Who We Are: The Early History of Bastard Nation
In the Words of Damsel Plum:
Bastard Nation was born in early 1996 on the Internet Usenet newsgroup, alt.adoption. Our co-founder, Marley Greiner, coined the term “Bastard Nation” and started signing her posts with it, with others soon following suit. In June, Damsel Plum came up with the idea to create a Bastard Nation website. She collected material from people on a.a and on June 19, 1996, we announced the Bastard Nation website to the Internet community. We created a variety of alternative story pages: “True Tales of Revolting Reunions,” “Adoptive Parents Speak out in Favor of Open Records,” “True Tales of Atrocious Adoptions,” “Bastard Moments,” as well as links to the standard search and reconnection resources available on the Internet. As we grew, we included accounts of our adoptee rights activism, coverage of negative portrayal of adoptees in the media and popular culture, information on adoption law and position papers on a variety of adoptee-related issues.
Thoughts on Bastard Nation
Here’s what Marley, the Founding Foundling, has to say about Bastard Nation:
When I came up with the term Bastard Nation, I was thinking along the lines of Queer Nation, Act Up!, and the Greens. My political sensibilities lean toward Yippie! “Ladies Against Women” who were active against the Reagan regime in the 1980s, and the pro-choice group, “Pussies for Choice.” A re-read of “Steal This Book!” by the godfather of all us bastards, Abbie Hoffman, is a worthwhile endeavor for any Bastard seeking to overthrow the closed system. We have to have some fun with our social status and heritage.
When I end my letters with “By Any Means Necessary” (or sometimes I switch it to “By all means necessary” depending upon how I feel), I am dead serious. Mass burnings of amended birth certificates, PETA-type actions, hit-and-run operations against the Gladney set-ups, “practical jokes” on social workers, crank letters to legislators, solidarity with adoptees in Greece and Spain who have demanded access to their records, heritage, and histories. It’s all up to us. Power is not given; it is taken.
For those of you dear readers who may think that I had a terrible adoption experience, I did not. But the closed adoption system is a system of lies which would not be tolerated in any other forum. For instance, in most of the western world the spouses or children of alcoholics would not be encouraged by an entire legal and social system to believe that alcoholism is “normal”, nor would victims of spousal abuse be told to put up and shut up, and be grateful for what they have. It is only with closed adoption where lies and secrecy are condoned, that people are expected to swallow a big fat lie. Frankly, I am perfectly content to have been adopted by my parents. Being the product of rape, I didn’t exactly have the greatest start in life. What I am angry about, and I believe nearly all adoptees are angry about, is the secrecy = shame context of the closed adoption system.
While I realize that many adoptees sit out the battle, many of us do not. Many adoptees find the information and/or person they are looking for, fold up their tent, and go home, leaving the others behind to struggle for the rights that everyone else in this country is free to utilize. The road from personal to political can be rough, and each person must go at their own pace. While each of us possesses a “personal” adoption agenda, it is imperative that we cross that line from the personal to the political. This does not mean that we cannot continue an on-going personal process, but that we can incorporate it into a movement to help our contemporaries as well as those who come after us.
By any means necessary
Offended by Our Name?
Here is Deni Castellucci’s response to an adoptee offended by the term Bastard.
Bastards will earn respect, because that is what we feel we deserve. We demand open records without compromise or concessions because we are certain of our moral and ultimately legal right to our records. Bastards are taxpaying, respectable folk for whom tippy-toeing around and waiting patiently for something good to happen wasn’t going to bring about social or legislative change. I am a bastard and I am loving it.
Meanings of words change over time. The word silly, used to mean “blessed”, since in the age of feudal lords and princes being able to frolic was considered reserved for the royalty appointed and anointed by God. As mercantilism turned into the industrial society, work and seriousness was more demanded, the word silly started to mean weak, feebleminded, insane. The twentieth century slowly and reluctantly brought the word silly back into good graces. Given this nature of words, there is no reason that the word Bastard can change as well. If it can change from meaning, illegitimate, to a nebulous, derogatory slang, why can’t we breath life into the word and make it a positive word?
If you knew any of the members of Bastard Nation you would find people that have enormous self- confidence, charisma, and belief in their talents and personal integrity.
Since we are all treated as “Bastards” under sealed records laws, we want to reclaim the word, rescue it from the gutter, and turn it into something positive, a word that you would be proud to wear, because it is what you are, even if it is a mere technicality. While I support your decision to wear whatever name you want and you fundamentally have the freedom to associate yourself with whom you want, I would urge you to look deeper.
Valerie replies:”The name alone, Bastard Nation, appears angry. I know there are times when extreme measures are necessary, etc. but when an organization designed to help adoptees in effect, alienates a people instead of bringing them together, perhaps it should look at itself.**
Extreme measures are needed, unfortunately to expose the lies, temper the fears and to diffuse the shame. Taking a word like, “BASTARD” and attaching it to productive, creative, witty, and charismatic folk diffuses the centuries of baggage the word carries and makes people take a look at the human beings adoption was supposed to help, not hinder. It is human to be angry at injustice, it is even healthy to be truly enraged at injustice.
Bastard Nation uses the anger and channels it into positive and focused action. Bastard Nation is not about Victimhood and self-pity, but approaching a problem with humor and intelligence. Rather than taking on multiple issues, it focuses on one human rights issue to rally support from all who support fairness and value truth.
Humor has saved me in my darkest hours, and even dark humor can help a person deal with tough personal issues.
Humor heals. Truth ultimately heals. Knocking down the shame and the lies will ultimately bring more people together.
Valerie: “I am neither proud nor ashamed of having been born out of wedlock, of being an adoptee. I am, however, certain open records should be available to all adult adoptees.”
Valerie, you should always be proud of who you are. Part of who you are and who I am is being born out of wedlock. No amount of bureaucratic paperwork, or rose-colored lies can erase the circumstances of our birth.
We should be proud that we have a dual heritage. I am proud of all the facts of my existence …that I was born to wonderful but ill prepared humans and raised by solid, salt-of-the-earth folk. Since I have been reunited, I have expanded who I call family and brought to light what “family values” are really about. I chronicle this in a heartwarming and life-affirming way on my website Voices of Adoption.
Bastard Nation will accomplish more for open records than what Voices Adoption has in 3 years of its existence and the decades of existence of other well-meaning groups. They will get the attention of the media and the general public, then back that up with well-reasoned argument, practical and savvy political skills, and infectious energy, humor, and style.
This is coming from someone who, like you, was initially hesitant in affiliating with this organization. I dug deeper and found an organization that will ‘do something’ to finally realize what we both know needs to happen…open records for adult adoptees.
(former) Chair, BN Technology Committee, Lifetime Member, Bastard Nation