Growing up in Minnesota, one of the most common questions I’ve been asked has been “where are you from?” This seemingly simple, yet annoying question then unfolds into multiple questions, including asking me where I am really from. As a transracial adoptee, this question has been more than a mere annoyance. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt odd responding when this question is asked. One, because it’s really no one’s business where I was born. Two, because it then invites more questions for which I am expected to gleefully answer.
As the questions continue, it undoubtedly ends with me stating that I was adopted and more often than not, the other person stating they “know an adoptee.” Their brother’s best friend is an adoptee or their extended family member is an adoptee.
There is an assumption that because they know an adoptee, they know me. With that assumption, they continue asking me probing questions. My responses are then judged on the basis of “what they know.” The conversation ends with judgment cast upon me, whether it’s vocalized or not.
Adoptees Are Not a Monolith
Contrary to popular belief, just because you know an adoptee, does not mean you know all adoptees. When I was younger, I begrudgingly answered questions because I thought it was the polite thing to do. That, coupled with the fact that I had been pitted against other more “open” adoptees, I also felt increasingly guilty for not wanting to answer intrusive questions. As I’ve aged, I’ve gotten more comfortable holding my ground, although I still feel like I have to be more polite than I normally would be. This is especially true in the workplace, and yes, these types of questions are not confined to social gatherings.
What amazes me the most about the questions and assumptions is the level of entitlement that comes with them. I’ve been called “sensitive” too many times to keep track. I’ve also been told that I “have nothing to complain about” because it was deemed I was not grateful enough. Not only do others feel entitled to ask me intrusive, probing questions, they also feel entitled to freely judge and dismiss my experiences.
While these instances should not affect me the way that they do, I am often exhausted by these types of interactions. The questions, entitlement, judgment all weigh heavily. Perhaps it’s because I’ve weathered these interactions my entire life and I am tired of having to explain my existence.
I shouldn’t continually be asked about my life story and then expected to discuss details on demand. I am not a circus animal, here solely for the amusement of others. Yet I’m often subjected to inane questioning from random individuals and acquaintances alike. I thought as I aged the questions would cease, however, there has been no reprieve in sight.
Ownership of Lived Experiences
Adoptee experiences are reflective of the individual adoptee. Even those raised in the same household can have vastly different experiences and opinions from one another. This would not be a shock if adoptees were given ownership of their experiences, ownership of their lives. I’ve thought about my life, looking back retrospectively as I often do. What stands out the most for me is the lack of ownership I’ve felt throughout a good portion of it.
I’ve been judged against the status quo, never quite meeting expectations. My experiences have been continually dismissed, often by those that I thought would have supported me. I’ve been asked to toe the line of gratefulness because it makes it easier for everyone. Not really even asked, but demanded. Even during the throes of birth parent searching, I am finding that my experiences and feelings are not what is expected of me. Everyone wants to know about it, few want to listen to how difficult and painful it has been.
See Me for Who I Am, Not What You Think You Know
The road to self-understanding and ultimately self-acceptance has been long and seemingly never-ending. It has been difficult accepting and acknowledging situations and experiences that have caused me harm or pain. By doing so, it means I must confront the feelings of being inferior in some way. Feelings that have followed me throughout my life that can be directly connected with me being an adoptee.
While the assumption of knowing me and my experiences because someone “knows an adoptee” may seem insignificant, it is much more than just a tiresome question. What seems like an insignificant question or comment is actually quite painful and/or hurtful. I’ve learned to weather through these as an adult, but it still hurts. The few times I have called out what was said as being hurtful, I’ve been met with feigned ignorance. “No harm was intended” means nothing to me. Harm was inflicted, regardless of intent.
If there’s anything I wish others would understand, it is that adoptees are individuals with their own stories and experiences. It’s not anyone else’s story to tell or base assumptions on. My story is mine and mine alone. My experiences have shaped me. See me for who I am, not what you think you know. What other adoptees experience, how their story is told, is theirs. Please give adoptees space for their voices to be heard and respect for their stories to be told.