Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Queen's Gambit: Adoption and Trauma Informed Discussion Questions for Episodes 1 & 2

Warning! There are spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of The Queen's Gambit ahead. These episodes also contain sensitive content including: death, adoption, substance use, orphanage life, racism, sexism, mental illness, & suicide.

There is a need for deeper discussion that includes the adopted identity of the main character of this hit Nextflix series. After watching the first two episodes (thus far) as an adult adoptee and clinician, I developed a series of questions for individual use or to stimulate conversations in families and clubs gathered to discuss the episodes. These questions guide developmentally, historically, culturally, and adoption-sensitive dialogue about episodes 1 & 2 of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. They are intended for individuals 16 and older.

Question One: How might our brief glimpse into Beth’s first mother’s seemingly tormented mindset and her published book (as a PhD) in mathematics inform us about Beth’s own mental health and mathematical gifts?

Question Two: How does Jolene help girls in the orphanage adjust? How does she help the audience adjust to confusing aspects of orphanage life? How does institutionalized racism play a role in how much Jolene gives to others beyond the good she receives in return?

Question Three: During Beth’s pre-adoption interview, she is encouraged to say that she is younger than she is. Agencies were able to do this because Beth's birth certificate would be sealed before her adoptive parents could ever get a chance to see it. An amended birth certificate would be issued in its place which would display her adoptive parents as though they are her birth parents. There is historical evidence that details could be altered from one version of the birth certificate to the next. This would mean that Beth would now have no proof of her real birth date, and her parents would never know the adoption agency lied. This practice of amending and sealing started in the 1930's persists to this day in the majority of U.S. states. What vulnerabilities, past and present, do you think this practice creates for adopted people?

Question Four: What does Beth lose when she is adopted? (people, places, belongings, aspects of identity, routines, access to objects of her interest). What does she gain? What is she able to carry through with her from birth through adoption thus far?

Question Five: Adopted, orphaned, and fostered children are often painted as liars, thieves, and “behavior problems.” Jolene yells and acts out. Beth steals and lies. How can we empathize with why? Does understanding their perspective in this way help you refrain from labeling and stereotyping?

Question Six: Beth’s adoptive mother wants to lie about her divorce so that she and Beth don’t have to lose each other. How can empathy towards preserving Beth’s adoptive family apply to other families? For example: apply this to Beth’s father who was not considered when her first mother died?

Question Seven: What do these first episodes inform you about race, gender, age, and ability/disability (ie behavior) and their role in the “adoptability” of children? What do you think it meant to children to be told they are “lucky” to be adopted, in light of these factors?

Question Eight: During Beth’s childhood era, it was common to expect adopted children to be companions to their parents and not full family members. Today, children are often expected to immediately begin seeing themselves as full family members upon adoption. How can centering on a child’s perceptions better shape these expectations?

Question Nine: What genetic and environmental factors shaped Beth’s substance use issue? Do you think she would have developed these issues had she not lost her first mother? Had she not been given tranquilizers in the orphanage? Had she not been adopted (ie into a home with these same pills) and remained in the orphanage?

Question Ten: Around the age where Beth learned chess, most of us develop a talent we practice throughout adolescence. Skills from nurturing this talent are then used in the working and family life in our adulthood. What talent did you develop at this age? Were you ever restricted from your talent as a punishment? Do you think this way of punishing Beth for stealing pills was fair?

Thank you for reviewing this list of questions. I hope they will provide you and your loved ones with stimulating insight and conversation surrounding these episodes. Please come back next Saturday for more questions covering more episodes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Adoption Blogette: Parents as Children's Mirrors

I have been looking for a compact mirror to keep in my bag. I was tickled to find this one in my (adoptive) mother’s belongings. I’m not sure where she got it. It has her name engraved on the front.

It reminds of me one of the foundational concepts I impart to some families when we first start our work together. We are our children’s mirrors. What we reflect back to a child about who they are will become what they believe to be true about themselves.

If we are frequently annoyed by a child and are not self-aware of how this impacts our tone, messages, and body language, they may learn “I am an annoying person.”

