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Sneak peek: Liz Latty
What event inspired you to become an adoptee advocate?
Much like adoption itself, it’s never been about one event–it’s something that
continues to unfold throughout my life. I really came up through queer and
feminist political spaces where I started to be able to understand and articulate
my own beliefs around justice, activism, and liberation. It wasn’t until I was
almost 30 that I met other politicized adoptees and began applying liberatory
political frameworks to the systems, institutions, and experience of adoption. That
connection and knowledge that I wasn’t alone, was so healing, but also it was
really activating. I’d been told growing up that other adopted kids didn’t feel the
way I did – sad, angry, depressed, anxious, disconnected, grieving, alone, etc. –
and it turns out that was a lie. A lie told to me by people who needed it to be true
– my parents, teachers, professionals, neighbors, the media, you name it. After I
started connecting with other adoptees, I started reading the work of politicized
adoptee scholars and activists – in particular transnational and transracial
adoptees, as well as activism that came in the wake of the Baby Scoop Era.
Through that learning, I started to understand the industry, system, and institution
of adoption as a microcosm of reproductive oppression, of human and child
rights violations, of settler colonialism, U.S. militarism, neoliberalism, and white
supremacy. After I started writing and publishing about adoption, I started
hearing from adoptees and first families who had read my work. The more I
heard from them – their pain, their struggle, the injustice – the deeper my
understanding grew, the deeper my connection and commitment to the work
continues to grow. It’s really motivating when people reach out saying your work
has impacted them, helped them feel less alone, less isolated, more able to feel
supported and empowered around this thing that society provides virtually no
support structures for and that most people don’t even think is an issue. I want
adoptees to feel seen, heard, validated, and get the kind of care they need. And I
want to contribute in some way to shifting the narrative of adoption, helping
people understand that, if child welfare is really our goal, then the work is making
the modern systems of foster care and adoption obsolete. So it is an ongoing
process and practice–always growing, always unfolding.
Who do you work with?
Depends on the work. I collaborate with other adoptees and first parents in much of
my organizing, writing, and cultural work. Adoptive parents and adoption professionals
have the most power and privilege in the child welfare industrial complex, and
because they drive and dominate the adoption narrative and political landscape of
adoption, I am committed to work that centers the voices, experiences, and liberation
of adopted and fostered people and their families of origin. So most of my creation and
collaboration happen in adoptee-only or adoptee and first parent spaces. That said, I
also believe in harm reduction and so I work as an educator and consultant with
prospective and existing foster and adoptive parents/families and also professionals
and students who work, or will work with, adopted and/or fostered kids and adults. I
offer in-person workshops, one-on-one virtual learning, webinars, and I’m currently
working on launching an online course. I’m a career educator, so in addition to writing,
I’m really passionate about teaching.
What single takeaway do you want adoptees to walk away with?
You are not alone. You get to feel however you feel about being adopted. You are the
expert on being adopted–not adoptive parents, not psychologists or social workers –
YOU. Also, your adoption story lives in a larger historical and political context. It didn’t
happen in a vacuum. I think there can be a lot of healing and empowerment that comes
along with understanding your own story as part of larger systems and institutions. And
that there is support out here for you. Find other adoptees online, reach out, or even just
join some facebook groups and lurk if you don’t feel able to share. The simple act of
seeing other people put into words some of the feelings you might have about adoption
can be incredibly healing and life-affirming. It can also be really jarring, so having people
in your life who can support you in that process is really important. If you don’t have
anyone, you can email me at email@example.com.
What challenges are you asking for parents to confront in themselves?
Their own complicity. I work with adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents
all the time and this is the hardest thing for them to do. Damn near impossible. There’s
the work to apply the lens of social justice, liberation, and trauma-informed healing to
the child welfare industrial complex (which includes the adoption industry) – and they
need to do this work – but most parents stop short of being able to understand their
own complicity and work to repair that harm or prevent it from happening to more
kids/people. Or choose not to participate in this system in the first place. Which I
understand on some level – you desperately want to be a parent or you are already
parenting a kid or kids that you love more than anything. How do you sit with the fact
that you are complicit in what they have lost? In their trauma? In their grief? How do
you do that and even if you can, then what? These are really tough questions, but they
aren’t an excuse not to do the work.
