Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I've posted a few times about the language we use to describe the parents involved in adoptions. But recently, I was reminded that not every person who was adopted likes to be called an "adoptee." Part of me understands that, and part of me doesn't. Or rather, maybe I sort of understand it, but disagree with their reasoning. I'm not sure.

I may very well be wrong about this, but I think those who object to the term "adoptee" do so because they think it turns adoption into a disability. They want to claim that adoption is not a life-time situation, it's an event that happens and is over. Calling oneself an "adoptee" sounds like it has become a life-time affliction.

Of course, my problem with this (if it indeed represents some people's thinking on the matter) is that adoption IS a life-time situation. It is not the whole of my existence, but it is a crucial part of who I have become. Children of divorce are always going to be children of divorce. It may not define them, but it is certain important in discussing their formative years (assuming that that is when the divorce took place). Likewise, adoptees will always be adopted persons. Any effects of the adoption are life-long.

While I am never in favor of perpetuating someone's status as victim (it continues to disempower them), the problem here is not that the term "adoptee" connotes victimhood. Certainly it's true that adoptees do not have a say in what happens to them. Adoption is visited upon them because of circumstances outside their control, and often before they can even fully understand what is happening to them. But the point isn't that we are victims. The point is that this event can have deep and lasting impacts on our development and our emotional well-being.

Those who would do away with the term... those who would have us believe that adoption is a localized event that is over once the decree is final, would cover up those lasting effects. They would have us ignore the very real, very important complexities of adoption. They wish to perpetuate the myth that adoption is a simple proposition with no impact on the children who are subjected to it.

Unless we acknowledge the potential harms of adoption, I don't know how we ever hope to address them. For that reason, and so many others, I will continue to identify myself as an "adoptee."

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