I was introduced to “trigger warnngs in the 1990s.” Some of us from the newsgroup alt.adoption liked to visit alt infertility for the fun of it alt.infertility featured a host of desperate, babyless women (and some men) who relentlessly carped about their infertility, pleading that they had a “right” to a baby. Their bodies had betrayed them. Societal expectations ostracized them.They were particularly angry at ungrateful women who had abortions and to a lesser extent. those who placed children for adoption. A serious study in the politics of envy.
Originally alt.infertility acted as a support group, but over the years its residents became exclusive, exclusionary, and angry, not only at ingrates but at their fellow inmates. If a alt.infert friend, after months of hellish fertility treatments, announced she was pregnant, she was Dead Woman Walking. An adoption announcement was equally intolerable. I was flabbergasted by the hate emanating from the left-behinds toward their former friends. A poster who mentioned she was envious of pregnant women she saw on the mall, or the glance of a toddler on TV was enough to send these sensitive souls into a frenzy. It all came to a head when a strong suggestion was made (though not enforceable since this was an alt hierarchy) that posters include a “trigger warning” alert–something like “child mentioned”– in their header so that more sensitive posters could avoid the thread, lest they fall into their respective fainting couches and into a permanent daze. Of course, the minions of alt.adoption–the meanest news group on the ‘net– found this hysterically amusing and sometimes raided the site with mean girl posts.
Fast forward to 2015. Trigger warnings have grown into a cottage industry everywhere public discourse attempts to flourish (or rear its ugly head depending on how you look `at it), and especially on college campuses, The New Yorker reported recently that some crim-law students at Harvard have been “distressed” over studying rape law, a subject you’d think contemporary feminists would push instead of blanching away from.) I suppose there is hardly a subject that won’t set somebody off. (The New Yorker also reported that the use of the word “violate,” as in “Does this violate the law?,” is a scary word.) One wonders how the coddled class actually gets out of bed in the morning, much less makes it to school or work or even to a department store.. Helicopter parents are bad enough, now we have an entire generation of students helicoptering each other.
But I digress a bit…
Trigger warnings and safe spaces are evil twins. There are certain specific instances when I can understand the need for them such as discussion/support groups of rape or sexual abuse survivors, or recovering alcoholics or drug addicts. All discussion need not be public. Realistically, though,why would anyone expect a “safe space” on Facebook? If you do expect it, then you’re either a fool or terribly naive unless you’re in a heavily restricted or “secret” group. Even then there is no guarantee your business won’t be on front street within the hour.
“Safe space” issues come up a lot in AdoptionLand public space. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see a claim on some FB group from a sensitive soul licking a primal wound or two, or promoting “baby step” legislation to restore adoptee rights, or insisting on an homogenized adoptee experience that everyone must agree with, or objecting to “offensive language.” (And let’s not even go to “birthmother” wars.). Not only are safe spacers earnest in their mission to stamp out anything messy or distressing, they lack a sense of humor, parody and satire. One person’s joke is another’s insult.
Bastard Nation is an adoptee civil rights political organization dedicated to the restoration of the right of all adoptees to access their own birth certificates and other state-held records about us. We are the only adoption FB page that I’ve seen that consistently discusses the politics of adoption. The page is a public service, and anyone can sign on as a friend. Yet we are regularly hammered over our lack of empathy regarding personal, non-political adoption issues like primal wound, or worse yet, our failure to equate adoption with slavery. Whenever that ‘fact” is spouted, I wish Frederick Douglass were here to explain the difference. While the personal can indeed be the political and a powerful motivator, the political can not be subsumed or sustained by a steady stream of self-pity , Angsting yourself on a computer screen, sending LOL’s and thumbs up, is not activism. Its a private pity party.
“Safe spaces” is really about the fear of the free flow of ideas– an attempt to shut people out and up. If you don’t agree that all adoptive parents are “adoptaraptors” and child abusers, or that adoption is slavery, for instance, you’re “pro-adoption” (whatever that means), you “don’t understand,” you’e a shill for the adoption industry, or worst yet–a bully. See, the universal safe space crowd attempts to bully those it disagrees with by calling them bullies.
The “happy adoptee” narrative is strictly forbidden in a good part of AdoptoinLand. All adoptees, you see, are miserable, powerless, victimized–and why can’t somebody do something about that. That is, unless they are” happy.” Activists and organizers can be transformed from “happy” to unwelcome louts by simply questioning the happy adoptee meme. And vice versa. Funny, but some of the happy adoptee forums have the most unhappy adoptees out there. Whatever the scenario– “unhappy” or “happy,”when somebody does bring activism to the fore of either group, they’re attacked for not being, depending on the accuser, happy, angry, “in the fog,” anti-or pro-adoption or suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.. What’s a Bastard to do? Each class has it’s own safe spaces.
It occurred to me recently that I am a “happy adoptee,” though I don’t remember ever feeling that way. I know I’ve had the privilege for the last 35 years of my OBC and being reunited with my bio family. I do, however, have a really hard time, and always have, trying to fantasize what my life would have been with them. Not so hot, I think, in many ways. To me, worrying about that is a waste of time–time that can be much better spent fighting the state and institutionalized adoptionism.
Recently a 28 year old adoptee, Blair Thill published a piece, I am the product of a closed adoption and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The safe space trigger happy people practically shot themselves (or her) in the head. How dare she!. Now I find Ms.Thill naive and young. I disagree with her totally and think that 10-15 years down the road she may view things differently. But this is her story and her opinion, and I don’t see the need to trash her personally, for it was she herself, not her opinion, that angered so many people. Among accusations hurled was that she was “throwing other adoptees under the bus”, but at no time did she oppose adoptee rights. reunionism, or other people’s attitudes about adoption. Others claimed, as if Ms. Thrill spent her down time hopping planes to state capitals to oppose OBC access, it was people like her who are killing the adoptee rights movement. This is news to me, since the adoptee righrts movement is very alive and very well. If anyone is attempting to kill the movement it’s deformers with their half measures and acquiescence to authority, and Facebookers who demand safe space and trigger warnings in their their echo chamber, and try to shut out discussion and reality on the grounds that it upsets them. I wonder how they’d react if confronted with an anti-adoptee legislator calling them baby killers at an OBC hearing.
The kicker is that most of the people I :know who are seriously active in Bastard Nation and other genuine adoptee rights organizations are probably “happy.” or at least have come to grips with adoption. They don’t personalize the adoptee experience. Relinquishment in most cases (and I hate to sound trivial) is not personal. You weren’t put up for adoption because you were a bad or ugly baby. You were an unknown. And in most cases,those of us who are now adults were “placed” in an impersonal manner. First come; first serve.
Baby available: come get it., There is no “chosen baby.”
Yet so many adoptees continue to personalize what is basally a business transaction. Adoption is the commercialization of the intimate, so why would anyone–bio parents, adoptee, or adopter– be shocked or hurt at impersonalized procedures?
There are plenty of “safe spaces” on the internet and on Facebook and in real life to accommodate those who want them. As I said, sometimes they are desirable and necessary. But if you’re looking for safe space, then politics isn’t your game. Politicians aren’t known for proffering “safe space.” Neither are hearings and backroom deals held in safe spaces. If adoptees remain in their safe spaces, wince at trigger warnings, and believe in some inherent right to avoid reality, nothing will change.