Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Discourse of Disempowerment

If you are involved in adoption on an experiential level, that is if you are an adoptee, a first parent or an adoptive parent, you are subject to an oppressive discourse designed to disempower you. This disempowerment is engrained in cultural mores, societal restrictions and state regulation. If you live in adoption, you are suspect. If you are a first parent you are assumed to be angelic and saintly, only so long as you remain invisible. Once a first parent becomes visible, they are demonized and pathologized. If you are an adopter, you are also projected as a suspect angel, because who but a saint, or someone with a severe reproductive deficiency, will voluntarily raise another's child? Adoptees are alternately little angels, damaged goods, superior performers compared with the unadopted, inferior performers compared with the unadopted, "blank slates" waiting for acceptable parental imprint, and, if they advocate for themselves, selfish and ungrateful. Nobody in adoption escapes this discourse of disempowerment.

There is no greater example of how profoundly this discourse shapes the topology of life-in-adoption than to look at how adoption's critics characterize each other. I'll quote from Mirah Riben's critique (from the AdopTalk blog) of Bastard Nation's Mission:

And then, it finally hit me! Suddenly the answer was perfectly clear. And I presented it: They don’t mess with the falsification of their birth ccertificates because they want to have their cake and eat it to. They love having been adopted into a higher socio-economic strata. And they don't dare rock the boat or bite the hand that feeds them and has educated many of them very well indeed!And, more importantly, IT IS ALL ABOUT C-O-N-T-R-O-L!They prefer to live their lives, pretending to be born to their adoptive parents, and have the control to choose where, when and what they do with their true information once they are adults. Maybe stalk us and see if we are “worthy” of them. See exactly what kind of blue collar trash we are before deciding. Maybe contact us once, get some medical information, and then toss us away.

Note how Riben, a forceful advocate for first mothers and critic of adoption, appropriates the same themes, even the same terms, as the institution she criticizes. Empowered adoptees are selfish, they want control. Adoptees who define their own existential reality of adoption are deluded, "pretending". Adoptees "stalk" first mothers. How is this different from NFCA boilerplate?

This would be dismaying as an individual incident, but this style of rhetoric and its underlying assumptions are the norm rather than the exception in adoption critique. There is a very good reason for this, it is because those who have lived in adoption have deeply internalized the oppressive discourse that has defined their existence. They have no other frame of reference, no other language or lexicon to measure their experience or the experience of their fellow citizens in Adoption World. Having been pathologized by the system, they mistake the pathologization of others as a signifier of empowerment; "to be powerful I must usurp someone else's power, I must oppress them, if not in deed [because none of the critics of adoption wield power of the sort necessary to actualize their critiques] then in discourse."

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14 Comments:

Blogger Marley Greiner said...

This is excellent as usual, and cuts to the whole fucked uppedness of this wretched system. I am greatly dismayed to see an increasing number of deformers morphing into NCFA shills. The Mass. fiasco is a perfect example. I'd so prefer to deal with the real t lan to reply to Mirah, but on my schedule.

Marly

12:21 AM  
Blogger Joy said...

Some how I missed the part of my experience of being a little angel. Maybe that happened before I got there.

I lacked duality, I was firmly rooted in the "Miss Terribly Ungrateful Charity Project but she Can't Help it is the Bearer of Bad Genes." role

11:11 AM  
Blogger BronzeByGold said...

There is a very good reason for this, it is because those who have lived in adoption have deeply internalized the oppressive discourse that has defined their existence. They have no other frame of reference, no other language or lexicon to measure their experience or the experience of their fellow citizens in Adoption World. Having been pathologized by the system, they mistake the pathologization of others as a signifier of empowerment; "to be powerful I must usurp someone else's power, I must oppress them, if not in deed [because none of the critics of adoption wield power of the sort necessary to actualize their critiques] then in discourse."

You're right BB -- we've been framed.

Breaking that frame is an existential problem of the first order. In your paragraph you address how this problem has come about (internalization of oppressive discourse,) but not how to break the frame.

Marley refers to "the whole fucked uppedness of this wretched system." I take her to mean that the internalization sets up an inner state of oppression that perpetuates itself for the lifetime of the first parent, adopted person, etc.

It seeme to me that the tools needed to dismantle the frame and walk free of it will not be found within the frame, but rather outside of it. The system only knows to build the same old frame. It works well enough, and continues to trap a steady stream of real people within. But those who constructed it have failed to provide directions or maps for escaping the frame and leaving it behind. For that we must look elsewhere. The question is, where?

But where to look is not the first question we must consider. The first question we must consider is if we are willing to leave the frame at all, or if we are content to live within its confines. I suggest to you that most are content to live within. To leave the frame is to risk grappling with the unknown world outside. I suggest that for most, it's easier, cheaper and much more gratifying to rail against a known and predictable world than to take your chances outside.

I'm not convinced that this behavior is specific to adoption. Many people collude with their oppressors in order to maintain an identity that they can "live" with.

11:02 PM  
Blogger AdoptTalk said...

Mirah here,

Quoting out of context is deceptive.

