Identity within adoption

Adoption Thoughts
6 min readApr 24, 2023

Social and cultural attitudes change all the time of course, and with the advent of social media that rate of change seems to have sped up. To an old dinosaur like me the new views on identity seem remarkably socially conservative compared to when I was a teenager and I do sometimes struggle to agree with them or even understand them occasionally.

Not so long ago your ‘identity’ (we didn’t call it that — there was no real sense of needing to differentiate yourself in that way) was the sum of your experiences and your reaction to them. The emphasis was on the things you chose but mainly the things that happened to you. Your identity existed because of your interaction with other members of society, your feeling of being valued (or not) in that society and how others in the community saw you. You were not an island; you didn’t stand unchanged as the sea washed around you. You were more of a boat really, having some control of the direction of your life but still subject to the vagaries of nature and the bigger picture. Big society-changing things will be done in the context of the common good rather than directly benefitting people individually (although of course you may benefit, but just as a side effect). Quite a communitarian view I suppose, and I guess the point here is that taken to an extreme your ‘birth right’ or ‘blood line’ was ultimately irrelevant to you as an individual. Even in a more moderate interpretation those things are not emphasised as important because if you did think they were important then that would pre-suppose that a new-born was somehow imbued with all the baggage from their parents immediately rather than just absorbing it and changing over time. With the UK’s collective trauma about its class and race politics both at home and abroad, and its attempts to avoid talking about it as much as possible, the idea that you might be born into an ‘identity’ was anathema. This is the kind of atmosphere my generation grew up in and in this context it is not surprising that adoption was relatively uncontroversial.

However times change. Whether it is for the better depends on your political standpoint I guess. We are much more physically isolated from each other (in the West anyway) and so have less chance to exchange ideas or just get to know people. Social media just feeds us a small portion of the possible based on our current interests, so we mostly just see more people who ‘look’ like ourselves, which we might not have before social media and so can be a good thing. But at the same time their voices and opinions are amplified much more loudly than their relative frequency in society, creating memes that stand alone and don’t change, rather than mutating and being absorbed by culture on a wider scale. So groups form their own ‘identity’ and don’t interact with each other anything like as much. When they do they cause conflict. Identity is now used as a political football and as we are generally a more conservative society than we were 30 years ago that is reflected in discussions like these. Now identity is all about who you are born to and what you choose out of life. Your interactions with others are secondary. It is very egocentric, there is no room for the things that happen to you or your place in the community. The fact that things do happen to you is not a cause of growing or learning. Those things are an insult to your personal sovereignty and as such should be ignored or denied. The conflict that happens when you can’t ignore it or deny it happens is something that cannot be resolved and as a result invoke anger and self-pity. They are motivated to try to stop it happening again, but that opinion is entirely born out of their own experiences, despite being an entirely individualistic philosophy ironically there is no attempt to understand the situation of someone else, everything has to be done on their terms alone. It is what happens when you don’t resolve trauma or manage a stressful situation, but instead simply rage against it or just pretend it isn’t happening. You need control over everyone else rather than just working or living with them. The intervention of society or the community should not be allowed to help, only they can. It is a typically libertarian outlook on life and again perhaps not surprisingly adoption in that light is controversial.

In terms of adoption identity it feels like there is an entire ‘misery industry’ out there. People crying out to tell their story of woe about how terrible their adoption experience has been. But only at a price. Monetising everything is of course also a thing nowadays (and also socially conservative) but I do feel it detracts from the message if you really care about your activism. ‘I want to change society. And I want to make money from it at the same time’, is not a recipe for getting people to take you seriously in my opinion. How can you be a credible influencer if you have to be as extreme as possible in order to get clicks or views, because that’s how you get an income? They appear to want to change the world to benefit their own pockets rather than for any motivation to improve the lives of other people. Maybe I am being too cynical. But I do think community activism is dying as we all get siloed into meme-boundary hell.

For instance if you want to read about adoption on Medium most writers appear to want to get paid for the privilege of finding out about their (usually mistaken) understanding of adoption. Despite very rarely interacting with anyone else on Medium or even being on here more than an hour or 2 in the last 2 years. I appear to have been blocked by some users who clearly don’t want me to read their stuff about adoption even though I am a person they want to change the opinion of. I haven’t come across them before, but presumably they’ve read my stuff and don’t want to listen as it conflicts with their stance. As I say, it is all on their terms only. It doesn’t work by the way, everything is public on Medium, unless you are trying to make money out of it. It is like a Twitter user blocking someone. All you are doing is stifling a potential conversation, which again is just idiotic if you are genuinely trying to change the world rather than just monetise it.

In the UK adopted people are usually asked to advocate (or voice their concerns) at adoption preparation training days. I personally found that very useful and informed a lot of my actions and opinions, especially in relation to birth parent contact. But now there is a movement for adoptees to only speak at those things if they are paid. Note that the adopters, foster carers and birth parents who appear wouldn’t expect to be paid. They are performing a community service. If you are an activist why would your opinions only be worth spouting if you are paid? It is another attempt to make money from what is usually a very tragic situation, and quite tasteless really. If you don’t want to do it because you don’t believe it is a good thing then boycott it rather than ask to be paid. And if you do believe in it then stop asking for money.

All this arises from the modern egotistical individualistic concept of identity. The idea that they have to be compensated if people would like to know who they are and what they stand for. Because they are a rich island of experience and so people should be falling over themselves to come to you. They don’t need to find out anything about those other people, they are irrelevant. But while they are standing still and unchanging they risk being left behind as the ship moves on without them. When all they can express is the apparent ignorance of what is happening in the adoption space who is the dinosaur now?