In my public speeches, I often incorporate a photocopy of a memo written by the adoption agency to my parents, where the agency offered me at a discounted and negotiable rate since I am black and had/have special needs (AKA, a “failure to thrive” in adoption lingo). I share this sensitive information for the purpose of educating on the topic of the fragility of adoptees and the possible origins of a fragile sense of worth. Inevitably, this tangible document asserting my monetary worth has crept into my subconscious, making it difficult to gauge my conceptual self worth. Psychological studies, or a simple look at the correlation between American greed and US depression rates tell us that a genuine positive self-esteem cannot be obtained by outside goods or materialism, but self esteem can be damaged by external forces. I know this to be true by experience. Let me explain.
I recently fulfilled my contractual obligation to speak at a culture camp specifically for transracial adoptive families. Over two days, I gave the keynote speech, led my Transracial Adoption 101 workshop, and joined another well renown speaker on the topic of birthparent relationships. In a nutshell, I bled emotionally on stage, offering a behind the scenes, deeper look at Closure, sharing many truths typically reserved for a behind closed doors, confidential session in a therapists office. I enter in to these spaces willingly and excitedly as it is my desire to educate others for the sake of the spurning powerful and necessary conversations. My emotional weight lifting and vulnerability resulted in countless thanks from the participants for helping to expand their worldview. The weekend was fatiguing, but overall, it felt to be a wild success, a victory in the name of adoption education! Well, not quite…
On the final day, I met with the director to settle up before heading back to the airport. To my surprise, I was not met with my payment, but rather a blank check that she dangled like a candy bribe in front of a misbehaving child and her cutting words; “I haven’t made your check out yet, because you weren’t available enough to the families during downtime. The families wanted more from you. I’d like to know what you think you’re worth?” I felt immediately triggered for obvious reasons. Her words have proven to aid in the external demotion of my self worth.
There seems to be an expectation for us adoptees to either shell out our private, potentially traumatic life story whenever anyone asks, or to speak for free as a sort of restitution for having been given a “better life.” In my case, there was an unknown and thus unmet expectation for me to be 100% available to all of the guests, foregoing sleep, rest or simple rejuvenation after a challenging educational session and a red-eye cross country flight.
Adoptee speakers – I understand the wearying drain of constantly needing to stave off feelings of inferiority, or to spend time (as I have) justifying the plausibility of their claims, but please be careful with this. Intentionally placing ourselves in triggering environments for the sake of adoption reform shan’t lead to a days of internal conversations and external retreat from the world. This is counter-productive. Together, we can demand that our vulnerable offerings are not only met with the agreed upon payment, but also kindness and an upstanding integrity. If this is not the case, reach out to your community for support. Adoptees learned at an early age that society views us as commodities, and that in some senses we were bought. Adoptee speakers, let’s #FliptheScript and demand it be known that we are commodities no more.