Alternative Voice, Truths, and Knowledge of Critical Adult Adoptees

“How does it feel to be a problem?”
—W.E.B. DuBois[1]


“How does it feel to be the solution?”
—Vijay Prashad[2]


Nearly 100 years after DuBois posed his question in the seminal Souls of Black Folk (1903), Vijay Prashad, a South Asian historian and cultural critic, presented the latter question as a way to think about how South Asians in the United States are positioned as a model minority in relation to black Americans. From here, we can consider where the transracial/national adoptee who was an orphan, but now is uniquely positioned as an assimilated, model subject fits. From these thinkers we might ask, “How does it feel to be a problem and solution, as well as everything and nothing?” Our orphan status was (and still is) a problem. Our adoption was (and still is) the solution. We are everything: loved, family, and nation. Yet we are nothing: discarded, liminal, dismissed, and voiceless. After decades of inquiry, studies, and practice, the problems and solutions of adoption are still muddled and too simplistic. This is in large part because we’ve been asking the wrong questions, incorrectly framing the problem, and consulting a narrow group of “experts.”


“Just because you were adopted doesn’t make you an expert on adoption.”
–A social worker’s response to comments made by JaeRan Kim while on a panel


JaeRan Kim’s recollection demonstrates how transracial/national adoptees can be everything (on an adoption panel) and nothing (not an expert) at once. In the eyes of the social worker, third-person interpretive knowledge (praised as objectivity) is privileged over and against first-person knowledge (degraded as subjectivity). Yet the social worker misses an important point raised by women of color feminist theory: Knowledge is relational and situated. What does this mean? Knowledge is relational because how we come to understand something (A) depends on how it exists or is constructed in relation to other components (B, C, D, etc). Oftentimes, concepts are constructed in binary relations of “A” and “not A,” e.g. man and not man (woman); white and not white (black, brown, yellow, red). This is to say, when we know the “Other,” we learn more about ourselves. Knowing what we are not helps us better define ourselves. From the case above, the social worker believes Kim to be a non-expert in relation to those who are constantly afforded authority, such as adoptive parents and adoption professionals.


Knowledge is situated because “what we know” and “how we come to know it” are both shaped by our own experiences. For men or people in power, this process is largely hidden by constructed yet presumed notions of “objectivity,” “authority,” and “expertise,” while for women, and women of color in particular (or adoptees in our case), their experienced-based knowledge has largely been ignored and dismissed.


This is where Gazillion Voices intervenes. Through in-depth interviews with four contributors and a co-editor of Gazillion Voices (GV)—along with drawing from other web sites and GV stories—this piece is a reflection on how adult adoptee voice articulates relational and situated knowledge. In addition to speaking, greater representation, and being heard, adult adoptee voice includes being acknowledged as experts and stakeholders. Specifically, the creators and contributors of GV are individually and collectively questioning the contradictions of what I call the “violence of love in adoption”[3] that exist in constructing false binaries, infantilizing and dismissing adult adoptees, and other similar practices. Additionally, they are generating new knowledge about the adoptee experience and adoption practice and connecting that to other forms of injustice.


Historical Background


Transracial/national adoption discourse and knowledge production has been shaped in four major ways. First, since the 1960s, the fields of social work and psychology have determined many of the questions and issues for adoption. The uncertainty of these adoptions prompted researchers to conduct countless “outcome studies” that continue to this day [4]. The vast majority of these studies center adopted youth (ignoring the view of adult adoptees) and too often drew from the views of adoptive parents rather than adoptees [5]. Adoption agencies and adoption professionals have been the second dominant voice. They, in conjunction with state officials, who listen to professionals and researchers, have played a significant role in rehearsing a teleological narrative of transracial/national adoption, one that posits such adoptions as beneficial and improved from previous practices. Lastly, adoptive parents have influenced adoption discourse by publishing numerous how-to books and memoirs about the challenges and beauty of adoption. Perhaps most importantly, adoptive parents have occupied a privileged position because they often cross into the other three spaces of researcher, adoption professional, or state official, allowing them to have a tremendous voice and influence in shaping discourse, policy, and practice [6]. Thus, the voice of Asian adoptees has largely been absent from adoption discourse and knowledge production [7].


