Quick Note on New Blog and Adoption Stigma

A couple of weeks ago I added a new blog to my blogroll.   It’s called Beyond Blood and it appears in the on-line version of Psychology Today.  The author is Abbie Goldberg.   It’s worth a look.

This week’s entry (I think it is on a once a week schedule) is about stigma and adoption, which ties into a discussion we had here a little while ago.    It’s also tied to an incredibly popular movie–The Avengers.   There’s an exchange in the movie about Loki, who I gather is the villain of the piece.   In explaining how he can at once be Thor’s (one of the heroes) brother and evil, Thor says “He’s adopted.”   This is apparently a laugh line–I assume intended as such, apparently received as such.

I think Goldberg’s comments here–which echo many other comments around the web–are right on target.   How would you feel sitting in the audience when the line was read if you were adopted?   How would you feel when everyone in the theater around you laughed?

I’m not sure I’m capable of completing picking apart what is going on here.   Is it that Loki is a bad seed–of some unknown origin that is clearly tainted?   Is it that Loki and Thor aren’t really brothers?   And I’m not sure why it is funny, or why it strikes people as funny.   Suffice it to say I’ve been unable to construct some understanding that would make an adopted child feel good.

Now it may seem like this is making an awfully big deal out of a passing line in a movie.   But my guess is that this line will be heard differently by those who are adopted or who have adopted and those who are not/have not.    I’m not an expert but in my experience you listen more closely when the topic at hand is your own identity.   It’s not because you’re over-sensitive–it’s because it’s about something close to you and so you naturally pay more attention.    Thus a line a not-adopted child might not pay much attention to (except perhaps to fleetingly laugh) will be more carefully considered by an adopted child.   And what will that child hear?  I worry that it is that an adopted child can be expected to be a bad child or a lesser child or at least an alien child.

This is how stigma works, I’m afraid.   And you can see how it might lead to secrecy/concealment and a host or related problems some of which were discussed in that earlier post.   But as Goldberg makes clear, you can also see  moments like this as teachable moments.   That’s not an easy route, but it’s a possible one and it makes the most of the opportunity presented, however unwelcome the opportunity is.



3 responses to “Quick Note on New Blog and Adoption Stigma

  1. I think that people who adopt often have unrealistic expectations of the person they’ve adopted. The person they’ve adopted has a set of very real parents that are simply not in the daily picture of that person’s life. That person is going to inherit his parents physical traits and I think we often like to forget that the brain is part of the physical body. The people who adopt shape the environment where the brain and body of the adopted person develop. That environment can have a huge impact on the person or very little at all, I don’t think there is any really telling in advance if the person is going to grow up to act more like his parents than his adoptive parents.
    I know I have seen both in equal amounts and I do know a lot of adopted people. Many of them have nothing at all in common with their parents and family when they finally meet them – and I mean they don’t even look like them and they share no common values or interests – they just don’t see themselves when they look at their relatives. Many have everything in common with their relatives and its like finally going home to a place where they fit in for the first time. Honestly, my personal feeling is that they would have felt exactly the same about their family had they been raised by their parents and not adopted. Its incredibly common for children to have ideological differences with their parents in fact it may be more common than not and I know more people who are on the outs with their parents than I do people who are on the outs with their adoptive parents.
    So in the movie some evil guy is the adopted brother of some good guy and I guess the point of the line is to say not to expect the two of them to be alike because one of them is adopted and has characteristics reflective of his own family rather than that of his adopted family. Well, sure he might. It could just as easily have gone the other way as well, but who could blame the adoptive family for not wanting to take the blame for the adoptive person’s less than desirable character traits. I’ve heard people joke that they don’t know where their own offspring get certain traits or talents “certainly did not get that from me…must be your side of the family…maybe he’s an alien”

    You said something really important: “when the topic at hand is your own identity.” Yes! A person can be shuffled around and adopted 4 times before they are an adult or change their name legally 8 times or have a variety of illegal aliases, they can go under the knife change their face, their hair, they can disappear into the witness protection program and none of it will change their true identity. Your name is just your name but your identity is tied to being the child of a particular man and woman. That is your identity – you are the offspring of a particular set of parents and you are a particular offspring of those people as well. A person’s identity is entirely tied to whose child they are – not who raised them. The person that raises you can be anyone and it won’t alter your identity. That is why people talk about not knowing themselves if they don’t know who their parents are and that is why its such a mind fk when adoptive parents play tricks with words like saying “he is my real child” or “I am his natural mother”. They don’t realize that they can embrace the child they adopted fully into their family without making it like the child’s identity is tied to the adoptive family rather than tied to the family they originated from. It kind of an assassination on their being like they started life with the adopted family rather than with their own. This is why its so damaging to call a father a sperm donor – who cares if he was never a legal father or not, its like saying the kid does not deserve his whole identity as the child of the man and woman that created them. It tanks so much. Its so mean.

    • I think we are using identity somewhat differently, which isn’t suprising as many people use it in many different ways. What I meant to suggest is that for some (perhaps many) adopted people, being adopted is an important part of who they are. They may feel they have common ground with others who are also adopted. that’s what’s going on with the adoption affinity group at my daughter’s school, for instance. Same thing for the donor conceived. For some, this is an identity category. In the same way, for many people who are lesbian or gay, being lesbian or gay is a part of your identity–it is a part of who you think of yourself as. (Very badly put—sorry.) And you may form an identity community with others who share that identity–who also identify as donor concieved or lesbian/gay or whatever you want to talk about. This is the basis of what is sometimes called identity politics.

      There are some interesting ways that this sort of identity arises. It tends to exist for minority groups of one sort or another. So for example, those who are neither donor concieved nor adopted nor step children–those being raised by their genetic parents–tend not to think of this as a facet of their identity. That category is the background against which the other identities (like adopted) are defined, but it isn’t itself an identity. Similarly, while being lesbian or gay is an identity, being straight often isn’t–it’s just the unremarkable default against which other sexual identities are define. (I don’t know that it has to be this way–but it often does seem to be.)

      This isn’t the same thing as the identity you’re speaking of. And I think it is generally agreed that these sorts of identities are socially constructed. What I mean by that is they only exist because society creates the category and gives it some meaning. (Not necessarily in a deliberate/conscious way. It’s far more complicated.) My favorite example is that while it is fairly clear that people have had sex with members of their own sex and/or have been sexually attracted to members of their own sex for a very very long time, there weren’t any lesbian and gay pilgrims. Those desires (even if acted upon) didn’t create an identity. They were just something you did or felt. Now we think they do form the basis of an identity.

      I suppose this is all rather a tangent, but I’ve been thinking a lot about identity for a whole lot of reasons and your comment struck me.

      And I’m sure you’re right that people have all sorts of expectations about adoption as they do about parenthood generally.

  2. This line of dialogue wasn’t funny or amusing.

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