Q: How do you define yourself?
A: I think of myself in many different ways. Of course, whether adopted or not, we all have many aspects of our identities. Most of who we are we acquire over time like our profession or our identification as a "New Yorker" or as a Mets fan. But two parts of who we are from birth is our gender and our race. For most, people neither changes at all. While the rest is molded by experiences and life, for adoptees race and all of the "culture" that gets shorthanded when we use the term "race" is not a given. I can see parallels when I think about the people who identify themselves as having been born with the "wrong" gender.
This past summer there was an 8-part documentary aired on Logo called Transgeneration. 4 college students who were born one gender were exploring and transitioning their genders and identities. While I watched this series, I thought about the parallels that transracial adoption creates.
For one thing, as most people are born either male or female, the overwhelming majority continue their lives in that gender-role. Just as most of the population of the world is born with one family, and one culture and one race and it stays that way throughout their lives. However, for transracial and intercountry adoptees, this isn't so. Those of us adopted into families with different races than our own often try on different definitions of who we are in ways that would be unthinkable to most. We wear different clothes, speak other languages, eat different foods, and think in different paradigms than what we were born in to. Just as those born with different genders do. And also, like the transgendered, intercountry adoptees have to continually fight for the right to be counted as real. Real Americans, Real Koreans, Real Chinese, Real adults, Real members of our families. And, besides how others see us, we also have to decide who we are in our own terms for ourselves. Just as those 4 transgendered students, I have changed my definition of who I am and others have too.
Our "truths" that we live with belie even the most fundamental facts about our lives. Most adoptees don't know even their real birthdates. The one on our birth certificates are made up. The mother and father listed are an impossibility (especially if Mom's partner, mama, is another woman and father is David and papa is Bob but just its just as impossible for two blue-eyed parents to have a Korean kid, isn't it? (again like the transgendered whose birth certificates seem to be "false") a little while ago I was trying to get my birth certificate. It was a big hassle because I never had one before, and I was told that I couldn't see the file that finalized my adoption even though it only contained the same information that I would see on my amended birth certificate. That my parents were two white people and I was born on a date that may or may not be the right one on a legal document is to be just accepted.
Finally, both "trans" people are faced with a coming out. What finally broke my relationship with my adoptive mother was the fact that I "came out" as a Korean American. I have this alternative identity that she doesn't understand or accept. She can't see me for who I am or what I was born as. That I went to Korea was scorned. That I was attempting to learn Korean was considered to be an affront to her hold on me as part of "her" family. She responded by ridiculing it and trying to make me feel like it was something wrong, dirty, and a betrayal. Perhaps she saw it as being ungrateful for raising me. Many people who come out of the proverbial closet in a sexual-identity sense fear the same reaction from their families.
Does the "trans" analogy hold up to the harshest judgement? There are those who consider transgendered people to be abnormal. There are also people in the adoption community who consider transracial and intercountry adoption to be abnormal. To take a child out of the culture and community that it was born in to seems no more "natural" to these people than a person who changes their birth gender. The difference is that in a gender scenario it is that individual who identifies a discontinuity or disconnect with their identity that is arguably a result of nature while a transnational adoptee was born into the "right" circumstance but brought into the incongruous one.