The Queer Korean American Adoptee

In the United States, we live in a society that often lacks love and acceptance. From the day we’re born, we’re told how we should live our lives. We’re surrounded by everyday messages through media, like advertisements, television shows, and literature, that explain to us how we should raise our children, how we should look, and how we should act in certain situations. Interesting is also this UW Tacoma video in which JaeRan Kim talks about adoptees as parents and Korean American adoptees are talking about Race, Ethnicity, and Adoption.

Our culture pressures us to embody a certain “norm,” and consequently, we frequently hold ourselves—whether consciously or not—to impossible standards. To this end, when we strive to reach these standards, we automatically set ourselves up for failure. It might be especially difficult for people who hold marginalized identities, or people who are often socially excluded for not personifying cultural norms, to exist and survive under these conditions.

Let’s listen to Erica Gehringer’s story. “When I was growing up, I tried my very best to assimilate to the norm. At four months old, I was transracially adopted by two white parents and an older adopted Korean brother into a 96% white, suburban, Midwestern town.”

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Adopteephobia

What if I am not missing a person, place, or thing? Rather, I am denied the words that are shaping my life. The absence of these words is no less heartbreaking than the loss of my first family, culture, and language. However, these words can interrupt, resist, and heal the undeniable sickness of adoption trauma. Therefore, in an effort to stop missing that which cannot be replaced, I am calling out ADOPTEEPHOBIA.

ADOPTEEPHOBIA [uh-dop-tee-foh-bee-uh] (n.) The irrational fear and hatred of adoptees.

Origin: White supremacy, patriarchy, class subordination, disability injustice, Christian hegemony.

ADOPTEEPHOBIA [uh-dop-tee-foh-bee-uh] (n.) The restrictive, pervasive, and deadly assumptions that are upholding a discriminatory system targeting adoptees.

Related forms: adopteephobic

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Homophobia and Heterosexism to Adoptees

When Nancy Newton Verrier, an adoptive parent, suggests that adoptee lesbian relationships are motivated by the traumatic loss of their mothers in her discussion on “The Incest Taboo,” she does this within the context of homophobia and heterosexism to adoptees – a context where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are marginalized as sick, wrong, perverted, and dangerous. LGBTQ adoptees may experience homophobia as threats to their physical safety, in addition to employment, housing, and healthcare discrimination due to sexual orientation and perceived gender identity.

Homophobia is a dangerous power dynamic of heterosexism – the values, beliefs, and behaviors that position heterosexuality as the norm, and ensure the subordination of married and unmarried women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender people whose gender assignment at birth or adoption is not the same as their gender identity. Within homophobia and heterosexism, the biological parent and child relationship is the only socially acceptable example of same-gender love that is not shameful if elevated above married partnership.

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My Reflection on Mother’s Day

Until the age of 29, I had never met anybody who looked like me. That is, until I met my birth mother. This is the memory I’d take with me to Mars, if I ever go there. This post is about my reflection on Mother’s Day.

In June, I attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit for the first time. Described as a “collaborative laboratory of media-based organizing strategies for transforming our world,” it is an annual gathering of healers and rabble-rousers of all kinds that pays particular attention to centering the stories, experiences, and leadership of women, people with disabilities, queer and trans* folks, people of color, lower-income people, immigrants, and other historically marginalized and silenced communities.

To set the stage at one workshop, the facilitators told us that due to the post-industrial destruction of Earth, we would be evacuating to Mars. The only catch was that we would each lose all of our memories but would be able to listen to the three-minute story of just one, which we would be learning to craft, tell, and record as part of our session together.

For people who know me, it comes as no surprise that Mother’s Day is an emotionally challenging holiday for me. As a daughter, I carry with me the complex sadness of being estranged from my parents for reasons that are partially due to identity and conflict and partially due to my own survival and self-preservation.

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A Grateful Adoptee

The last love letter he wrote to me was a thank you card. In every possible action, our love and gratitude were inextricable, despite the societal sicknesses that divided us by race, gender, and landscape. Ross, who I described as my anti-racist white boyfriend, did his best to love me, a grateful adoptee, for the three years in which I purchased three one-way tickets to Korea.

Each time, he drove me to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport, carried my baggage, and kissed me farewell on my journey into adoptee activism. One year ago, we finally tired of the ritual, and parted ways in love and acceptance of our separate, emerging paths. On the other side of that departure, I arrived at KoRoot–a small, but mighty guest house and NGO in Seoul, South Korea.

Once again, I passed through the creaking front gate into the garden, continued forward up the concrete steps, and reached the guest house entrance where I paused to remove my shoes. Little did I know, I was beginning my daily return to KoRoot, a labor of love and gratitude to serve the 200,000 overseas Korean adoptees to which I belong, on behalf of the organization that has welcomed me in both times of greatness and vulnerability.

