If You Wouldn’t Say it About a Boob Job (+Response)

Lately a number of my friends have been asking me about my opinion on this new video regarding questions and comments on adopted children. Most people assume these questions come not from malicious intent, but sheer ignorance. Recently, a father from Washington came up with what Huffington Post called an “Easy, Idiot-Proof Trick To Know What To Say To Adoptive Parents.” While the idea of “if you wouldn’t say it about a boob job…” may result in a few giggles, this advice is really quite problematic and maybe just as insulting as the questions aimed at adoptees.

The “if you wouldn’t say it about a boob job” rule connotes that questions about adoptive children are as uncomfortable as questions about breasts. It’s really an unfortunate comparison, further exotifying and objectifying both adoptive children of color and women with breast augmentations. I understand that it’s supposed to be a joke – a light hearted way to get this man’s message across. I, however, find nothing funny about the questions I have received because of my adoptee status or the way in which this video addresses the topic.

1. Original: Is she your real daughter? Corrected: Is she your biological daughter?

Why is this even a necessary question? Does it really matter to a stranger passing by that I am adopted? While Butterworth is correct that biological is preferable to real, I would argue that he probably doesn’t understand the ways in which constantly hearing the qualifying term “biological” is harmful.  Does being a non-biological family member say something to the inquirer about my status in my family? If not, why wouldn’t “Is she your daughter?” suffice?

2. Original: Where’d you get her from?  Corrected: Where is your daughter from?

The edited version of this question still makes a presumption that as a person of color, the adoptee is from somewhere else. This is still an assumption. This is still harmful.

3. Original: Did you get to, like, pick the kid out that you wanted? Corrected: How does the adoption process actually work?

Why is the inquirer interested in knowing whether or not the adoptive parent had a choice in this matter? Are they genuinely interested in adopting?

4. Original: Did you get those because you couldn’t have kids of your own? Corrected: Just don’t ask this one.

It’s interesting that Jesse Butterworth makes a point of saying “adoption isn’t always the result of infertility, and even if it was, it’s none of your business.” This video has an implied sensitivity to adoptive parents’ issues of infertility, but none at all for the adoptee who is still being intrusively questioned and exotified, despite his attempts at making these questions somewhat better. Constantly hearing about infertility issues connotes that adoption is a last resort option.  Many adoptees already feel different; we don’t want to feel like a last choice as well. The difference between these critiques is what it means for the adoptive parents versus the adoptee. Adoption rhetoric should be adoptee focused, not adoptive parent centric.

5 Original: Do you mind if I touch those? Do you love them even though they’re not real? Weren’t you worried they weren’t going to, like, look right? How much did they cost? Corrected: Just Don’t….

“Just don’t” is right. However annoying these questions may be for adoptive parents, they are more hurtful to the adoptee. This video fails to acknowledge that, and that what I see as the main grievance.

This video is yet another piece of adoptive parent centered media. It’s a PSA written/acted/directed by adoptive parents on advice about how to make adoptive parents’ lives a little easier. The video completely disregards the fact that adoptees grow out of the cute, little infant stage and develop a voice of their own. Adoptees’ stories are theirs and theirs alone. This video does a little to critique the way in which curious onlookers ask questions, but it does not critique the current answerers at all, continuing a rhetoric of adoptive parents speaking on behalf of adoptees. The truth is that adoptees do grow up, and we must learn how to face these questions among others for our entire lives.

This video also doesn’t address at all why people feel compelled to ask these questions in the first place. Instead, it normalizes asking questions of transracial families by providing instructive language that directs people with “Don’t say this. Say this instead.” Transracial families should not be a walking display case for adoption just because they are more outwardly visible than families that have come together in other ways. There are many of these adoptive parents’ attempts to talk about questions they’ve received about their children. But where are the adoptee voices?

Kathryn Jin is a young adult Chinese adoptee who voices how she has answered questions about her adoption and growing up in a transracial family.

While I commend her for sharing her voice, I think there are two key messages that are still lacking. The first is to adoptees, and that is simply that you do not have to answer any questions about your adoption, and should not feel pressured to do so. “That’s personal” or “I don’t feel comfortable answering that” are perfectly fine answers. Sharing personal information is fine if that’s what the you choose to do, but adoptees don’t owe anyone an explanation or a narrative. The second message is to adoptive parents: please stop sharing so much of your children’s stories with the world. I understand the natural reaction is to respond to a question when asked, but parents, too, can say “that’s personal” or “I don’t feel comfortable answering that for my child.” I strongly believe parents should think about what information their child would want shared. Would they want the neighbor down the street to know their biological mother was a drug addict or that their biological father left their family in poverty? Would they want the person in the grocery store line to know that they threw temper tantrums and cried every night for the first year in America? Would they want their school teacher to know how much money was involved in their adoption? My guess is probably not. If adoptees share those pieces of their story with trusted individuals, that’s an entirely different situation.

