Yeah, That ‘Hit Piece’ I Did on Bastard Nation

By Gregory D. Luce on March 25, 2016 — 6 mins read

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.

The Transparency

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.

The Nuance

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.

Issues: Adoptees

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  • Clean bills are possible. Oregon, Maine, Rhode Island, and Alabama come to mind. It all depends on the priorities of the people working alongside the legislators and the goals in mind. This idea of “nuance”–that we have to sell something of ourselves to get our rights–is not necessarily true. We are already equal and seek to have that equality restored. There are groups who will insist that we must compromise, but that does not make compromise necessary.

    No, there is no unified voice in adoptionland. There are adoptees who believe and champion ideas all across the spectrum. It is up to each of us to consider his or her integrity, and make choices from that internal discussion. That said, sacrificing other adoptees seems to me to be a sad choice to make. There are many splinter groups in this world. Many. It is closed off and incestuous and not very open to discussion. I have actually found BN to be the most open to discussion about politics. Disagreement is welcomed rather than shut down, but you had better come with evidence to back up your case. I am sure as an attorney, you understand this. This by contrast to MARM, who asked me by private message to stop tweeting my conscience.

    If a person says, “I want my OBC now, and I am willing to sacrifice others,” I can respect that, but I will disagree. I won’t tell them that the people who are left behind are valiant in self-sacrifice. They are not. They are artificially made unequal by what I see as corrupt legislation.

    Why there is an overwhelming tide towards taking whatever crumbs are on offer, I do not know, but I expect it has to do with wanting immediate results and 15 minutes in the limelight. Praise from a large crowd is intoxicating; it makes it easier to forget the harm done to that so-called “minuscule,” forgettable fraction of adoptees left behind.

    • I agree more than I disagree with you on this. I tend to think I waded into a debate that has long-simmered, boiled over, and cannot possibly be reconciled. I can try to explain what I perceive nuance to be again but my guess is that it will just get thrown into the same category as simple compromise. Suffice it to say that I do not believe nuance means selling yourself short. It means being more comprehensively aware of possibilities and opportunities.

      • I have been involved in this world for a long time. Almost 20 years. I would say I know the players and all the nuance I care to. I have been in support groups online and in person; I know many of the ideas. If nuance is having considered compromise, yes. I have. I read your post about mothers dying. And I still do not buy that people dying requires compromise of rights. It is possible to search and find families without reunion. I have done that myself; I have helped others. Medical history is another spectre that would allow legislators to set up clearinghouses of information, or sheets that would be incomplete or not necessarily correct. Issues get muddied. For me, is like crushing together women’s right to vote with their right to own property, and their right to get contraception without their husband’s permission. No. It is only about access to the OBC and it is about equality of access as human beings. The suffragettes focused on the right to vote. That was also about equality. Nuance is lovely and shows a thoughtful mind; it does not always work in ethical situations where people (no matter how few) can suffer as a result of bargaining away.

        And yes. People die without rights, and that is sad. But I would rather die without my OBC than deny another person hers by having inequality written into law. Waiting for the right bill is the right choice for me.

        For many people, it is the opposite: they want their OBC now, and forget the rest–roll the die, never mind that piddly little number who will be redacted. I find that devoid of nuance; those are not numbers. Those are actual people. It is cold. Pragmatic and self-serving and selling out the future in favor of themselves. Not to mention that many of the people who support this type of legislation are not even adoptees. If an adoptee says supports vetoes well, okay; I will disagree and work to block them. But from someone who is not one of us? I am disgusted.

        • Thanks for the thoughtful, personal, and reasoned response. For what it’s worth, these are not issues I take lightly or cavalierly. And I also recognize the broad range of thoughts on the issue as well as fully understand how the right to an original birth certificate gets significantly muddled once extraneous issues are introduced (e.g., search, reunion, etc.) I’ll leave it at that.

        • Agreeing with what Mirren has said here, and somewhat puzzled about your obsession with who leads BN. You can email Marley Greiner at any time and ask anything you want, Marley is honest to the core and somehow manages to get along with just about everyone. Email me to get Marley’s email, I am sure she will be glad to answer your questions. There is no dark secret conspiracy behind BN, just people who come when needed and sometimes leave when there are other things more pressing in their lives. I tried on the CUB list to answer your concerns and questions about Bastard Nation, and Shea has also tried; as an adoptee and founder she is in a better position than I to answer your questions. My experience with BN which was some years ago is that it was fluid and went where needed and worked with local adoptees of like mind to get legislation passed. There were no formal committees with important sounding names, but grassroots people working in their own states with BN’s help. They had a member who ran for office and was a legislator in NH when that bill was passed, and BN worked closely with local people in Alabama to pass their CLEAN bill. IN ALABAMA!! If a clean bill passed there, eventually it can happen anywhere.

