Gazillion Voices, Will You Just Consider This?
You got something to say?
You got something to say?
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?
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?
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.