lies is huge. Changing our names, birth dates, places of birth, and first parents does not make us more acceptable – it makes our whole existence as shaky as a house of cards.
Dr. Hollee McGinnis is launching an adoptee-centered, community-engaged research project, Mapping the Lifecourse of Adoption Project (MAP) in collaboration with several adoptee organizations and @akasanfrancisco is hosting a virtual information session about this project on Dec. 7th 2022 at 5:30 pm Pacific time. You will learn about the goals of the project which seeks to understand how adoptees (18+) in the U.S. (adopted domestically, internationally, and from foster care) are doing as we age (physical, mental health, identity), exposure to traumatic and stressful events, and the role of adoptee led groups and spaces. Contact Dr. McGinnis at firstname.lastname@example.org or @akasanfrancisco for more information.
This article in the NYT Magazine documents the case of an Afghan child taken in by a Marine after the child’s parents were killed. The child’s extended family says the child was stolen. Rozina Ali, the journalist investigating this case, writes “…what I found is that the system didn’t break down. Almost everyone, technically, did their job…Two central questions seemed to drive how people considered the fate of this baby: One, who were her parents — Afghan or foreign insurgents? Two, should the United States have the authority to determine the future of a child half a world away? This fundamental issue of sovereignty is one that has troubled the United States for two decades of its occupation of the country — and it was made all the more complicated against the fall of Kabul.” This link should allow you to read the article if you don’t have a subscription.
My Unknown Truth is an Australian-based adoption podcast. My Unknown Truth is hosted by Nadia Levett who was born and raised in Australia and is a child of adoption. The podcast is focused on sharing stories and experiences of Australians who have been through the adoption and foster care system.
Spread the Love
In this unique collaboration, four authors lyrically explore where they each come from—literally and metaphorically—as well as what unites all of us as humans.
Several amazing Korean adoptee artists have pieces in a special exhibit, Korean Diaspora Ricepaper Airplane, about Korean immigration history at the Incheon airport in South Korea. Adoptee artists include Glenn Morey (Denver, Colorado, USA), Daphné Nan Le Sergent (Paris, France), Jane Jin Kaisen (Copenhagen, Denmark), and kate-hers RHEE (Berlin, Germany). An article about the exhibit is here.