Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Males and Adoption

Since I began formally studying adoption as an institution and the stories of people involved in adoption, I've noticed the dominance of female voices and perspectives--especially in the narratives written by adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents. The thing is, it's not a totally woman-centered experience. There are thousands of male adoptees, adoptive parents, and of course for there to even be a birth mother there has to be a birth father. Yet the majority of what I've seen written is by females.

There are exceptions to this, of course. One example is Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of the legendary rap group Run DMC. (I know, I know--I keep writing about him, but I just find his story about discovering his adoption at age 35 so fascinating!), who has written about his experience, done several interviews about it, made a VH1 documentary on his search, and recently released a song about the open records issue.

There's Joe Eszterhas, well-known Hollywood scriptwriter who is also a birthfather and gave a touching presentation at the AAC conference this year about reuniting with his daughter.

There's also John Raible, a TRA who has been writing and researching and educating about adoption and cultural sensitivity for decades.

But, on the whole, it's mostly women. Why? Is it because of the intense emotions surrounding almost anything to do with adoption? I asked Gregory Keck of the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio at the AAC conference. He looked at me and said, "Men are simple." Huh? I've heard theories elsewhere that men are excellent at compartmentalizing, so perhaps they are better able to place the trappings of adoption--good and bad--within their lives without the need for communal expression? I don't know.

I thought of this again last night, when I was teaching a mini creative-writing workshop to local adopted/foster kids. It was based on George Ella Lyons' poem "Where I'm From," in which the writer describes where she's from using sensory details and specific details of memories (such as "I am from clothespins, from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride"). I thought it would be interesting to do with adopted kids, as we can sometimes feel like we're from nowhere, that we have no items of memory except blankness and unknowns. Also I thought it might be a cool way to enter into memories.

All of the girls loved it. All of the boys hated it. I asked one, Frankie, why he hated it. "I don't like thinking about my mom," he said, and I almost crumbled. Another kid said, "I don't like thinking about memories and emotions." Another: "I just hate poetry. It's girl stuff."

The boys seem okay with the idea of writing a rap song together, so I'll try that next time.

Men are wired differently, we all know that. They communicate and express themselves differently. Perhaps there's our answer, simple as that. Anyone else want to weigh in about this?


AndiWrite said...

This goes along with my friend's experience with her (still young) son. They have been open with him from the beginning about his adoption, but he's just not interested in talking about it. It doesn't seem to bother him, he just doesn't have a need to go over it or ask questions.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think guys in general have a harder time dealing with and communicating difficult emotional things. I suppose it's possible that the experience of adoption doesn't affect them as deeply as it does girls, but I'd be more likely to bank on the former--that it does affect them deeply, but it's more difficult for them to get at those feelings, let alone express them. (And I know these are generalizations--there's an exception to every rule) Good idea about trying rap music with the boys next time, rather than poetry writing. Lord knows that medium has given my baby brother a cathartic outlet he wouldn't have had otherwise.

Kylie Prymus said...

It's possible that because we live in a world where gender dynamics and roles are more complicated for women than for men they would be more interested in their birth families in an effort to find role models, etc. In general men (thanks to re-enforcing social cues and stereotypes) are less likely to be concerned about masculinity in a way that would lead them to seek out their birth fathers as a way of getting a better grip on who they are as men. But because of the persistently contradictory portrayal of feminine roles in society an adopted woman might have a stronger reason to seek out her birth mother to get an alternative picture of herself as a woman.

Liberty said...

Kylie, I really like your assessment here--it makes total sense. Perhaps a woman's role is more tenuous or complicated in our society and more clear-cut for men...I could buy that. Thanks for chiming in!

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure that men are any less confused about their masculinity or their roles as men than women are (about theirs). Being married to a guy who had to figure out his identity as a man apart from any real strong father figure has given me a new perspective about the rampant confusion men often have to battle to figure out where they "fit" in a culture that lies to them, too, about what their gender means and what they have of value to offer.

While it seems that the recent (and still raw, in many ways) battle for women's rights and equality is louder in our culture today, I don't think the confusion and mixed messages men have to battle are any less real. (My friends and I were just having a conversation about the cultural messages about wife/husband roles and how they've changed over the past 50 years, and how nowadays every husband on a TV sitcom is a doofus who can't even handle the simplest tasks without needing his wife to take over.)

Now, guys might be less willing (or feel less of a need) to "go there" and explore that stuff than women would. And I agree that guys might not be as concerned about their masculinity/identity in a way that would compel them to seek out their birth fathers. But I think the difference is the feeling of need moreso than the actual need (if that makes any sense). I think it says more about a guy's ability to compartmentalize and separate his feelings from his daily functional life than it does about his gender roles and identity being more straightforward than a woman's.

But that's just my opinion :)

Kylie Prymus said...


I agree and didn't mean to imply that gender roles for men *are* any less complicated than for women, but society tends to send men fewer messages about the importance of discovering themselves as males than it sends women.

The mixed messages are quite real and while we may largely be passed the age of actual negative responses to the notion of a man exploring his masculinity (aka the "sissy" rule) there's still a bit of indifference to it. Particularly with the difficult emotional work that comes along with working out one's feelings of adoption and seeking out birth parents a woman might get more positive support in their journey where a man may get the more neutral/apathetic "those are some tough issues man - good luck with that!" from their male peers.

Liberty said...

Fascinating commentary, guys! There are probably several factors, and I think we've named many possibilities. Thanks for your thoughts.

Peppermint Patty said...

I have read this book and it is really good. A man's perspective. :)


Suzanne said...

Am getting ready to write a post about adoption awareness month- found this post referencing Joe eszterhas. Were you at the aac conference? Did you see the presentation?

I have written much about this story on my blog as well, and was curious your perception...archive search...

Btw, I love the curly hair look.

Suzanne perryman

Liberty said...

Hi Suzanne,
Thanks for stopping by. I did go to the AAC conference last year and saw Joe's presentation. Were you there too? I'll check out your blog too--thanks for inspiring me, I've gotta get back to this in honor of adoption month!