An Angry Adoptee Fangirl Responds To Avengers Adoption “Joke”

Apparently I ruffled a few feathers last week. Upon seeing the Avengers movie I was moved to write a post on my 73adoptee blog, “Avengers: Why Is Making Fun Of Adoption Still A-OK?” From the post…

So there I am, forgetting my woes, laughing at the gang and drooling over Chris Hemsworth, when we get this lovely little tidbit. Thor is trying to explain to the others that Loki is his brother and his responsibility.

Black Widow points out, “He killed 80 people in 2 days.”

Thor explains, “He’s adopted.”

Cue entire theater laughing…. except for me. (And my husband, who knows better.)

I missed the next 15 minutes of the movie because I was seething. Joking about adoption isn’t funny. Joking about being adopted isn’t funny. Making fun of a late discovery adoptee is especially not funny.

The 73adoptee post went viral, generating thousands of hits in less than a week. I must have struck a nerve because people responded in droves, primarily to tell me to fuck off.

Given that’s exactly how most of them phrased it, I think there’s a demographic going on here. I’m guessing most Avengers fans are male, ages 18-25. The majority of adoptee rights activists, myself included, are female, ages 30+. Adoptees typically do not search until their twenties, thirties or even older, and it’s not until they search that they discover they are second-class citizens regarding their own rights.

What you fanboys may not have realized is that I am a fellow fangirl. I’ve loved science fiction and fantasy all my life. I’m a time-traveling, cosplaying, fantasy-writing geek girl, and I am also a comics fan. I’m such a big comics fan I close every plastic bag in sight with two small pieces of Scotch tape. I mostly make mine Marvel, but I also read some DC and a smattering of Dark Horse, IDW, and others. Comics are a regular part of my world, as adoption is a regular part of my world.

This is my rebuttal to the snarky remarkers. Let’s analyze the negative comments I’ve received since I went up against the Avengers. The comments tended to group into several categories.

“How dare you moderate comments!”
I moderate comments on all of my blogs. I’m a computer security professional and I’m not about to deluge my readers with spammy comments. That’s how we spread malware, boys and girls.

I received hundreds of comments to my first Avengers post. I approved close to 50 as of this writing. I didn’t agree with all of them, but the one thing they had in common was that they were polite. Some who disagreed asked intelligent questions. I welcome that. But if you’re going to come to one of my blogs and be a dick, I’m not approving you. There’s enough dickishness on the Internet without adding to it.

“You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
I challenge you to check this out: Black Images In The Comics. It’s a book about the last 100 years of black characters in comics. Go look at the early ones. Find yourself cringing much? We’re at that point with adoptees. Yes, it’s a valid comparison. We’re talking about minority groups who are ostracized, stereotyped, and discriminated against merely for being who they are.

So, yes, discrimination against adoptees is a big deal. Civil rights are a big deal. Gay marriage is a big deal. Equality is a big deal. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s typically what the Avengers fight for. And the X-Men, and Spidey, and everyone else.

Quite frankly I am ashamed at the sf fan community. I thought we were the genre that welcomes “cripples, bastards, and broken things.”

“Nobody discriminates against adoptees.”
(primarily from the non-adopted) Uh-huh. Let’s see…

And it’s not just the adoptees. Let’s talk about the widespread and deliberate coersion of mothers, then and now. Let’s talk about the Dan Rather report on the Baby Scoop Era, and Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away. Let’s talk about the current battle for father’s rights in Utah.

See any discrimination yet?

“I’m adopted and I thought it was funny.”
Again, let’s look at demographics. How old are you? How much do you know about your adoption? Have you thought about it much? Searched? Reunited? Ever had problems with your paperwork? Know the difference between an original and amended birth certificate? What are the adoptee access laws in your state and/or country?

Most adoptees don’t start truly thinking about adoption and its consequences until they’re older. I certainly didn’t start thinking about the mechanics of it until I was over the age of 25. Some statistics suggest that it’s when we start thinking about having kids that the question becomes relevant. On the other hand some people think about it their entire lives. It doesn’t matter how old you are, at some point you and adoption are going to have it out.

So if you flung back, “I’m adopted and I laughed my ass off,” return to this question when you’ve been around the ring a few times with whatever bureaucratic entities happen to be in possession of your paperwork. Trust those of us who have been there, it’ll be a humbling experience.

