Today in Jokes That Are Not Cool

by Shaker Tristera

[Trigger warning for discussion of child abandonment and adoption.]

There are many things I can thank Shakesville for opening my eyes to that a younger and definitely stupider me would have once laughed at. I'm eternally grateful for every post, every explanation, and every teacher who instructed me to learn and invited me to think. Because as I grow and learn (yes, even in my thirties), I can in turn teach others. What a wonderful world, et cetera, et cetera.

Because of my own experience, there's one subject I've never found funny, and never joke about: Adoption.

I was recently perusing the very popular pop culture/feminist blog Jezebel when I saw that the following comment, from a discussion "about venturing out of the house with your baby," had been awarded the Comment of the Day (to which I'm linking so you can see the comment for yourself; my objective is awareness-raising, not urging a flame-war): "I don't care where you take your baby. As long as you don't take him or her to my house and run away and never come back. That would really get on my nerves."

I am normally the sort of person who cringes inwardly at these kinds of jokes and moves on, usually to a more pleasing picture of kitties or puppies.

Not today.

Today I got angry. Today I felt that hot wave of shame roll over me again. The laughter, the "hilarity" that is not belonging biologically to the people who raised you. That comically-oversized foam finger that points at you and makes you so blatantly aware that you are different, you are other. The wicked reminder that at least one person never wanted you in hir life.

I wanted to speak up at this commenter, pound on the keyboard through my anger and write about my history: I was left on a doorstep in a country that so strongly discourages and shames single motherhood that its unexpectedly pregnant girls and women often choose abortions and abandonment over going it alone. I was left at the police station, and they sent me to an orphanage. I was days old, abandoned for the crime of being born.

Later, a loving American family adopted me, and to their love and care I will always feel indebted. Others are not so lucky. But then it seemed that once I had been saved, I was never allowed to forget exactly what I had come from (the racist reminders at school; the strange looks from other adults when I spoke about my parents), and even in high school Spanish class, when the rest of the class made family trees, I was told I could "make mine up" because putting my real parents in there (my adoptive parents, who are my only parents) would be a bit strange, wouldn't it?

"But that was so long ago," I've heard. "You were just adopted the once, and you were raised well otherwise. What on earth is still the problem?" Well, I'm no manner of psychologist, but I participated in a study in which the results were unsurprising: Adoptees—particularly transracial adoptees like myself—reported a lower rate than nonadoptees of self-acceptance, and perceived acceptance by peers.

My feelings might not even need any science or validation behind it: When your personal history is made fun of and ridiculed, it hurts. Every joke on a sitcom in which a distressed child asks in a panic, "Are you telling me I'm adopted?!?!?!" and every snarky e-card, and every adoption-related image on the internet that involves cats or otherwise cute animals... it hurts.

This one would ask you if you are a friend of adoptees... do you know anyone who has experienced it, either as the adopter or the adoptee? We are told that we have been accepted into a better life, a cuckoo's egg amongst the finches. Accepted into a more privileged life, yes. But a better one? It's up for debate.

The next time someone makes a joke about it, speak up. I've never met you, but you can say you know me. You can reply, "Hey, I know someone who's adopted... it's a really weighty, emotional issue for her. I think those jokes are a bit hurtful."

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