Ahh, another self-portrait.
This time it’s 5:30 a.m. in Seoul, S. Korea, and I’m waiting for the first train of the morning. I’m reading Jane Jeong Trenka’s new work, “Fugitive Visions,” and it’s disjointed nature perfectly describes adoptedness. How I felt growing up in the midwest. How I struggled with all the western world put on me. How I preemptively reject everyone because I can’t deal with the first rejection. How I long for love, even though I expect only rejection. How I deal with now. How every second of every minute I am sort of nowhere, because my head is always flooded with all these complicated clashing noisy distracting frustrating churning thoughts. The therapist would ask, “how do you feel?” How can one possibly begin to put a finger on all that? Because every moment is all that, and never just one thing. We come from a place where we draw the kind of attention nobody wants. We live in this place as ghosts in society. We inhabit this space, this interstitial space.
And I look up and see this; I must dig out my camera and shoot.
You know, it isn’t just about the past or the future or fate or gratitude or luck or anger or depression or hopeness. (the mispelling is an inside joke) It’s about this photo. It’s about all these layers. How many layers? How many layers…
Somehow, Jane managed to capture those layers, after layers, after layers. We are each of us sifting through this morass of experiences, trying to organize our books in order to live. But Jane just says, “see? this is just how it is for me/us.” She is an excellent writer, but her book is no book: it is a documentary film about a reluctant exile and finding the soundtrack to describe such an epic journey. The visions are a deck of cards, shuffled. It is a document of how we think; how we must think, to just be.
There is no protection from adoptedness. There is no avoiding it or denying it, try as we might. Yet our adopters and society insist on this myth of equality, banishing us to a life of silence. No other diaspora that faces racism would be told the racism they experience doesn’t matter/is cancelled out because they were chosen. But adoptees live this daily. Neither are we allowed to grieve our losses, because it hurts others, and we are taught that their emotions are more important than ours. Is it any wonder so many adoptees have sardonic characters?
That would be me I am describing.
I have avoided other adoptees all my life, so it was surprising when I first met them to discover that they, too, had sardonic characters, biting wit, and were always recognizing the irony in everything.
When I first heard about adoptees returning to Korea; that they met and had a community, I thought how counter-productive for their self actualization. At that time, I had wanted to believe that with a little hard work, I could just slip right in and reclaim my Koreanness, and that reclaiming Koreanness WAS self actualization. But Korea won’t let me. Because my banishment was total, and I will forever be a foreigner here. The adoptees you meet from all over the world are also lacking Koreanness, despite blending in here. Adoptedness is the state we all understand, the land we all inhabit.
The truth is, we can never be like others in either society. The adopting world needs to know that. The adoptees need to recognize that before they can heal. The Korean people need to see exactly what exile does to the little people they send away. And the international adoption agencies need to stop toying with all those populations’ hopes and dreams. Their machine works. But what of the lives they have affected? Ask me. Ask both my moms, wherever they may be.
So I have decided to become a card carrying returning adoptee member and join this community here. And it is not about belonging to something/anything, out of desperation for company, for I am most comfortable with and accustomed to isolation. It is about Jane’s pioneering work and vision. It is about the kind of person I am. It is about truth and justice.
The adoptees who have chosen to live here are a resilient bunch. And for those that are activists in adoption reform, they are beyond mere resilience. They are advocates for others and proactive about improving/resolving not only their own lives, but all the other lives affected by this crazy experiment gone awry. I am proud, proud, proud to be invited into the fold.
Anyway, read Jane’s book. Maybe then you can understand. We’re not just ungrateful malcontents. We are survivors and freedom fighters.