© 2016 Rudy Owens. All rights reserved.
As a population, adoptees reveal a level of diversity seen in few other groups. They come in all races, religions, ages, income levels, sexual orientations, and points of view. There are famous adoptees, like Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, an entrepreneur idolized globally, who was adopted by Armenian-American parents from the relation between a Syrian-born father and Wisconsin-born mother. There are sports hero adoptees, such Tim Green, a famous football player, turned sports commentator, turned author and memoirist of the adoption experience. There are famous singers and artists like singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan and Run DMC singer and rapper Darryl McDaniels, who collaborated in a duet song tribute in 2006 to McDaniels’ birth mother. There are equally well-known birth mothers, separated from their children after giving birth, such as famous Canadian-born singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, who connected with her lost daughter in 1997.
Today, in the era of social-media-driven self-narratives, there are thousands of people impacted by adoption who are telling stories online, or through writings and videos. Most are trying to make sense of their unique circumstance of having been born by one mother or parents and raised by another set of parents, or having given birth to child and then having surrendered that child to a system that often prevented all future contact. The former three-time Pulitzer-prize winner and adoptee playwright Edward Albee, creator of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, spent a life in letters exploring his unique status. Today’s narrators are following along, on a well-trodden path.
I have never fully identified with the large and vocal tribe of adoptees who focus on their reported problems or their pain and anger. I have identified with those who demanded equality, not pity. During my search for my birth families, I complained about what I once called “my constant mental wanderings over the nagging questions of my identity.” So I was among those who expressed sorrow for fate when I was in my early 20s, because it seemed like a raw deal. I felt entitled because my adoptive father proved to a very destructive force in my adoptive family’s life, and that was not the deal adoption promised and continued to promise. That is how I thought as a younger man.
In a statement I wrote that I was considering sharing with a court in 1988, I explained how I was no different than most adoptees today who talk about their frustrations and sadness. I wrote: “The toll of this search has been the enormous mental and emotional strain, on top of the time and money that I continue to pour into this endeavor. I have had to put my future professional and educational goals on hold while I conduct my search.” My views changed over the years. What I once considered injustice at the time, and still do today, I also now view as more of a test, which I passed and became stronger.
Even in the darkest days on of my search, I kept my focus on the system, not my fate. I wrote, “I feel like a victim by a bureaucracy that is unable to understand emotional realities of the persons involved in the adoption experience like myself an my birth mother, whoever she may be.” About a decade after my search, I felt a distant kinship with the group Bastard Nation, mainly because they mostly focused on the groups and laws that denied adoptees fair and equal treatment. Their rhetoric, thought at times over the top and even angry, made the most sense to me because of their stated end goal that was utterly fair. They did not exist just to wallow in their sadness, like a self-help group that works for some in pain.
Asking for equal rights, in the way Bastard Nation has staked out its views, is not anger, as many ill-informed commentators and researchers claim when they portray the organization. Whenever I see such gross characterizations, I try to reply in online forums or directly by email. I say, this is about equality before the law, as called out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution, through its 14th Amendment. I also point to England’s long-functioning national law giving all adoptees 18 years of age and older access to all of their birth documents. This is hardly anything radical. It is proven and evidence-based smart policy. As far Bastard Nation, I do not have any personal or advocacy relation with any member of the organization.
Some claim that adoptees appear very angry, when they openly discuss how they have been discriminated against, often for decades. Adoptees have every right to be upset by laws that are on the books that restrict essential rights to one’s own identity. If that is not an issue that sparks outrage, then our society may not be ready to ever consider a bastard or illegitimately born person worthy of fair treatment before the law.
Yet with the glut of thousands of voices online airing their opinions about their adoption experience, sometimes I have difficulties drawing the line. Who am I to say, that is an example of healthy curiosity and yearning and that is a demonstration of narcissistic exhibitionism. And who gets to say what is right? Similar to the famous adage about indecency, whining may be hard to define, but you know it when you see it, read it, and feel it. I have seen too much of it that is not productive.