Good Vs. Bad Adoptees: Dismissing Our Experiences And Criticism As “Anger”

Lately we’ve had a rash of really bad bills that dangle the carrot of potential birth certificate access for some, while smiting others with the stick of disclosure veto. Regular readers know of our efforts here in Illinois against HB 5428. Some are celebrating the bill’s passage. I am not. New Jersey is about to go the same route, with a bill on the governor’s desk that seriously jeopardizes adoption reform. I know many of the people who support the NJ bill, just as I know many of the people who supported Illinois. But I cannot in good conscience support legislation that leaves some adoptees behind. I’m not going to rehash why I disagree with compromise legislation; you can read it here, here and here.
Instead, I want to talk about how these recent events got me thinking. There has been a discussion on the KAD Nexus blog concerning adoptive father and author John Seabrook’s NPR segment. Both the post and the comments that follow (including rebuttals from Seabrook) are a must-read. In response to Seabrook’s segment, adult adoptees discuss how their criticisms of adoption and racism are often dismissed as “angry,” “bitter,” or every adoptee’s favorite, “ungrateful.” I strongly encourage you to read it for context before returning to this post.
In my experience, the same can be said of adoptees who insist upon equal rights for all adoptees. If we refuse to compromise, to sacrifice others or ourselves in the name of a few butchered rights for some, then it must be because we are “angry.” We must have “had a bad experience” or “hate our adoptive families.” And woe betide those of us who may actually have had a bad experience. Then we are simply disgruntled and souring the milk for others. Our opinions and experiences are instantly negated, regardless of any validity they may contain.
Taking away the rights of a subclass is easier when the subclass is dismissed as “angry.” Anger implies irrationality, lack of forethought, selfishness. The weapon-word “angry” is especially effective against adoptees. For fear of being branded as such, many adoptees learn to dismiss their own feelings–for to be angry is to be the Bad Adoptee (as termed by BJ Lifton), the one who refuses to cooperate with the Adoption Game. Some adoptees, in turn, use the same word “angry” to ostracize fellow adoptees who refuse to play the game. It becomes a vicious cycle: society bastardizes adoptees, who bastardize their own kind so they themselves can “fit in” more successfully. Nothing says Good Adoptee like spotlighting another adoptee who’s not toeing the line.
This use of “angry” as a weapon has never been more clear to me than in the struggle against compromise legislation like Illinois HB 5428. I’ve analyzed the media coverage of the bill’s passage as an illustration of how adoptee voices are dismissed in discussion of matters that have a vital impact upon our rights. Yet, who better to discuss the pros and cons of the adoption process than those who have experienced it firsthand? I have also included my personal experience about being interviewed for several of these articles.
For my analysis I read all of the articles and press releases about the passage of Illinois HB 5428 I could find, with a mind to the following: Whose opinions were expressed (sponsors, adoptive parents and/or prospective adopters, adoption professionals, birth relatives, adult adoptees, others)? Was the widespread opposition to the bill by the adoption community mentioned? What about the downsides of the legislation–the fact that some adoptees will be blacklisted? IMO, the coverage ranged from fairly well-balanced to outright sponsor propaganda, leaning heavily toward the latter. Some of my thoughts as I read through it:
  • Almost every single article spouted sponsor opinion that this bill “opens adoption records.” That is inaccurate. What this new legislation does is grants a few rights for some, while consigning others to a permanent black hole of no access. And it’s Russian roulette: you won’t know which way it will turn out for you until you go through the process. The sponsors have co-opted adoption rights terminology, claiming that this bill is about “rights of adoptees.” (Case in point: this self-aggrandizing propaganda from sponsor Rep. Sara Feigenholtz.) But a bill cannot be about the rights of adoptees unless it applies to ALL adoptees.
  • “Contact preference” is another co-opted term. What Illinois has is a disclosure veto that has been termed a “preference.” But if it’s binding on the adoptee, it’s a veto.
  • Adoptee opinions were for the most part excluded. This is exemplified by the repeated use of the phrase “adopted children” when referring to adopted adults.
  • When adult adoptee opinions were included, they were often the parroted opinions of the sponsors. In other words, the viewpoints of token adoptees presumably summoned by the sponsors and/or the media to make it appear that this is what all adult adoptees want. An example is Howard Griffith, adoptee and former Denver Bronco, who attended the signing of the bill.
  • Those whose voices were heard are primarily those who make money from adoption (more below).
Other gems:
From the Chicago Sun-Times article “Adoptees cheer birth certificate law” (no longer online; PDF in my possession):

I learned early on what an emotional and tricky area of the law this is,” said state Senate President John Cullerton, who teased Feigenholtz that the reason he signed on to her crusade was that, “She said if I can pass this bill out of the Senate, she’ll vote for any bill I tell her to vote for for the rest of my life. It’s like I have my own vote over in the House. We’re going to start with that next week.

