“Coming Out” As Adopted

The metaphor of “coming out” has been used elsewhere as a way to describe the experience of disclosing one’s status as adopted.

What do you think about how this metaphor illuminates and distorts being open about one’s adoption experience?

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10 thoughts on ““Coming Out” As Adopted

  1. Some people remarked that they were automatically outed (by appearance, by name, by circumstance); in other words, they couldn’t pass. And, indeed, some LGBTQ (I will just say “queer”) people don’t have the luxury of passing, while others do. How parallel is this experience? One difference: outright physical violence (lynching, “fag-bashing”) seems way less prevalent than forms of abuse in the home? Where the queer kid who can’t pass gets kicked out of the house for “how they are” the adopted kid gets “stuck in the house” (and often targeted) precisely for /their/ markers.

  2. I recently located my genetic mother, and after some initial (serious) anxiety, she opened up to talking to me. But she told me, prior to doing that, she wanted to tell her other two kids. But in the process of warning her kids she had something to say, she induced a lot of anxiety in them because, “God, Mom, what did you do? Kill someone?” &c. And when she finally admitted she’d had a child out of wedlock in 1966, they both said, “Oh, is that all? You told us years ago, when we were teenagers.” It sounded like a classic coming out story to relatives who’ve already known for years.

    I suppose this is like parents having to admit to other people they birthed a “gay kid” but it was striking to me how much like a “coming out” my genetic mom made her experience sound (without realizing she was).

  3. It is like coming out to me. Being adopted is something not many people understand. For all the positive spin that adoption gets in society, it’s still not something to be proud of. adoption stains the adopted. We are seen as something unclean. No one wants to be an adopted child. The very idea chills most people to the bone. I have very dark, negative feelings about infant adoption.

  4. I discussed this subject with a gay friend who found it interesting that I framed the “lessers” of LGBTQ, race, sex, adoption and religion (etc.) dyads as embodying societal Shame in a Christian male dominant, hetero-normative setting.

    • This is interesting to hear. On the one hand, it was far more fraught with worry to come out (to my family), but then, I didn’t have to come out as adopted because it was openly acknowledged in my (immediate) family. I probably assumed all of my relatives knew (but never checked).

      And if “coming out” as adopted is easy now, maybe it’s because the rehearsed disclosure “I’m not heterosexual” has given me the “tools” for such disclosures. It is also the case I more often come out not-heterosexual than adopted; it less often crosses my mind to mention and less often gets “afronted” into a necessary disclosure by the society I live in.

      I mean, someone just yesterday, when my mate and I were gadding about, I mentioned that my mate and I had moved to Illinois from Washington. And the person I was speaking to said, “How long have you two lived together?” And it was clear from how he asked it: he’d previously thought of us as “roommates” and was (on the fly and abruptly) revising that to “more than roommates”. The assumption that led him to ask is the sort of “affront” that could have made me say, “Yes, we’re mates.” Like when someone assumes (unknowingly) of a gay male, “Do you have a girlfriend?”

      The assumption that the people who raised me are also my genetic parents is so deeply entrenched, it just never comes up (for me) for this kind of affront. Even if someone said, “Where are your parents from?” I’d start spieling out facts about my adoptive parents. So I don’t register the affront either. (I mean, now I would.) “Where are your parents from?” “Which parents?” (The normative assumption of two, non-remarried, non-foster, non-irregular parents similarly throws its weight into this question.)

      So it might be, in my case, because the marker of my adoption is so deeply ingrained in my identity that the sense of it already being self-evident (to me) makes it less difficult to “come out” about it for me. But it also means I far less readily spot the sort of normative assumptions that people who (1) didn’t “pass” or (2) were adopted later notice, and more painfully (it seems).

