I Don’t Want Reunion – I Want my Rights!
by Christina Rossi, TTTina@aol.com
(This feature first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue of the Bastard Quarterly.)
Most people, upon finding out that I’m adopted, immediately
ask “Do you know your real parents?”
As do many adoptees, I take offense at this implication that the parents I
know are somehow not real. Calling people `birth parents’ as opposed to
`real parents’, however, does not negate the fact that there are two
people somewhere in the world who were responsible for my having been
born. I do not dispute this fact. I am also in no hurry to find them.
In the course of my involvement in the stnzggle for adoptee civil rights,
strangers have presumed me to be anti-adoption or to have had a negative
experience with my family. Neither is true. I am pro-adoption, I have had a
wonderful life, and I have no desireto search for and “reunite” with my
birth family. I see the civil rights movement as entirely separate from
these other issues and assumptions. Acquiring one’s original birth cettifi-
cate, or simply having the right to do so, is one of the final steps necessary
for reinstating adoptees as equal citizens in the eyes of the law and society
As an African-American, there are things that are made easier for me, in
an attempt by our gavernment to `right the wrongs of the past’. I’ve attained
a sense of autonomy that allows me to pursue precisely what I want, aided
by increased acceptance of `racial equality’ in our government and
society. I expect that if I felt wronged on a racial basis, many would rush
to my aid citing decisions and laws which uphold such American concepts
as `separate is inherently unequal,’and `denial of equal protection under the
law.’ Our government takes great pains in insisting that it no longer
embraces racism, and most Americans I know do the same.
My life would have been quite a bit different had I been born before all
these decisions and changes in perception came to be. As an adoptee, how-
ever, I can add membership in another discritninated class of individuals to
my personal roster. Only in this case, there is no previous adoptee civil rights
movement from which I can invoke legal decisions granting me the same
legal stature as other Americans. The government-sanctioned discrimination
The discrimination in my home state of Ohio actually began during the civil
rights movement of the 1960s, and continues to this day. Currently, no
matter what I’d like to do with any information about my biological
background, (read it, fill out an honest medical history, answer anyone with
a question about my heritage, study genealogy in more than a remote
manner, etc.) I am disallowed by the simple fact that my biological mother
relinquished me for adoption into the sealed records system.
During vatious civil rights movements in the U.S., progress was buoyed by
many not directly affected by the oppressions, or not in desperate need
of a change. Additionally, there were often people who, while oppressed by
the inability to vote, the inability to exercise free will and be treated as
equal under the law, still upheld the status quo which oppressed them.
There were slaves who felt comfortable in their lives and had no yearning
to be freed, just as there were women who vociferously opposed women’s
suffrage. In the 50s and 60s, many American blacks were pleased with
their improved station in life, it being the best they had encountered up to
that point. Some quizzed their more progressive friends as to the whys and
wherefores of this Civil Rights movement. Likewise there exist adoptees
who do not want to rock the boat, who are so mired in their personal angst or
apathy that they do not think adoptees deserve equal rights with the rest of
society. They have bought into the cult of secrecy which enslaves them.
Secrecy and lies in the adoption process are still accepted. Negative
stigmas assigned to adoptees persist. Ceasing to treat adult adoptees as
suspect second-class citizens would improve the status of adoption and
the perception of all those involved. There is no reason to maintain a
system in America in which 6 million Americans are deemed less than
citizens due to the status of their birth.
I don’t plan on becoming a criminal, but contact veto laws assume I will.
I have no intention of harassing or shaming any members of my birth
family, but disclosure and contact veto advocates assume I will. I never intend
to abandon the family ties I’ve gained through adoption, but open records
opponents assume I will. These assumptions hurt adoption as an
institution, and they are persist through the influence of laws,
lawmakers, misguided `adoption advocates,’ and the media.
It is part of my work to disabuse people of these peznicious assump-
tions. I may be the most prorluctive member of my community, work in
my chosen field, serve my country, volunteer, raise a wonderful family,
and anything else one would hope for a positive illustration of American
citizenry. Nonetheless, I will remain less tiian a citizen in my inability to
access government documents pertaining to mysel£ This, while
clearly wrong, remains unknown to most Americans. It is the iob of thc
who know of these governmental misdeeds to make them well known
to the public at large. Whether any particular slave thought he benefited
from slavery or not, we can all agree that making slavery illegal was a
`good thing.’ Even if some alatming percentage of women decided not to
vote, who can convincingly argue that this option should not be available to
them? Even if virtually millions of adult adoptees do nothing differently
once our records are available to us, certainly no one will be able to say it
was a `bad thing’ for adoptees to have regained the rights abrogated by the
states through permanently sealed birth records. Once the records are
opened, America will have a better opportunity to reap the benefits of
adoption, unmasked. The secrecy and sometimes shame that now
continues throughout our lifetimes will be lifted upon our reaching the
age of majority-as the enforcement of many rules is lifted or added with
attainment of this age.
Adoptees will not be rushing to join their birth families, neither will they
abandon their adoptive families. A bit of the stigma will ease for a11 involved.
Birth mothers in crisis may be more likely to relinquish earlier lazowing
that their child will have access to his or her original birth ceitificate as an
adult. People won’t feel at a loss when asked about their histories. Hopefully
adoptive families will also feel more secure in their parenthood. if it’s no longer
a state secret, it can’t be that bad to tell the neighbors,
By granting us the rights they currently withhold, the government
will be telling society that adoption is acceptable. Adoption must become a
less shame-ridden institution for those gain a predictably better outcome for
all triad members.
Discrimination in many other situations has begun to abate in our
country. Adoptees must not be left behind in this move forward.
Christina Rossi is a newly-appointed member of BN’s Education Comminee.
Christina was born and adopted in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1973. She currently
resides in Cleveland with her husband and cat. Tina is a freelance writer and
web designer, now researching a book about cross-cultural adoption in the U.S.