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Friday, February 8, 2013

Why Anger Is a Necessary Part of the Adoptee Rights Movement

Last month, blogger and adult adoptee Lori Jane wrote a sarcastic and pointed post entitled "Adopter Savior Syndrome."  She addresses her thoughts to adoptive and prospective adoptive parents who "experience the urgent and persistent need to adopt in order to become a complete person."  Symptoms of this syndrome, according to Lori Jane, include: "You feel threatened when the Adoptee asks questions about their family and culture of origin."

You may be susceptible, says Lori Jane, if "critical thinking scares you because you were taught to be positive," and "you believe in White Jesus."

Lori Jane's post generated 43 comments, some of them chastising her for being so shrill and angry.

One anonymous adoptive mother said this:  "Some people enjoy having a miserable outlook and a victim mentality. That is the 'syndrome' I diagnose you with. You get what you put out in the world. Karma baby. You are looking for the evil, girl. It's you who is the A.S.S. Love, an adoptive mother of a Korean daughter."

The subject of adoption unfortunately elicits so much hurt and anger!  Lori Jane is justifiably aggrieved because in her situation as an adopted daughter,  she has not been acknowledged for the unique human being she really is.  The view of the anonymous adoptive mother that Lori Jane should ignore the negatives and simply look for the positive is one that adopted people often hear.  As author and family therapist Corie Skolnick says, "From my point of view, the pressure that adoptees get to 'get over it, already' is all too often coming from sources that have a need for the adoptee to be 'fine.'"

Adoption is often glorified in our culture, and the perspective of adopted adults is rarely sought.  Whenever we as adoptees criticize any aspect of adoption, we are often attacked and dismissed as being "emotional" or an exception to the rule.  As a mature adopted person, I see some serious ethical problems with the institution of adoption, and I realize now that much of what I believed as a child simply isn't true.  I try hard in my writing to be respectful to all the people involved and to direct my criticism to the adoption system itself.

I have seen the tendency for some in the adoption reform movement to castigate all adoptive parents for participating in an unjust system, and I have seen adoptive parents get defensive and angry in return.  I regret that there is so much infighting, but given the state of adoption law today, such emotional disagreements, I'm afraid, are inevitable.  As an adoptee, I think I understand Lori Jane's anger and frustration.  I would guess that in her adoptive family she was treated more like an object to be saved through an unbending ideology than the unique human being she was and is.

The point is that Lori Jane's story is her story alone, not the story of every person affected by adoption.  And if we can open ourselves up to really hear what she is saying, we can most likely learn something truly important.  As one commenter says to the anonymous adoptive mother, "Lorijane has really great ideas here. You may want to consider them and figure out how to be the best parent to your Korean daughter so she is not caused the anguish and heartbreak so many other adoptees have been forced to face including racism, otherizing, bullying, and abuse. This is an opportunity to grow, take seriously what is being said, and try to understand. You are not the expert on Korean adoption just because you are an adoptive mother."

Some adopted people and original mothers are going to write with frustration and anger because they  have been hurt so badly by the adoption system, and for a long, long time now, few people have acknowledged their pain.  As Lorraine Dusky, an original mother and co-founder of the First Mother Forum, explains, "When the adoption industry and adoptive parents in general have worked so hard to seal original birth certificates and obliterate the natural mother, the time for mild language is long gone."

My style is milder than that of some others, and I long for the day we can all work together across the adoption spectrum to bring about much-needed reform.  But it seems to me that anger is often justified, and that it is a necessary part of the adoptee rights movement.  Until we express our anger, no one pays attention.  For example, a group in New Jersey has been lobbying for an adult adoptee rights bill for over 30 years now, only to be blocked every legislative cycle by some kind of back room deal brokered by monied and powerful lobbies that benefit financially from the practice of adoption.  Just how long can grown people who are willfully excluded by law from knowing their own history be expected to remain patient and polite?

Some in the adoption reform movement are brash and uncompromising, and they are often the ones making the most progress.  It is hard to ignore the indefatigable Kevin Vollmers at Land of Gazillion Adoptees, for example.  When media outlets run adoption stories without the adoptee voice and position agency CEOs as the "experts,"  he calls them out on it, and we are just starting to see some change in that area.  When Vollmers publicly criticizes major stakeholders in adoption, he doesn't mince any words.  The stakeholders often call him back.  In my opinion, we need the "shrill" voices at this moment in time.

When one commenter complains about Lori Jane's offensive tone, another responds with this thoughtful observation:

"This reminds me of women being told to not be so 'shrill' when fighting for their rights at various points in history

I think there are times when the entire boat needs to be rocked in order to get something to happen. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said of the Civil Rights Movement: 'I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling Block in this stride towards freedom is not the white citizen's counciler or the Ku Klux Klan but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than justice.'

