Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Positive Adoption Language

A blog post I stumbled upon in the last couple of days keeps poking at my brain, trying to get me to write something about it. I'm not sure what I need to say. I'm not sure I have anything to add to the debate about adoption language.

Maybe it doesn't have to be new, though. Maybe simply being another voice in the chorus will help get through to some people. Or maybe I'm just banging my head into the wall. Either way...

When I look at the typical lists of so-called "Positive Adoption Language," it just sets off so many emotional triggers.

One of the most well-known terms of PAL is "birthmother." There have been a number of very good articles written about why this term is offensive to women who have relinquished their children for adoption. (One good article on this point is "Why 'Birthmother' Means 'Breeder'" by Diane Turski.) For me, as an adoptee, I find it demeaning of my relationship with my (first) mom. She's not my "birthmother." It sounds wrong to me. And the term also doesn't help me talk about other people in my biological family. I don't have a "birthfather" (as Turski and others have pointed out). No man gave birth to me. And my brothers aren't my "birthbrothers." They weren't even born when I was born!

So why is this a "positive" term? What's positive about it? Is it just an alternative to "real mother" and "natural mother"? That's what it seems. So it's positive for adoptive parents. But it isn't positive for two-thirds of the so-called triad. So why is it the "correct" language? It's minimizing. And in the end, I find it offensive.

Similarly, when I see people claim that the correct language is "was adopted" rather than "is adopted," I want to scream. By turning my adoption into an event in the past, those who advocate such revisionist language seek to minimize the gigantic impact adoption has in my life, and the lives of other adoptees.

Also, we're not supposed to say that a child is "given up" for adoption. Rather, they were "placed for adoption." The idea is that being "given up" signifies that the child was discarded, that the child wasn't valued. But here's the thing... That's how adoptees often feel. We feel abandoned. We feel as though we've been given up.

Why is it "positive" to sugar-coat the experience of adoptees? To gloss over the pain that is too often a part of adoption? Who is it positive for? The adoption industry? I don't see the positive of this language. I see an attempt to alter reality. To deny reality. To deny the negatives of adoption.

I guess I would hope for some honesty in the way we talk about adoption. Language is important. It shapes ideas and opinions. And if we aren't willing to talk honestly about adoption, we cannot be sure we are doing right by the children that adoption is supposed to be about.

Me? I'm adoptee. I've been an adoptee most of my life. That's not going to change. I have four parents, one of whom still hasn't spoken to me. Two moms. Two dads. I only use adjectives to distinguish them when it's necessary. And I never use the "birth" adjective. If people don't like it... well... tough. This is my life, my experiences. I'm not going to listen to someone else tell me how to talk about it. Especially when their proposed language seems a denial of reality.

I think people need to ask themselves... Why do we feel such a need to pretty up the way we talk about adoption? Is it because people have a deep suspicion that there really is something wrong with adoption, and they need to bury it with language?

That would be my guess.

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