Gazillion Voices, Will You Just Consider This?

You got something to say?

Say something!

You got something to say?

Say something!

That is the call-and-response that my daughter learned at Pact Family Camp where we have taken her every summer for the last three summers.

Pact, as you know if you’ve read anything I’ve written, is an organization whose mission is to advocate for adopted children of color throughout their lives (you can read their full mission here). Pact Family Camp is the place where Ruby is given the tools and the language to talk about adoption and race, and where her father and I learn about how to help her into adulthood bearing the full weight of the single biggest choice in her life about which she never had any say. It’s big, heady, lifelong-journey stuff, and we bring it all home and go forward into the world, doing our best to push against the stereotypes and narratives the world has set aside for us.


You got something to say?

Say something!

I’m dusting this space off because, for the first time in a long while, I have something to say. I used to write frequently here (and in CityBeat) about adoption, race, and parenting, and the convergence of all three. I had lots of views and opinions—still do, actually. But I’m more informed now in many ways, most pointedly because with our first keynote speaker at camp, I began listening to and internalizing the voices of adult adoptees. The things they have to say have really given me pause, both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, because they pushed me to seriously reflect on where I was as an adoptive parent, where I had been, where I need to go, and how best to get there. And literally, in that I pretty much changed the way I wrote about adoption; which is to say, I mostly stopped. I think it is important that adoptive parents writing about adoption include and/or bear in mind, adoptee voices and viewpoints in some way, and that has been a real shift for me.

One of my main sources (though not my only one) for adult adoptee voices has been an organization called Land of Gazillion Adoptees (LGA). LGA, led by adult transracial adoptee Kevin Vollmers, is putting. It. Out. There. Like, all of it. And—I say this with a caveat, which I’ll get to in a minute—it’s good. Without question, the most silenced, the most dismissed voice in the adoption triad is that of the adoptee, and Vollmers has created a platform from which these marginalized voices can be heard. It isn’t always easy to hear what adult adoptees have to say though, and there have been more than a few moments where I’ve had to check myself. Something’s not to my liking? I feel myself getting angry? Instead of getting defensive, I try to sit with it; to figure out why it is my hackles are up; to really understand why something that a person said has made me so uncomfortable. And I always keep in mind that no matter my discomfort, no matter how dismissed or marginalized I might feel, it really is small in comparison to what adoptees face in society. At least, this is what I’ve learned so far. So, yes, most of what Vollmers and LGA are offering is good, even when it makes me feel sorta bad.


But about that caveat.

There have been moments over the last year-ish since LGA appeared on my radar, when the administrators have lashed out in a way that I think is harmful to their goals. It’s funny I should say this now because just yesterday, a friend told me in a chat that, while he and I are “a hair’s breadth different” when it comes to issues of race, he feels my approach is sometimes detrimental to the greater cause. And while I wouldn’t admit it in the moment, I think he was right. I know he was right. (If he’s reading this, he should feel vindicated). I’m well-intentioned, and relatively unafraid to put myself out there, and sometimes I get it wrong because I’m super-duper passionate with a Luxardo cherry on top. And sometimes, I let that super-duper-passionate-with-a-Luxardo-cherry-on-top part of me get in the way of delivering a meaningful message or creating a productive dialogue. The fire that keeps my fingers at the keyboard can both serve me and undermine me, and it’s something I work on. “Sharpen your pen,” my friend said to me. Ouch, but also: Yes.

My point in bringing that up is that I get the roaring flame and brimstone of LGA. Adoptees are tired of being silenced. And when you’re sick to here of something, well then.

You got something to say?

Say something!

Which is what LGA did. Someone in their camp smashed his pen and reached for his flame thrower the other day over an interview at Water Cooler Convos with adoptive parent and mommy blogger Kristen Howerton, author of Rage Against The Minivan. I know how good, how electrifying that can feel in the moment. But…yeah. I also know what it feels like to pine for an unsend button.