          As to the idea that we need “pathos” to get adoption reform legislation passed, that just turns my stomach as the worst possible reason to pass any legislation. I direct you to the many bills that have passed with some victim’s name attached, “Megan’s Law” here in NJ comes to mind, about sex offenders, and many others all over passed in haste and hysteria and hype rather than reason, often with unforseen bad consequences down the road. Painting oneself and one’s cause as victims begging for pity is no way to secure legal rights.

          Adoptee rights does not need pathos, adoptees are not pitiful, they are strong and pissed off and deserve equal rights like the rest of us non-adopted citizens. It is the appeal to pathos, Poor Pitiful Pearl adoptees, that brought us terrible compromise legislation, with the “mother, may I have my records, pretty-please” clauses attached.

          I know nothing about MARM or the people involved, but have seen things they have said about BN and some of it members that are indeed lies. You may have innocently repeated some of their statements, being new and not knowing the players, but now is the time to learn who is who, who is honest and who is selling adoptees out to pass something/anything.

          • I feel most people have missed my point, which may be my fault but I also think this area of adoptee rights is so fraught with discord that something new may need to come along. It’s impossible to have a decent conversation—and I challenge people honestly to look at my original post and point out where I was specifically dishonest, lying, or disrespectful. I asked honest, probing questions, and my questions were to both organizations (and anyone else for that matter) and were pretty basic. I even defended Bastard Nation in comments that unfairly raised financial questions about it, and gave them money to help send reps to the American Adoption Congress. I feel its position is essential, its divisive rhetoric flawed. It’s a disagreement. And I’m now paying the price.

            I was completely new to this. I waded into it. I looked for information. I asked around. I had no information that I could find on how various groups are governed and whether they are truly grassroots. There were no emails available or listed on Bastard Nation or MARM. There was no way to contact either of them for questions other than a contact form, which from what I can tell goes unanswered. There was no indication who to contact. These are just very basic things and it prompted one of the questions I asked, prefaced quite clearly with “I ask all of these questions honestly.” Now I’m seen as believing there is a “conspiracy” to hide basic information? No, I just ask why that information is not more transparent and available, as it should be! We are not all veterans in this fight. We do not know all the players. And, to be honest, having seen how often groups publicly respond when basic questions are asked, why would I have faith in asking those questions privately? Shouldn’t we have the ability to ask honest, probing questions publicly without being seen as a traitor, a liar, or conspiracy theorist?

            But I did ask them privately. To you and others on the online CUB Forum. I felt it was a good, safe forum to raise questions without being denounced or slammed. And, perhaps naively, I thought that the CUB online forum was considered somewhat private, at least with an understanding that what we share on that forum will not be made public somewhere else. I guess I was wrong about that as well—and now terribly disappointed.

            In the end, you’ve probably lost a supporter. It’s a tiny loss, sure, but it’s probably one of many.

    • Mirren,
      You view reform as ‘selling something of ourselves to get our rights’ but rather, it is to restore our human rights. And these ‘ Crumbs’ that you refer to are human beings that want to have information, reunion, medical history and ethnicity.

      • I want equality, no less. I will trade in no less: for me this is not about reunion, medical history, heritage, etc. It is about access to OBCs. I believe I made myself very clear. We disagree on what is acceptable.

        • That’s the crux of it all, and I understand. It’s really not something that can be currently reconciled, nor do folks on “either side” want it reconciled. But I do wonder what could be potentially accomplished if the accepted message was something like this:

          We are a broad-based and diverse group of adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents and more than XXX state organizations seeking one thing: the right of adoptees to unrestricted access to all of their vital records. We welcome anyone who commits to that purpose.

          I understand that there are probably 4 million or more different motivations for desiring an original birth certificate, including a silent majority who have no motivation at all. Why not appeal to every motivation but focus the issue on the common, single right that satisfies them all?

          • Because when it comes down to it, what matters is not how we look to others as poor little things seeking out families. Have you read the pandering bad press, Greg? The people who say do not deserve achess because we are perpetual children, so here is your crumb, a mother-may-I veto. Or the medical history people. Well, create medical clearing houses, then. None of it *has* to be about the OBC. Truly, I do not care what people do with their OBCs when they get them. That is a private matter, although if you search on Google you will see plenty of stories about how adoptees are “dying” because they do not have their OBCs. No. We are able to search without them. It is sensationalism to say otherwise. Lifetime movie fodder. Society in general and public opinion does not lean towards granting us enough equality simply to want a document that belongs to us. That is the saddest part. They see us as perpetual children, and some people act that way. I and others see us as equals of everyone else, now, no pandering or begging or halfway measures. This compromise stuff, with vetoes and tiers and all that–just no. I really have no more to say here. And no, I do not think people will come together and agree on it for many reasons, including stereotypes and certain people not really having dogs in the fight.