"Empowered adoptees are selfish, they want control." YOUR WORDS, NOT MINE!!!

I spoke of wanting control in reference to adoptees who do not want to address the fact that BN condones living with a falsified BC until they are adults and can have the control to initiate a search rather than be found. PERIOD.

I cam to that conclusion only after writing about the subject soince the Spring/Summer of 06 and then again on Basdarette blog and waiting and waiting, STILl for an answer as to WGY Bn opposes calling a spade a spade and calling a falsified BC a falsified BC. In absence of any reply, I drew my own conclusions. if I am wrong, fine...please tell me what the REAL REASON IS...someone....anyone???

As far as stereotypes, as a birthmother I have hardly felt like an angel. Like Joy, I missed that part. I was made to feel like a slut and an unfit mother, that others were far more "deserving of my child" than I, etc., etc. I have heard every pejorative about birthmothers including the famous "any dog can give birth"! And the horrible things about those who dare to "change their mind"!

Adoptive mothers are either saints or sinner, depending on who you are asking.

HOWEVER...as for playing into the hands of NCFA, I dare say that a national orgnaization representing adoptees, having platform agreeing that adoptees need to be PROTECTED from their birthmothers until they are adults does a much better job of that than any of my personal opinions ever could - even if I wanted to harm the open records process, which I do NOT!

I am trying to get Bn to see how THEY are harming it - shooting themselves in the foot! Putting their own retsrictions on rights that should be there with no restriction that non-adoptees have!

Whatever sgae a non-adoptee can get acces to his/her BC in each state is when adoptees should., Plain and simple. Why add the complication of insisting it only be for "adults" as if it something dangerous and potentially harmful??? I just don't get it.

11:59 AM  
Blogger AdoptTalk said...

Re: Breaking Out of Frames

I have discussed with Marley, et al. for some time now the work of George Lakoff on semantics and who gets to frame the argument.

Open records was created as the reverse of "sealed records." To continue to use the language the enemy set up, is analogous to the pro-choice movement calling themselves right-to-die or pro-abortion. According to linguist Lakeoff, once you try to work within the frame set up by tour opposition you automatically give them all the power. You need to cerate your won separate frame.

I have urged Marley and BN to stop using the phrase "open records" and switch to adoption equality or "equal access" - pointing out that that is how the gays succeeded in obtaining marriage rights in NJ - by calling it marriage equality.

This is all in addition to the fact that Open records cries of opening Pandora's Box - danger, danger Will Robinson!

As an offshoot of this issue, I further feel that pointing our to the ignorant (unknowing) public, the fact that adoptees records are FALSIFIED. Whenever I tell this to anyone, they are SHOCKED!

So, now, please tell me how encouraging BN not to use the phrase Open records is selfish on my part as a birthmother and what secret agenda I have in doing it.

3:52 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

"I am trying to get Bn to see how THEY are harming it - shooting themselves in the foot! Putting their own retsrictions on rights that should be there with no restriction that non-adoptees have"

Well, you're doing a piss-poor job of it, Mirah. No children have the right to access their own birth certificates. But you think BN should advocate for a special right for adoptive childen to do just that. I think it's stupid that in US adoption the BC is amended to show that the adoptive parents gave birth to the adoptee, but I don't see that as egregious violation of rights as long as the original is available to the adoptee as an adult. Why as an adult? Because that's when everybody can access their birth certificates without the permission of their parents.

It seems that you are confounded by the fact that Bastard Nation is an organization of adult adoptees dedicated to the rights of adult adoptees. Instead, according to you, we should be advocates of all adoptees (with a presumption of support for reunion at all ages.) Implicit in your argument is the assumption that this would make BN more effective by ironing out its presumed internal contradictions.

But this repositioning would take BN away from its ideological foundation of adult adoptees advocating for themselves and into child advocacy, again presumably, using "the child's best interest" as a critera for social change. It would broaden BN's constituency but not broaden its base of power, since children are without the means to assert their rights. Why would this be a good thing?

2:45 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

"I have discussed with Marley, et al. for some time now the work of George Lakoff on semantics and who gets to frame the argument."

Where has Lakoff written about empowering marginalized populations? Lakoff appealed to a temporarily unpopular sector of our US oligarchy, the Democrats, precisely because he offered no threat of empowering marginalized people. Poor folks are objectified in Lakoff's formulation. They need the good parenting of the liberals, not the bad parenting of the conservatives. In Lakoff's equations, bastards and first moms need to be regulated, in a gentle but firm way, by our parents, the liberal government. Remember, its Lakoff's padron, Clinton, who passed the odious Adoptive Families Act.


"I have urged Marley and BN to stop using the phrase "open records" and switch to adoption equality or "equal access" - pointing out that that is how the gays succeeded in obtaining marriage rights in NJ - by calling it marriage equality."

BN actually won a ballot initiative with the phrase Open Records. I suspect, if they focused on fundraising and membership development, that they could pass a bunch more. How many gay marriage ballot initiatives have passed? How many anti-gay marriage initiatives have passed? Would changing the term Open Records to "equal access" make any substantive difference in suits brought to open records in the courts? I'll answer that, no, it wouldn't.

