Compromise Legislation: Why Some Adoptees And Not Others?

Why is it we are seeing such a rash lately of people willing to compromise on adoption records access?

First, let me direct you to the primer: Bastard Nation’s position paper on conditional access legislation. Read it. Love it. Hug it to your pillow. I’ve written about conditional legislation on this blog before, and it’s like spitting into the hailstorm of adoption reform.

We’ve got the California situation, which I don’t know much about except to say that if it’s got BB Church out of retirement it must be important. I would also like to send a big shout-out to CalOpen for their declaration of no compromise. We have Indiana legislators disdaining adoptee rights, the National Cashgrabbers For Adoption spewing bile, and it seems like a lot of us are wondering the same thing: Why are some adoptees worthy and not others? Baby Love Child started thinking about Disney’s Stitch and I started thinking about Stargate Command’s motto: We never leave our people behind.

Not when we’re tired. Not when we’re ordered to. Not when our people turn out to be aliens hypnotizing us to think they’re part of our team. Not even when we think our teammates are dead or Ascended or replicated into robots. We don’t leave them behind. Ever.

Like Baby Love Child I am one of Ohio’s “sandwich” adoptees: my birthday falls into the dates arbitrarily chosen by the state as having little to no access to records. To make matters worse I was born in another state (Illinois), so both states toss me to the other like refuse neither wants. I am also one of the have-nots; my birth mothers has filed the denial of contact, which under current Illinois law denies me access to my original birth certificate. But I do know an Illinois-born adoptee who, unlike me, has succeeded in getting her information. She’s Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, the person who created the registry and mandatory intermediary programs. At the moment she’s a little busy reaching for a promotion: now-Chief Of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s congressional seat. Adoption has been a stepping stone to her success. How can an adoptee sleep at night knowing he or she has information at the cost of fellow adoptees’ chance at the same?

After a few wakeful nights (hence not much blogging), I came up with a theory. Maybe even bastards need to bastardize someone.

Isn’t that what conditional legislation does? Pits adoptees against one another, turns us (again!) into guinea pigs racing on the experimental wheel of adoption. The facts of our origins are dangled like tasty tidbits if we only sell out our fellow lab rats. I was under this spell when I thought getting the Illinois CI program to accept interstate adoptees was actually helping my fellow adoptees. Now I know what it’s like to be left behind. Every society needs its lepers, its outcasts. Maybe bastardizing fellow bastards makes some adoptees feel good about themselves. It reaffirms their status as Good Adoptees, practiced players of the Adoption Game, in contrast to their Bad Adoptee counterparts, the ungrateful question-askers. I see a similar trend with our mothers. Good Birth Mothers make no waves. Bad ones dare think about their surrendered offspring or (egads!) search for them, and the REALLY bad ones have the audacity to voice their opinions on adoption themselves rather than letting people like the NCFA do it for them.

The same flawed logic used by secretkeepers to attack adoption reformers is also used by compromisers against those who won’t leave their teammates behind:

  • We fail to understand the political climate of [insert state].
    Actually we understand it fine. What works in Maine and Oregon can work elsewhere. There is no reason to settle for less, unless the primary objective is to make money off post-adoption services or otherwise support the highly corrupt and financially flailing adoption industry. Is that the real reason some people are okay with conditional access? If adult adoptees were treated equally, we would pay our small sum to the secretary of state like everyone else instead of pouring hundreds and thousands in the coffers of intermediaries and attorneys.
  • We don’t understand that small steps have to be taken.
    To quote the Fourth Doctor, a little patience goes a long way; too much patience goes absolutely nowhere. Or if you prefer: When you keep dividing a number by half you will never get to zero. You will end up dividing by half for infinity. The analogy in adoption is conditional legislation that takes up dozens of pages instead of one straightforward sentence. Do you want to legislate for each and every special case? Because there are no standard adoptions, no rules, just one great big hodgepodge of interstate and international adoptions. Keep trying if you want, Sisyphus, but it’s pointless. There is only one way to treat all participants in all adoptions the same and that is to equalize access.
  • Our birth mothers want privacy.
    How many times do we have to say it? There was NEVER any written guarantee of birth mother privacy. As the EBD said in For The Records:

    There has been scant evidence that birthmothers were explicitly promised anonymity from the children they relinquished for adoption. Relinquishment documents provided to courts that have heard challenges to states’ new “open records” laws do not contain any such promises. To the extent that adoption professionals might have verbally made such statements, courts have found that they were contrary to state law and cannot be considered legally binding.

    No one has EVER been able to find documented proof of this so-called promise. The EBD couldn’t find it. The NCFA can’t find it, because if they had you know they would be trotting it out at every opportunity. Yet people talk about “birth mother privacy” as if it’s chiseled in stone. It’s the adoptive families and adoption agencies who want privacy. Our birth moms were treated like dirt and told if they breathed a word about the deplorable treatment they received, God would smite them down in their shameful unwed shoes.

