Alienated from the Adoptee World

So in my brief time researching international adoption, I’ve been reading what I can on the issue, following folks on Twitter who are active in the online conversation and unfollowing a few whose views and attitudes are so completely against anything I can relate to (or have patience for) that I almost find their online presence as being toxic. I get that we all have different experiences, I understand those experiences can result in some tricky emotions, I also understand some of us were not raised in loving, sensitive families, but if after giving some of the more abrasive voices out there a chance and still not feeling that they are truly contributing to a useful dialogue on the issue of international adoption, I don’t feel guilty about releasing them from my online network. And I’ve had to do that already within my short time exploring the adoption conversation online. For one thing, I was starting to make dangerous generalizations about my fellow adoptees and feeling more alienated from them than ever simply because I do not share the views many of them (online at least) have.

And then when I read articles like this, I’m reminded once again of why I have avoided the (Korean) adoptee community all these years. I won’t call the following quotes from the article offensive because I truly do believe the adoptees holding these views come from experiences that have shaped their thinking in ways many of us (including me, to a limited extent) cannot relate to, but I express concern that their vocal viewpoints have started to create a certain reputation among (Korean) adoptees that I don’t want to be associated with:

Laura Klunder’s newest tattoo runs down the inside of her left forearm and reads “K85-160,” a number that dates to her infancy. Klunder was 9 months old when her South Korean mother left her at a police station in Seoul. The police brought her to Holt Children’s Services, a local adoption agency, where a worker assigned Klunder the case number K85-160. It was only two weeks into 1985, but she was already the 160th child to come to the agency that month, and she would go on to be one of 8,800 children sent overseas from South Korea that year.


She chose the tattoo of her case number as a critique of adoption, she told me. “I was a transaction. I was a number in the same way that people who are criminalized and institutionalized are given numbers.”

The article continues to interview Korean adoptees with views quite similar to Klunder. One such woman is Klunder’s friend Kim Stoker.

“I get parents’ desperation to have children,” said Stoker, who at 41 was the oldest of the group at the table. “Accepting diverse families is great,” she said. But, she added, “I don’t think it’s normal adopting a child from another country, of another race and paying a lot of money. I don’t think it’s normal to put a child on a plane away from all its kin and different smells. It’s a very modern phenomenon.”

Like these adoptees interviewed, I also lived in South Korea, the country of my birth, as an adult. It was a personal journey for me that I had to take on my own, and when I say I took it on my own, I really did. While in Korea, more than one adoptee I encountered in the country tried to bring me into Seoul’s adoptee world and each time I declined. For one thing, the adoptee network in Korea at the time was very politically active (as I see it still is now), and their viewpoints and the language they used were nothing I could relate to, nor did I agree with their stances. And that seems to still be the case today.

I don’t regret my choice not to associate with that circle during my five years in Korea. I feel it probably would have been a toxic environment for me since my viewpoints are so different from theirs on the idea of international adoption. I’m very much pro-adoption. I don’t deny it is not always an easy process, but at the end of the day, I don’t see the challenges that come with international adoption as a fault of Korea as a nation or a fault of all adoptive parents.

Yes, I do realize there are adoptive families out there who are abusive, insensitive or just plain awful parents, but I don’t think these isolated situations should prevent others who are not from adopting and that is essentially what the adoptee diaspora in Korea has done — they have lobbied for laws that make it more difficult to adopt internationally and as a result, have significantly slowed down the adoption process from Korea. This saddens me tremendously because the number of willing and loving adoptive families out there far outnumbers those who are the opposite. Korea is one country that has partnered with adoption agencies that have done their due diligence to the best extent possible, when it comes to placing children in homes overseas. Not all countries have that luxury, but Korea certainly does.

And so the more I thought about how such a strong message (which I disagreed with then and still disagree with now) had prevented me from really getting to know other adoptees while I was living in Korea, in a way, I’m trying to make up for those missed opportunities, but under less polarizing circumstances. It’s fascinating making this journey through social media and eye-opening at the same time.

There is,however, one message I want to put out there, amongst all the opinions and voices that have populated the discussion: Not all of us are angry, bitter souls. Many of us have come to terms with who we are and the unique circumstances that have shaped us, and many of us are really okay (even grateful) with how things have turned out.

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