on telling people I was adopted

There never seems to be the right time to tell someone that I was adopted.

I'm not the person who needs to scream it from the rooftops or someone who wants to hide my adopted person status. It's a part of my identity that just is. I'm not embarrassed about it or regularly sad about it. I've navigated the implications of being an adopted person. I take pride in owning my story and using it for good.  

But there are times when I (probably like many adopted persons) feel the need to offer up the information. That by not telling someone, it may contribute to some confusion down the road. Or that by not telling someone, the other person may think I'm hiding it from him or her. Or that by not telling someone, I'm asking for a series of other questions that will eventually just lead to me having to later tell the person that I was adopted.


For instance... As a child, when people would see a photo of my nuclear family, you can imagine the questions. Or when someone comments on my good English. Or when someone assumes I got a particular gene from my mom or dad and asks me about it. Or when I tell people I'm traveling to Korea and they ask if I'm going back for a family reunion or to see grandparents. Or when I'm part of a conversation about disease running in people's family, and I am unable to contribute. Or when someone asks if I look just like my siblings.


When these conversations happen, I sometimes feel some need to reply, "Actually, I was adopted." Hoping that it will clear up confusion or assumptions or will explain this or that.

But let me tell you, even as an adult, it can be an awkward conversation to have with someone. I make the statement, and then it's the reaction of the other person that heads us down an all too familiar road.

Oh! I'm so very sorry.
Wow, and you turned out just great!
My cousin's girlfriend's nephew's wife's neighbor was adopted too!
Have you met your real mom and dad? 
I bet you feel so lucky!
I bet that's why you decided to adopt your kids--how wonderful!
Do you know Charlie--he's my adoptee friend who lives in California.
That must really stink.
I  just can't imagine someone giving up their kid.
Oh, that's just heartbreaking!
Moms in China can't keep their babies, but I think they're beautiful.
Oh, I always WISHED that I was adopted--you're parents actually CHOSE you!
I've just always wanted to adopt!

You get the point. 

Do you see that to tell someone that I was adopted, it gets intimate really fast? So even if I don't mind telling someone about who I am, it's not entirely a piece of cake having to manage other people's reactions to my adopted person status. I find myself consoling them (Oh, it's okay I was adopted. I'm just fine.), educating them (Actually not all adoptees know each other--believe it or not, there are millions of us), calling them out on their ignorance (It's more complicated than you think), and more.

So next time someone tells you that they were adopted, realize that it is chocked full of complexities.

Know that adopted people aren't freak shows or celebrities or service projects or someone to feel sorry for. Know that all adopted persons are at different places in their understanding of what it means to be adopted. Know that adopted people have multiple families and worlds to navigate. Know that adoption is usually a response to a crisis or tragedy. Know that the adopted person may or may not want to go into full details of their life story just because you're curious--especially if you're a COMPLETE STRANGER (I'm talking to you, Target cashier!). Know that there is more to me than the sole fact I was adopted.

Just know that adopted persons are typical people too.


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