Rethinking the “Angry Adoptee”

I have a cousin who is also a transnational, transracial adoptee and is only two months older than I am. For many years, we were Thanksgiving table enemies, trying to see who could snatch the last piece of apple pie or who could outwit the other in a pathetically slow, juvenile game of chess. I would suggest that we play dolls, and he would bring out his collection of G.I. Joe figurines (not the kind of dolls I had in mind). It seemed that we had nothing in common – nothing that held us together other than being members of our larger extended family.

It is now apparent to me that this is not true. In recent years, we have, in fact, actually become good friends. I’m glad we are out of the petty competition pitting, hair tugging stage of our relationship, and in a place where we can now have conversations of substance that last for hours.

One hungry summer night, we grabbed a seat in a plasticy booth at a local Perkins restaurant and conversed over cheap hash browns and mammoth muffins. This was the first time we had seen each other in a while, and I was telling him about a class I had taken on transracial and transnational adoption. I knew about some of his thoughts on the idea of family and problems he thought were within our own, but we had never talked seriously about our biological families and the possibility of searching before.

I shared with my cousin my new and changing, academic framework around the topic of international adoption, and he stopped me. Leaning forward slightly, he paused, and asked, “Are you angry you were adopted?” Then it was my turn to pause and think.

The truth is that I’m not angry I was adopted. I can’t say how my life would have turned out had I not been abandoned or if I had grown up in China. What I do know is that I love my parents and the life I have here in the United States. I feel so fortunate to have my loving friends and for all of the opportunities that have been given to me.

That said, I do have anger – not towards my adoption specifically – but towards the international adoption industry as it operates today.

  • I’m angry that countries profit from separating families and exporting children.
  • I’m angry that nearly 3 out of every 4 adoptions from China involve fraud or trafficking.
  • I’m angry that instead of spending money on the creation of social welfare programs to help single mothers in Korea, international adoption has become a profitable solution to that problem.
  • I’m angry that adoption agencies work to serve prospective adoptive parents at the expense of birthparents.
  • I’m angry that middlemen are used to kidnap children or coerce birthparents into giving up their children.
  • I’m angry that this notion of the “global orphan crisis” exists and drives the demand for infant orphans, when in reality 95% of orphans are over the age of five.
  • And I’m angry that the international adoption industry works as a supply and demand business that continues to commodify children, and that children (as seen in the recent situation in Russia) are used as political pawns.

I feel that this anger is perfectly justified, and I think that these facts should make both adoptees and non-adoptees outraged. If we value children around the world, no matter who they are, as our most valuable resource for the future, why do we allow them to be treated in this way? I’m not advocating an end to international adoption, but I most certainly want to see changes to the current system.

Many people think that the stereotypical “angry adoptee” has to have had a traumatic experience in their adoptive homes and that they are disgruntled, unhappy people. For me it is important to say two things. The first being that the “angry adoptee” is an inaccurate label. Adoption conjures up so many emotions: hurt, confusion, joy, grief, wonderment, sadness, anxiety, happiness, fear, hope, and pride. Like for any other person, anger is just one of many feelings on a large and varied spectrum of emotions. Secondly, it is imperative that others looking at the adoption community know that passionate adoptee activists can be very happy and fulfilled in their home lives.  I’m satisfied with the direction my life is going and feel incredibly privileged to be in my current position. While I feel sadness about the situations that placed me in my adoptive family, I am not angry that I was adopted. I passionately love my family, and I am passionate for change in the international adoption system.

18 responses to “Rethinking the “Angry Adoptee”

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  2. For years I was an angry person…fighting all kinds of social injustices…but angry over being adopted? No … 3 of the 4 children in our family were adopted this was not the issue. I have worked long and hard on understanding who I am and I really like me and as I look back over my life I’m really impressed with how well I’ve done…With out adoption I would not be who I am…My anger comes from 5 different families ,3 different names, 1 failed adoption which lasted from 8 months of age to 15 months of age…more foster care and then my second adoption at 19 months… It is the confusion this caused that my rage and frustration came from…And the fact now in hindsight that none of the therapists we as a family saw and I as an individual saw ever suggested that adoption may well be a part of the problem


    • Thank you for sharing part of your story here. Adoption certainly is the most profoundly altering event in my life so far. I’m glad you finally realized a source of your anger.


  3. Trafficking is an aspect of adoption that came to me after many years. Outrage is warranted in the Indian Adoption Projects and its intended assimilation. I am angry.


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  5. Thank you for sharing your perspective and your experience(s) about being an international adoptee. I’m especially pleased to hear that your life plans include making a change in the process of international adoption. You have my support!


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