“I am a person who makes others angry a lot.”
“I am hard to love.”
“I am unpleasant to listen to.”
“I am a disappointment.”
“I am a troublemaker.”

Internalized self-concepts like these don’t give children insight that their behavior could change. It doesn’t give them a drive to try to do something different. These are resignations to a fate within which they feel perpetually trapped. Especially if they fundamentally believe their caregiver’s perceptions of them are impossible to reverse.

Children are motivated by healthy relationships with a caregiver who shows them unconditional positive regard. Kids can have traumas and disorders (ie ADHD) that make them highly rejection-sensitive or more likely to not absorb positive messages sent their way. Even so, adults are the most responsible party for every parent-child relationship.

Then there are internalized self-concepts not tied to behavior but still very much from what adults reflect back to children.

“My color should be overlooked.”
“My hair is an inconvenience to be tamed.”

I had a world of mirrors growing up that told me I was “too tall,” “too ugly,” “too loud,” “too complicated,” “too emotional,” and “too opinionated.” I was often a veritable firecracker of emotion and obstinance (qualities I have since grown to love).

Although my mother was frequently openly frustrated with me, she did think so ridiculously highly of me to a point I sometimes was embarrassed. I’m not embarrassed by it anymore. I think the internalized self-reflections from adults who openly and unabashedly care for me saved me from myself in my darkest moments.

The smudge on the upper right-hand of the mirror the mirror is her fingerprint. Perhaps she had touched crafting adhesive before handling the mirror.

It’s fitting. I think I will leave it there.

This blogette is the full version of a truncated microblog posted to my grid on my Instagram profile.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

My Story: Before I was Adopted

Content Warning: birth, birth trauma, separation, infertility, brief mentions of sexual assault.

It was the early spring of 1985 when a 13 year old girl stepped off an airplane. Seven months pregnant, she had arrived to what was now her new home. Her sister lived here, in Tennessee. And she had flown well over 1,000 miles to her sister the moment her mother discovered she was pregnant. It is hard to imagine the thoughts that must have gone through her sister's mind, 14 years her senior, as she greeted her at the gate. The young teen carried with her only two maternity outfits and a few sample size toiletries. She had a story to tell, and her big sister would be the first to hear about it.

I was part of this story. But it would take 25 years for me to hear it. This is the story of where I came from, and of how I got here. On this earth. I have written and re-written, published and un-published, this story multiple times. I was not finished with the blog post I wanted to publish today. I thought about what I could write instead. Searching through my blog, I found this narrative. I had forgotten that I unpublished it yet again some years ago. I struggled to tell this story because I had only ever heard it through the eyes of other people.

After we reunited, my first mothermother told me that she attempted to hide that she was pregnant with me. She attended school each day wearing a men's large winter goal to conceal her growing form. It took nearly seven months, but her guidance counselor finally took notice. Question after question, my mother couldn't answer. The counselor called her mother, my grandmother, to come retrieve her. Shortly thereafter, she was sent away on that airplane.

When I think back about all of the times I attempted to share this story, I feel an immense compassion for my younger self. At times, I felt challenged to decide which parts of this story were mine to share. At other times, when I was advocating for legislative change, I was met with the criticism of legislators. Some claimed that adoptees will just use their access to information to embarrass their families. No one wants to fulfill a stereotype.

There was another story that ran parallel to this one before the two stories would converge.

At the same time, and for the nine years prior, a young couple prayed fervently for a child. They tried for nearly a decade to conceive. Knowing very little about adoption at the time, the couple heeded the advice of their church family to pursue adoption. They found a nearby faith-based adoption agency and applied.

This couple, my eventual adoptive parents, never minded telling their part of the story. Being able to adopt a child had been one of the best moments of their lives. They only ever knew their part of the story. From their perspective, it was not much different than the stories told by many adoptive families at that time.