There are many contemporary assumptions that continue to overlap with the historical knowledge about transracial/national adoption outlined above. For example, that adoption professionals and adoptive parents are considered the only experts or that adoption is a “win-win-win” situation. JaeRan Kim—a social worker, Ph.D. candidate, and Korean adoptee—notes that during her social worker courses she realized that students were being taught this narrative without thinking about the broader ethics or ramifications of transnational and transracial adoption. Moreover, in discussions of the adoption triad (adoptee, birth parent, and adoptive parent) each person is posited as equal. Not only does this miss the way in which power and privilege operate but it also neglects to question the role of institutions and the government. The predominant narrative for transracial/national adoption focuses on the “positive fact” of providing parents to a needy child and creating loving families.


As three interviewees noted, the last 15 years, however, has seen an emergent wave of adult adoptees, especially ones of color, who are claiming their voice, writing their experiences, and telling their stories through literature, film, social media, blogs, and other cultural productions (Kim, Gieseke, and Kalb). This growth has been assisted by the emergence of numerous adult adoptee groups [8], adoptee memoirs [9], artists [10], documentaries [11], and anthologies [12]. Perhaps none illustrate this wave of voice better than the 2005 anthology Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption (2006), which unapologetically foregrounded adoptee voice, our painful and traumatic stories, the important of race, the goals of social justice, and the possibility of a global community. GV has followed in the tradition set up by Outsiders Within to provide a corrective action to previous models of knowledge formation.


Gazillion Voices


GV emerged out of Korean adoptee Kevin Haebeom Vollmers’ earlier project, Land of Gazillion Adoptees, a multimedia company grounded on the idea that it’s the “adoptees’ time to lead the adoption community”[13]. LGA’s popularity and influence led to the much larger collaborative project of Gazillion Voices, which now has more than 40 contributors. The purpose is to provide an adoptee-centric platform, where parents and agencies were no longer privileged (Gieseke). Specifically, it addresses important adoption-related topics such as practice, policy, legislation, ethics, research, representation, art, community, and personal stories. Unlike individual blogs, GV is a collective and ongoing medium for knowledge production, which lends itself to meaningfully shaping the emergent conversations around adoption.


With all of the free content online concerning adoption, the idea of a subscription online magazine had Shelise Gieseke, one of the co-editors of the magazine and a Korean adoptee, wondering if this was a feasible model. She notes that GV aimed to reframe adoptee knowledge as valuable by providing compensation for their labor in sharing their stories: “[It’s based on] this idea that adoptees who are working or participating actively in the adoption community aren’t just going on their personal experience; there are also people who are doing research or working in the field, so they have another level of expertise, and we really want to convey that’s worth something and that should be worth something to adoptive parents, to adoption professionals.”


Historically, adoptees have filtered themselves, “softened the edges,” and “crafted their message” in order to be heard. GV, however, provides a unique platform that gives contributors the freedom to speak. Three of the interviewees mentioned their appreciation of the editorial freedom to write whatever they wanted (Gibney, Gieseke, and Kim). No topic was off limits. Gieseke states, “That’s what I like about Gazillion Voices. It doesn’t apologize for adoptees. And it wants adoptees to lay it out there however they want to, and it doesn’t try to sugar coat things, and it doesn’t try to make it easy for whoever the audience is to digest that. We respect the writers enough to put forth what they think and feel and know, and that it’s just out there for people to read and interpret and understand however they want to.”


Binaries, Infants, and Dismissal


An important theme that emerged from the interviews was the desire to disrupt the many binaries that plague adoption. Adult adoptees are often situated as either what Kim calls the “Adoptee Poster Child,”TM who is a happy and grateful storyteller, or the angry adoptee whose only goal is to bash and dismantle adoption [14]. There is, however, a large majority of adoptees who fall in between these hypervisible poles, some of who do not disclose their adoptee status to the public and others who might not have even given much thought to adoption issues (Gieseke and Kim). In this way, the adult adoptee community is placed into a false binary. All of the interviewees expressed frustration with how adult adoptees and their experiences (such as adolescence or reunion) are placed in either one camp or another. For example, Steve Kalb—a social worker, Ph.D. candidate, and Korean adoptee—works for a large adoption agency but doesn’t simply tow the agency line. In his previous article, “Am I a Sellout?,” Kalb states: “Holt gives me an opportunity to prevent experiences like mine on a scale that would be difficult to achieve independently. Because of my job, I’m able to help educate thousands of parents so their children won’t be as unprepared as I was [as a transracial, adult adoptee]. I’m able to inform thousands of young adoptees that their voices are valuable and part of a larger collective”[15]. Here, Kalb complicates the hegemonic binary of adult adoptees by occupying a position within the system of adoption but remains highly critical of his own and other adoptee experiences.


