“I grew up in Ohio” I tiredly reply hoping it will satisfy their nagging curiosity.
After a short pause my acquaintance continues their quest to find out where I’m from and why my skin is dark, “oh” they reply disappointed, “well where are you parents from?”
“They are American. They both grew up in Ohio” I retort. Before they can shoot me another question about my heritage, race or ethnicity I try to head then off by adding “I’m adopted.”
I hate adding that I’m adopted. Isn’t almost like an explanation of why I am here and why I am a part of my family. Without knowing I’m adopted people don’t seem to “understand” me. They need need to place me, without knowing I’m adopted they can’t. Its as if knowing where I was born will help explain me to them. Unfortunately, for them, I do not identify very strongly with India or any specific tenets of Indian culture. Thus, divulging that I was born in India and adopted by an American family normally leads to more confusion.
Once people have “placed” me they seemed relieved to be able to understand who I am. Unfortunately, once it is settled that I’m adopted I see another set of wheels start turning in their head. They begin to wonder “why he was adopted?”, “why would a family want to give up their child?”, “Maybe there is something wrong with him”…etc. Their pity is what gets at me the most, sure it bothers me that they think those questions but I, too, often wonder “why was I adopted”. But pity implies they are judging that my upbringing was somehow different, negatively so, because I am adopted. Or just pity because I was an orphan meaning I was left, abandoned and unwanted for who knows what reason. Orphan is a label that seems to stick even after that phase is over.
Its interesting that people expect me to tell them I’m adopted. Its not that I don’t consider it a huge part of my identity, for I certainly do, but in most cases where I make it public it seems highly irrelevant. Much as I would find it totally irrelevant to ask someone to tell me their sexual orientation just because I don’t quite understand them. I should add that I am not an incredibly sensitive person myself and am sure I ask people questions that irk them in the same way I feel irked about adoption.
Its difficult wanting to help people “learn” or become a bit more aware about talking about adoption, but I feel it is important. Hopefully short pieces such as these can help people think a bit more broadly. Its probably important to note that adoption experiences are so variable that my feelings might very well be contradictory to many others who are adopted.