While they were praying, my first mother was enrolled at a school for pregnant teenagers. She was also signed up for counseling at a religious adoption agency at the behest of her big sister's pastor's wife. At counselling, she learned different concepts than the life skills taught at her unique high school. Her adoption counselor talked to her about adoption. She asked her to think about what it would be like to create an adoption plan. Computer print-outs were slid across a table for her review. They contained early versions of what we now know to be "adoptive parent profiles." What might it be like for this librarian or this engineer to parent her baby along with their well-adjusted son as a big brother?

At this point in telling the story, another memory creeps over my shoulders as to why this has not been an easy story to share. I recall being a newly minted social worker going on job interviews. Some potential employers spent hours on my blog, scouring for all of the right opinions on adoption. At least one mentioned that they had done so, outright. My concern in the social services sector, even as one of its professionals, is that it is too taboo to describe situations when agencies do wrong. I fear not being believed, because this part of the story has not always been met with belief. It is hard for people to accept that professionals within an institution that people commonly associate with positivity could do something wrong.

Unfortunately, the story has not yet reached the worst of it. My first mother went into labor, one week after her 14th birthday, at 40 weeks and five days gestation. It was in that moment, she later described to me, that she could not longer keep me safe from the outside world. To her recollection, she was a mere bystander in the delivery room. A sheet was drawn in front of her face. She pushed for what seemed like forever. When she was certain she heard my cries she also heard a prompt to tell her to count backwards from ten. I was delivered with forceps, according to records. She woke up, childless, and no longer on the maternity unit.

That part of the story has always made me hesitant to share it. It feels violent and violating. I see the pain that it causes people when I relay my birth. I am capable of carrying the story without falling apart. But I am not always sure that others are. I consider it my burden to bear. And no, I do not regret knowing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Vlog #5: How to Approach Adoptees to Build Common Ground

In an effort to make my work more accessible on more platforms to more ages and media preferences, I can be found on YouTube and at my new podcast. My podcast focuses on providing a video version of new blog posts. And my YouTube vlogs focuses on updating topics I may have already written about and telling the stories about the time in history when I originally wrote on a topic. I hope to post a vlog every Tuesday. I will try my best.

This week's vlog revisited an old post of mine from 2013 entitled, "How to Read an Adoptee Blog Without Getting Offended." I discussed why I would no longer word the title of this topic that way. I revisited the original tips I gave with new information and examples. And I discuss an additional tip about how to value and appraise adoptees for their full humanity and not just for their parenting advice.

If you liked this vlog, please comment, "like," and subscribe at YouTube. It really helps me out. To see daily updates and insights from me, make sure to follow me on Instagram @amandatda

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Vlog #4: Five Reasons Why I Searched and Reunited (Adoption Reunion)

In an effort to make my work more accessible on more platforms to more ages and media preferences, I can be found on YouTube and at my new podcast. My podcast focuses on providing an orated version of new blog posts. And my YouTube vlogs focuses on updating topics I may have already written about and telling the stories about the time in history when I originally wrote on a topic. I hope to post a vlog every Tuesday. I will try my best.

This week's vlog revisited an old post of mine from 2013 entitled, "Do we Really Know What Adoptees Are Thinking? 4 Reasons Why I Decided to Reunite." I discussed this blog post and the 4 original "reasons." Then, I added one more. Can you guess what it might be?

If you liked this vlog, please comment, "like," and subscribe at YouTube. It really helps me out. To see daily updates and insights from me, make sure to follow me on Instagram @amandatda

Thursday, October 1, 2020

On Choosing Your Adopted Child First: the Abby Johnson Dilemma

Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of an abortion worker as they push through angry protesters to clock in for another day of work at a clinic? From accounts that I've read, they're dedicated to their jobs. They believe in the health care services that they provide to their patients. But the screaming and cursing; the threats that they receive. These factors may also play a role.

People who go through “great pain, discomfort, effort, or embarrassment” to accomplish something will be happier with it than if the experience had been easy, effortless, and pain-free (cite, page 18 on Kindle). This was first discovered by Elliott Aronson, a student and contemporary of Leon Festinger. Most people who have had an introductory level education into behavioral science may be surprised to learn this cognitivist twist. That a punishment, such as screaming at someone entering their workplace, could have a better chance of reinforcing their job choice than discouraging it. 

