Yesterday I spoke with the only two transracially adopted people I know about “well-meaning” questions from accidentally racist people.
And this morning I was thinking about how being adopted can be a very personal thing, a very difficult thing, for some people, and yet a lot of folks feel as though it’s completely their business.
I was lucky, in a lot of ways, to be adopted as an infant. Because I can only remember a stable and loving, though slightly insane, nuclear family. The reasons, history, and emotions behind being orphaned can be very painful and difficult, a dark mist that clouds the past. And yet, as soon as you “admit” that you are adopted, particularly internationally adopted, the listener feels it is okay to ask questions that may be intrusive. “When did you ‘come over?'” “How old were you?” “Are you an only child?” “Did you have any biological siblings?” “Were you in foster care?” “Do you ever want to meet your biological mother?” “Have you ever gone back there?”
I am almost always completely open about my adoption with others, so the questions never really felt like a big deal. I sort of had to, growing up in a small western Pennsylvania town where diversity was hella scarce. It’s not like I could hide the fact that my parents and I not only look dissimilar, we are of completely different races. And of course, my parents were always open about my adoption. They answered my questions about my adoption the best they could with the knowledge available to them. They showed me videotapes of my arrival at the airport.
Now I usually bring up my adoption in conversation when I can sense it is going there (and even sometimes when I can’t), like a pre-emptive strike to admit everything before I can be assailed with the mortar fallout of their questions. That makes it sound worse than it usually is. I know the questions typically come from places of love, of curiosity, of reaching for a connection like a hand extended through a fence. And so I know it’s unfair when I bite at the asker sometimes. But I get these questions a lot. By strangers. Sometimes multiple times in one day. I get exhausted of being asked to share something that right now seems so personal and confusing. Of being reminded that I am the “other.” Of being reminded that there is a whole part of me that is hidden so deep I don’t even know where to look.
Sometimes it just makes me so very tired.