"So, now, please tell me how encouraging BN not to use the phrase Open records is selfish on my part as a birthmother and what secret agenda I have in doing it."

I have no idea what you're talking about. I don't recall saying you had any agenda or that your were selfish. I am reminded, though, that made the same criticisms about Bastard Nation ten years ago, and got pretty much the same answers, so I'm not sure why you think it's worth going over again.

3:12 PM  
Blogger mary said...

"forceful advocate for first mothers and critic of adoption"


Advocates for first mothers and advocates for children or adults of adoption don't necessarily have separate or mutually exclusive goals, and Mirah has certainly worked towards reforms in both. I think the reason these goals are thought of as separate or even as conflicting entities by some can be found in the framework of adoption as it exists today.

An adoption begins with someone placing the idea in an expectant mother's mind that her child's interests are separate, conflicting, and paramount to her own.

The truth is, they needed each other and should have been supported as a unit. Already obvious, a child needs a mother's physical and emotional nurturing.
A lesser known and rarely acknowledged fact is that the mother had an actual need to nurture this child she carried and gave birth to. Ask any mother. Important needs of both are discarded in separating them from each other.

Most awake and aware firstmothers desire that adoptees obtain unconditional access to their OBC's. Somehow I think it would also benefit the cause not to alienate us in separating our interests as separate or conflicting to adoptee interests, when we want that for you as well.

We also want ethical practice and law in adoption, which involves the
well-being of both mothers and children, not either or.

Personally, I believe that ethical practice and law including a truly
informed consent would preclude many of the unecessary adoptions from happening in the first place, working here from the root... just as having an unaltered BC at the outset would be a big part of honesty in adoption, from early on.

I think part of what's happening is that we as firstmothers are having less and less tolerance for any of the lies upon which adoption is
established. Lies kill, and I'm speaking in both figurative and literal terms.

Our issues may be broader in scope whereas adoptee rights groups may
necessarily have a more narrow focus in working towards their goal and all the language should reflect that, but if our interests are always seen as mutually exclusive to the other's, we have to consider that this perception may be based on the framing of "best interests of the child" as a separate and conflicting goal, not only from infancy but even on into adulthood. I just don't believe that is true. Except in cases where there are genuine safety concerns identified.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Joy said...

hhhmphf.

this is interesting to me, I don't think children in my state are denied access to their birth certificates.

I don't know much about BN, but I think the "equal access" makes sense from a political standpoint, and don't understand why anyone would be against reunion as a minor.

We only have to wait until adulthood now to fulfill some f-ked agreement that our childhoods have been purchased outright.


Where I live records are open, but only to adoptive parents, I never reach the age of majority at my county clerk's office

10:30 AM  
Blogger Joy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:37 AM  
Blogger mary said...

joy: "this is interesting to me, I don't think children in my state are denied access to their birth certificates."

I remember having mine as long as I can remember. There was no need for my mother to keep it from me once I could responsibly keep it in a box in my drawer. But I'm not adopted.

My first born who was adopted described being given his altered certificate as a minor (young teen) when he needed and asked his adoptive mother for it for some purpose. He conveyed to me his distress and disbelief in seeing it, knowing the information was false. I had no awareness that the BC's were altered in adoption, until then.

joy: "I don't know much about BN, but I think the "equal access" makes sense from a political standpoint, and don't understand why anyone would be against reunion as a minor."

I think children are generally more resilient, open-minded and hopeful than adults, and if they were given access to at least some form of knowledge or better, contact with one or both first parents from early on, would have less feelings of abandonment and therefore have less fear and all that stems from that fear, as adults. Reunion wouldn't be the elephant of an issue it is for so many now, if contact were allowed and provided in a supportive and integrative environment, from childhood.

12:26 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

Joy wrote:

"I don't know much about BN, but I think the "equal access" makes sense from a political standpoint,"

That depends on the audience. It makes sense to you because you already know the issue. If you didn't know beforehand, the question "equal access" would raise would be equal access to what? Health care? Housing? So you end up saying "records" anyway...

10:34 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

joy: "...and don't understand why anyone would be against reunion as a minor."

Then Mary: "I think children are generally more resilient, open-minded and hopeful than adults, and if they were given access to at least some form of knowledge or better, contact with one or both first parents from early on, would have less feelings of abandonment and therefore have less fear..."

Possibly, but BN was founded as an organization focused on the civil rights of adult adoptees, not as an advocacy group for adopted children, so the arguments are moot.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

I actually wasn't making an argument, just trying to figure this all out in my own head.

Like I said, I don't know very much about BN, I am interested in it and the politics around adoption, I can completely understand BN's desire to have a singularity of purpose and not want to get diverted.

As far as slogans that will appeal to the public ear, I gave an honest opinion, but am not going to tell a group that I am not a member of what to say, I am sure you have plenty of your own ideas.

I haven't been involved in adoption reform in any way. I am just curious about what is out there.

12:15 AM  

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