  • This is all incredibly disingenuous, Mr. Luce. As you are well aware, Bastard Nation leadership and supporters are readily available for questions on a daily basis in the Facebook group of which you are a member. I have never seen any “slew of questions” from you anywhere about the structure or organization of BN until this blog post which just seems like rather whiny retribution because you didn’t like the critical response to your hit piece.

    Neither I nor Damsel Plum have been in BN leadership in about 15 years. Damsel is not involved in the movement at all and hasn’t been for many years. Marley Greiner is the Executive Chair as is indicated in tons of media, submitted testimony, blogs, and multiple places on the BN website. She is easily reachable through Facebook privately and publicly to answer any of your organizational questions.

    You did not merely “voice your respectful disagreement”. You repeated lies about Bastard Nation, ignored the harassment and attacks from other groups whom you beatified while heaping scorn on us. Several people have characterized it as a hit piece for that reason.

    As far as “pathos” being needed to make an argument broadly appealing, that is not only bizarre but in my opinion contradicted by almost every major equal rights struggle in history. I’ll take *ethos*, thank you.

    At any rate, I thought when I read your blog post on strategies for the left behinds that perhaps there was an opportunity for good faith dialogue with you about interesting subjects, but I no longer think so. I don’t like passive aggressiveness, disingenuousness, or being used, all of which seem to be display here. If you want to continue to use this space to give voice to more lies and misrepresentations about BN, so be it. If you have sincere questions about organizational structure, may I suggest you simply PM Marley and ask her, or post on the BN FB page. Same with MARM and any other group about which you have questions. It’s really not that complicated.

    • I actually don’t do Facebook and my limited participation in the past two weeks has convinced me why I won’t go back again. It’s a simple morass.

      I also don’t engage in name-calling, baiting, or other destructive strategies. That may seem naive to some but it’s my central purpose in opening up a dialogue here that has obviously led to a great deal of commentary, some of it quite constructive and forward-looking.

      That said, my post specifically said “after a slew of comments, those questions still appear to be largely unanswered.” I was referring to the slew of 50+ comments in the “ugly politics” post, not the 4 or 5 questions that I posted but have largely still gone unanswered (by Bastard Nation AND MARM). You finally answered some of those questions in this comment, including the surprising note that you are not in the Bastard Nation leadership (but who is? and who are on the so-called “committees?”). And why not make all of the information readily available on the website instead of requiring people to find a way to search it out? It’s a bit disingenuous to suggest someone new must 1) know specifically who to contact and 2) figure out they have to contact them by “PM” on Facebook. It’s really a very basic request for transparency, as I’ve made for any other group.

      Finally, if you could point to a lie about Bastard Nation that I have repeated, I’d certainly own up to it. Same goes with the odd notion of “beatification” of other groups and the idea that I ignored harassment and attacks. Seriously? Unless you can be more specific, I’ll likely not respond further. I’m not the edit police. I’m one person, have no affiliations, but have obviously ruffled some serious feathers. That part, thankfully, was respectful and necessary.

  • I too distrust pathos as a means to influencing public opinion and getting adoption legislation passed. For one thing, it is dishonest. For another, while it is true that the public relishes tales of reunion, its appetite for such springs more from a desire (albeit a natural human one) for drama and entertainment than anything more searching. Tales of lost family and reunion are not going to galvanize the public into joining the fight to open sealed records and restore OBCs to those adopted people who are denied them. Pathos can all too easily sink to bathos.

    Karen Blixen wrote that all suffering becomes bearable if it seen as part of a story. But it is a delicate balance. Not only is the public fickle, it is cynical about appeals to the emotion. It has been manipulated too often by media and P.R techniques to continue to be swayed by the music of the heartstrings. Such an appeal might have a short term effect, but it is difficult to sustain — and impossible to maintain momentum. Besides, the well of of empathy is not, unless for saints, a bottomless reserve.

    So let there be no schmaltz. Just the facts, ma’am. And what the facts tell is that denying *any one single person* their birth records and OBC is discriminatory and unjust. I don’t believe in meandering around such a straightforward issue. Presented honestly and openly, the facts speak for themselves. And the facts demand equal rights for all. That’s not “purist” or fanatical. It is what it is. Real.

    I just want to add that, my opinion, birth mothers who expect and demand to remain anonymous are a ghost constituency. It seems to me that if you chose to deny your identity, you forfeit your rights. Adoptees never had the privilege of making that choice.

    • Excellent points. I won’t actually try to add to it other than to say, like you, I’m not particularly interested in the pathos that affects public opinion. That’s incredibly difficult to control and may often lead to bad results. I’m more concerned about the internal pathos of a movement, i.e., motivating people within a group or organization instead of alienating them.