Thursday, September 24, 2015

6 Reasons why #ShoutYourAdoption as Push-Back to #ShoutYourAbortion is Problematic (at Best).

About 5 days ago, the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion made its debut on writer Lindy West's Twitter feed to her 60,000 followers, inspired by her friend Amelia Bonow's initiative to speak publically about her abortion experience. Bonow told Vice that she did this as a personal exercise to address the shame she internalized as the result of having an abortion, and as a response to the movement to defund Planned Parenthood. Shortly thereafter, #ShoutYourAdoption burst onto the scene as a push-back to online abortion speak-outs offering adoption as a replacement to abortion. Organizations such as quickly jumped on board directing (whom I assume to be) original parents, "Let's ‪#‎ShoutYourAdoption‬ instead of ‪#‎ShoutYourAbortion‬! Let us know why you chose adoption over abortion." But not everyone, including myself, is thrilled about this social media movement. And one need not be Pro-Life or Pro-Choice to understand why.

Its Intention is to Silence, not Empower
Hashtags are powerful tools that can draw attention to marginalized voices by creating a collective of thoughts and narratives. Last year, Lost Daughters launched #flipthescript, a movement that reached 30 million households in 30 days, to draw attention to voices of adopted and fostered adults who are consistently drowned out in the promotional activity of National Adoption Month. #ShoutYourAbortion too was created as a platform for individuals who have experienced abortion whose voices are drowned out in the noise of election season. Although some re-frame #ShoutYourAdoption as a movement de-stigmatize adoption, the original intention of the hashtag was not to empower the adoption community.

I typed #ShoutYourAdoption into the Twitter search bar and set it to "all" posts "from everyone" and "everywhere" and scrolled all the way to the bottom:

#ShoutYourAdoption first posts on Twitter
#ShoutYourAdoption intentionally elicits the stereotypical conflation of abortion and adoption to cancel out abortion narratives. It's a classic example of pitting marginalized groups against each other to avoid notice that politicians and leaders of institutions lack plans for real social change.

It's a Co-Option
Regardless of what we believe of its original intentions, #ShoutYourAdoption clearly exists in the likeness of the pre-established #ShoutYourAbortion. As such, it co-opts the attention and momentum earned by the Reproductive Justice community as a starting point for its own message. This is also why it's difficult to believe that #ShoutYourAdoption is only about sharing stories and not about canceling out abortion experiences using one of adoption's most ironic, dominant narratives.

Co-option of other movements is a bad habit of the adoption community as we navigate the need to be heard in a world where most people share a direct adoption connection but lack a nuanced understanding of adoption experiences. For example, many of us spoke out against #AdoptedLivesMatter as a co-option of #BlackLivesMatter. Using another movement's recognizability, momentum, and outreach framework to be heard is intellectual theft and we all can agree that it's wrong.

It's Not Always Your Story You're Telling
Although #ShoutYourAbortion is largely used by people who have had abortions to speak about their own experiences, #ShoutYourAdoption relies heavily on narratives of silent, unconsenting participants. Yes, some original parents have used the hashtag to identify that they chose adoption instead of abortion, and some adoptees have used the hashtag to identify that they were adopted instead of aborted. Yet, existing in that same space are posts broadcasting personal narratives belonging to adopted children and original parents. An alarming number of these posts include identifying images of adopted minors, claiming them to be "adopted and not aborted." There are Tweets, many by adult adoptees, that tell stories on behalf of original parents as evidence they were "adopted and nor aborted." As one of the pastors for my denomination recently declared from our pulpit, 
"There is no better way to silence someone than to speak on their behalf."
"Saved from Abortion" is a not an Identity, it's a Narrative Burden
Before I met my mother, I didn't understand the reproductive, parenting, and adoption choices (or lack thereof) she faced. I spoke on her behalf by telling others I was destined to be aborted. I believed I was rescued by a good Christian adoption agency who appealed to my mother to "choose life." This was in fact the agency narrative tied to me at the time of my adoptive placement. As I was conceived from the rape of a minor, it was believable enough that I was unwanted, despised, and nothing but a painful burden to my mother and her family. I was lucky to be alive and too grateful to think anything more self-affirming otherwise. In reality, this was a lie that was suffocating my soul.

I was not "almost aborted" or "should have been aborted." I was born into a world where adults hurt children and was conceived as a result. I was born into a world where poverty and misogyny restrict the choices pregnant people have about abortion, parenting, and adoption, and was adopted as a result. Post-reunion, I removed past labels from my adoption experience. The twists and turns, the ups and downs, the intense human sufferings and joys, of my pre-adoption narrative pack too much nuance to oversimplify with words like "lucky" or "rescued." "Saved from abortion" is a weighty narrative burden I don't wish to carry anymore, and when it is imposed on me, I push back.

It Promotes Social Bias
#ShoutYourAdoption is fueled by that narrative burden--the implicit social bias that "almost aborted" is all our stories. It is made possible by adoption imagery that allows adoption to be predominantly defined by its most rare manifestation--infant adoption. Is it true that some people were adopted as infants? Absolutely. Is it true that some original parents considered abortion? Absolutely. Is it unnecessary to remind the world of this as a campaign when it already exists as a bias so pervasive that over 100,000 legally adoptable children wait in U.S. foster care, virtually ignored? Absolutely not. I will never argue that an individual story isn't important. But I will argue that some single stories do not need to dominate institutions or social movements. From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's brilliant "The Danger of a Single Story,"
"The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."
Criticizing adopted and fostered people who are desperately trying not to be swallowed whole by the  "saved from abortion" story is like having all the pieces of the pie but one and growling a reminder to the people with just one slice that you need to eat too.

It Doesn't Solve Anything
The single story that adoption is always a replacement for abortion doesn't just overlook the nuance of the adoption experience, it overlooks nuances imbued in pregnancy and abortion experiences. Abortion is the result of being unable to continue to be pregnant. Adoption is the result of being unable to continue to parent. As adoptee and OBGYN, Dr. Leah Torres, frequently points out on her Twitter account, people have abortions because they no longer wish to assume the risks of pregnancy and birth. There are more inherent health risks with being pregnant than not being pregnant, and Reproductive Justice advocates argue that only the pregnant person can decide what risks they assume onto their body. 

To this point, adoption obviously does not address the risks of pregnancy or birth--only the inability to parent (an oversimplification in and of itself) once birth has occurred. Adoption as a solution to abortion in this instance isn't actually possible, and people on both sides of the debate are missing opportunities to actually help pregnant people by believing that it is.

You do not have to be Pro-Life or Pro-Choice to agree that the conflation of adoption and abortion just isn't helping anything.