Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Piece of Paper as the Regulation of Desire

A piece of paper can no more bring peace of mind than being able to choose which bus seat one sits in can solve the intractability of racism. But it's amazing how many molecules are agitated when attention is brought to bear on these relatively inconsequential matters - demanding a document in a file, taking the "wrong" seat on a city bus.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, that is to say over ten years ago, some adoptees began to communicate with each other on the internet. They found that the internet provided an unmediated space in which to create discourse, and this communication became a "site" (not a website), a location in which they could articulate notions of adoptee identity outside the restrictive framework imposed by their socio-culture (and that framework included the main streams of adoption culture at that point).

These adoptees, freed (at least temporarily, at least in this corner of cyberspace) from the restrictions of positioning in triads, dyads and such, began to articulate a nascent sense of adopted/bastard identity that was autonomous and integrated. I don't mean to imply that these adoptee/bastards were "whole" uncomplicated people, freed from conflicted family dramas and attendant quotidian neuroses, no, they were, as a group, crazy as hell. But they were onto something; the possibility of an adopted identity, differentiated from non-adopted identity.

One signal quality of this newly considered bastard identity was what was articulated as the "need to know". My readings of late lead me to believe that this was a misstatement, what was being formed was a notion of a "desire to know". Why "desire" and not "need"? Because "need" is quantifiable, "needs" can be "met" (or "unmet"). You "need" to breath, you inhale, for the moment your need to breath is fulfilled. You "need" food, you eat, you are satiated. "Desire", however, is open-ended, insatiable (this is not to say that "desire" is immutable. "Desire" or "desires" can be transient and evolving, or disappear altogether). What these Ur-Bastards were doing, in embracing historical models of bastards as renegades, fabulous creatures, "children of nature", Clark Kent/Superman, Moses, etc., was building a model of adopted identity that wasn't predicated on deficiency, but on desire.

Out of this fertile swamp of emails and posts to alt.adoption evolved Bastard Nation, which was designed as a political organ. As an actor in the arena of politics, Bastard Nation articulated the "desire to know" as a "right to know". BN didn't differentiate between an adoptee who was desperately searching, one who never felt the urge to search, or one who had already found their first families. BN didn't care if adoptees wanted to use their copies of their OBCs to find their mothers or as wallpaper in their downstairs bathrooms. They were all presumed to possess a "right to (the desire) to know." The "desire" was unarticulated, but it informs the bastard discourse throughout. It was not, ever, a needs-based assertion.

BN focused on access to OBCs because the restriction of access is a primary means by which the state regulates bastard desire, and through which it denies the possibility of an "adopted identity." We are allotted one "family" to identify with, it wouldn't do to have two (or more!). The act of demanding this small piece of paper, of asserting a right to the desire to know, is like inserting a laser-beam thin wedge into the edifice of the power that regulates non-adopted and adopted identities alike. As I said, it agitates the molecules. It exposes the dreads, fears, hatreds and paranoia that those in power hold about bastard/adopted identities.

So, that's why those little pieces of paper are important. Not because they promise to fulfill a need, but because in the act of acquiring them we illuminate our desire to know.

[This piece has been gestating for a while, and owes much to the essay "The Immaculate Deception: Adoption in Albee's Plays," by Garry Leonard, and his theory of "adopteestentialism." What really pushed me over the edge, though, was Kimberly Leighton's essay "Being Adopted and Being a Philosopher," a gem of discipline and brilliance.
It is also a Happy 10th Birthday card to Bastard Nation. And as such, I must acknowledge Marley Greiner, Shea Grimm, Damsel Plum, Debra Schwartz, Denise Castellucci and many others who were there at the Birth of a Bastard Nation. And of course, the incomparable B. J., without whose Moments no one could have conceived Bastardy in the first place.]

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