I think many adoptees are reaching the 'regrettable' conclusion that those who want them to soften their voices simply want the status quo of adoption to continue."

Our culture continues to discount the pain that many adopted people and original mothers have suffered, and it continues to be complacent about sealed birth records, a practice that cannot be defended by any empirical measure.  Until those facts are addressed, we can count on seeing a lot of angry comments and posts.  And when it comes to social justice, it is often those angry voices that finally make complacent people sit up and take notice.

(For wise advice on how to read adoption articles without getting offended, please see Amanda Woolston's post, "How to Read an Adoptee Blog Without Getting Offended.")

You might also like:

Maybe "Angry Adoptees" Are Just Well Informed

Adoption Reform and Political Games

Adoptive Parents and Pro-lifers who Cannot or Will Not See the Realities of Adoption

Gov. Chris Christie, Adoptee Rights, and Political Games



  1. It amazes me that adoptive parents feel they have a right to tell adult adoptees how to behave, how to deal with their adopted situation and to only see the positives; in other words, to be grateful.

    I would never dream of telling a potential adoptive parent to deal with their infertility, to get over it and to be grateful that they have been allowed a way to not spend at least $100,000 plus college costs to raise a child.

    Maybe I should.

  2. Great post, as always, Susan. I really enjoy your vision and eloquent voice. Semantics has always been a favorite subject of mine, too. All the nuances of the thousands of words in the English language. The word "anger," for example; it's amazing how much more acceptable and less threatening it becomes when substituted with equally potent words such as "righteous indignation," "outrage," "umbrage," "discontent," as in "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this [sitting down] any longer." The word "anger," too, gives off a feeling of momentary temper - fit, rage, ire, wrath, whereas indignation evokes for me a vision of a warrior fighting evil and injustice, such as Don Quixote tilting at windmills as if they were real dragons that he has a chance of slaying. I'm optimistic enough to actually believe some of those windmills are crumbling.

    1. Thanks, Priscilla. I have really enjoyed networking with other members of the adoption reform movement, and I love your analysis of the word "angry," since we are often discounted for taking umbrage to the fact that as adults, we are treated by law as if someone else owns us! I don't know what happens to critical thinking skills when adoption is the subject of discussion! I hope you are right that we are approaching a tipping point. After 10 years of watching the legislative process in New Jersey, I tend to be cynical, but hope never dies!

  3. Great points, Susan & Priscilla.

    Very thought-provoking.

  4. I'm angry that lawmakers do not recognize adoption reform as a restorative civil rights movement. When they speak of compromise it always leads to some level of discrimination.

  5. This is so true, and a great idea for another article. Adoptee rights bills are the attempt to restore equal rights for adopted adults. As we all know, adopted adults have not always been in this position.

  6. Martin Luther King is a perfect example, but not in the way he is portrayed. Because as soon as the powers-that-be decided that he was the one they could "speak with", it split the civil rights movement and divided those fighting for their civil rights into camps that still exist today. In the end, MLK paid for this with his life, just as much as Malcolm X did. If I had to quote someone, it would be Malcolm X, who understood what it would mean to be a part of what had set out to destroy him. All of those who shared the stage with MLK—Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, etc.—became nothing if not parrots of the dominant discourse destroying their neighborhoods and people. But they were at the table. Mission accomplished?

    We see the same thing in adoption discussions. Who are the "good" adoptees, and who are the "bad"? Who are the ones we can speak with, and who are the ones we don't mention because they are too "radical", or too "angry"? There is now a "too angry" in our ranks, and there is a "too radical", and all I can think is: "Here we go again". Divide and conquer. There is really no point in discussing this as if it is a question of only "opinions". We are and our adoptive parents are a product of the culture and society that reflects on the large scale what these parents do on the small scale. There is a history here, and a path to follow, and a path to avoid.

    To single us out as having "our own" stories is likewise to do the job of those who wish to divide us. "My own" story as an adoptee returned to his place of birth finds me in strangely familiar company with those who get that story for what they've gone through: Migrant workers, refugees, marginalized populations, etc. We need to talk to them more, and less amongst ourselves, much less to the "powers that be". We deserve more than crumbs, and we deserve more than to be adoptee house slaves. We are not alone in what we are arguing for, and we are connected to others who are displaced and dispossessed for similar economic and political reasons. This is the big picture I feel like we have to keep in mind if we are to move forward as any kind of rights movement.