Though Jesse Butterworth’s video, “If You Wouldn’t Say it About a Boob Job…”, attempts to raise awareness about a problem in the adoption community, it does so in a potentially equally harmful way. It objectifies adoptees and breasts by comparing the two, and it ignores the adoptee perspective by looking only at how the questions are uncomfortable for adoptive parents not the adoptees. The bottom line is that these stories, central to the adoptee narrative, are very personal. Outsiders looking in should not just reword, but instead refrain from asking such intrusive questions. Likewise parents should refrain from answering them. These are the adoptees’ stories to share or not share, and either choice is fine.

 

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28 responses to “If You Wouldn’t Say it About a Boob Job (+Response)

  1. It is very good to hear an adoptee’s perspective on this video. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on what is an ongoing challenge for all involved…birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and those who do desire to be sensitive to those who are adopted or have adopted.

    Adoption aside, there are always things we face that can present questions for the simply curious…the ignorant…and the sincerely interested. For example, a parent raising a biological child who has a missing limb, a scar from cleft lip surgery, a scar from something else, an artificial eye, a large and very visible birth mark, or physically handicapped and using a wheelchair–such a parent (and child…and later young adult) will be faced with challenging questions (some well-meaning and some not). Yes, it is key to learn how to kindly and appropriately (within one’s own comfort level) answer those questions to both the well-meaning and the not. It is important for public awareness to be made in those situations too…and for the parents of those children (with conditions that I mentioned) to not only know how best to answer curious questions…but how to model to our children how to answer the same.

    I watched a video not long ago by Temple Grandin about growing up with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. It is an interesting video…especially to see the kinds of questions she received both as a child (directed to her mom) and then as an adult. I believe that the most important thing is that we learn to all have grace for one another. Sometimes we will be the one in a situation (not necessarily adoption situation) asking a question that comes to our mind…and hoping we receive grace for asking in a way that unintentionally offended the person we asked.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts…as I know that I (as an adoptive mom) no matter how hard I try…will make mistakes and need to learn. Blessings! Delana

  2. PS I just shared your post with fellow adoptive parents and friends of mine on Facebook who have viewed the video. I think it really is great for us all to share with one another and learn from each other! Blessings!

  3. There’s a great program directed by the Center for Adoption Support and Education called W.I.S.E. Up. This is a step-by-step instructional guide for adoptive families on how to deal with these types of questions. It’s a very powerful way to give our children the ways and means to handle these questions. I encourage everyone who has adopted to get this guide and practice this at home. If families live in the VA or MD area, I encourage you to attend a W.I.S.E. Up workshop that CASE runs frequently.

  4. Let me start with I too am adopted as well as an adoptive parent. I understand your point of view completely and agree with it, to a point. You need to look at it from the perspective of parents who have newly adopted a child into their family that is not the same race. I was were they are in their journey, It isn’t until as you grow as a parent in that situation you realize those points that you brought out. Being adopted myself I was always sensitive to what I discussed and where and how it was presented. Often I ask my son if it is ok for me to answer. When he says yes I proceed, when he says no, I respectfully state-this is a very private matter. Many times the people who approach us are folks considering adoption also. Some are curious children. Each situation is different and calls for different responses. All of them start with my son’s permission. So are these parents ignoring their child’s feelings or being inconsiderate? I don’t think so. They like many are attempting to protect their child in a funny way to show folks that the questions they are asking are as intrusive as inquiring about a very private procedure. It is as much a shared experience as a family as it is as an adoptee’s personal story. As a parent you are excited and proud of your children whether you birthed them or adopted. Not ashamed like a dirty secret. That is the time I grew up in. Where being adopted was a dirty word and something as a child to be ashamed of. I am just as excited to share my eldest son’s birth story as I am my youngest adoption experience. Do I take more liberties with one over the other-I don’t think so I am an equal opportunity embarrassing mom. So, as I said before I agree with your feelings but cut the folks a break. They will learn.

    • I really hope you’re right when you say, “they will learn.” From my experience, there are too many who never do and continue to share intimate details about their children. Additionally, I strongly believe there’s a difference between not sharing something because it’s shameful and not sharing something because it’s too personal or, quite simply, not theirs to share.

  5. I neglected to add that more than one of those conversations did result in other children being adopted. And 2 of the families have directly stated it was because our family was willing to answer questions (even the hard embarrassing ones).