It seems like Abby Johnson knew this, though. On one of Abby's websites, a former clinic worker described the first time she saw Abby. This worker pushed through the crowd of screaming protesters she'd grown accustomed to. She saw Abby standing there, quietly smiling and holding a sign. Instead of calling the clinic worker a “murderer,” Abby's sign simply said, “No one grows up wanting to be an abortion worker.” Amidst all of the regular occurrences of enduring insults and feeling unsafe - clinic workers could find an alternative narrative in Abby's sign. The sign, and her smile, offered the opportunity to feel more understood. 

Maybe, the sign was more than that, though. Thinking of it from that cognitive perspective, perhaps it was more than just a rewarding experience of meeting a kinder person. It was both the creation of and a relief from cognitive dissonance. According to the former worker’s very own words, Abby defied the stereotype of a clinic protester. This worker couldn’t reject Abby's bids for her attention for the same reasons that she walked past other demonstrators so many times before. And that’s what got her to consider Abby's unique message. This story can be found on the website of Abby's non-profit, And Then There Were None.

In this instance, it seemed like Abby knew what she was doing. She knew how to get people to change their minds about something and to see her pro-life point of view. Perhaps she was aware of how to use cognitive dissonance in this way, to radically change someone's mind. However, it's also true that being aware of how cognitive dissonance works does not mean those who are aware are therefore entirely impervious to its effects.

This is where I arrive to the point of Abby's activism journey that I still don't get. I don't understand how Abby moved from knowing she could change minds with kindness to her new approach of being "politely rude." After all, that is the actual name of her popular podcast. 

That is to say, the Abby on social media seems a lot different than the Abby smiling on the picket line. She seems to now be a person who disengages with someone if they so much as dislike or disagree with what she says. With the increasing publicity since her RNC speech, both respectful dissent and insults have been directed her way. Yet she has blocked insults and respectful critique alike and rarely responds. In fact, I heard from several colleagues that they were blocked by Abby simply for offering dialogue of respectful dissent of her opinions.

Not only has Abby disengaged from critique, has moved outside of her specific area of interest as a former Planned Parenthood director decrying abortion. She uses her social media to post what could very well be described as propaganda. Her posts mock professional athletes for taking a stand against racism. More specifically, she told NBA players that no one cared what they thought. She paid no respects to Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, upon her death. She instead used it as a opportunity to claim that Ginsburg used her career to advocate for children to die. In another post, Abby claimed that COVID19 deaths were "EXTREMELY low" and were a conspiracy or sorts to keep people out of churches. 

And, as I wrote before, she used her black transracially adopted son as a talking point in a video as to why police racial profiling is ok. She stated, without hesitation, that it's OK for police to be more suspicious around her son because black men are more violent than white men.

Let me be clear about what I mean by "propaganda." I don't intend to be hyperbolic simply to prove a point. According to the dictionary, propaganda is "information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc." (cite). This means, it doesn't matter if what is said is true, if it furthers a political cause.

As I discussed in my last blog post, her claims about violence being caused by being black is a debunked viewpoint borrowed from biological essentialism. Another post of hers claimed that Democrats historically supported slavery. Bui, it neglected to mention that the platform switch between parties occurred after the Civil War (cite). Despite how misleadingly low the 99% survival rate appears, COVID19 is said to currently be the third leading cause of death in the United States (cite).

Another of Abby's Instagram posts framed Ginsburg as having a sort of malice towards babies rather than noting her advocacy for women. In reality, it was absolutely women for whom Ginsburg fought. In the 1970's, Air Force Captain, Susan Struck, was told she must abort her pregnancy or be immediately discharged from her military position. Ginsburg became her lawyer and fought for Struck's right to choose to keep both her job and her pregnancy (cite).

All of these posts can be found on Abby's Instagram profile. I point them out because nothing about being pro-life demands that someone also disagree with the NBA's activism, or to dislike Democrats, or to diminish the effects of COVID19. Nothing about being pro-life means that someone must hold sociologically disputed views on race. Abby arguably does this because she is unilaterally aligned with Trump. Ostensibly, this is because of his promises to nominate justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade (cite).