I would also like to suggest that this is the knee-jerk reaction of the Good Adoptee, a term coined by author, adoptee, and activist BJ Lifton. Good adoptees are not supposed to search or ask questions. When confronted by the suggestion that adoption is not all positive, they tend to react with, “I love my adopted parents! I think adoption’s great and I’m grateful I’m adopted!” To do otherwise is to threaten one’s existence in the adoptive family, sometimes literally in the case of disowned adoptees.

Maybe you really feel this way, but you won’t know for sure until you start to shrug off the conditioning. As adoptees we are used to dismissing our own feelings to achieve expectations for others. We don’t want to upset our adoptive parents by asking about our birth families. We’re afraid to rock the boat. Be sure your feelings are your own and not the ones you think you’re expected to have.

Even if you think about it and decide you honestly believe it wasn’t offensive, you have no right to tell other adoptees how they feel. And some of us found it highly offensive.

“You’re just angry. You must have had a bad adoption experience.”
Whether or not true, it’s irrelevant. See also my article about dismissing adoptee experience as anger.

“This is why the world hates adopted people.”
“No wonder your mother gave you away.”
“You’re a fucking bitch!”
etc.
Personal attacks are a great way to deflect. The suggestion that the Avengers adoption joke was discriminatory against adoptees must really have bothered you. I wonder what you’re so afraid of?

“How dare you! Avengers was the BEST superhero movie EVER!!!”
This is relevant to adoptee discrimination how? The movie was fine. The one-liner at adoptee expense was a low blow. That’s what we’re talking about. Geez, from the reaction you’d think I said, “Galactica 1980 was SO much better than the BSG remake.” I love comics as much as the rest of you but just because it has Marvel’s logo on it doesn’t make it sacrosanct.

Last, a couple of singular but amusing comments:

“Your husband’s nothing but your trained dog.”
Because he didn’t laugh when the joke was at his wife’s expense? If he’s trained, he’s obviously well-trained. I’m a lucky girl!

“Your gay.”
Is that “you’re gay,” in which case I guess you saw I unlocked Leliana’s achievement in Dragon Age: Origins? Or is it “your gay,” then which one’s mine and when should I pick him or her up? If I get to choose my gay, I want John Barrowman!

For contrast, here’s what some adoptees and others in the adoption community are saying about the Avengers adoption “joke”. If you’ve blogged about it, especially if you are an adoption community blogger, feel free to post in the comments. Others feel free to comment as well – assuming you pass my criterion of not being a dick about it.

(Image from X-Men: Legacy #221)
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Comments

  1. I’ve made a couple of posts on the subject, if you’re interested.

    http://adoptedintheuk.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/all-joking-aside/ & http://adoptedintheuk.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/big-shiny-adoption/

    The first also has a reply from the author of the Big Shiny Robot post that was what sparked me (couldn’t remember who else had posted about it – I’ll be adding this post to the list at the bottom of the latter link).

    Personally, I’m just happy that people’re hearing the shouting about it, since it means the collective adoptee voice is getting louder. Doesn’t mean I have to agree with it – though I suspect we may be agreeing and disagreeing on the same bases.

  2. Triona, Good post.

    I am a 45 year-old adopted female and I thought it was pretty funny, but I’ll tell you why. I saw the line more as a commentary about the relationship between Thor and Loki. Thor feels responsibility towards Loki. He calls him “brother” throughout the film. But when his flaws are pointed out by the Hulk and Black Widow, Thor pleads adoption.

    That’s how it was in my adoptive family. I have a brother that’s a screw-up. We’re all loyal to him, but at some point we say, “this couldn’t possibly be mom and dad’s fault. It’s his birth mother’s fault he’s this way.” My a-parents blamed his birth mother quite often. I, on the other hand, was a good kid, and I was discouraged from thinking about my birth family. If I was great, it was my adoptive parent’s greatness that rubbed off on me.

    My older sister is a bio child, and the rest of us are adopted. Sometimes she distances herself from the rest of us and thinks she deserves a little more.

    To me, the joke was not an attempt to stereotype adoptees. It was summing up a family relationship in about 4 lines, which is genius. If I could not laugh about it now that I am past it, I’d waste a lot of emotional energy crying. Laughter is more healing.