I won’t go into all the details, but I will say that what started out as a “*YAWN* Why do we find her so…boring!” and the unfortunate FOX News-ish administrator claiming to have heard “from a very reliable source” that Howerton tends to “talk smack about adoptees behind closed doors,” ended with a series of mean-spirited attacks and accusations. LGA even went so far as to compare Howerton to Joyce Maynard, a woman who disrupted two adoptions (read: gave her adopted children away) and went on to write a book about it. (I refuse to link to her; you’ll have to seek that one out for herseslf.) That was, in my opionion, an unnecessary low point for LGA.

As it happens, I was at a Pact event in Los Angeles last weekend and met Kristen Howerton (and her family) in person for the first time. We had dinner together with four other families (I must throw out a huge thank you to our wonderful waiter at Lyfe Kitchen, who was patient with us and our many rambunctious kids) and the inimitable founder of Pact. Many incredible conversations took place and I did not get the same impression of Howerton that LGA seems to have.

I don’t know Howerton well, or at all, really. I do not read her blog. But I do know that she was at the Pact function, which speaks volumes about whether she is invested in doing the hard work. Pact is not for do-gooders or saviors; it is not for people collecting children like wrist charms or for those who wish to be tourists in race. You either get it, or you don’t; there is little middle ground. Howerton and her husband, in my experience of them, are thinking deeply about issues facing their transracial family and are making decisions—small and (some very) large—based not on what is easiest or most comfortable for them, but based on the immediate and long-term needs of their children, specifically their adopted children. From our conversations, I learned that she listens to and internalizes what adult adoptees are saying, including those voices coming from LGA. And while yes, she is a Christian, something LGA pointed out and something that gets my hackles up, she doesn’t seem to be prosthelytizing or bringing to the table the dangerous views shared by a wide swath of evanagelicals making adoption news these days. In all, my impression is that the lightning bolt pointed toward her is overcharged, if not misdirected.

None of us is perfect, and I would include Howerton in this assessment. I don’t necessarily agree with all of her viewpoints (and she probably wouldn’t agree with all of mine), but she does love her children and I think she takes very seriously what the adult adoptees have to say.


LGA got excited yesterday when Howerton responded to some of their attacks, and encouraged their supporters to keep tweeting at her. “We’ve got her attention!” they said, gleefully. But, I have to ask, to what end? They want her to engage so they can brutalize her? That seems so counter-productive, and shortsighted, so…contemporary in this age of outrage porn. So yes, LGA, you got her attention. But did you do it in a way that can work for you? How much better would it have been to get her attention (which wouldn’t have been difficult to begin with, since she is a fan of LGA) by calmly yet seriously calling her on the things you think she is wrong about? How much further could that kind of dialogue have gone? Imagine a thoughtful conversation between LGA and Rage Against The Minivan? That would be a collaboration from which many readers could benefit, saving the rage for the Maynards of the world. Instead, the ugliness that unfolded served to undermine LGA’s credibility and the important work they are trying to do.

As I said before, I have largely stopped writing about our daughter’s adoption and my feelings about it. I approach any writing with the fear of being viciously attacked by a community that has taught me so much and is very important to me, even as I stand on the outside looking in. I value what adult adoptees have to say and where they’re coming from; those voices are essential in my child rearing efforts. Essential. I want to be—and in fact, am—an ally to adult adoptees. I think Howerton may be an ally, too. There are quite a lot of us, I think. And LGA would do well to recognize us as such, even as they understand we probably have a lot more to learn, even as we may make some missteps along the way. Those of us who would otherwise be activists and speak out on behalf of adult adoptees, adoptee rights, and reform in adoption cannot join you if we get pilloried any time we say something in a public forum.

No, it’s not your job to help us. It’s not. But maybe, please, try not to shut us out completely. Set down the flame thrower. Sharpen that pen. Because like it or not, we are all in this together. And not to be all Pollyanna or anything but together, we are stronger.




7 Responses to Gazillion Voices, Will You Just Consider This?

  • Very clear that passions are high here. Educational as always, Aaryn.