And again, this Abby is a far cry from the Abby smiling warmly in front of an abortion clinic.

This brings me to what cognitive psychologists call "the pyramid of choice" (cite). This "pyramid" is described in the book, "Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)," by Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson. According to these cognitive psychologists, the way someone resolves one ethical dilemma primes them for how they will resolve future ethical dilemmas. It's not a slippery slope. Rather, each time a person goes against their values and self-justifies their choice to do so, it becomes increasingly easier to do so for future decisions. And, we conjure the image of a pyramid when this person looks back and sees how far they have moved from their original values or ways of behaving after the first time they self-justified a choice.

Tavris and Aronson gave an example of two students who take a test and know they will fail. Both students may value honesty. In the example, one student opted to cheat and therefore choose the good grade over being honest. The other student opted to fail and therefore choose honesty over a good grade. The student who cheated self-justified their choice by deciding that those who don't cheat are self-righteous. The student who failed further hardened in their decision never to cheat. They formed opinions that those who cheat lack integrity and morals. When either one of these students is soon faced again with a decision to choose honesty or another option, they are now in a different place to do so than they were before taking that test.

To be transparent, I don't know if Abby said what she did about race, profiling, and her son because she went down her own pyramid of choice. I'm not privy to her mind to know if something like supporting Trump because he wants to overturn Roe led to the video she posted about police brutality and her black son. My concern is that other prolife parents could - especially parents of transracially adopted black children. Its my hope to reach them so that they do not.

I can imagine the discomfort of being a pro-life parent to a child of color in this election. They must decide if they will vote for a pro-life candidate whom, among other things, is outspoken against anti-racist education (cite) and misrepresents police reform (cite). Even though I was not transracially adopted, I watched my adoptive father go through this. A life-long Republican and pro-life advocate, my dad could not stomach the conflicts this current administration created with his other values. He managed this by changing parties.

This election isn't the only opportunity there is to ensure that our values remain protective of adopted and fostered children. Choosing children first, particularly our own children who are our responsibility to protect, is a daily practice. How do to that involves developing a cognitive skill set for parents to challenge themselves before making choices. The idea of choosing your child first is the very first cognitive skill I aim to impart here. A parent simply asking themselves, "is this opinion, vote, or action putting my child first?" is an excellent place to start.

Tavris and Aronson offered insight about how to handle a friend or a public figure speaking or acting in ways that challenge our values (cite). We are usually inclined to "cancel" the person outright - or - to convince ourselves that they must have meant something else. Or, we may even try to convince ourselves that we agree with what they said. As an alternative, and something I covered on my Instagram microblog, parents can follow these steps*:
  1. Love the friend or otherwise appreciate the humanity of the person in question.
  2. Condemn the mistake that they made.
  3. Expect accountability from this person.
  4. Allow yourself time to decide if new boundaries are needed.
What about when we are the person who made a mistake? Maybe as a parent someone said something in front of their child that they shouldn't have. Maybe a parent has views that they now realize were not supportive of their child. Tavris and Aronson cover this too in a chapter of their book they call "Letting go and Owning up." Here are some steps that I extracted from this chapter.
  1. Learn to recognize when we are in a state of dissonance. This is a feeling of discomfort that arises when our behavior or thoughts are in conflict with our values.
  2. Deal with how dissonance makes us feel without making impulsive choices or self-justifying our behavior to feel better.
  3. Own up to mistakes. Admit that we made a mistake. Accept responsibility.
  4. Adjust accordingly. Decide if our values need to change or if our words and behavior need to change to align with our values.
No one is immune to mistakes or faulty viewpoints. No one is a perfect parent. I firmly believe (or at least hope) that most parents out there would take as many opportunities as they could to choose their children first. Every parent should have as many tools as possible to ensure that choosing their children first is always something they know how to do. Of course, cognitive science is just one tool. And this cognitive analysis I've written here is just one way to analyze parenting in the midst of political turmoil. For Abby Johnson - I don't think it's too late for her to change. I think her son is worthy of that.