Dr. John Raible, education professor and biracial adoptee, notes that adult adoptees do not have an “essentialized adoptee identity.” The interviewees reiterated in different ways that adoptees have multidimensional perspectives and experiences and make up a diverse community. Further disrupting the dichotomy of good and bad, three of the interviewees add that many adoptees who have had “happy” childhoods still find it necessary to critique existing adoption discourse, policies, and practices (Gibney, Kim, and Raible). Hammering this point home, Shannon Gibney, communications professor and mixed-black adoptee, states that critical adult adoptees are not interested in simplistic categorizations of “good” or “bad.” What is important is “busting open those stereotypes and binaries.”


The Adoptee Poster Child trope works in part to infantilize adoptees, where adult adoptees are “not allowed to grow up.” They are the perfect “perpetual children” in the eyes of professionals and adoptive parents (Kim and Raible). Most adult adoptees are very much aware of this trope; in fact, four of the five interviewees used “infantilized” to describe how adult adoptees are situated within adoption discourse and practice. Transracial/national adoption has historically been constructed as a form of humanitarianism and racialized rescue of the orphan figure. Laura Klunder, who is a social worker, activist, and Korean adoptee, has satirically (in part) termed this the “Adopter Savior Syndrome”[16]. Many scholars have pointed to how these adoptions emerged in the context of U.S. settler colonialism and imperialism, but the desire to save brown people also predates transnational adoption. Racialized themes of civilizing and rescuing brown savages appear in the late 19th century cultural representations of Native Americans, Filipinos, and the Pacific Islanders. The latter are most memorably referenced in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” about the responsibilities of empire [17].


Indeed, there is a long genealogy of infantilization of nonwhite, non-Western societies and nations (both inside and outside the United States). This follows postcolonial scholar Gayatri Spivak’s characterization of the colonial relationship of “White men saving brown women from brown men.” Except in this case I suggests it’s “White families and nations saving brown babies from brown families and nations while ignoring brown women”[18]. Cultural theorist Edward Said coined the term “Orientalism,” which he argued was as much about constructing and preserving the West as it was concerned with defining the East. The act of naming and rescuing abject orphans, then, brackets U.S. families and the nation as what I call the “better future” while strategically placing non-Western geographies as spaces of death. Kim’s Adoptee Poster Child concept underscores exceptional examples of how rescue and rehabilitation “worked,” which ultimately help to justify maintaining the status quo. Thus, while the White Man’s Burden can presumably go unappreciated, its racial and imperial offspring of transracial/national adoption continues to be largely perceived as a domestic and global good.


Accompanying their infantilization, interviewees offered countless instances in which adult adoptees’ experiences and knowledge have been delegitimized or dismissed. Kalb expresses how once he realized the problematic aspects of transnational adoption and moved to enact changes within the adoption agency where he worked, he was perceived by the industry as an “angry” and “difficult to work with” adoptee. Gieseke recounts a story in which she was at her uncle’s house for a family gathering and witnessed him use verbal, facial, and bodily expressions to mimic a Japanese woman for the purposes of a story or joke. Upon telling her mom that she wanted to leave because of what happened, her mother replied, “I’m sure it was just a joke and he didn’t mean it, and he wasn’t trying to offend you or hurt your feelings.” Here, Gieseke’s mother misses the point that the racial mimicry of Asian women did offend and hurt Gieseke, which negated her actual feelings.


Kim recalls one instance on a panel, where she offered her perspective to a social worker. The social worker responded by saying, “Just because you were adopted doesn’t make you an expert on adoption.” Dr. Raible, who has been educating the public about transracial adoption issues for more than three decades, continually encounters similar situations. Through evaluations, audience members have expressed that he is “too angry,” assumed that he most likely had a bad relationship with his parents, and stated that problems from the 1960s no longer exist. Such examples illustrate how adoptees’ experiential and situated knowledges that run counter to the hegemonic narrative are constantly questioned and in this case negated. To be sure, they are violently dismissed as another overly sensitive or angry adoptee by adoptive parents and professionals.