    We are all adults and perfectly capable of discussing matters between ourselves without a bunch of therapists, lawyers and politicians peeping over our shoulders. To be honest it really isn’t anyone’s business unless they are directly involved, adoptee or family. The fact that so many outsiders want to “help” us is voyeuristic, don’t you think?

  • We’re selfish.
    This is bastardizing bastards at its core: You Are Not Worthy. Why is it selfish to want the same thing everyone else has: unrestricted access to one’s unaltered birth certificate? Why is it selfish to stand up for oneself and others? That seems to be especially true when you’re adopted, and doubly so when you’re one of the denied. The usual reaction people have when they find out my birth mother requested no contact is, “Then why are you still searching?” Um, because I still have no answers? Because I’m still treated like a second-class citizen of the state in which I was born? Because my amended birth certificate is a bald-faced lie? My right to my information is completely separate and apart from any relationship my mother and I may or may not choose to pursue. But apparently once the state tells me she said “no” (I have only their word for it) I am supposed to crawl back to my bastard lair or become the penultimate pariah in our adoption-happy society. Even the lowliest SG teams are worthy of rescue by the great SG-1; we don’t leave our people behind just because they’re not bigwigs or pals with General Hammond’s favorite golfing buddy. That’s how adoption records access currently works (sadly, it’s also how adoption works).
  • We’re playing the “victim card.”
    A corollary to the Selfish Theorem. Adoptees had no say in the matters that shaped their lives. This is a fact, not a whine for sympathy. There really are victims of adoption, anyone who thinks otherwise has blinders on. In fact I would submit that we are all victims of adoption in one way or another, those of us involved and society as a whole.
  • We need therapy.
    Corollary #2. This is a convenient way to dismiss the subject, push it under the rug, hand recalcitrant adoptees off to highly paid specialists and wash one’s hands of the entire matter. It does not address an adult adoptee’s right to access his or her original birth certificate.

If you are an adoptee who has original birth certificate access, find out what laws in your state allow you to do so. Do those laws deny the rights of your fellow adoptees? How does that make you feel? And if you support conditional legislation, either deliberately or because you haven’t really thought about it, ask yourself why. Why is it okay for some adoptees to have access and not others? What makes a person born on this date better than someone born on that one? Why are adoptees in one state more deserving than those in another?

Are you willing to leave people behind? What if you turn out to be one of them?


  1. You have nailed it! And nailed compromisers to the wall. Thank you.

    I have always felt that deformers were the real enemy, and current activities really clarify this. I absolutely do not know why they fear fighting for rights uncompromised. Do they actually consider a disclosure veto, for instance, progress, instead of negation of the entire rights argument they claim to support?

    The official enemy is consistent and predictable and can be beaten. What is difficult, however, is trying to clean up the muck left in the wake of deform. We can win, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to win when the obstructionists stand in our way.

    I just blogged about this entry and added it to my permanent reports and articles list on Bastardette.

  2. Absolutely excellent commentary.

  3. Marley–Thanks much for the link and your post on Bastardette. I also do not know why deformers insist upon compromise. Do they really think compromises work, are they just not thinking about it, or are they getting something under the table? As far as I know, no state that has enacted conditional legislation has ever revisited it to turn it into clean open records. The legislators here in Illinois consider the matter a done deal, as I’m sure they do elsewhere. After all, we’ve got access, right? Never mind the process is worse than useless, not to mention humiliating.

    As you said it is far easier to deal with a clean slate than try to get rid of conditional legislation once enacted. Too many people look at new adoption bills and say, “Great, this will open records!” without analyzing them to see if they are more trouble than they’re worth.

    No one should have to put up with less than equality. As an adoptee I refuse to be marginalized, and I hope other reformers will step up to the plate and fight against these so-called compromises which are actually a continuation of sealed records.

  4. http://GayeSherman says

    Could it be that deformers subconsciously buy into the rhetoric? That adoptees wanting access to their own records are basically ungrateful, undeserving, selfish, in need of therapy, playing the victim, etc. So ANY crumb is a GIFT, not a right.

  5. I’d also like to thank BB Church for linking to this post from his blog at BB is a longtime adoption reformer who makes my little contributions look like droplets in a great big ocean of whupass.

  6. Gaye, I am ashamed to say that was me five years ago. I really, truly thought intermediaries were a good balance for everyone, until I got the ever-loving crap kicked out of me by a system that doesn’t care if you win or lose, as long as you pay to play the game.

    I hope my experience prevents some other poor sod from making the same mistake.

  7. This post is a killer.

    Absolutely slaying, I am so sorry.

  8. http://maryanne says

    Great letter, Triona. You really make it clear that compromise hurts real people; it is not just a matter of numbers when you are one of the excluded ones.

    I am so tired of hearing CA/NJ/MA etc etc etc are “different”. Keep letting people know what this is really about. And it isn’t “baby steps” either, those babies never get to grow up and take any bigger steps!