    1. Thank you, Daniel. The worst divide and conquer are the people in the so-called movement who step and fetch and make nice and hope for a few crumbs. "Stories" have their place, but TPTB love them. Stories deflect hard political issues andl fights into personal narratives of poor little me. It makes the pols feel good. It's very amerikkkan. It's you, not the system that is rotten and sick. Therapy, not brass knuckles, will fix it all. The entire concept that therapy (and I'm using the term loosely from actually therapy to feel-good activities like posting on FB) is activism is destroying the movement.

  7. An issue that angers me is that the media only seems to allow certain types of adoption stories. Whenever an adoptee is interviewed, s/he always says things like "My adoption was such a blessing" or "My adoptive parents ARE my REAL parents". There is a story going around now about a young woman who found her first parents through Facebook. Her comment is that she understands her teenage parents gave her up so that she could have a more stable life and how she appreciates that so much. I'm not saying these adoptees aren't telling the truth or that they don't really feel this way, but I think the media is very biased against reporting the not so happy dappy feelings some people have about being adopted.

    1. Yo, Robin, got to the first line and I wanted to say: YES, that is the kind of thing that sends first mothers running away. Your adoptive parents are a "blessing," the FM is chopped liver and full of shame remembering and full of pain feeling the past all bubbling up again.

      Well, at blogs like this and First Mother Forum people do read about the other side of adoption, but getting that story in People magazine ain't so easy. Impossible, I'd say.

  8. Well said!

    "My style is milder than that of some others, and I long for the day we can all work together across the adoption spectrum to bring about much-needed reform."

    My first book writtne in 1988 called for us to soften the adoption tirangle into a "circle of love." Today, I believe, as someone once said: "If you aint angry, you're not paying attnetion!" I think MORE agner, properly focused, not less, is needed.

    It is not the anger that is the problem, it is ther lack of focus and who we are directing it toward. We need to allow our anger to fuel mass marches in the streets as Blacks did so successfully and as gays have done and are doing.

    We need to scream our *RIGHTFUL INDIGNATION* from the tree tops! Because being discriminated against, being denied the same rights as non-adopted persons is an OUTRAGE. It is a cvil and human rights violation and if you aint angry you are not paying attention!

    And, if you are not angry that children are being commodified and trafficked to meet a demand, their mothers coerced, duped, threatened, deceived and exploited, you are not paying attention.

    Anger is a vital aspect of change. Nothing changes until people become enraged with the status quo. Anger is empowering and a very poerfulk tool when properly, correctly and effectively channeled.

    On tgheb other hand, blowing up at and insulting one another is the converse of effective use of anger. It is as useless as is moaning and groaning to one another.

    I think we are seeing a build up of anger at this point in the history of adoption for two reaosns:

    1) Thbe Internet has depersonalized the discussion. It is far easier to be disrespectful and blaimg and name calling at a keyboard away from the face of the one you are directing your anger toward.

    2) The movement lacks a centralized organization to focus us all and all out anger and energy into mass marches!

  9. Whatever our individual stories all adoption begins with loss and trauma. Many speak of anger as if there is something wrong with it. Anger is a valid emotion, a response to something that is unjust, unfair, wrong or unethical or in our case the pathology of adoption.It is what you do with anger and how you do it that counts.

  10. I was not adopted. Until six years ago I didn't have any reason to give a second thought to adoption practices. I was one of the people who had this kind of mentality: "Awwww! What a beautiful gesture -- to willingly give the gift of a child to someone else. La la la! Happy Land!" I'm sick that I ever thought that way. WHY did I think that way? --Because up to that point I had never -- NEVER -- heard the voices of adoptees or of women who were coerced, manipulated, or forced into relinquishing children.

    When my husband learned, in his 40s, that he had been adopted as an infant, my entire perspective changed. Even things I took for granted, such as whose noses our children had inherited, took on new meaning.

    The biggest change I experienced personally was this sense of anger: that my husband had been lied to by his adoptive family, and that according to our state, he had no right to know of his origins, or even of his adoption! While I will never know first-hand what it means to be adopted, it didn't take a genius to be able to understand that the person I loved was given a raw deal. That made me angry!

    I had the good fortune early on of being given Ann Fessler's book _The Girls Who Went Away_. This was fuel for the fire. After reading that, I had my first taste of one truth that has been hidden from society for so long. Again, I've never walked in the shoes of women who experienced having all options taken away from them in order to fulfill the demand for adoptable babies...but as a human being, I can certainly be angry at the injustice done to these women. And I am.

    I am becoming more comfortable with the anger I hear from people who were, and continue to be, diminished and demeaned by the broken system of adoption. Anger can be used to compel others to hear the truth. It can inspire others to take action on behalf of adoptees and mothers who had or have no power on their own.