For Kim and Raible, moments like these made them viscerally aware that only certain figures could be considered experts—either adoptive parents or people who had credentialed letters after their names. After attaining their graduate degrees and further credentials, both Kim and Raible demanded and garnered greater respect, receiving less push back against their critical perspectives. Indeed, Kalb notes that contemporary contributions of adult adoptees differ from the past forms because they have breeched into academic adoption literature. But even here, Gibney conveys how if audience members know you’re an adult adoptee who does research, they question what steps you have taken to remain unbiased, which is a query that adoptive parent researchers rarely encounter. One of the reasons Kim cites for starting her Ph.D. program is because so many of the researchers were adoptive parents who were not discussing their subjective positionality, framing, or stakes in the issues.


The dismissal of adult adoptees is also fueled by what Dr. Raible describes as adultism and parentalist ideology [19],in which adoptive parents, professionals, and researchers claim to know how adoptees think, feel, and what they desire. Adoptive parents, especially, are afforded extra authority, where their voice is highly privileged over and against the adoptee’s voice, let alone the adult adoptees. Gieseke gives the example of NPR journalist Scott Simon who wrote a book about the adoption of his two daughters from China. Gieseke heard Simon say in person, “There is no trauma in adoption.” How is he given this authority to speak about adoption when he had “barely begun parenting his child[ren]?” she wonders.


A recent NPR story further revealed the privileging of adoptive parents in adoption discourse. NPR interviewed Angela Tucker, who is a writer, speaker, and transracial adoptee, for its Sunday Conversation segment, but instead decided to air a story featuring white adoptive parents, Rachel and Steve Garlinghouse. Rachel is the author of Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children, which presumably made her more authoritative than Tucker. On her blog, Tucker brilliantly responded to NPR:


These examples starkly illustrate how the media perpetuates the authority of adoptive parents. Of course, NPR is not the only culprit. Adultism, for Gibney, also operates in the assumptions of people who think adoptees are on panels only because they are adoptees rather than researchers or experts. According to Kim, this dynamic is analogous to the patronizing relationship when “men writing about feminism without having women involved in that discourse and research or communities. It’s white people talking about the experiences of people of color without involving them or joining them or stepping aside other groups write about themselves or talk about their own experiences.” As Gibney points out, “If you’re talking about a group and they’re not participating in it, it’s going to be problematic.”


Laura Klunder explains in an earlier GV issue that adoptee voice is also denied through “adopteephobia,” which she defines as the “irrational fear and hatred of adoptees”[21]. While we might differ on whether that fear is irrational, Klunder deftly highlights the ways in which adoptees have not only been constructed, situated, and silenced, but how they are also reclaiming their voice.


Voice, Storytelling, and Their Costs


A significant theme that emerged from the interviews was that adult adoptee voice is important. It is not enough to be merely the object or subject of study, but it is necessary for adoptees to reclaim their voice and demand a seat at the table (Kim and Kalb). The voice needs to be more than inclusion onto a panel, program, or conference by a token adult adoptee who works for or simply aligns with adoption agency perspectives (Kim). Kalb argues that adoptees have a lot to offer, most importantly their personal stories and testimonies that “should be valued” to drive adoption policy and practice. Gieseke adds, “It’s important that adult adoptees weigh in on what the policies are and how adoptions are facilitated and how people are recruited and kids are placed … I think that adult adoptees are the best people to inform what a child-centered adoption policy is really about” (Gieseke).


In a previous article for GV, Katie Hae Leo, who is a writer, performer and Korean adoptee, explains, “Storytelling is a political act.” Adoptees are too often over determined by stories not from their own perspective. Leo states that adoptee writing and storytelling are ways to “make space for [our] own voice”[22]. Dr. Raven Sinclair, associate professor in social work and First Nations adoptee, also adds from her piece, “The Language of Native Adoption,” that our voices are uniquely “informed by our experiences, histories, and interpretations of the world,” but they intersect through the commonality of adoption [23]. Hence, telling our multiple truths is immensely political. To write and to read these stories with such frequency every month is very empowering (Gibney, Gieseke, Kim, Raible).


While hearing and valuing “adoptee voice” are important, interviewees acknowledged that many adult adoptees might not care about this particular issue. Their reasoning, however, was not simply apathy. Kalb suggests, “The oppression we suffer has kept us quiet and separated,” making it difficult to rally around adoption issues and causes. Interviewees all touch on the hardships of isolation that most transracial/national adoptees experience, where Gieseke and Kim recall meeting adoptees who were well into their forties, but had yet to meet another adoptee. There are also varying costs for speaking out. Thus, adoptees must ask, does caring and speaking out about this particular issue outweigh the risks and costs of revealing one’s story and potentially hurting family? As Kim notes, relaying personal stories through narrative or art can be more difficult and result in being labeled and dismissed as an angry adoptee: “It’s one thing to critique and criticize my research methods and my findings. That’s one thing. But it’s another thing to have somebody say, which I’ve had people in the past say to me, ‘You sound so angry. You should go to therapy for your problems.’”