    When I was 25 and even 35, I might not have thought the Avengers joke was funny, though. So I totally understand how someone else could be offended. I was offended by Disney’s “Country Bears” several years ago.

    I also laughed all the way through “Mean Girls” because, although exaggerated, it portrayed a complex high school social dynamic. I lived that dynamic, and though painful at the time, it is healing to be able to look back and laugh, because I survived it.

    For some, including myself, humor is closely tied to anxiety. It’s neurobiological. That’s how we process traumatic events and move on after painful and awkward experiences.

    That being said, I’m not suggesting that we just accept the status quo. For me, humor frees me up. Without being about to laugh at sometimes crappy situations, I’d waste a lot of emotional energy.

  3. I’m a 46-yo, adoptee, gay, fanboy and I think you rock! Thanks for the lucid and thoughtful writing on this matter.

  4. Great post, Triona! And thanks for including me on the list of those discussing the topic, but all I did is what ALL adoptive parents (and others) should do on this issue and so many other adoption issues — listen to and link to adoptees like yourself!

    malinda

  5. NO!! You cannot have John Barrowman!! HE’S MINE!!! :P

    …You GO, grrrl. Exactly, exactly right. And this is coming from a first mother who has also had some childhood experiences eerily like being adopted–and I had never thought to frame them in that way until I heard what actual adoptees had to say. (I was lied to from age 3.5 to age 7 about who my real mother was. No, I have no idea why that was ever in question, but lied to I was, and even when I learned the truth I was expected to be a Good Stepdaughter, call my stepmother “mom” and not cringe when she boasted that all her friends said I looked like her. And god forbid I should refer to my mother as my REAL mother. *shudder*) And it’s testament to how heavily this culture is biased against the adopted that I could never frame my childhood experience in adoption terms, and that I could not clearly see how I was wronged in the matter of my son. To invoke another sci-fi metaphor: It’s exactly as if the Matrix really does exist. Some people are choosing the blue pill, though. Which is fine, but the second you start channeling Agents to shut me up, it is ON.

  6. I certainly don’t see any reason that your taking offense at the joke should cause anyone to attack you. I would not have taken the adoption comment as a slur against adoptees so much as a denial of shared genes. Considering that genes are only half the equation and adopted siblings share the other half I don’t see that it really is much of a denial. I think it did reflect an attitude that adopted siblings aren’t “real” siblings that I very much see as a negative attitude toward adoption. I have never thought of adoptees as discriminated against in a social sense, but I very much agree that you as a group are discriminated against legally. I know that some adoptees have family members who treat them as somehow less because they are adopted, or at least who feel the need to point it out unnecessarily.
    You have a very valid argument backing up the idea of discrimination against adoptees. I doubt the joke in the move was intentionally offensive. It seems more like an insensitive comment made without thought of the group it might offend. Whether your detractors see it or not, I very much see that you are criticizing one line out of a 2 1/2 hour movie, not the entire movie. And even if you hate the entire movie you are entitled to that opinion and guaranteed the right to express it freely.

  7. I’m an AP and shared my opinion here: http://embracingtheodyssey.com/the-avengers-and-the-adoption-joke/. I included several quotes from well-worded opinions (including your original post), and I appreciate so much that you take the time to stand up for adoptee rights. You, and other bloggers like you, have taught me so much about what I need to be aware of for my daughter’s sake. I know I’m a better parent because of all that you share. Thanks.

  8. Virtually every item on your list of discriminatory acts against adoptees exists for non-adoptees. But it appears you choose to ignore the cases of severe child abuse and even murder of children by their biological parents.

    As for villains, well, it again seems you’re ignoring about 99% of all bad guys. Often the villains are black. There have been several extremely successful movies series in which almost all blacks are pictured as murderous thugs and punks. Think Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and more recently, American Gangster. Of course Italian are often seen through the lens of The Godfather.

    Possibly the only example on your list that stands as unique to adoptees is the issue of Original Birth Certificates. But in the age of Facebook and Google, and as a result of Adoption Reunion shows, it’s become far, far easier to defeat the ridiculous laws.

    As an adoptee born in NY City, I have never seen my OBC. But, I’ve been reunited due to the existence of the ISSR, thus, it is only for sentimental reasons that I want my OBC.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the adoption coin, two of the world’s most famous adoptees are Superman and Moses.

