Some Thoughts on Adoption (that are just a little phenomenological)

At some point in my early life I became convinced of my own mediocrity. I used to draw pictures, but I don’t anymore. I went through a kind of abstract primitivist phase in high school in which I would deconstruct a portrait I found in a fashion magazine and then attempt to reconstruct it on an 18” x 24” piece of paper using crayon. Before that I tried to only draw people from life, resulting in a sketch book filled with attempts at drawing people’s backs in charcoal. Before that I took Salvador Dali as my greatest inspiration, which translated into everything I drew either oozing or being afire.

But I gave all that up.

I convinced myself that my ideas were contrived and clichéd, and that my execution was only mediocre at best because my media were so superior.


I have always felt typical in my heart, but in the context of my life I have and continue to feel deeply strange. I am curious to know: how many people who are raised by their biological parents have been regularly told for as long as they can remember that their parents are very nice and that they ought to be thankful to them because their biological parents are raising them? I have often wondered what kind of impact that can make on a person.

Surely in this land of choice, it is seen as a glowing compliment to proclaim that another’s status as “child of” was a choice. But it’s not. Really. I would not have ceased to exist. I may have had a more difficult life. I may have had an awful life. I may have not. It feels as if an important fact is being overlooked by those who congratulate me on having such nice parents after learning of my adoption; chiefly, that these alternatives could have been true no matter what. It is in this way that the ordinary things about me—my parents, my skin, my hair, my nails—have been portrayed to me as extraordinary boons, while the things I have loved and have valued have fallen away like chaff.

I am curious to know: how much of this is my adoption, my phenotype, my sex, my height, my perceived vulnerability? Because I can’t disentangle them. They’re bound up in me where everything is still in sharp angles and primary colors and soft, deep pockets of black, smudge-y charcoal, and everything oozes fire. I have lived analytically, phenomenologically, before I ever had the word “intentionality.”


I am not ungrateful for the bountiful circumstances I find myself in. I love my parents, and I experience all the complications of loving people outside of one’s self. But my life has felt usurped by the blank pauses when I speak up, when I insist on being heard, when I tell people I am adopted. And because such attention has been and is paid to things so outside of my control, I feel like a fraud whenever anyone compliments me. Is this what happens as girls turn into women? Is it what happens as children become race-conscious? Is this the result of spending a whole life feeling as if one’s parents are doing the monumental good deed by choosing to raise what is supposed to be their child? It could be any. It could be all. I can’t disentangle them, because regardless, they are me.


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e lewis

I'm a bibliophile with a love of social justice theory living in the Pacific North West trying to figure life out.

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