03 February 2013

Adoption and Inappropriate Questions

I'm going to step back for a moment from my usual essays and rants about autism and disability related topics, and I'm going to talk a bit about adoption. I'm a transnational adoptee. I was born in China and when I was still a baby, I was adopted by two white people from the United States where I live now. Due to the commonality of transnational adoptions, particularly from East Asian countries, most people in the United States who meet me when I'm with my parents will sooner or later make the connection that I'm adopted and not a biological child. And that's fine. It's the same as when strangers who notice other Autistics and I flapping together in a restaurant surmise that we're Autistic because of the commonality of flapping among Autistics. There's nothing inherently, egregiously wrong with this.

The other day I casually mentioned in a conversation that I was adopted. (It was relevant, for the record.) This was followed immediately thereafter by a barrage of questions about my "real" parents, and whether my sister (also adopted) is my "real" sister, and whether I ever think about my "real" parents or would want to find them or whether I know anything about them.

That is not okay.

If you are not in my circle of close friends, then you have no right whatsoever to ask me deeply personal and sometimes outright offensive questions.

My real parents are the people who raised me.

My real sister is the person who grew up in the same house as me.

Those people are my real family for all their positive attributes and all their negative attributes.

Suggesting that other people, who were essentially genetic donors and who have played absolutely no role in my life, ever, are my "real" parents is incredibly presumptuous, condescending, and insulting. The earliest record of my existence that I know of is not a birth certificate but a police report of a one or two day old abandoned baby. I don't think any reasonable person could consider the people who procreated and caused me to be born to be my "real parents."

My sister and I happen not to share any biological parents. That doesn't make her somehow not my "real" sister. There's a wealth of difference between calling someone a real family member and a biological relative. This word "real" brings with it value judgments and qualitative assessment. The word "biological" refers to objective, scientific fact. Besides, whose business is it anyway whether my sister and I share genetics or not?

This aside, it is incredibly invasive and presumptuous for strangers or even acquaintances to suddenly take it upon themselves to feel entitled to interrogate me about whether I know, think, feel, or want anything regarding my biological parents. The fact is that some adoptees do care very much (regardless of whether they know anything) and would like to find or meet their biological parents. And another fact, equally important, is that a great deal many more adoptees simply don't care.

I never, ever think about my biological parents except in the minutes immediately following another person asking vapid questions about them. It's simply not a part of my everyday life or a part of my experiences. And even were it so, it'd be infinitely more respectful of me to allow me to initiate that conversation, to allow me to discuss what I thought about the matter, and to give me the space and the time that I needed to feel comfortable doing that.

Learning that someone is adopted is not carte blanche to pepper that person with personal and invasive questions. Period. There is no right to extract deeply personal information from another person simply to satisfy one's own curiosity. In fact, this type of attitude strikes me as privileged, objectifying, and enfreaking.


  1. Thank you so much for writing this post! I get these questions all the time. I have actually had people ask me these questions before. And worse yet, in most cases the person asking me these questions was someone I had never met before.

    1) Do you remember the orphanage?
    2) What was it like?
    3) Is it true that you were left in a crib all day in the orphanage?
    4) I heard adoptees have attachment disorders. Do you have an attachment disorder?
    5) So what was your first language, English or Russian?
    6) How can your parents REALLY love you? I don't think I could ever love a child that wasn't my own.
    7) Why did your biological parents give you up for adoption?
    8) Were your siblings adopted too?
    9) Don't you wish sometimes that you were normal?
    10) Does that mean you're not an American citizen? (The university I currently attend asked me to prove my American citizenship--something they don't require of students in general for admission.)

    Awesome blog post!

    1. Oh, and because I'm Autistic, I'll always get, "So do you think you're autistic because you were in an orphanage" or variations of this. -.- Makes me want to bash my head into a nearby wall.

  2. I have twins that were conceived through IVF, and I have had to deal with rude and personal questions on a regular basis since they were born. There is no need to be discussing personal medical information with the check out lady at Target. The rudeness of some people is appalling! And they want to point their fingers at autistic people and say they make inappropriate comments. Yeah, right.

  3. I agree with you, I am an adoptee and autistic/aspergers. I have often just automatically replied to the intrusive barrage of questions in that unthinkingly over-trusting overly good-natured aspergers way and then felt a bit violated afterwards, like I have accidentally over-shared.

  4. I have an adopted daughter who has Fragile X Syndrome. She wasn't diagnosed until she was 10. I've had people ask me "Would you have adopted her if you knew she wasn't normal?" "Did her mother do a lot of drugs?" (her bio mom is a good friend of mine, and as sober as they come.)

    The real kicker, was when someone told me that my daughter had "adoption trauma", and that if I'd left her with her birth mother (who was not prepared to be a mom yet), that my daughter would have been just fine. Basically implying that "my selfishness screwed her up."

    I would not trade or "fix" my kiddo for the world!


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