This is no joke, this is straight-up fact. HB 5428 was about political cronyism and jockeying for power. Sara Feigenholtz gets off on being “champion of adoptee rights” while calling us “ungrateful bastards” behind our backs. With her self-described “mentor” John Cullerton president of the Senate, she was in a position to reinforce her Confidential Intermediary Program and even get state money to advertise it.
Again from the same Sun-Times article:

Feigenholtz said the law was modeled after similar laws in Maine and New Hampshire to balance the rights of adoptive children and parents.

Modeled after Maine? Are you kidding? In Maine any adoptee who is of age can walk in and get his or her original birth certificate, for the same fee as non-adoptees. In Illinois it depends on when you were born, whether you are accepted and whether you can afford to pay fees that only apply to adoptees.

This press release lists the organizations that supported the bill, but (in an example of bias) NOT the organizations that opposed it.

A number of medical and child advocacy groups supported the legislation, including: Illinois Psychiatric Society; American Adoption Congress; Agudath Israel of America; Child Care Association of Illinois; Chicago Bar Association; Voices for Children; National Association of Social Workers of Illinois; Lutheran Social Services of Illinois; UCAN; Illinois Department of Public Health; Department of Children and Family Services; Jewish Child and Family Services; Illinois State Bar Association; The Cradle Adoption Agency; Adoption Advocates of America; Adoptive Families Today; Chicago Area Families for Adoption; Midwest Adoption Center; Search and Genealogy Services; Murphysboro, IL, Stars of David Adoption; and The Baby Fold, Bloomington, IL.

Except…

  • The AAC never expressed a position on the bill. Melisha Mitchell falsely claimed she was the AAC rep for Illinois at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing when she had actually been dismissed from her AAC post prior to that hearing. Why has there been no mention of this in the press? And, because AAC is the only group listed here who represents adult adoptees or birth parents, that means everyone who supported this is either an adoption professional or adoptive parent; in other words, the people who benefit from adoption.
  • Similarly, why has there been no mention of Sara Feigenholtz’s foot-in-mouth bastard bashing?
  • The majority of these groups either make money facilitating adoptions (LSSI, The Cradle) or are professional organizations representing people who do so (Chicago Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association).
  • The Midwest Adoption Center is the sole-source no-bid contractor who provides Confidential Intermediary services in Illinois (e.g. makes money from records access).
As I mentioned, I was interviewed for five of the articles (the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Daily Herald, the St. Louis Dispatch and the Associated Press), as spokesperson for the Adoption Reform Illinois coalition. Here’s a summary of my experience talking with each reporter, and how those interviews translated to the printed page.
Monique Garcia and Bonnie Rubin, Chicago Tribune
Ms. Rubin was consummately professional. She took the time to listen to our opposing viewpoint, asked intelligent questions and even called back to clarify one or two things. So I was disappointed when there wasn’t a single mention of opposition viewpoint in the article she co-authored with Monique Garcia.
Staff, Daily Herald
Like Ms. Rubin, Barbara (the reporter who interviewed me) was professional and polite, and also called back for a clarification. I was disappointed there wasn’t more explanation about why we oppose the bill. A later article on their blog used phrasing that suggested opposition was not legitimate (no pun intended):

On the other hand, a group going by the name Adoption Reform Illinois [emphasis mine] criticized the new law as not going far enough, saying any adult should be able to obtain unredacted birth records. “Any proposed change that does not recognize adult adoptees as having the same rights and responsibilities of every other Illinois resident is unacceptable,” the group says in its opposition message.

