Acknowledging My Non-adopted Privilege

Last weekend I attended an absolutely fabulous conference: the St. John's University - Montclair State University Adoption Initiative Conference in Queens, NY. Talk about a meeting of adoption activities! The list of keynote and panel speakers is incredible, as were the workshop participants. To be in an environment that respects adoption reform efforts and knows that they have the interests of children and the adults they become at heart was a real privilege - especially joining David Smolin, J.D., Frank Ligtvoet and Martha Crawford, LCSW on the adoptive parent activist panel. I thank them all for allowing me to join them in sharing our experiences with the conference attendees.

On Saturday, Joy Lieberthal, LCSW moderated an adoptee panel featuring Pam Hasegawa, Kevin Vollmers and April Dinwoodie, who shared their various experiences working for adoption reform. Joy Lieberthal commented at one point that it was perhaps time for the adoption community to stop speaking about "adult adoptees," and instead remember that they are simply adults, no further label needed.

That comment got me thinking about all of the ways in which the world uses adoption to describe, qualify, dismiss and even discriminate against adopted people. It also got me thinking about all of the ways that I, as a non-adopted person, enjoy privileges that are unavailable to or denied those who were adopted into their families. Think of them as the ways in which I, as a person born into her family, am not affected by mainstream society's attitudes toward adoption. There are a couple of things to bear in mind as you read through the list:

  • Some of these privileges are also unavailable to people whose family situations may have been affected by death of a family member, divorce, etc.
  • This is not an indictment of adoption. Jumping to the "losing these privileges is better than growing up in an orphanage" argument means you are thinking in the wrong direction.
  • Instead, think about how we might conduct adoption in ways that preserve as many of these as possible for the adopted individual. That includes thinking about why we are using adoption in situations in which it is in fact unnecessary.
  • Adoption is not the only way these privileges are lost.

I hope you find what's here so far thought-provoking. As they occur to me, more will be posted here.
  • I am not prevented by law from knowing my parents, siblings and extended family members.
  • I am not prevented by social custom from knowing my parents, siblings and extended family members.
  • In the majority of U.S. states, I can obtain my original birth certificate without interference or restriction.
  • I know the identities of my parents, siblings and extended family members.
  • When asked how many siblings I have, I can respond correctly, without further clarification.
  • When asked who my extended family members are, I can respond correctly, without clarification.
  • I am not expected by the mainstream to withdraw my love and loyalty from my family of origin.
  • I share my family's race.
  • Because I share my family's race, I understand how to live in my racial community.
  • I share my family's ethnicity.
  • I share my family's genetic inheritance.
  • I own my family history, genetic history and ethnicity.
  • I am not expected to forget my family history, genetic history and ethnicity.
  • I am not expected to accept someone else’s race, ethnicity or genetic history as my own.
  • Even if I do not physically resemble my parents, siblings and extended family members, I know and can prove my birth status and membership in my family.
  • I speak my family’s language.
  • I do not need to hide my longing for my identity from the people closest to me.
  • I do not need to protect my parents from my longing for my genetic history or ethnicity.
  • My world is not dominated by an experience over which I had no control.
  • My existence is not hidden by my mother, father, siblings or extended family.
  • My mother is not afraid of my appearance in her life.
  • I know exactly where I was born.
  • I know the exact date and time of my birth.
  • I am not the only genetic relative known to my child(ren).
  • I am not the only genetically unrelated person in my family.
  • When I date, I do not have to consider that my partner may be a sibling or a close genetic relative.
  • My challenges will not immediately be presumed to be a result of my status in my family.
  • I am not pre-judged on the basis of my status in my family.
  • I do not need to repeatedly confirm my positive relationship with my parents, siblings and extended family members.
  • Disagreements with my family are not immediately attributed to ingratitude by my parents or the mainstream.
  • I do not have to explain family photos.
  • My citizenship is not at risk.
  • I can complete school assignments about my family without challenge.
  • When I visit a physician, I know at least some genetic medical history.
  • My family status is generally not used as a punchline in the media.


Julie Gaglione said…
As a person who was adopted in a closed system in the 60's I can relate to all of this. I have only learned the truth of my story over the past two years from the ages of 46-48. It's MY story, and it is not the stereotypical story that society tells. I am not sure anyone's story really is. My mother wanted me desperately. No one told my father about me. My adoptive mother wanted a baby but was not good at raising a child. My adoptive father was a workaholic and left me at home with my mom and sister. My mom really did not know what to do with us. In the past two years I have gotten to decide for myself what my life means to me. That is selfish and it is supposed to be selfish. In being adopted I lost my true self and adopted a false one. Going into my second half of life I get to be selfish in a good way and make decisions that are about me and not about other people. I am very lucky to have been adopted in Tennessee and to have had the information that I have. It is my fervent prayer that others will be able to enjoy the same freedom.
Brilliant, thoughtful, and compassionate, Margie. Thank you. Much to think about here.
Peach said…
Excellent. Thank you. Our God-given identity is erased.
Cynthia said…
wonderful post. it's nearly all here....i'm sure it can't all be here but what is missing....maybe the ease of growing up seeing bits and pieces of yourself reflected here and there within immediate and extended have health issues shared with an aunt or an artistic talent that everyone knows is just part of being in this family...from childhood, with ease and just as part of the way it is. that is a privelidge. thanks for this post.
ggjgjgxxz said…
the non adoptees don't realize how lucky they are

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