Y’know, I have to say one thing first because it’s kind of important: I don’t think about adoption and being an adoptee 24 hours a day, let alone six hours or even two. It does not control me, though it certainly does define me in that larger and looser sense of who I am. This blog isn’t even exclusively about adoption, let alone adoptee rights.
Being an adoptee, however, is on my mind quite a bit these days for various reasons, including a bit of personal writing I’m doing about it. And, because my entry into the political world of adoptee rights is fairly recent, I felt it was appropriate to give a personal first-hand response to what I was seeing when I looked into it, particularly around the issue of obtaining original birth certificates.
So I tried to find out what was going on, read a lot about the issue, talked to people, and looked at a number of groups to see what they were doing. One of those was groups was Bastard Nation. Another was American Adoption Congress. And others included MARM and about a half dozen other state-focused organizations. And what I saw initially depressed me. So I wrote about it.
I probably have to say one more thing: I’m not a journalist. I’m a blogger, a writer, a web guy, and a lawyer, though today I only represent kids pro bono within Minnesota’s child protection system. I didn’t set out to do a journalistic piece about the state of adoptee rights or politics. I had opinions (this is my blog, after all, with posts on things completely unrelated to adoption). I also felt it was useful to share those opinions, especially from the perspective of a person relatively new to the issues. So I wrote “The (Sometimes) Ugly Politics of Adoptee Rights,” and shared it as widely as I felt reasonable, including tweeting it the same day to MARM and Bastard Nation (each of whom “liked” the tweet and responded).
Then, just today, Bastard Nation’s Shea Grimm characterized my post as a “hit piece” on the organization. Well, I guess that’s fair enough, though I believed (and still do) that I was actually working to break down Bastard Nation’s argument and strategies (two different things) as well as to call them and others out for being ridiculously vitriolic and childish. I also wanted to touch on a few things that I found wanting among some adoption activist groups. Take this as a “hit” on Bastard Nation if you want— or as constructive criticism—but this was my process and initial inquiry.
First, there seems to be an underlying assumption from many adoptee rights groups: they assume we know who they are and how they work. Except many of us don’t. I tried to find out how Bastard Nation and other groups worked, who was in the leadership, how the groups made decisions, any apparent financial interests, but that information is hard to find. Why is it important? For me, basic transparency is the first thing I want to know if I commit to supporting an organization. I know it may not be important to some and you may be comfortable with a simple leap of faith, but it is important to me and, I suspect, a good number of others.
I looked at MARM and it had virtually nothing available online. Its website referred to a Facebook page. Bastard Nation had a lot of information. It had position papers, the historical context of its fight, a FAQ about compromise, etc., but nowhere could I find anything about its structure, membership, or how its apparent “committees” or local folks operated. There’s actually no information, easily accessible at least, as to who is in charge. Shea Grimm? Marley Greiner? Damsel Plum? Some other bastard? I don’t know, but it seems to be assumed we should know (and maybe most people do).
There was also no address I could find, no email, no way to contact them except through an online contact form that, from what I could tell, elicited no response (I joined but never heard back). So, I was surprised later when Shea Grimm seemed frustrated that I hadn’t “just asked” Bastard Nation about my issues. I tried, but you can’t “just ask” something if there is no reasonably easy way to do so. Sure, I could have kept researching things and taken stabs in the dark, but why shouldn’t it be easier for a potential supporter to get basic contact and structural information about a presumably national organization? And this goes for all other groups as well, local or national. That was generally the gist of several of my initial questions on the “ugly politics” post: who does what and how do you make your decisions? For the most part, and after a slew of comments, those questions still appear to be largely unanswered.
I was roundly criticized by some folks for my “nuance” argument on the issue of the right to an original birth certificate. That argument, however, has two aspects: one, and I think Bastard Nation is correct on this, once you introduce issues of reunion or medical history or mere curiosity in relation to the original birth certificate you have a heavy load to bear to be successful without compromise. The second aspect of nuance is essentially recognizing that you need a good deal of pathos to convince people and legislators of the need to release unaltered birth certificates. And you need that same pathos to motivate your supporters. By pathos, I essentially mean emotional resonance, and adoptees have wide and varying degrees of what resonates when it comes to basic information about heritage. Many don’t care. Some are motivated by search. Some by medical history. Some are just curious.
But, to be successful for a clean bill, you need to motivate supporters around the right to the document and nothing else. For me, Bastard Nation is a leader on the essential notion of that right. But (it seems) it has not figured out currently how best to corral and develop an appropriate pathos that will resonate more broadly with supporters, many local groups, and potential opponents. After all, there is good reason why the public loves emotional stories of reunion, however shortsighted or smarmy the portrayal of that reunion may be. The question then becomes how you include those who are motivated by various “irrelevant” emotions without essentially saying “get lost, your emotions have no bearing on what we have to do.” That’s the rub. That’s the context and challenge. And a purist argument, while technically right, generally lacks the pathos to make it more broadly appealing.
And the Crap
I think one of the more accurate comments I received on the post was this, from someone not even interested in original birth certificates. For me, it captured probably what the vast majority of adoptees may currently think:
Allies are free to disagree, yes. But for us adoptees trying to participate the view is dismal and disheartening.
And if you want more dismal and disheartening stuff to read, here’s further blowback about my post, which Bastard Nation posted in its entirety to its Facebook group. While it’s all a bit hilarious to read about my alleged personal motivations and desires for the blog and in writing the post, imagine having a vague interest in doing something about the issue but seeing what it may mean if you simply voice your respectful disagreement.