Kathleen Foody, St. Louis Dispatch
I had been talking to Ms. Foody for quite some time about this bill as it progressed. To her credit she attempted to understand our opposition viewpoint and express that to her readers. I could wish she had made it more clear that this is about adoptee identity and the implications of that, but otherwise this is a far less biased article than most.
Deanna Bellandi, Associated Press
Ms. Bellandi was by far the most aggressive reporter who contacted me. She seemed as if she had already made up her mind what she wanted her story to say, and made numerous attempts to put words in my mouth rather than taking the time to listen and understand the opposition viewpoint. I was mistakenly identified in the article as “Triennia Guider,” and while I could care less if they get my name right, it points to sloppy fact-checking and makes me wonder what else they got wrong. This is a prime example of biased adoption reporting: when reporters have already made up their minds what they want the article to say, and when presented with information that doesn’t match, try to sledgehammer it in so they don’t have to change their minds or their stories.
“Adoptees cheer birth certificate law” (no longer online; PDF in my possession)
Abdon Pallasch, Chicago Sun-Times
Mr. Pallasch was somewhere in between the other reporters. He was aggressive, although not nearly as much so as Ms. Bellandi. However, this article is the one that really got me thinking about the comments on KAD Nexus, and how adoptees are dismissed as “angry.” This article failed to mention that I was speaking on behalf of Adoption Reform Illinois, a coalition of people who disagree with the bill, nor did it mention that other organizations were similarly opposed. It did, however, mention my own personal inability to access my OBC, in such a way that makes it appear that I am simply one of those “angry” adoptees who opposes the bill purely because it doesn’t help me personally:
“It does not actually open adoption records,” said Triona Guidry, whose birth mother will not let Guidry get a copy of her birth certificate. Even under the new law, the best Guidry will get is a birth certificate with her mother’s name redacted. “Equal rights apply to everyone. Everyone should have the right to go into that courthouse, pay their $15 and get their birth certificate.”
The conclusion of my admittedly non-scientific analysis? Even when opposition to this bill was mentioned, it was overshadowed by the propaganda claiming that this bill is a “win” for adoptee rights. The headlines alone illustrate this. For those of us who have followed this bill, it’s clear to see that the much of the media have drunk the same Kool-Aid that was served to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other legislators. Anyone reading casually, without background on the bill, would assume the opposition was merely a bunch of angry adoptees and that there were no birth mothers who opposed the bill as not going far enough for adoptee rights (not true; ARI submitted twenty pages of testimony including letters from at least half a dozen mothers). Because that way, our legitimate concerns about this legislation are quelled and everybody can party in the streets like Ferris Bueller because woo-hoo, Illinois adoptees have access now! Except we don’t. And under this new law, some of us never will. That’s not anger talking, it’s determination. Equal rights should never be diluted, and we will continue fighting until the rights of everyone involved in adoption are restored.
Since we’re stuck with this legislation, what about those (like me — here’s the “angry adoptee” again) who have already gone through the CI process and been denied? Is legislation like HB 5428 punishment for those who insist upon their rights? Are those who go quietly away when they are told “no,” or do not make waves, rewarded with the possibility of access while those who are “angry” — who do not accept the denial of their civil rights even when vetoed — are consigned to exile? The lesson: Be quiet and wait your turn, and you might win the Russian roulette of records access. But speak up, express your opinion, and you might lose that chance forever.
That’s the adoption industry pitting Good Adoptees vs. Bad Adoptees. Play the Adoption Game, or suffer the consequences.
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Comments

  1. A wonderful analysis, Triona. Wow! I’ll be FB and tweeting it.

    Currently we have deformers co-opting the language of the real adoptee rights movement and its language, while at the same time using the language weapons of the hardcore opposition (NCFA, RTL, ACLU, etc–ie, “angry adoptee” against those of us who uphold to the letter of our beliefs and missions.

    The hardcore enemy is easy to ID and relatively easy to “handle.” We know they won’t deviate, won’t compromise, and we know their arguments. We can count on them.

    The soft enemy is clearly, the deformers who claim to be on our side, but who waffle and winge and sell rights down the river. They are more difficult to deal with because you just don’t know what they’ll do. As I wrote in a blog a couple months ago, they’ll sell OUR birthright for a bowl of pottage. Look at the crap they’ve spewed forth this year alone, creating–or probably more fitting, accepting–new restrictions calling them “adoptee rights.” Extended family disclosure vetos, medical records shakedowns, foster kid sealings. What else will they come up with?

    This is perversely liberating, in that once you acknowledge that they are the real enemy, you don’t have to deal with them anymore.

  2. Thanks, BD. Part of the problem as I see it is that, in the public eye, there is no difference between reform and deform. It muddies the waters when it’s hard enough convincing people adoptees deserve any rights at all.

  3. Right. Nobody cares about about innernicean (sp) fighting. This type of thing makes no sense unless you know the issues. And adoption is so valorized that anyone who dares to make a criticism is maladjusted and angry. I hope to finally get over my writer’s block and expand on what I wrote here. You’ve done a tremendous job here.

