I used to love November, it held the promise of glorious things that were just around the corner: festivities and holidays culminating in precious family time. However, in recent years I have found myself getting increasingly anxious and frustrated as the month looms closer and closer so does National Adoption Awareness Month. Until recently I felt powerless and voiceless because I do not see my issues, or those of other adoptees I speak to, reflected in the glossy media campaign of National Adoption Awareness Month (or National Adoption Awareness Week in Australia). It is reminiscent of the days as a young adoptee where I couldn’t articulate the confusion I felt at being so very different. I once naively thought that National Adoption Awareness Month was about raising awareness about the issues in adoption when in fact it has nothing to do with adult adoptees like me.
This campaign has the endorsement and influence of numerous celebrities and media moguls, so how do we compete? How do we ensure that there is balance in the discourse? We have people all over America and Australia singing the praises of adoption and how we must increase adoption targets. We have legions of people pledging to help children, a noble cause, who state they are committed to adoption and raising awareness about it. The persuasive phrases like ‘forever family’ are bandied around along with other heady expressions. All these people proclaim to be passionate about adoption but it seems that this commitment does not necessarily extend to adult adoptees. Indeed, those of us who challenge the happy adoptee narrative are seemingly discarded and ignored during this fervor.
That was until the #flipthescript campaign. The #flipthescript movement began as a Twitter hashtag headed by Rosita González at Lost Daughters that originated in the beginning of November 2014 for National Adoption Month. This movement was instituted as a counterbalance to the dominant adoption messages during this time whereby celebrities, lobbyists and adoptive parents dominate the discussion.
According to Lost Daughers “the goal was simple: for adult adoptee voices to be represented during National Adoption Month.#flipthescript sought to create a welcoming space on Twitter for adoptees to express themselves; to reach out to adoptees new to public discourse; to promote acceptance of all adoptee voices as important whether they express happiness, ambivalence, grief and loss, or anger—or all of these themes at once; and to unlabel adoptee narratives as “happy” or “angry” by accepting and expecting conclusions from complex life experiences”.
Now during November, I can at least connect with other adoptees on Twitter who understand the complexities. I can use this month to flip the discussion by examining some of the dominant messages and adoption euphemisms. I can remind people that adoption is predicated on loss and severance of our link to all our *biological family and identity. Adoptees are generally issued with new birth certificates and names. We are no longer related to anyone in our *biological family (sic). It is all obliterated.
I can flip the ‘forever family’ term and question what this means. This suggests that adoptees do not have a family before adoption, when in fact, the majority have living relatives. I understand, having myself worked in child protection, that some children will never be able to return home, but why does their identity and birth certificate need to change? Journalist Bryan Seymour, and former Ward of the State, asks Who says you can safeguard a life by imposing a new identity?
The flipside means I can ask: Why would we want to increase adoption targets? Why is eradicating an adoptees link to their *biological family celebrated? Why should this be considered a worthy goal? Shouldn’t the goal be to support families and family preservation? Shouldn’t the goal be to minimize separation trauma, grief and loss as adoption frequently entails?
Where are all the advocates when adoptees are struggling? There is research indicating that some adoptees are at an increased risk of mental health issues including suicide. Where are these passionate advocates when adoptees are struggling? Where are these passionate advocates when journalists uncover heinous acts like adoption rehoming, this was also covered by Dan Rather.
The book, The Child Catchers, written by investigative journalist Katherine Joyce, is an exposé on a “multi-billion-dollar adoption industry intent on increasing the “supply” of adoptable children, both at home and overseas”. In fact, Joyce documents accounts from adoptees who have received death threats for speaking out! Shouldn’t it be encumbered on the media and indeed National Adoption Awareness Month and cohorts to speak to these issues and condemn them?
I get incredibly anxious when I publish a piece and therefore I always feel it necessary to preface my writing by explicitly stating that I love my adoptive family dearly! I I am proud to be part of the Barra family and this is reciprocated. I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate because they support me in my activism. Yet many adoptees, who like me speak about issues, are dismissed in broader society as being anomalies. In fact, we are cast in binary terms such as the ‘angry adoptee’ or we’re anti-adoption or we do not love our adoptive family and so on. This alone highlights why it’s important to #flipthescript.
In sum, the dominant discourse in adoption needs to shift and it needs to be balanced by amplifying the voice of the adoptee. Come this November, during National Adoption Awareness Month, you will see the #flipthescript hashtag tweeted from adoptees across the world who are joining forces to take ownership of their story. I hope you will join all of us and become an adoptee advocate by reading, listening and demanding our voice.
Language of Adoption
*Biological, natural or birth families are contentious terms and there are many views on this. Angela considers it is up to the adoptee and their family context to define the language they are comfortable with. However, Angela emphasizes the importance of recognizing the way the language of adoption has been shaped and highlights the counterbalance of: honest adoption language.
Angela’s writing is underpinned by four premises consistent with the notion of social justice:
1. The voice of the adoptee should be one of the loudest in the adoption discourse.
2. Adoption is not a simple a win-win scenario.
3. Globally, adoptees are still fighting for their basic rights. Adoptee rights are human rights.
4. Poverty and structural inequalities should not be the driver that separates children from their families. Children have a right to their identity and to be a part of their family of origin aligned with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (e.g., article 7, 8, 10, 20 and 21).