The positive adoption language debate

OK, I honestly do not get it. Why is there this obsession with positive language? I am not sure that it actually achieves anything other than disharmony. Well-meaning people are shot down for using the “wrong” terminology and any salient points they may have had are drowned in a sea of uptightness about the language they used. This used to happen all the time on the forums I frequented, to the point where I got so frustrated with people reeling off on inconsequential tangents that I wanted to perform unspeakable acts of violence on them. Probably still does happen there, but I quit torturing myself and am no longer privy to the myriad unfolding dramas. Masochism is fine, but only in a sexual way.

I honestly, truly do not care whether I am called a first father, life father, birth father or sperm donor. They all work on some level. I only find them disrespectful if they are used in a disrespectful way.

What I find truly baffling is use of the term adoption loss. This is supposed to be a positive term, I think? Considered an improvement over gave up or relinquished. Except… don’t you tend to lose things through being careless? I lost my sunglasses… because I thought they were on my head and forgot I had put them down on a counter somewhere. I was careless. I lost my watch… because I wore it in the mosh pit at a Pearl Jam concert and it came unhitched. I was careless. So does losing a child to adoption not imply that I was careless? Hell no. I did not lose him. I made a choice for him. A parenting choice. It was certainly not careless.

But, you know… this political correctness shit is how we lost the fine art of dwarf-tossing too. Those guys were not being tossed against their will… and I am OK with being called a sperm donor.


12 Responses to “The positive adoption language debate”

  1. reunionwritings Says:

    It’s so personal and for me it’s such a grey area.

    What irritates me is the changing of the language to “whitewash” what happend to us. Even the word whitewash is a bad choice, argh – the power of words.

    Myself I prefer gave up to placed. I see that I gave something up. Maybe it’s a generation thing too I don’t know.

    Don’t have a problem with adoptin loss although I think other people do (as you too)

    I don’t want to call you a sperm donor, and I am not going to.

    You are your son’s father, you are not a sperm donor. I think calling yourself that is a way of putting yourself down.

    A sperm donor is someone without heart and without concern. Someone who has no voice. You have a lot of heart and a lot of love for your son and a very clear voice.

  2. You crack me up.

    The only adoption language I vehemently oppose is referring to adult adopted people as “adopted children.” Someone called me that last week, and I am in my forties. The word “adoptee” used to make me cringe, because it sounded too much like “amputee” but it really is reflective of the passive nature of what happened. I do think that if you’re going to use “adoptee” then you need to use “adopters” too.

  3. Hmm. I see your point about seeing that you gave something up. I too see that I gave something up, BUT (heh) I feel that if I use the term “gave up” I am painting myself as more of a victim and less of a protagonist and hell, less consequential than if I paint it as a choice. “Gave up” implies deprivation and suffering and I get enough of that without buying into it with my language. If I say that I placed Sprog it sounds less negative, which is not only good for me but also good for him. Far be it from me to burden him with my self-flagellations.

    Susan, I agree that “adopted children” is a ridiculous term when referring to an adult. I cannot think of anything other than “adoptee” that really works though. Adopted person? Person who was adopted as a child? Getting kind of wordy there. And then if you use “adopter” for the adoptive parents, what do you use for the birth parents? Adoptrixes?

    Of course, further pondering leads me to think that adoptees and amputees are in a way similar, in that adoptees have been essentially amputated from their original family. But that is getting a little too melodramatic.

  4. As someone who has not relinquished (so take it with a grain of salt) I also view the term “gave up” associated with “not trying hard enough”.

    I have yet to meet or get to know a first parent who fits that characterization.

  5. Christine Says:

    I view it as not trying hard enough. And i view myself as someone who did not try hard enough.

    I usually say this is my daughter who is adopted and lives in NJ…

    Personally I dont let myself off the hook. I use gave away. No need to sugar coat it for myself. I dont need someone else throwing it in my face though… I dont suppose anyone else could do the damage that I probably do more of.

    I guess when talking about myself, I am not politically correct. When talking to others… well I attempt to. Different people are offended by different things. There is almost no use trying.

    I dont think adopter is derogatory.

  6. I think the hardest thing (speaking from an adoptee’s perspective) is that there is no consistancy among the troops. It makes it hard to feel like you are being respectful and kind because you’re never quite sure which term to use around which people.
    It pretty much sucks.

  7. Yeah I agree, I don’t think whatever word people use is important compared to what they mean and what their feelings about it are.

    I like for all my parents to be called mom and dad. I am obstinate about this to the point no one knows which mom or dad I’m talking about. I’ll say oh yeah my mom said”blah blah” and someone will say, “which mom”

    And I’ll say…my mom. Sometimes I’ll identify them by city. That’s how I identify them if I am forced.


  8. I agree with the tone and intent behind what is said, what word and by whom. I have friends who dont wince a bit at ADOPTER and others who throw axes.

    I use what I am comfortable with referring to myself as.

    I get frustrated that so much energy is put into this when there is so much real work to be done elsewhere in adoption reform.

    I do understand the power of linguistics and how words can shape generations but come on. Get over yourselves by now.

    I just read a great book for my job “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots”. We need a similar primer for the adoption plane.

  9. Brad, where are you?!? I keep looking and you’re not posting :(.

  10. Hey, Brad.

    Thanks so much for your comment on my site expressing regret that I never got to meet my deceased birthfather. He had is issues but I would have given anything to meet him.


  11. I say I lost my family to adoption. And I say it because it’s reality. Some people lose their parents to death, divorce, poverty…all kinds of reasons. I oost mine to adoption.

    I exist because of my mother, father and the generations of mothers and fathers before them.

    So, as much as pro-adoption folk would like to beleive….adoption did not create me – real people did – my mother and father, and I lost them to adoption. Maybe this doesn’t sit well with others, but it’s how I was able to see my twisted, unnatural adoption exerience for what is really is/was, and how I was finally able to understand that I am a human being with a real idnetity, ethnicity and ancestry . . . just like all the non-adopted people who grew up with their parents.

    BTW: I am the host and producer of a web cast called The Adoption Show – Voices Ending the Myth (
    and we’re putting together a show on dads and adoption. Would you consider being a guest for that show?


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