  4. I look forward to reading your post.

  5. wowowow!! Thank you, Triona, for this amazing and truthful post. I had no idea about the full story …. thank you, so very much. I am old, from Illinois, I had my obc and found my mother … who had been told I died at birth. Please … please … keep writing and speaking. If there is any way I can help, let me know. Thank you, again for so careful and genuine a post about issues I simply was not aware of. Best, Celeste – cbsongs@aol.com

  6. Thanks, Celeste. As I said, anyone reading about the Illinois situation purely from the media would think this was a “win” for adoptees. There was little to no mention of what actually went on behind the scenes. And I am very disappointed (although not surprised) at the media for not picking up on it more.

  7. Add to your list of attributed negatives, “chronic complainers,” “maliciously maligning,” “cheap and childish,” “nasty,” “vicious,” “flaming,” “high and mighty,” “pie in the sky la la land,” “slamming,” “defaming,” “belly aching, and “tearing down.”

    Specifically around this bill and those who held out for a clean bill and refused to be sold down the river.

  8. Sorry, Triona, by “this bill” I meant NJ.

  9. Triona, while we disagree about whether the bills that include a first mother veto should be passed or not (I believe such legislation is better than nothing, creating an environment for full openness), we totally agree about the attitude that anyone–adoptee or birth parent–who is not happy with the status quo is seen as angry or otherwise neurotic, bitter and maladjusted with their life situation.

    It’s not just adoptees who get hit what that kind of attack–first/birth mothers like me who act out and search for our children are seen as selfish, ungrateful (that someone took our child)and unwilling to accept that “we made our bed and now must lie in it.”

    Tell those who think we are bad for wanting to know our children, and they say, well, you agreed…agreed! F@#king Hell, we did not have a choice if we were unable to care for our children.

    The whole system is rotten and that extends to the attitudes of the unthinking, unempathetic public. I’ve just called it quits with a woman who I used to think of as a friend, a good friend. She only thinks that we are interrupting and disturbing the life of the Perfectly Happy Adoptee.

    Lorraine from

    Birth Mother, First Mother Forum

  10. Maryanne, I think the system ate your comment so I am reposting it:

    “This is a great bit of analysis, Triona, and what happened in IL is indeed in some ways similar to what is happening in New Jersey with a similarly bad, complicated bill. The similarity is in how the bill’s promoters use adoptee rights rhetoric about a bill that is not about rights, but about birthmother’s permission.

    They have named it “the adoptees’ birthright bill”, and tout it as such in interviews and letters and editorials, even though it contains a disclosure veto, plus a “contact preference” as well, that gives the mother the choice of requesting direct contact, intermediary contact, or no contact.

    The veto and preference are contingent on the mother filling out and returning a medical history form to the state, which will be given to the adoptee in lieu of a correct OBC. This is further complicated by the ridiculous attempt to fool our opponents by putting the veto option in place for only one year, but requiring that it be advertised so all the closet mommies can file.

    If this unwieldy bill actually goes into law, I foresee lawsuits over medical privacy concerning the medical records extortion, and cries to extend the veto indefinitely from closet mommies who did not hear about it in time.

    A simple, real adoptee rights bill would have eliminated all that.

    By the way, none of these concessions have impressed or softened the usual enemies of adoptee rights here one bit. The bill is still opposed by the Catholic Bishops, ACLU, Right to Life, and NCFA, and editorials in some papers against the bill do not mention opposition because it is not a real rights bill, just the same tired old arguments about birthmother confidentiality, imaginary “promises”, and abortion rate lies that surface again and again.

    The rationale we have here from the “good” adoptees is that they have been working for 30 years to pass a bill, and now are at the point of wanting to pass something/anything on their watch. And those of us who oppose them are painted as meanies who do not appreciate how tired they are and how hard they have worked.

    I was part of that effort for at least 20 years, when we had clean bills, and I am willing to wait longer for real adoptee rights legislation here. It has nothing to do with personalities or friendships, some of which I have lost due to opposing this bill. I have been called a Judas and a traitor for continuing to hold out for a clean bill, and not going with the flow to pass this one. I guess I am a “bad birthmother” for siding with the “bad adoptees”:-) “

  11. Lorraine, thanks for your remarks. I was sorry to her of the dissolution of your friendship but I think you took the high ground. We have to stand up for ourselves and not allow others to belittle our experiences. Although in this post I was speaking from the perspective of an adoptee, I also noticed as Illinois HB 5428 progressed that birth mother opinions were similarly negated as you describe. Industry wags said they were speaking for the mothers but no one bothered to read the testimony from ACTUAL mothers. And not one mother was permitted to speak to the Senate committee.

    Maryanne, I appreciate your remarks also, and your willingness to stand up for clean bills. I know and respect many people who think compromise is necessary, but I disagree with them. I am very concerned that these compromise bills (some of which are WAY out there, like the provisions in Rhode Island that would allow extended family members to veto access) are taking us in the opposite direction.