    Thus, in our cultural and religious history, adoptees have gotten some of the best press possible.

  9. People are entitled to their own opinions and same applies to this issue. There are more than just the adoption issue that offend some people, but that doesn’t stop any of these movies from rising above. It’s only for entertainment so people shouldn’t take things in such a burden when there is absolutely no desire from the creators of the film whatsoever of offending them on purpose.

  10. Heather says:

    Thank you. I had the same reaction to that line in the movie as you did.

  11. legitimatebastard says:

    We may be in the minority because we are adoptees, but here’s more proof as to the subtle insult and meaning behind “he’s adopted”:

    Go to shop.cafepress.com and type in the words “please tell me I’m adopted” and you will find a few t-shirts with this printed on them. Even an “infant creeper” (baby undies) with the words “please, please, please tell me I’m adopted” printed on it.

    Further down the page are t-shirts that say “Please tell me I’m not related to these people!”

    It’s there, in our culture.

    I’m adopted and I resent this — on t-shirts, on baby-underwear, and in movies, currently that is The Avengers.

  12. David, if you haven’t experienced adoptee discrimination, good for you. It exists. The fact that you only want your OBC for “sentimental reasons” does not negate the fact that denying OBC access is a violation of our civil rights. I am a staunch supporter of adoptee OBC access – unrestricted and unconditional, let me make that VERY clear, and the reasons why are obvious if you are familiar with my 73adoptee blog (read the Essential 73adoptee section in the right sidebar).

    Don’t tell me that it’s a piece of cake to reunite via Facebook. First, it’s not that easy. Second and more importantly, you are conflating reunion and OBC access. Reunion is up to individuals. OBC access should be universal and unconditional, whether you are adopted or not, whether you choose to reunite or not. Two completely different things.

    I stand by what I’ve said. It was an offensive line and it exemplifies the discrimination adoptees face every day.

    Since some have asked, here’s how I would have reworked that scene. You’ve got the Avengers sitting around the table. Thor explains that Loki is his brother and his responsibility. Black Widow says, “He killed 80 people in two days.” Now, instead of Thor saying “he’s adopted,” have Tony Stark say it. We all know Stark is the biggest dick in the Marvel universe, totally in character (whereas Thor uttering that line was totally not). Thor turns to Stark and says in that godlike Asgardian voice, “He may be adopted but he is my brother.” Problem solved. You’ve mentioned the adoption, you’ve done the Thor movie backstory, but you’re not offering a “joke” so offensive that in a hundred years it’ll be buried like blackface in the chest marked “Embarrassing Moments In History”.

  13. Thank you for your insights. I have to admit that I would have been one of the folks who would have laughed at the insensitivity of the comment because I didn’t get it. Thank you for opening my eyes to the issues, especially since I have a niece and nephew who are adopted. There’s so much I don’t know about adoptee issues, and it’s good to have a place where I can get information that will help me be sensitive to the emotions and triggers they’ll be dealing with through out their lives. I only hope I can be more aware and help them navigate the challenges.

  14. Thanks for reading and having an open mind, Melonie. The best thing you can do for your niece and nephew is be there and listen to them, without assumptions or conditions. No matter what their circumstances, they will grieve for their losses and they will have questions. One of the biggest struggles adoptees face is the ability to speak openly, both within their families and within our society. Giving them a safe and comfortable place to be themselves – even the parts that are negative or confusing – is the most wonderful gift they could have.

    Stick around – many of my commenters are adoptees and first parents and are happy to offer their perspectives.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Ok, so the adoption joke was offensive to adoptees. But the line where he basically reduced Black Widow to nothing but a talking vagina, was not offensive to women? He said “Kneel you mewling quim” he called her a crying vagina, as if that’s all she is worthy of, what’s between her legs. Last I checked we weren’t just big talking vaginas. Lol. But the adoption part is what gets attention.. If you’re going to pick on one part, why not all of the movie? As a woman does being equated as a talking body not offend you? Or did most Americans just not understand the vernacular? I am just curious as to why that part hasn’t made headlines yet. (To clarify I am American, I just have LOTS of foreign friends, so I understand some of their idioms.)