    When our view of adoption as Happily-Ever-After Land changes, it is uncomfortable. It is unsettling to experience the anger of people who have been traumatized by something we thought was only good. Some people choose to react defensively. Some people choose to write articles that presume to know adoptees' experiences without even talking with adopted persons (unbelievable!) and thus perpetuate the myth of "All is well in Happy Land."

    But when we let ourselves venture out enough to see the truth others experience, we can't help but connect more deeply with them. I'd rather have that kind of experience than walk around in la-la land with a skewed view of I'll take the anger and try to use it to encourage others to understand.

    1. Mary, thank you for this very thoughtful comment. The adoption culture is so very slow to change, but I would think that most people could at least agree that full-grown adults are entitled to the truth about their own lives. We can only hope that more and more people will become aware and see that the current laws really do treat adopted adults like second-class citizens.

  11. I just subscribed to your blog. I'm not involved at all in adoption, except as someone who as a kid/teen wanted to adopt but never felt quite "right" about it (though I couldn't quite figure out why) and read more as I got older in a bid to understand.

    It didn't take long reading various experiences (especially adoptee, though also adoptive parent (both entitled and supportive), first parents, open adoption, closed adoption, BSE, international, foster-to-adopt, foster children never adopted, etc.) to be able to articulate the discomfort I felt at age twelve. It's pretty dang clear to me that adoption rights are civil rights (and infant adoption is built on oppressive systems of age-ism, sexism ("slut-shaming"), classism, and racism).

    But. I'm not part of the system except as a fellow human being. I'm not sure how I can best support adult adoptees, open access, and adoption reform. I have emailed on occasion when I've read articles or heard radio programs that didn't the voices of adult adoptees, I bring the topic up with friends/family. I've emailed a local politician about some of her positions. I try to take the same stance as you, of being less confrontational (I'm not at all against it and certainly understand its importance, but I also don't want to co-opt someone's real experiential anger with my abstracted sense of injustice, nor do I want to shame adoptive parents and put them on the defensive (I doubt that makes them better parents) who can easily write me off as a kook who doesn't know what she's talking about). But I do feel a responsibility to work for civil rights, regardless of whether they affect me.

    I know a few adult adoptees and haven't brought this issue up with them directly (they aren't close friends) though when one mentioned being adopted, we did briefly discuss Vollmers website. Do you have any thoughts for how a random person can best advocate for adoptee rights and adoption reform? What I should be careful of doing/saying/asking, because it's not my business, or what I might say freely because you wish you'd heard it without bringing it up? How I can be an ally while also respecting adoptees? How I can be an advocate without coming across as paternalistic? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this! (Or a link if you've already posted about this and I've missed it by being new to your blog.)

    1. What great questions! I may have to do a blog post on this topic. For starters, if you haven't done it already, you can sign up for the mailing list at the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Also, if you go to the website of the American Adoption Congress, you can find out if your state has a group that is lobbying for an adult adoptee rights bill; if it does, you will want to support that group. So many people are not aware that this issue even exists, and many are brainwashed by the adoption industry that original mothers were guaranteed privacy, when records were clearly sealed to protect the adoptive family from "unwarranted intrusion." Unfortunately, the issue of adoptee rights has become entangled with the abortion controversies, even though the data shows there is no link between adult adoptee access and abortion rates. Nevertheless, Right to Life groups routinely oppose adoptee rights bills. The challenges are great, and ignorance about adoption realities is widespread. Since adoption affects everyone differently, I try to focus on the human rights angle. Institutional discrimination is never acceptable. I believe the comments to articles and programs about adoption really do help to educate people, so I would keep up that effort when you are able. Thanks for subscribing, and thanks for caring!

  12. "Some adopted people and original mothers are going to write with frustration and anger because they have been hurt so badly by the adoption system, and for a long, long time now, few people have acknowledged their pain."

    Susan, you make a key point--pain that goes unacknowlegded & dismissed for years & years inevitably leads to anger...because anger is a natural reaction to being hurt.

  13. I like what you wrote here I agree with this

  14. I have been accused of having "anger issues" based on the reading of my blog. Big deal! If I weren't angry, I wouldn't waste my time writing about adoption. Great blog post, Susan! Love the insightful comments especially by the non-adopted person who wants to get involved in adoptee rights. Can we clone him/her?

  15. People have various perspectives on matters like that and I salute you for voicing out your honest opinion. I agree with your point of view. People judge adoptive parents way too quickly. I think everyone should put themselves in the other's shoe before deciding whether or not someone's action is acceptable. Thank you for being the voice of the quiet. Your post is really great!

    Joseph Ramsey @ Sweeney Therapy


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