A note concerning adoptees with sealed records, not in reunion, and the census
I’ve been getting a ton of questions from fellow Bastards and the non-adopted alike about how adoptees from sealed records situations handle some of the questions on the census form, particularly those relating to, for example, what we would put down for “race?”
I have my own concerns pertaining to the very notion of ‘race’ altogether, but for the sake of staying as close to on topic and brief as possible, I will set those aside for the moment.
The short answer for friends and curious strangers alike is that the state has set us into a catch-22; it both wants to collect basic statistical aspects about us for demographic purposes, while simultaneously systematically depriving us of the very access to the information it seeks.
For sealed records Bastards not reunited with their families of origin confronting a census form, the authentic answer comes down to the current discriminatory adoption system of sealed records prevents us from being able to answer these questions.
This goes beyond “unknown” into the realm of “state-confiscated, therefore, unanswerable.”
Some adoptees will do exactly what they do when asked questions about their family medical history, answer the questions as if one’s adopted family was biologically related to them. (Note, this approach is not in the least bit useful when trying to establish one’s chances of suffering breast cancer or heart disease. If anything, relying upon the medical histories of those one does not share genetics with can lead to missing the very details a family medical history is designed to detect!)
Yet while the census form asks whether one’s children in the household are adopted or not, our adopted status as adults remains invisible.
Because in addition to locking the information away from the very people it pertains to, the state then fails to ask the question, are you, or your partner, or partners or spouse adoptees?
Whether that is because the state has not figured out that it needs to ask, or whether the state doesn’t want an answer to that question remains just as unknown as many a Bastard’s authentic origins.
There remains no accurate assessment of how many of us there are.
American adoptions have been a vast social experiment, yet it remains one on which solid data, such as the most basic, “how many adoptees are there in the United States?” remains an unknown, or again, an unknowable, so long as it remains policy not to ask or to track.
We can look to how many adoption related visas are processed each year, and thus attempt to construct a count of at least the above board inter-country adoptions, but for the moment, we remain an often invisible and uncounted population, often hidden in plain sight.
When faced with the form then, we have two choices, to remain silent, or to make our presence known, whether asked directly or not.
The census can be viewed as an opportunity to educate. Queers, for example are standing up and insisting that we be counted, because damn it, we count!
Bastards are yet another population facing our own forms of state mandated discrimination, (I readily admit, the discrimination I face as a Queer and as a Bastard are not the same, each are distinct, except where they overlap) but one similarity both some Queers and some Bastards share (particularly domestic adoptions, or those adopted by those of similar ‘racial’ backgrounds,) is that some of us can be invisible to the casual eye, or even the careful gaze.
We receive unequal treatment under law. Our identities, cultural, genetic, ethnic, etc have been state confiscated, and barring changes in the laws, a court order and successfully regaining access to our authentic documentation, or circumventing the system and reuniting with our families of origin, AND verifying that match via DNA testing, we are simply left with an unknown. It is knowable, but not under these current conditions.
Or more specifically, the state itself leaves us to an unknown and unknowable.
Hence Bastard Nation’s use of the question mark:
This information hiding leads to any number of unknowns behind that question mark, such as “Are you adopted? Are you sure?”
A number of adoptees may never be told of their adoptive status.
The question mark of information hiding, and ‘as if born to’ lies of state falsified documentation enable the illusion.
The state, in essence continues to infantalize us, treating us as eternal children. Insisting that even as adults, we cannot be entrusted with our own birth certificates, or that we cannot be trusted with such information about ourselves.
The sealed records system was once predicated in some states upon the notion of the state keeping our records FOR US, in trust, as we were too young at the time of our adoptions to protect our own interests. Yet the sealing of records was done with the underlying assumption that once were old enough to act on our own behalf, our records would be restored to us.
Sadly under today’s interpretation, records are sealed FROM us, not FOR us. Once the state started down that slippery slope of falsifying documents and impounding the authentic history, it refused to relinquish the illegitimate power over our lives and our families it had commandeered.
In my home state of Ohio, for example, the very man who drafted the 1964 legislation to seal the records, William B. Norris (an adoptive father himself,) was amazed to find his legislation ended up sealing the records from adoptees themselves. He spent years trying to rectify what he termed his “30 Year old Well-Meaning Mistake.”
For example, this is from his testimony before the Ohio House in the 1990’s (link is down, but you can find the following excerpt via Bastardette).
In doing what I did on this 1960s legislation, I was unable to see the impact this would have on my adopted children when they became adults. Subsequent events have taught me that we went too far. …
… I now recognize that closing those birth records to adoptees whose adoptions were finalized after January 1, 1964 was a grave mistake. This has resulted in unnecessary discrimination by denying to a special group of citizens the right to have access to their original birth certificates.
It is now obvious to me that the 1964 legislation produced an absurd anomaly in Ohio, and it is painful to reflect on the fact that these changes in the law were made in the belief that they were in the best interests of the entire adoptive process. …The 1964 law has not worked out in the way it was originally intended and it should be changed by the passage of a new law such as HB 457.
By maintaining the unjust sealed records system, the state in essence tells adopted people that these most intimate details of our own lives are not merely unknown, they are details that we are forbidden to know.
The state, of course is able to maintain these documents as secret dossiers on adopted citizens, files pertaining to us and our unaltered original birth certificates held hostage or meted out in drips and drabs (if we’ve been good little boys and girls). In many states, our access to our authentic identities lie behind walls of horrendous Confidential Intermediary programs, or behind ‘fees’ to registries or even outsourced to third parties such as Catholic Charities.
In essence, the state has the ability to know more about ourselves than we do. When records are, for example, sent out for data entry as part of modernization efforts, one may find data entry clerks half a world away have had more access to the original birth certificates than the very people they pertain to.
So the census?
It’s an unusual opportunity to ‘talk back’ to the state.
This is NOT to say, the state is necessarily listening to the unsolicited data it receives from various communities trying to make their voices heard. After all, as the “adoptee” question is not on the form other than that pertaining to children in the household, no space has been made for the ‘excess’ data Bastards might try to convey.
That said, we are in a unique situation.
As a Queer, if the state doesn’t ask me about my self identification, it can at least provide data on households with multiple adults of the same gender, some number of whom will in fact be Queer, others will be housemates.
But Bastards? We are distinct in that on the front end, our identity related documentation has been taken from us by the state, and then on the back end, the state has decided not to collect any data pertaining to precisely that status.
The state wants demographic data from us? Fine, first it has to give it back to us before we can answer some of these questions.
Our authentic identities have been state confiscated, we are adoptees from a sealed records period or state, therefore, such details remain both unknown and unknowable to us.
If the state wants answers, answers to questions we simply do not have about ourselves, it needs to restore our authentic documentation to us before that can happen.
The state isn’t asking, but it’s time for us to tell.
In other words, it’s past time for a Bastard census policy of “Do ask! Do tell!”
Because Bastards lives count too!