  12. Maryanne, FYI, just noticed your comment ended up on the previous post.

  13. Triona, thank you for this. Thanks to this post, I understand far better than I did how complicated it is to get good open records passed, and what a minefield the landscape is.

    It’s so easy.

    Person is born.
    Person has access to original birth certificate.

    Everything else just muddies the water of what I believe is more than a civil right, it’s a human right.

  14. Brilliant analysis!

  15. NOT ONE MOTHER spoke to the committee? WTF?

    There must be birth/first mothers in IL who would have gladly spoken up.

    GRRRR…see my teeth bared.

    The argument with the friend just got worse as the weeks progressed. Because every email she sent after I tried to explain my position made it more clear than ever she only wants to know me as someone who shuts up about being a birth mother. She could not get over HER OPINION (which she said was as valid as mine) that any birth/first mother who searches is a little loony and not willing to make peace with her, er, situation.

    To which I say: Fuck that.

    I’ve been using foul language a lot lately. Must be in the water.

  16. Margie–Amen. Exactly as you said: equal access regardless of circumstance.

    Lorraine–Oh, the mothers spoke, all right, at least in writing. The legislators just didn’t care to read their heartfelt letters before making a decision. The politicians had already made up their minds based upon the sponsors’ propaganda (sponsors who, it must be noted, gain political power through control of adoption records access). Because it’s easier to believe the propaganda and pat oneself on the back for “supporting adoption rights” rather than understand that HB 5428 set those rights back decades. Re: your ex-friend, I’m sorry. Some people just can’t understand that THEY HAVE NO EXPERIENCE and therefore have no business commenting.

  17. Y’all left out my very favorite descriptors of adoptees who are not satisfied with the status quo:

    CRAZY

    Not right in the head.

    The kind of person who turns something beautiful [adoption] into something ugly.

  18. Lisa Kay, you are so right. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been called “crazy.” Crazy for wanting to know, crazy for searching… basically crazy just for having been adopted.

  19. I couldn’t decide how I’ve felt about compromise bills for a long time now. I understand completely both sides of the issue and I abhor the contact veto strategy yet I was stuck in the middle, not knowing which way to run, and feeling paralazed emotionally like a deer in headlights. I was torn between loving how some Adoptees would get their OBC but then hating that they were at the same time because other Adoptees like you Triona would not be getting any information. So I have finally come to the conclusion that I am going to be a bad little Adoptee and reject all non-clean bills while pushing Adoptees to go underground and to search angels until Congress finally gets it right. And even coming to this conclusion, all does not sit right with me, because I know we all need our OBC’s to get passports. I find it laughable that part of the “punishment” to we illegetimates is that we can not leave a country that won’t treat us like we are citizens in the first place. Born out of wedlock? Then you don’t get to go to England and watch the changing of the guards!….. What I don’t want however, and what I won’t particpate in, is bashing Adoptees and Real Mothers that I adore who disagree with me. I’m not going there. I will just simply respect their reasons for why they feel as they feel and leave it at that, because one of the evilist things The Adoption Industry and The Churches have done to all of us is viciously pit us against each other while they take complete and total pleaasure in watching us come undone. And they won’t be getting that satisfaction from me…

  20. Perhaps it is time to re-phrase things and use different terminology.

    I was just thinking about “gay rights” and how many people have a visceral reaction every time they hear or read the word gay. But when you change it to Right to Marriage or anti-discrimination, you don’t get such extreme backlash. [I think, but I’m not really sure.]

    I don’t know the right terminology or key words to use might be, but we are talking about a basic [b]Human Right[/b] here. Maybe something like [b]Right to Know[/b]. That’s not the one, but hopefully it will get some brainstorming going on.

    Let’s face it, politics is all about perception [and $$$, lol.] That’s why they selectively use terms such as:

    Pro-choice and pro-life vs. abortion rights and anti-abortion

    Death Tax vs. Estate Tax

    Border security enforcement vs. anti-immigration laws

    etc.

    p.s. Florida’s new requirement for documentation to renew a driver’s license has opened a nice doorway for us to exploit, I think.

  21. Triona,

    Thank you for putting this together. I have so many feelings when it comes to this. I was born in Minnesota but adopted in Illinois. All avenues in Minnesota are seemingly exhausted and I have been trying to gather emotional strength to tackle dealing with Illinois. This does not give me any hope at all. I will send a letter to Gov. Quinn. After that I have no idea where to go next. As for Rep. Feigenholtz…..maybe I should just bite my tongue and stop now while I’m ahead a bit.

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