  5. I think there are many dimensions of this that are worth discussing. I’m actually in the process of writing something about one facet of “outing” or what it means to “be outed”, as it relates to being transracially adopted. I think there is something about not looking like your family that brings to the surface various preconceived notions that society has about a. what family is supposed to be and of course, b. race. In my experience, looking different from my family has resulted in sort of an automatic outing. It’s like people who are on the outside need the relationship to be qualified on some level. So that impacts things quite a bit. And then there’s that sort of minimization that sometimes happens, around being told that “oh, well that’s not your real family” or whatever else. I think that’s interesting too. Then of course, there are some big racial implications. For example, growing up in a White household, I’ve developed a certain pattern of speech, which many people sort of look at me and aren’t able to place. Of course, patterns like these happen on a much deeper level as well, but yes, just something to think about. Because then, at least for me, I find myself having to qualify my status as adoptee – having to make sense for others what, on it’s own, doesn’t “make sense” in society. As for the comparison to the LGBTQ community, I don’t know if I have any valid insights to offer because that’s not an identity that I hold, but I do think that within my own family, it’s caused quite a shock to become so open about my experiences and the very real ways in which my identity as an adoptee has shaped my perspectives and worldview. Having said that, I think adoptee identity and LGBTQ identities are very different from each other and within themselves, and because of this would be difficult to compare. So I know a lot my comment probably doesn’t respond to the question in the way you’re asking, but I do think it’s worth bringing up – that sometimes we don’t get to out ourselves – sometimes we’re outed in a way habitualizes the outing in such a way that we go through life contextualizing our identities for others due to the incongruence of our very existences.

  6. I think one major difference: coming out LGBTQ often involves a massive sea-change in the sense of living life authentically. Even if one does not then fall into the warms of a welcoming community, there’s a sense one could.

    I don’t see this triumph of living authentically (even with welcoming arms, like around here). People feel a huge weight lift often with coming out; it doesn’t seem like that holds for adoption, unfortunately.

  7. SL, you touch on something here that I think is the defining difference. “Coming out” as adopted is a direct refutation of very particular economic and political myths. Our adherence to these myths is part of the “bargain” we didn’t willingly sign onto as adoptees, as we’ve discussed here at length. To such an extent that, as you state, “community” among other adoptees is often fleeting—other adoptees don’t necessarily abide by our common source. This defines an economic and political line that can’t be crossed. This is a binary of the politically embodied and those without such embodiment. And so, we “choose” to literally trash ourselves when we “come out” as adoptees. Furthermore, our rebuke is taken as being against those who “chose” us, and this is unforgivable in terms of society.

    “Coming out” in terms of sexual identification is very different when analyzed in these terms. It is defined as a “choice”, but it doesn’t taint society—the choice is localized. It reflects a similar binary, but the societal binary doesn’t mind those on the other side of the line as long as they uphold their economic and political roles in that society. This is where those who define themselves as “bi” or on the “down low” or even “in transit” concerning gender are considered much more dangerous, since they are “passing”, or won’t leave the spectrum and settle into the black and white. The reaction to them is much different socially speaking, and closer to the reaction to adoptees “coming out”.

  8. I tell people I’m adopted all the time. For me, it’s on about the same level as telling them I saw Star Wars, yesterday (I haven’t, really. I’m mad about that.). Of course, part of this comes with the fact that if my parents are around, it’s not like people aren’t going to figure it out (though people have tried to be very polite and tell me they can see at least some resemblance. There’s none. I’m Asian. My parents are white. Appreciate the effort, though!).

    It just doesn’t seem like a big thing for me (I’m speaking for me, myself, personally. I’m aware this must be different for other people in diverse situations.). I’m comfortable with it, and really has never felt terribly different from “I was a home birth” or “I was born through cesarian section”. It’s nobody’s business, if an adoptee doesn’t want to talk about it, but I really just don’t care in my own case. I wouldn’t say I’m proud to be adopted, because I didn’t do anything personally to make it happen– but I’ve never felt like it’s a thing to keep private, because it’s not something that feels like it merits a lot of privacy. It always felt like just another way to make a family.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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