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Timebender

Let’s listen to this Laura Klunder story. When a Timebender gets cancer, you may stop breathing. Your chest will tighten as her cells multiply. Your body will weaken as hers deteriorates. This is her magic, too. She is here and gone without warning. She ages you too quickly and bends you backward to meet in her youth. In the first seconds of reunion, she is truly extraordinary. While her strength may seem unprecedented in search, it is the threat of passing that reveals her reach. Wherever you run, her determination in both birth and death will chase you. My birth mother is a Timebender. When I learned that she has cancer, I felt betrayed by time.

I am one of two hundred thousand exiled Spacebenders, born into a world at war against Timebenders. In solidarity with each of us who has been relegated to the margins of society, I have learned to deconstruct and reshape space to hold intersecting, divergent, and shifting locations of home and family. In childhood, I sensed my magic due to the uncanny ability to adapt to the smallest places.

Nevertheless, I was isolated by violence and felt abandoned. I was disgusted by my outstanding qualities and wished to run away rather than just fit into the narrow minds that restricted me. By adolescence, I wearied of the game of hide and shrink and desired spaces that expanded with my growth. And so, I set forth on an adventure into the unknown territories of self and cultural landscape, while holding the loved ones that had shaped me thus far. On this quest, I encountered a Timebender, who happened to be my birth mother.

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Dear Mother

I didn’t know till now how secret from myself my hopes were.
They tell me you’re on medication.
They tell me you don’t remember me.
The anesthetic they injected before my birth must have done its work.
Now, my Dear Mother, you remember no pain.

Now, you don’t remember the extraction, the surgery,
the body that burgeoned like a weed from yours.
Me, the mud you wiped from your boot at the door,
or maybe it was your mother and father who scraped me from your sleeping soles,
either way, the rain has come
and rinsed my rust down the driveway.

Your mind is fluorescent hospital hallway.
Our blood has been bleached from the sheet.
They’ve convinced you sterile means peace.

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Thoughts on Activism and Being in Three Movements

In this post, Let’s dig a little bit deeper into my thoughts on activism and being in three movements to address the social and emotional sides in general, and, in my case, with adoption from Korea in particular and how it all relates to individuals who are perhaps a little different from the average person and have to deal with “transphobia”. Read on to learn what my activism is all about.

First: Crescendo. Marcato.
The Recipe

Step 1: Combine equal parts Doodle scheduler, conference call, shared Google Document, pronoun self-determination check-in question, transformative justice rhetoric, non-hierarchical consensus process.
Step 2: Add anger. Add outrage. Add fierceness. Add passion.
Step 3: Paint signs. Paint more signs. Paint a banner. Paint the town … red.
Step 4: Create a Facebook event. Invite everyone you know. That “Share” button is technology’s new wheat paste, so go big or go home. Adhere it to your Wall between a billet-doux to organic kale and a rant on OKCupid’s lack of gender & sexuality options. Gotta be down for the struggle and the snuggle, right?
Step 5: Get up. Get out there. The revolution is not a “House of Cards” Netflix binge. Boots on the pavement. Chants in the megaphone. KYR in the pocket. Fire in the heart.

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The River

Let me tell you a secret. I once fell in love with the river. I was young then, and I didn’t know any better. She lured me in with the promise of a better life and swept me away from my people and land. She was rich and beautiful, and I was reckless. Even if I had known how to stop water in her tracks, I would have refused so that I could keep playing but I remember feeling amused by their warnings about the river.

Some people hate having fun. They insisted the water is toxic and that I would die if I remain in the river. I ignored their warnings out of necessity. I could not imagine life outside of her walls. I have no memories beyond the river. She is my only home and family. So I continued to delight in my captivity, feeling lucky to be alive and swimming.

On one particularly lonely day, I almost drowned in the river. The shy boy who had a crush on me offered me his hand. I felt invisible to everyone else and was amazed that he could see me. Wearied by the tumultuous waters at home, I fell victim to desires of escape within a hopeless reality. When his open hand turned cold and revealed itself as a weapon against my body, I learned that the river was a dangerous place. Help is not always as it seems.

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Reclaiming Culture

So many thoughts went through my head. I thought about writing about the social injustices that have been plaguing people of color and I thought about writing about oppression on a broader scale. Both of these are worthy topics and there’s much to say about each. It has to do with reclaiming culture so I decided ultimately to go back to the overarching theme for these columns—research.

In a previous post, I wrote about doing insider research in my role as an adult international adoptee who does research on adoptees. I’d like to report on some of the scholarships that I have produced within this capacity.

In October of 2012, I, along with a graduate student of mine, Lisa Treweeke, and a colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Muninder Ahluwalia, published a paper titled, “Reclaiming culture: Reculturation of transracial and international adoptees” in the Journal of Counseling and Development. The concept of reculturation refers to the process by which transracial and international adoptees (to whom I’ll refer as TRIAs to simplify this narrative) reclaim their birth cultures, which were lost or never attained due to their placement in transracial adoptive homes.

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