  • kym says:

    I, also, as an adopted adult don’t like her blog and her publicizing her children’s stories filtered via her own voice. It doesn’t trigger me. The very few times I’ve read her blog, I haven’t liked it, except her highlighting the Christian World Adoptions (recently-bankrupt) scandals with Ethiopian adoptions.

    However, I wouldn’t like my private life filtered and aired to the world for their entertainment. I think most conscientious people would understand that – it doesn’t take rocket science.

    And some may say, well, why don’t her (your, their) children say something? How many adoptive parents actually LISTEN to what their adopted children say and take it to heart (besides seeking clues to the rejection/acceptance dichotomy of the parenting label or affection)? Aaryn, since you say that you do listen to and seek voices of adult adopted people, you MUST be aware that adopted people who say anything critical about anything related to “adopt” MUST be an angry, negative person. You would have to be blind and deaf (and dumb) to be oblivious to all this WHILE paying attention to adult adoptee voices. But then again, how much of our society, even our self-proclaimed “allies”, listens to and registers what adult adoptees and first parents have been saying for decades?

    Frankly, “nice” conversations about nothing have done VERY little to curb the corruption, injustices, and exploitation of certain populations in this country and around the world. And people like you, publicly treating a group of adult survivors like children doesn’t help. If you want to be an “ally”, then don’t be two-faced about it, and then self-label yourself as one. If you want to be an ally, you have to earn it. Money may buy political brownie points, favorable laws to buy more children or accessories, but it might not buy children’s love, and it won’t buy an “alliance” with me.

    I’ve never met you, never heard of you, nor read your blog, but if you care about the corruption, exploitation, and trafficking that goes on in adoption and adoption policies, then you will nudge the perpetrators and their supporters to enact real change rather than the diverse group of adult survivors who are finally getting heard. Your attempt to silence them are noted. People shouldn’t have to beg, plead, submit, or smile or dress pretty to deserve respect, improved justice and human rights that everyone else enjoys.

    I don’t know why you chose to invite adoption into your world (and I’m not really interested in your personal life or how much you love your children – I could read your blog if I wanted to), but it was a choice. For most of the adopted people, there was no choice, consent, or assent given to enter the realm of adoption. None. At. All.

    Sorry, Aaryn, if you don’t like my “tone”, but oh well. You’re an adult who stepped into the world of adoption. If you don’t like my tone, then you can step up and help restore long-overdue adoptee rights in California. It’s a civil rights issue.

    • Aaryn says:

      Thank you, Kym, for your comment. I do hear you and I do know that you (meaning not just you but adoptees) are angry. I understand it and I think it’s totally valid (like I said to a previous commenter, I know it’s not my place to say this is valid, or that is valid, just so we’re clear). And you are right: You don’t know me. Nor do you know what I’ve done to “nudge the perpetrators and their supporters to enact real change.” Which is my whole point in saying it would be worth a deep breath and figuring out who the allies are. And yes, I’m going to use the term ally. Because I’m raising one of you, so I have to be—need to be—on the right side of fixing this messed up institution, so that adoptee voices are listened to, and birth parents are heard and empowered. I think that by listening to, and following the lead of, adult adoptees (like my aunt who is fighting for her records, who I support in any way I can) is the only way to do that. To walk the walk. And I will continue to do it no matter how much I get shouted down. Sound familiar? I do thank you, in all sincerity, for your comment. I hope more dialogues can come of this, more bridges built, and more work together to fight for “adult survivors” to not just be heard, but to be the catalyst for real change.

  • Renee Lynne Davies says:

    As an adult adoptee, I can’t stand her. Her weblog triggers me to the point of physical discomfort.


    Laura Dennis summed it up most eloquently on Twitter yesterday, when she asked, “…wonder what ur kids will feel as adults when ur telling the entire universe their stories, which they own.”

    WHICH THEY OWN. Their stories are not Howerton’s to exploit.

    I don’t feel the need to elaborate further.