The main reason why Raible finds storytelling so problematic is because adoptees are “paraded out to talk about their story” in infantilizing ways. He adds, adoptees’ stories subsequently get voted upon, whether they are grateful enough or whether they are too angry: “I feel like my story isn’t for someone to like or dislike. It’s my experience. I’m talking about my life. I’m not asking if you agree with me or disagree with it. I want you to hear my experience and hear the pain and hear the struggle, hear the burden, and if it makes you uncomfortable, well welcome to my reality.” Raible argues that many adult adoptees, including himself when he was younger, exacerbate this cycle by performing the happy, grateful adoptee because they are rarely invited to tell their stories. Being a public adult adoptee, however, can have a high price as the case with Raible when his adoptive parents perceived his story as angry, ungrateful, and a personal attack. The effects and price was a tremendous amount of guilt that for a time silenced his voice and experience.


Critical Awareness and Anger


Neither are all adult adoptees at the same level in terms of critical awareness. In fact, Raible acknowledges that storytelling can be an empowering step in the process of general awareness about adoption issues, but there is certainly a danger because stories and thus adoptees are exchangeable. If an organization or agency does not like a story that is told, they can find a new one that fits the normative discourse about adoption. Linked to this idea, and despite what the other interviewees said, Raible strongly argues that not all adoptee voices should be valued equally.Adoptees are not “interchangeable” and most adult adoptees have not “developed a sophisticated analysis” of adoption and oppression, according to Raible. “I have met some adoptive parents,” Raible explains, “who are more critical of adoption than some adoptees, just as there are white people who are more radical and progressive about race stuff than African Americans.”


Raible attributes this unequal awareness in large part to the way in which discourse is governed, reinscribed, and normalized by those in who have the most power such as adoption agencies, the media, and the state. In this way, mainstream adoption discourse regulates what is known, what is said, and what can be understood. Whereas the angry and critical adoptee is often illegible, adoption discourse makes happy and grateful adoptees intelligible because they fit the larger narrative of adoption. As Gieseke recognizes, not all adoptees are critically aware like the most vocal and active adult adoptees. But she adds, “I think that is part of the goal of these vocal adoptees is that it [critical awareness] becomes an issue to all adoptees and that in the future all adoptees will have a chance to think and talk about their adoption experience in a way that’s more comprehensive.”


To be sure, the lack of critical consciousness from adult adoptees, adoptive parents, and adoption professionals is beyond frustrating for those seeking change. For Kim and Raible, being ignored or written off engenders anger. Kim describes it as “righteous anger,” which parallels black feminist scholar bell hooks’ articulation of the value of rage as a “potentially healthy, potentially healing response to oppression and exploitation”[24]. The common response is to internalize or suppress anger. But rather than signifying an unhealthy or maladjusted adoptee, a response of rage can in fact be an “assertion of subjectivity that colonizers do not want to see”[25]. While of course the context for adoptees is different from what hooks describes, there is also overlap in the ways in which power operates to maintain order. Anger and rage can be valid and productive reactions to the suppression or dismissal of adoptee voice because they can disrupt the status quo. Kim states, “I don’t see myself as angry at all, but when people call me an angry adoptee I kind of own it now in a way that I didn’t before because I feel that anger can lead to action and change.”


Conclusion


This essay has attempted to highlight some of the themes from my interviews as well as other articles and blogs. The adult adoptees in various ways touch on the violence of love and adoption – which includes binaries, infantilization, dismissal, silencing, and reprimands for speaking. It attempts to show adult adoptees understand their experience and knowledge as situated and relational to other individuals, family members, and communities.


