How Do We Begin to Embrace Marginalized Identities in a Violent World? The Struggle of the Adoptee

2023 has been rough so far. I know this is true for a lot of humans on an individual level, myself included, but there are a lot of larger things going on in this country and the global community that are affecting us all as well.

In an article titled “One nation, under gun violence,” published on the 6th of March by CNN, it was reported that the United States has already surpassed 100 mass shootings this year. THIS YEAR Y’ALL. Far more shootings than days.

We know statistically that the perpetrators are overwhelmingly a majority of white straight cis-gendered men and boys and that the victims are overwhelmingly members of marginalized groups, be that by religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality.

People, human beings, often gathered within community spaces, being killed because of who they are, who and how they love, where they were born, or how they believe in or build a relationship with God as they understood him/her/them.

So why is this important to talk about? As a survivor of adoption myself who is working directly with my community, I am happy to tell you why. I recently appeared on an episode of Adoptees On about identity. Adoptees struggle more than our non-adopted peers in all stages of life in separating out the parts of us that are intrinsic to who we are from the façades or masks we have taken on as a means to survive.

This means a lot of changes, often later in life. Since it takes us longer to know ourselves, it also takes us longer to embrace ourselves. Coming out of the closet as anything other than the majority, for survivors of adoption, means making peace with more loss. Loss is already a central part of the adopted experience. Even if there is no loss of adoptive or birth family relationships or rejection from community, there is a loss of privilege. And there is a loss of safety.

I don’t mean a perceived loss of a sense of safety, though that is part of this too. I mean, if you are a person with a marginalized identity, or many intersecting marginalized identities, you are inherently less safe in this world.

I am saying, imagine you are an adopted person who worked, blood, sweat and tears over countless hours to discover who you are. Perhaps you’re stepping into your racial or queer identity for the first time. Maybe you long for your community, maybe your therapist has even encouraged you to get out there and meet your people.

As you enter that physical space, instead of euphoria, or perhaps even as the euphoria starts to spread all over your body you also feel the most familiar sensation in your nervous system. Fear. Paralyzing fear. Your heart rate increases and your eyes start to scan for exits with this thought: “We have gathered together. We are now at risk.”

For a person who already battles daily paralyzing fear through traumatized thought patterns and body-based trauma responses, this may simply be outside their window of tolerance.  The life-saving medicine of community might feel too risky to partake in. More loss. Either way, whether one decides to go to the event or not, more loss.

The idea of this blog was originally a response earlier this year to the increase in violent hate crimes against the AAPI community. I wanted to spotlight how this negatively affects the AAPI survivors of adoption in our community. But there are so many scary things happening in our world. Black trans people continue to be hunted and murdered. Anti-trans legislation with the goal of dehumanizing the trans and gender non-conforming community is exploding at a terrifying rate.

A tenet of the old school treatment of trauma, (old school meaning before we started decolonizing therapy), is the incorporation and reliance on a sense of safety. But we do not live in a safe world. Particularly if you hold one or multiple marginalized identities. Decolonizing psychology means honoring that many of our clients’ fears and concerns about their bodily safety moving through this world are not symptoms, but realities.

So this violence in our world directly affects the mental health and lived experiences of adoptees of all ages. Silence is not the answer. Isolation is not the answer. We need to grieve these profound losses in community now more than ever. We cannot control the outside world, but we can support each other. We can stay united, despite all the loss, in our pursuit of liberation and healing. We will not be erased.

Written by Marta Isabella Sierra
Boston Post Adoption Resources

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About Marta Isabella Sierra, LMHC

Marta Isabella Sierra, LMHC is a clinician at Boston Post Adoption Resources. To read her bio, please visit BPAR's Team page.