When my dad changed political parties in response to value conflicts with the current Republican representation, I felt a familiar emotion inside my chest. I was a little girl, the last time I felt this way. I had spent years riding around in the car with my dad, listening to Rush Limbaugh. On one such car trip, I said to him, "Daddy, why does Rush hate girls so much?" I don't remember much of what I made of Limbaugh as a little girl. But I remember feeling uncomfortable by so many of the things he said. 

My dad never answered. Instead, he turned the dial to Cool 98.3 - our favorite oldies station. My dad never listened to Rush Limbaugh again. And that feeling I got? It was the feeling of safety and validation. I knew my dad had chosen me first. I think every child is worthy of that.


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

VLOG #3: Seven Things Adoptees Need to Hear From Absolutely Everyone

In an effort to make my work more accessible on more platforms to more ages and media preferences, I can be found on YouTube and at my new podcast. My podcast focuses on providing an orated version of new blog posts. And my YouTube vlogs focuses on updating topics I may have already written about and telling the stories about the time in history when I originally wrote on a topic. I hope to post a vlog every Tuesday. I will try my best.

This week's vlog revisited an old post of mine from 2013 entitled, "5 Things Adoptees Need to Hear from Absolutely Everyone." I discussed this blog post and the 5 original "things." Then, I added two more to the five based on what I've learned since I first wrote that piece.

If you liked this vlog, please comment, "like," and subscribe at YouTube. It really helps me out. To see daily updates and insights from me, make sure to follow me on Instagram @amandatda

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

VLOG #2: Why do Some of us use "First mom" or "Original mom" and not "Birth mom?"

In an effort to make my work more accessible on more platforms to more ages and media preferences, I can be found on YouTube and at my new podcast. My podcast focuses on providing an orated version of new blog posts. And my YouTube vlogs focuses on updating topics I may have already written about and telling the stories about the time in history when I originally wrote on a topic. I hope to post a vlog every Tuesday. I will try my best.

This week's vlog focused on a question I imagine many younger parents (adoptive, foster, and first) and adoptees to have about adoption terminology. Why do some of us use "First Mom" or "Original Mom" and not "Birth Mom?" Revisiting these terms was inspired by several posts in The Declassified Adoptee blog archives. But this post I wrote for Lost Daughters in 2012 is probably the most relevant: "NaBloPoMo Day 23: What Should we Call People Connected to Adoption?"

If you liked this vlog, please comment, "like," and subscribe at YouTube. It really helps me out. To see daily updates and insights from me, make sure to follow me on Instagram @amandatda

VLOG #1: “Would you Rather Have Been Aborted?” Unpacking This for Parents (CW: rape)

In an effort to make my work more accessible on more platforms to more ages and media preferences, I can be found on YouTube and at my new podcast. My podcast focuses on providing an orated version of new blog posts. And my YouTube vlogs focuses on updating topics I may have already written about and telling the stories about the time in history when I originally wrote on a topic. I hope to post a vlog every Tuesday. I will try my best.

Last week's vlog focused on the question that is frequently posed to adoptees, "Would you rather have been aborted." It was inspired by several posts in The Declassified Adoptee blog archives with this post from 2013 being the most relevant: "Why Conflating Adoption and Abortion Really Isn't Helping Anything."

If you liked this vlog, please comment, "like," and subscribe at YouTube. It really helps me out.

Friday, August 28, 2020

This Adult Adoptee Takes Down that Abby Johnson Video

“I haven't known if I should talk about this or not.” With these words, Abby Johnson began a 15 minute YouTube video on police brutality. Johnson is a former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life activist. She is also an adoptive mother to a black son. I decided to watch her video with an earnest desire to hear her thoughts. As adoption is my wheelhouse, I need to know what an adoptive parent with a major platform thinks about an issue. I especially need to know how they may influence other adoptive parents because this, in turn, impacts adopted children. I was willing to put aside my fundamental disagreement with the ways in which she discusses abortion in hope that she, as the white mother of a black child, might use her platform to condemn police brutality toward black Americans.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I immediately began writing a blog post about what it feels like to be an adopted person whose reality plays second fiddle to their pro-life mother’s political work. My adoptive mother was on the board of directors of a crisis pregnancy center. I know what this feels like. This blog post I began writing became filled with guidance and advice on how to overcome political cognitive dissonance to ensure parents choose their children first. But, I soon realized that it was necessary for me to take down Johnson’s harmful arguments before I could publish that blog entry. 

