There are parts of my identity that are easily visible. I am a woman, I am Asian. Both of these aspects of my identity are important to me and help define who I am personally and for others. Yet, the one part of my identity that has shaped who I am more than any other aspect, is invisible to the world. For better or for worse, being an adopted person is the single characteristic that elucidates who I am and how I navigate my surroundings. It is such a huge part of my identity that I forget people may not know. Often times I find myself saying to someone, “You know I’m adopted right?” and I’m always surprised when the answer is no.
It’s strange that the crux of my identity is incognito, if I want it to be. This has not always been the case. While growing up in small town suburbia, everyone knew that I was adopted. Today, when I see an Asian child with their white parents and family, I presume that the child was adopted. My presumption that everyone knew this part of my identity as a child has carried over into adulthood.
As a child, I sometimes felt like I had the scarlet letter “A” written across my forehead, except my “A” stood for “adopted” instead of “adulterer.” The phantom “A” was nonetheless a scar filled with shame and embarrassment. The embarrassment was all mine and occasionally, to this day, can sometimes still exist. The embarrassment today is not over being Asian, as it was for me as a girl. Today, embarrassment comes in the form of judgmental looks from strangers, for example, if I’m out to dinner with my dad and presumptions are made. (Gross!)
Since learning to wholeheartedly embrace being an adopted person, many times I wish it was as obvious as wearing a red “A” on my forehead. I wish it was as apparent as my Asian-ness. Not necessarily because I like the fact that I am adopted but because it would make things easier once in a while. As I plan for an upcoming trip to Korea in March, I have thought about having sweatshirts made with the word “Adopted” emblazoned across it. Perhaps the trip would be easier if I made this sweatshirt my uniform throughout the visit to my birth country. Then I won’t have to explain to anyone why I don’t speak Korean. Or maybe it’ll help people not assume that my Black Korean children are the product of a fling with a member of the United States militia.
Knowing that I am adopted gives an outsider an immediate and substantive tool to understanding me as a person. (Whether it’s used or not is up to the outsider.) This invisible part of my identity is so all encompassing, yet, it doesn’t equate the totality of who I am. I don’t always want to talk about being adopted, I don’t always want to tweet about it, read about it or hear about it. My many other interests and aspects of my identity regularly take a front seat to anything adoption related. But I understand that whether the adoptee part of me is in the front or backseat, either way, the fact of my adoption, whether known or unknown, is somehow always in the driver seat.
Julie Young is a former litigation attorney and currently works full-time in the nonprofit sector. Additionally, Julie is a writer and speaker. She serves on the Board of Nazdeek and is an Advisory Board Member of All Together Now. Julie holds a B.S. degree in Psychology from Fordham University and a J.D. degree from Cardozo School of Law. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and twins.