    Also, in the end the adoption part is addressed. Loki pushes Thor away and says he’s not part of the family and Thor says that’s not true, that they have been mourning since he left and they all miss him. If anything wouldn’t people be able to identify with Loki?

    Not to mention, the joke wasn’t about adoption itself. Really, the joke was about how much of a backpeddling dick Thor is, when he’s supposed to be some great God. Like the joke on a TV show I saw a looong time ago. “That’s my monkey.” “You’re going to have to take that up with a judge.” “That’s NOT my monkey.” The joke isn’t him disowning his pet, the joke is how fast he changes his reaction.

    And in the Avengers comics, The story is Loki is a frost giant, and in comics, evil runs in the family. Thor is an Asgard, NOT evil, good also runs in the family in comics. It’s just kind of the way the comics are laid out. Anyone who’s ever read the comics gets it, and Thor at the moment of the line in the movie he was defending him about how family of Asgard’s are good, unlike the “petty, tiny humans” (Another line) When she brings up the ‘not so good’ part of Loki, the fact was that Loki was not of their lineage, which as stated before, plays a part in the comics.

    If it hurt you, it wasn’t mean on purpose. The purpose was to clarify for those who don’t really know comic books. Not everyone reads them and knows all the story lines. He was not saying adopted kids are evil, he was saying frost giants are evil, but the line, “he’s a frost giant”, would have gone over peoples heads without a big to do scene about it, saying he’s adopted also cut out a lot of fodder that would have made the movie even longer. It was a multi-purpose line. It served several intentions.

  16. We’ve been low on funds and weren’t able to see the movie until last night. I stayed away from any info about the movie purposely in order to avoid spoilers, or else I would have known all about the adoption joke before going into the theatre and i would have prepared myself, or skipped it altogether. I had much the same experience as you describe; my husband also sat beside me not laughing; up until that line it had been a super fun romantic date night for us and in one fell swoop the fun was mostly over. Other than being a little disappointed in Joss Whedon, whom I’ve loved for years (thanks to my husband,) I’m not angry at the movie and I’m not angry at people who laughed at the joke. I just didn’t relish the experience of feeling as if the entire theatre was laughing at me for being a second-class citizen, for having no access to my OBC and for being someone whose identity as a daughter and sister can so easily be swept under the rug whenever its convenient (“oh, well she’s not *really* related to them…”.) I can tell you who I am angry at, however, and its the commenters. on your blog and other blogs and articles online. I have never once in my life told someone to just get over something; i’ve never so much as thought to myself: “people are just too sensitive” upon reading or hearing about a person taking offense or being hurt by an insensitive remark, line of dialogue, joke, etc. I have *a lot* of flaws but I guess that is not one of them; I have always given others the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this sort of thing, and at the end of the day if I just can’t get why something is hurtful to someone, I say “okay,” and move on. The anger in the comments being hurled at individuals with dissenting viewpoints is just astronomic. It scares me and makes me feel as if I have no voice. It reminds me of how little anyone who is not personally related to adoption in some way knows about the reality of it. And it makes me weary of a future where we continue to be denied access to vital records and medical information because our experience as humans just isn’t validated once we bring up the fact that being adopted has any negative connotations. Thanks for such a smart and funny and thorough response to the whole thing. Coming home to this post really turned the night back around for me and made me feel human again.

  17. Angela – I’m glad. It was the same for my husband and myself – a fun romantic night all but ruined because of one stupid, insensitive and misinformed adoption joke. I came home that night and stayed up until 2am writing my original post. Little did I know the world was about to explode and I’d be subjected to literally thousands of people telling me to shut up and go away.

    I wrote this post because I knew other adoptees would have the same experience. I knew the people around them wouldn’t understand. I knew people would brush off anything they might say about the comment being offensive. I didn’t expect the astronomic anger as you so accurately describe it, but it doesn’t surprise me. If I had any illusions that adoptees might be gaining a voice in our society, it’s gone now.

    I’m sorry you had this experience. I’m sorry we all did. But I want you and other adoptees to know you’re not alone in being angry and upset and disappointed. I want those who think it wasn’t a big deal to put themselves in our shoes for one damn minute and see how it feels – and to know that yes, there are some adoptees out here who are making our voices heard. And we are not about to shut up and go away.

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