An exciting aspect about GV is that, unlike many adoptee organizations, it is not based on ethnic identity. Thus, it engages the universal and the particular—what brings us together and what makes us unique. Historically, Korean American adoptees have been at the forefront of change largely due to their earlier arrival and massive numbers relative to other adoptee groups. GV is no different with two Korean American adoptees as the co-editors. But the magazine is doing critical work to enable different adoptees’ voices and truths to be heard, which is promising for the future of coalition work. Indeed, all of the interviewees and many other stories on GV expressed the desire to address not only issues of transnational and transracial adoption but systemic injustices [26]. For example, Gibney notes that there is a lot of crossover work with writing for the magazine and her work in the Twin Cities, and it enables her and contributors to build more relationships that expand into other social justice projects to tackle issues of power and privilege.


Critical adoptees are no longer the problem or solution. We are a new voice that seeks to reframe the issues and approaches. Through a relational and situated understanding of ourselves and how power and inequality operate, we are focused on what we can do for and with adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth/first parents; women, families, and communities of color; queer and immigrant communities; and any community that is oppressed.


It’s vital that we take stock in what is unfolding before us. The argument that I am making today might seem dated, but it demonstrates the reality that adult adoptee voice is still a novelty. From the emergent wave, however, adult adoptees are reclaiming their stories and experiences as well as contesting the normative assumptions of who can produce knowledge. Indeed, many of the GV contributors are college educated and at least a dozen have graduate degrees. Yet, its collective work maintains a bottom-up approach. Both Gieseke and Kim note the importance of the Internet as an accessible site for social connection, especially for adoptees in isolated communities. In the case for GV, the online magazine can be a popular alternative (political) medium to produce, cite, and circulate new knowledge as well as a vehicle for social change.


The audience is not just adoptees either. While there are still too few, or “drop in the bucket” to use Raible’s term, adoptive parents and industry professionals are beginning to take note (Gibney, Kalb, and Raible). They hear the critiques and calls to action provided by adult adoptees. For Gieseke, GV is a platform and community that exists as a legitimate voice and that threatens the norm, providing “another level of accountability for adoption practitioners and adoptive parents.” While Gibney hesitates to say that adult adoptees are fully “controlling the adoption narrative,” she does suggest that it represents an opportunity and space to intervene in a way that they have not done so before. At stake is the way in which transnational and transracial adoption discourse will be radically altered by these new voices that are not just responding to what’s already out there but creating the terms of adoption discourse, policy, and practice.


~ Kit Myers


[1] W.E. Burghardt DuBois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” in Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903) 2.


[2] Vijay Prashad, Karma of the Brown Folk (University of Minnesota Press, 2000) viii and 6.


[3] See my September 2013 article in Gazillion Voices, “The Violence of Love in Transracial and Transnational Adoption: Moving Away from the Good/Bad Binary” and Myers, Race and the Violence of Love: Family and Nation in U.S. adoptions from Asia (Dissertation, University of California, San Diego, 2013).


[4] Such studies attempt to address the issues of self-esteem, happiness, ethno-racial identity, social culturalization, and other markers of healthy or mal-adjustment as well as isolate negative and positive contributing factors such as age of placement, race, geographic origin, and early adversity (lack of care or poor health conditions) that would help predict outcomes. Outcome studies that investigate physical adjustment and psychological well being of transnational adoptees in relation to same-race, non-adopted, and immigrant children are still prevalent, but research on birth searches, reunions, post-reunion contact has become increasingly prevalent.


[5] And in some cases, studies examine perspectives of adoption professionals rather than adoptees.


[6] The other side of this is that many of the researchers and state officials have no connection with adoption or adoptees (Gieseke).


[7] The dilemma presented in some ways resembles the problem addressed by Gayatri Spivak (1994) in “Can the Subaltern Speak?” We might wonder how a child who is adopted into the First World (and thusly certainly not “removed from all lines of social mobility” [Spivak, Aesthetic Education, 430.]) could possibly be situated as an unspeakable subaltern subject within adoption studies, but in the context of who is representing or producing knowledge about whom as well as who has the agency to speak and be heard then the similarities, while not the same, become clearer. The subjectivity and voice of the adoptee are indeed dependent on the “rescue” and “adoption” by the western family, agency, and nation-state. This subalterity has only been reinforced by the normative research studies, wherein researchers, adoption professionals, state officials, and adoptive parents speak for adoptees who appear rescued but are in many ways marginalized and oppressed.


[8] Also-Known-As works to empower the voice of adult international adoptees (est. 1996), Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington provides mentoring, fellowship, and educational opportunities (1996), Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link offers support and home base for KADs (1998), International Korean Adoptee Associations Network serves the KAD community; builds global relationships; and provides resource, education, services (2004), and Adoptee Solidarity Korea (2004) is a group of adoptees in Korea that examines the social, political, and human rights aspects of international adoption from Korea with the goal of end such adoptions.