What common misconceptions do people make about adoption? How do we
Literally almost everything. Part of the trauma of being adopted is the experience of
being collectively gaslit by the majority of society. Everyone and everything around you
is hell bent on telling you that losing your family of origin is the best thing that ever
happened to you. Because people see adoption as an unquestionable good, a one-time
event, and a mode of family-making instead of an instrument of family separation,
adoptees rarely have anywhere to process grief, to rage, to feel safe or validated, to
belong, to really be held in the wide range of emotions and experiences we often have,
and this compounds the initial trauma of separation exponentially, directly informing our
overrepresenation in mental health settings, struggles with substance use, and our
disproprotionate rates of suicide. The way we can all work to counter that is by trusting
adoptees, believing adoptees, and centering the voices of adoptees. And to be clear,
when I say “adoption,” I’m not talking about kinship care and communal forms of care for
children who legitimately cannot safely be raised by their families of origin due to
violence, death, etc. I’m talking about the child welfare industrial complex that separates,
commodifies, and transfers the children of vulnerable people to the care of wealthier,
whiter people who pay to find available children with which to build their own families.
What makes your advocacy work different from the dominant narrative we often
hear about adoption?
I am not here for the reductive, sugar-coated, idealized versions of what people
think adoption is. I am unapologetic in my political commitment to the abolition of
the child welfare industrial complex, including adoption as we know it. I believe
there are better ways to take care of families and children, and it is our duty to
imagine those into being. I also think it is possible to simultaneously do the work
of reducing harm and caring for the children and families who are currently
impacted by these systems, while working toward a different future. Adoption is
always a both/and conversation.
What are the risks in doing this work?
I know adoptees who have been ostracized and rejected by their adoptive families for
speaking their truths. I’ve been accused of hating queer people and not wanting LGBTQ
folks to have families, even though I am queer myself. Adoptees who are critical of
adoption are regularly vilified, dismissed, threatened, erased, pathologized, etc. The
dominant narrative of adoption is deeply held and deeply beloved. People generally
don’t want to hear that adoptees’ experiences of adoption are different than what they
need it to be.
Why is it important to have #OwnVoices adoptees writing kidlit from lived
experience, rather than parents writing these stories?
Adoptive parents don’t know what it feels like to be adopted, unless they are
themselves adopted. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: Adoptees are the experts
on adoption. Most adoptees do not talk to their adoptive parents honestly or at all
about their true feelings about adoption, and even when those conversations are
happening, adoptive parents can never be the experts on the experience of being
adopted. Most of us never express how we truly feel until we get to talk to other
adopted people. As an adopted person, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt,
there is an astronomical dirth of children’s books that reflect the reality of being
adopted. The vast majority of children’s books about adoption are written by
adoptive parents. It’s very simple math.
What keeps you up at night – either with excitement for the future, or worries?
Kids in cages, white supremacy, living under capitalism.
Anxiety about whether or not I said the right thing in my last communication with
my first mom.
My dog, good books, the glare of my phone screen.
How can adoptive parents support their children?
Make sure adoptees have other adoptees in their lives, including adult adoptees
Stop making it about you
Take accountability, repair harm, get active
Get educated, get support
If you’ve adopted transracially and don’t have any people of color in your family
or community, then move. Make sure your child has real relationships with
supportive people that reflect their racial and cultural identities. Culture camp or
African dance class doesn’t cut it. Raising adopted children of color in all white
communities amounts to child abuse. We live in a violently racist and xenophobic
country. If you think it doesn’t live in your liberal enclave, you’re wrong. Be
prepared to actively understand and resist white supremacy every single day
within yourself, in your own home, your own family, your neighborhood, block,
community, city, town, and the world at large. Every single day. No exceptions.
Your kid won’t get a break from racism, so neither do you. If you are a white
person (and most of you are), be prepared to confront and dismantle your own
white saviorhood, your own racism, your own biases. Understand you will not be
able to protect your child from racism. It is your duty to make sure they have safe
people, spaces, and communities to live in, as well as people to parent the parts
of them you fundamentally cannot understand.
How can our members follow and support the work you’re doing?
Take a webinar, an online course, or work one-on-one with me:
Follow my writing: www.liz-latty.com
Follow me on FB & Twitter: @lizlatty