“As you can all see, I'm a very white person.” Johnson said. “And, I found that as a white conservative "non-woke" person, when I speak on racial issues, my voice isn't wanted. But, then when I'm silent on the issues, I'm told that I need to speak. And so, as a white person, I feel like I don't... I don't really know what to say.”

I'm deeply familiar with this state of being. I have been here myself. This is the "re-integration" stage (stage 3 of 6) on the Helm's White Racial Identity Model (cite). Someone in this stage is aware that white privilege and racism exist. However, they are unaware of what it means for white privilege to be "unearned." And, they are still looking for ways that biracial/indigenous/people-of-color (BIPOC) are responsible for the hardships that they face. White folks at this stage tend to perceive BIPOC activists as unfair or even "oppressive" to white people who give their opinions on race. This comes from the fact that the white person in this stage does not fully understand the conversation they've invited themselves into. Therefore, they do not understand the responses they receive either.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Is Being Transgender Just Like Being an Adoptive Parent?

I am gardening a lot lately with all of my new-found time at home during this pandemic. Recently, I remarked to friends that I felt badly taking all of the beans from my green bean plant. Shouldn't I leave at least some behind? Many more experienced gardener friends chimed in to set me straight. A few fellow adoptees remarked, "Sounds like an adoptee thing."

I chuckled at this. It has always been interesting to me how metaphors or analogies that explain the adoption experience exist everywhere. We use these explanations to help us understand ourselves and to help others understand us. Still, it behooves us to always ask ourselves, how do I know my metaphor or analogy is helpful?

Recently, in an interview with The Guardian, Professor Sophie Grace Chappell made an adoption analogy of her own. She indicated that adoptive parents want to be seen as biological parents, therefore, adoption can explain transgender identity in this way. Among other notable credentials and achievements, Chappell is the only openly transgender Professor of Philosophy in the U.K. The interview was a follow-up to an open letter Chappell wrote to author J.K. Rowling.

Chappell's letter had been a solid appeal to Rowling to re-consider her vocal trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF). Chappell explained to The Guardian that Rowling's Harry Potter series "helped me come to terms with myself." Having enjoyed the books, Chappell was taken aback to find several Rowling statements about transgender people that "took [her] breath away," thus prompting her letter.

Let's Pause and go Over some Background

This may be helpful for some readers who are new to this issue. So, what is "TERF," and why are Chappell, myself, and so many others so upset with Rowling about it? In this article, Viv Smythe, the feminist writer credited with coining the term, explained how "TERF" came to be. At her blog, this was one definition of "TERF" offered,
"There are also those who argue that women-born-male can never share some of the most fundamental gender experiences that result from gender socialisation as feminine from birth through childhood, and thus can never be “real” women because they lack this shared experience."
In other words, TERF is a type of feminism that includes only those who were socialized to be women from birth because of their physical sex characteristics. Thus, it excludes any woman who was not socialized to be a woman from birth based on their genitalia.

I don't agree with TERF. I believe that the most powerful forms of disagreement accurately represent the arguments of the other side. I'm using Smythe's definitions of TERF here because I believe she strove to be accurate. This is seen in  how Rowling herself, who has been identified as trans-exclusionary, expressed her views in a now-infamous Tweet,
In this Tweet, Rowling critiqued the title of a Devex article, "Creating a More Equal Post-COVID19 World for People who Menstruate." Rowling seemed to take issue with saying "people who menstruate" instead of saying "women." According to Rowling, if you menstruate you ought to call yourself a "woman" as menstruation is exclusive to women.