    • Lisa, I like what you have said in both of your replies. I love that we can all get on here and share with and learn from one another. Blessings!

  6. Great post. I completely agree that so many of the viral-esque videos are presented from the adoptive parent perspective. I’d love to see something from the adoptee’s POV.

  7. Thanks for sharing. As an adoptive mother, I appreciate both your response and the response I read over at The Lost Daughters. The video didn’t sit well with me and your post and theirs helped me understand why.

    I like the responses “that’s personal” and “I don’t feel comfortable answering that for my child.” We had a training where a counselor shared that she used “why do you ask” and “that’s private family information” in response to invasive or inappropriate questions.

    Also, our adoption worker is herself an adoptee and said she gages the value of her relationship with the person doing the asking. If it’s someone she’ll never see again, she feels she owes them nothing. If it’s someone she’s close to that is not just being nosy, she’ll determine whether she wants the information to remain private or whether it’s an opportunity to educate that person. But again, it’s HER choice when/how/if she answers.

  8. It seems to me a quandary, and I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with it.

    To answer – May violate my daughter’s privacy; may encourage impertinent or hurtful questions; objectifies my child

    To not answer – May signal to my daughter that there is something shameful about being adopted; may sour a prospective adopted parent on the concept

    To punch impertinent questioner in the mouth – May be very satisfying; may land me in jail

    It seems to me that the responses (verbal and nonverbal) that we give set the tone for our children for the rest of their lives. There is hazard both in making them a walking exhibit (“Come see the transracially-adopted child!”) AND in so insulating them that they don’t learn how to deal with the questions themselves, how to discriminate between the friendly and the malicious questioner.

    What to do?

    • Jim, I feel ya on the defensive response. For me, the challenge is balancing two opposing priorities. First, we live in a racially sensitive and just plain nosy society, therefore my child is going to face these kinds of intrusive questions & needs me to model how to deal with them while maintaining humor and dignity. To that goal, I find that substituting ‘better phrased’ questions that are none of your freaking business doesn’t really fit the bill–‘Why do you ask?’ is almost always both polite and dignified. That’s what bothered me about this video too!

      On the other hand, I want to put on my cape & tights and reply with sarcasm and an appropriate level of hostility to get across to my fellow white people that they are being rude. (When an adult of my child’s apparent ethnicity asks about her adoption, I respond more openly with non-personal-history details, because most often they’re wondering whether they could do it too.)

      I don’t share your concern about ‘putting off’ PAPs, as I feel that 1) my kid’s experience of the moment comes first and 2) if they’re considering a highly visible adoption like ours, the best thing to model for them is how to deflect curiosity and respect their child’s privacy.

      • I fear that there’s no good answer to this problem. I HOPE that, as more people marry / have children / adopt outside their own ethnic group / gender, more and more people will accept that a family hasn’t got to be a a man and woman of the same color with matching children, and that seeing, for example, a white man with a black woman and Asian children will be utterly unremarkable.

        We’ve got a long way to go.

        FWIW, it’s not cape and tights for me: the image, rather, is B-52’s scrambling!

  9. As an Australian adoptee I liked the comments people would make , my heart would beat faster and a huge smile would come on my face much like when a kid is told there smart tall beautiful etc.. To me it was like yes these people can see I’m different and that I don’t belong with these people yes these people,can see that I’m not like them. To me the comments where acknowledgments that I was not apart of the adopters family but someone stuck just waiting escape them ..

    • As a child, I envied trans-racial adoptees, because people could tell they were adopted. I didn’t like people thinking my adoptive parents were my real parents! I hated living that lie.

  10. A powerful share, I just showed this to a colleague who was thinking somewhat similarly about this. Thanks for spending the time to discuss this. I actually feel strongly about it and enjoy learning more about adoptees’ opinions on the subject. Huge thumbs up for this blog update!

  11. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to your blog before but after browsing through sone of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely happy I came across it, and I’ll be checking back frequently!

  12. Hi, I really like this forum since I can learn so much that I have never really thought of before.

  13. Pingback: Shit People Say to Adoptees | Red Thread Broken·

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  15. I’ve come to this post via your later one on the same topic. I’m neither adopted nor an adoptee, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I feel like a better rule of thumb would be “if you wouldn’t ask it about a child you thought was biologically related to the parents, don’t ask it about an adopted child”. It’d be incredibly rude to ask things like “how many times did you have sex before you got pregnant?” or “did you actually want a girl or would you have preferred a boy?”, or similar things. It’s surprising how people think it’s OK to pry about personal matters.

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