[9] For example, see Jane Jeong Trenka, Language of Blood (2005) and Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea (2009). The former was a tour de force that, among other things, gave transracial/national adoptees the permission to mourn their loss and be angry about adoption. Katy Robinson, A Single Square Picture: A Korean Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots (2002).


[10] For example, see singers like Jared Rehberg and Mayda; artists such as Chaun Webster; performers such as Lisa Marie Rollins; or poets such as Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut, Sun Yun Shin, Bryan Thao Worra, and Lee Herrick.


[11] For example, see First Person Plural (2000) and In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee (2010), dir. Deanne Borshay Liem; and Finding Seoul (2011), dir. John Sanvidge.


[12] For examples of collections edited by adoptees see, Seeds from the Silent Tree: An Anthology by Korean Adoptees (1997); Voices from Another Place: A Collection of Works from a Generation Born in Korea and Adopted to Other Countries (1999); Pieces of Me: Who Do I Want to Be? (2009); Parenting As Adoptees (2012); Perpetual Child: Adult Adoptee Anthology: Dismantling the Stereotype (2013).


[13] “Gazillion Voices Mission Statement.”


[14] Interview and JaeRan Kim, “The Adoptee Poster Child,” Gazillion Voices (Feb. 5, 2014).


[15] Steve Kalb, “Am I a Sellout? Why I Work for an Adoption Agency,” Gazillion Voices (Aug. 3, 2013).


[16] Klunder defines Adopter Savior Syndrome as a “highly contagious and devastating disease that is estimated to be found in millions of white adoption parents….” She goes on to provide a long list of “symptoms” such as “You believe you saved an orphan” and “You have served as an expert on Adoptee issues” as well as “risk factors” such “You are married,” “You are colorblind,” and “You believe people are people.” Laura Klunder, “Adopter Savior Syndrome,” Coloring Out.blogspot (Jan. 23, 2013). http://coloringout.blogspot.kr/2013/01/adopter-savior-syndrome.html.


[17] Excerpt from poem: “Take up the White Man’s burden—/Send forth the best ye breed—/Go bind your sons to exile/To serve your captives’ need; …Your new-caught, sullen peoples,/Half-devil and half-child./Take up the White Man’s burden—/The savage wars of peace/Full fill the mouth of Famine/And bid the sickness cease.” Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” February 1899.


[18] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (Columbia Univ. Press, 1994) 93, 66-111. Danish anthropologists Karen Valentin and Lotte Meinert note how the discursive infantilization of South and Southeast Asian countries vis-à-vis the “adult” Global North continues in contemporary Third World Development efforts. Karen Valentin and Lotte Meinert, “The Adult North and the Young South: Reflections on the Civilizing Mission of Children’s Rights,” Anthropology Today 25.3 (June 2009) 23-28.


[19] Dr. Raible argues that adultism “keeps young people powerless and infantilized,” and dismantling it requires “sharing power with the young” and “fighting patronizing adultist views that try to keep all adoptees in a child-like state as perpetual children.” Perpetual Child: Adult Adoptee Anthology (2013).


[20] Angela Tucker, “Do Trans-racial Adoptees Know Anything About Trans-racial Adoption?” the adopted life (Jan. 13, 2014). http://theadoptedlife.com/2014/01/13/do-trans-racial-adoptees-know-anything-about-trans-racial-adoption/.


[21] Laura Klunder, “Adopteephobia,” Gazillion Voices (March 5, 2014).


[22] Katie Hae Leo, “Storytelling as a Political Act,” Gazillion Voices (Aug. 3, 2013).


[23] Raven Sinclair, “The Language of Native Adoption,” Gazillion Voices (Feb. 5, 2014).


[24] bell hooks, Killing Rage: Ending Racism (Holt and Co., 1995) 12.


[25] Ibid.


[26] See also Katie Hae Leo, “Why the Language of Immigration Matters,” Gazillion Voices (Feb. 5, 2013) and “On Passing, Adoption, and Disability,” Gazillion Voices (Nov. 3, 2013); Joy Messinger, “What Does it Mean to Win if We Lose Each Other in the Process?: Thoughts on Activism & Being in Three Movements,” Gazillion Voices (April 3, 2014); and Grace Newton, “Checking My Privilege,” Gazillion Voices (March 5, 2014).