    • Aaryn says:

      Thanks for this comment, Renée. I understand why you wouldn’t like her blog, why it would be triggering, and I tend to agree with you about the way she has told her kids’ stories so publicly. But I say this as someone who once wrote about my child on-line, and though I don’t think I ever gave her story away, she is the one who will have the final say on that. Laura Dennis has a very good point. Your anger and that of other adoptees is totally valid (not that I have any right to anoint it so). So yes, there might be a distance for Howerton to cover when it comes to figuring out how much (if anything) to put online. Nevertheless, I do think Howerton is right on many of the issues and she listens to adult adoptees. But shouting her down and calling her names isn’t going to do anything positive. I’m talking about how LGA & Co. could more positively air its grievances so that a much larger audience can understand WHY things like telling an adoptee’s story publicly for him/her is so infuriating. With all of the outrage bathed in accusations and name calling and finger-pointing (in 140-character moments) is detrimental and in the end, it is LGA that takes the credibility hit. Thank you again for this comment. I really do love to hear what adult adoptees have to say.

      • Renee Lynne Davies says:

        You know, in my opinion, some people need to be told what they are. Some people need to have a few fingers pointed at them, as well.

        And those at the pointy end of injustice rarely appreciate being scolded by the Tone Police.

        I’m 52 years old. I’ve spent more than five decades dealing with being “touched by adoption.” I’m a successful retired professional; a wife, a mom to a wonderful 31 year old man. I find it more than slightly ridiculous when 20- and 30-something year old adoptive mommies whose kids aren’t even out of primary school condescend to me about how I communicate my offense.

        I know many, many adoptees who feel similarly.

        Just something to consider.

      • kym says:

        I hear you, Aaryn, and I can understand why you didn’t like the manner/tone in which some people addressed Howerton’s self-promotion of her acquisitions, perhaps because you don’t want to be on the receiving end of it.

        However, many of us know that if approach #1 doesn’t work, then try approach #2, then approach #3. People have been trying approach #1, but for decades, it fell on deaf ears. Approach #2 – likewise. But LGA finally got yours and other people’s attention, so they were successful at bringing the discussion forward, something that approach #1 and #2 failed at. If you had been paying attention these last few decades or tried to catch up on what people were saying, then you would have realized that following the lead of people like you or taking your suggestions has been an utter failure and exacerbated the mistreatment and domination of adopted people and their families.

        I see that you’ll be at the Adoption Conference later this month in NYC. I hope you’ll have learned to listen to the people who have lived adoption up close and personal for decades, and follow our lead. We know what’s needed, we know how to do things. We need allies, not uninformed newbies telling us how to live in the world of adoption or how to communicate with people. We’ve been communicating “your” way, to no avail.

        Advice: educate yourself and listen.

        Write letters to your legislators to restore the rights of adopted people. Adopted people had no choice in the decision to be adopted, but are the ones most impacted by this discrimination. For the rest of their lives. This has lead to problems in accessing family medical history; renewing/applying for a passport or drivers license; or just having basic, truthful information about themselves, their identity, history, origins, just like everyone else.

        1) No one else is discriminated against by the laws and US government against knowing the truth about THEMSELVES, except people adopted as children. And historically, slaves. By law.

        2) Foster children placed for adoption or removed from their parents, if they age out and are never adopted, they do not have their OBC’s altered or sealed. But, if they’re adopted, then their OBC’s are altered and sealed forever in most states. DISCRIMINATION

        3) Oregon unsealed adopted people’s OBC’s 14 years ago and first parents were given a contact preference form. Out of thousands of adult adoptees requesting their OBC, about 1% of first parents requested no contact – 99% of first parents either wanted contact or didn’t care. Most first parents I’ve met have WANTED contact. They WANT to know what happened to their babies/children from so long ago.

        4) Kansas and Alaska NEVER altered and sealed the birth certificates of adopted people.

        5) Governor Herbert Lehman of NY in the 1930′s signed the public health law that permanently sealed adopted people’s OBC’s from the adopted people themselves. Herbert Lehman (related to the Lehman Brothers) had also adopted 3 children, at least one of them through Georgia Tann, the famous Baby Thief/Black Market Baby profiteer. How convenient that he signed the law saying that his children should never be able to know the truth about their own origins, that their human rights don’t matter.

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