However, the article itself was about eliminating barriers to menstrual health - particularly menstrual stigma. As a part of this, they clearly identified that "women, girls, and gender non-binary persons" menstruate. Using the word "women" in the title would not have achieved their goal of reaching all folks (for one example, some trans men) have a menstrual period.

On her blog, Rowling explained that she believes men, "natal-girls," and trans women as distinctly different. She even claimed that accepting trans women as women threatens the lives of cisgender women. Recently, trans writer and activist, Juno Dawson, published a piece with Time taking down this flawed way of thinking. Chappell's letter to Rowling offered a number of compelling points as well.

Back to the Metaphor

Chappell has utilized a number of arguments to refute claims made by TERF. Among those was an adoption metaphor that, honestly, took my breath away when I read it,
"Trans women are like adoptive parents, who want to be accepted as being the same as biological parents" (link).
My Reaction

Anyone familiar with my platform will be unsurprised by my breathlessness. I have spent the greater part of my adult life trying to center adoption on adoptees with full inclusion of all of their family connections. I have been outspoken against cultural norms that erase our biological (original) parents from our lives, popular culture, and literature. I have been instrumental in adoptees regaining access to their sealed original birth certificates. I refuted the "as if born to" legalese that says the only way I can legitimately be my parents' daughter is if my records are altered and sealed without my consent. I have consistently corrected folks who have called me "like one of their own" because I am "their own" without qualification, full stop.

Adoptive parents cannot be seen as "the same as" biological parents because adoptees have both. We say this to push back against how adoption has long given legitimacy to the adoptive parents by taking it away from the biological parents first. The law does not even regard me as my biological mother's child.

I examined my reaction to this analogy to locate the source of my discomfort. I realized that, because of my position on adoptive parents, this analogy would therefore position me as invalidating transgender identities. And I am so very not OK with that.

Digging Deeper

It's important to me to be a respectful ally. So I dug deeper to look for more context to better understand Chappell's perspective. I found her submission to the American Philosophical Association entitled, "Trans Women/Men and Adoptive Parents: an Analogy." Therein she wrote,
"Maybe we should think of it like this: Trans women/men are to women/men as adoptive parents are to parents. There are disanalogies of course, and the morality of adoption is a large issue in itself which I can’t do full justice to here. Still, the analogies are, I think, important and instructive."
Her article then proceeds to discuss why this analogy is helpful. I appreciate that Chapell acknowledges that there are ethical shortcomings to the analogy. Here, I found better understanding and much to agree with. Let me name a few (but not all) examples.

I agree, we legally recognize adoptive parents as parents. And, trans people should be legally recognized per their correct identity as well. 

I agree that identifying as a parent to a child they adopted does not automatically make someone delusional. And, being transgender does not make someone delusional either. 

I agree that, if we incorrectly assume someone isn't their child's parent because they don't look alike, we should apologize and self-correct. In the same way, we should apologize and self-correct when our assumptions cause us to misgender someone.

There are, of course, a number of statements Chappell makes about adoption itself that I do not agree are accurate representations of this institution. But those disagreements are neither here nor there, for our topic. today. I may cover them at a later date if anyone is interested.

How Should we Make Analogies About Adoption?

Chappell is saying that biology is not the only factor that legitimizes who is a parent. Nor does biology legitimize who is a man and who is a woman. Trans women are women and trans men are men. I wholeheartedly agree. It's clear I agree with her premise, but do I agree that this is a sound way to use adoption as an institution within an analogy?

I would like to continue that discussion in a follow-up blog post. The reason I wrote this entry is because I became aware of Chappell's analogy through the adoption community in the first place. And I can see where it could be, and has been, misunderstood. As a part of my stance that the adoption community be good allies to the LGBTQIA+ community, I'm publishing my thoughts in response in a way that I hope will not cause harm and will subdue transphobia in my community.

There are several core components that I think all analogies involving adoption should have. I'll look forward to sharing Part 2 with you, and hearing your thoughts on those.

Thank you so much for reading my latest blog post. If you prefer to listen instead, this episode is available on my Podcast, here. Want to comment, give feedback, or join the discussion? Head on over to this post on my Facebook page. Please feel free to share on your social media outlets.