Through a new book exploring adoptee identity, Chinese adoptees Jo, Addie and Hannah are breaking down stereotypes and reframing the way we talk about adoption.
For adoptees, the word “lucky” gets thrown around a lot.
Adoptees are often told they’re lucky not to be in an orphanage, lucky to have been brought into a family, and lucky to be adopted at all. Often, they’re depicted in movies and books as being broken, in need of saving and fixing. Then, they’re expected to become the hero of their own journeys and overcome their “difficult” origins. Many adoptees can relate to one or more of these identities — the “lucky” one, the “broken” one, and the “hero” — including us.
Who are we? We’re Whatever Next? — a multi-media project that we started in January 2021 to expand on some of the conversations we found ourselves having about interracial adoption and identity. One of the main goals of Whatever Next? is to open the door to new conversations around adoption that focus on its many nuances.
Our names are Addie, Hannah and Jo – all of us are Chinese adoptees who have grown up in the West. Addie was brought up in Kansas City, Missouri and is now studying population health. Hannah was brought up in Dorset and just completed her undergraduate degree in linguistics and social anthropology. Jo was brought up in London and currently works for Intercultural Youth Scotland. (Bill, Jo’s sausage dog, is the fourth honorary member of Whatever Next?).
We met via a Facebook group for Chinese adoptees living in the UK. We started talking in winter of 2019 and haven’t really stopped since, eventually creating Whatever Next? This project has been incredibly rewarding. Whatever Next? allows us to connect with adoptees across the globe and gives us time to reflect on our own identities and adoptions with the support of friends and family.
Through talking to each other, we found that we had similar experiences growing up and reacted similarly to the ways in which the media portrays adoptees. Our responses to these portrayals not only affected the way in which we saw ourselves, but also the ways in which other people saw us.
We identified three main strands of narrative — the “lucky” adopted child, the “broken” child and the “heroic” child — all seen repetitively in franchises such as Marvel and Disney. Inspired by these ideas and input from our adoptee community, we recently published a book that explores adoptee identity through these three narratives, “Whatever Next?: On Adult Adoptee Identities.”
“Whatever Next?: On Adult Adoptee Identities” considers how these traditional narratives surrounding adoption have dominated and damaged adoptive communities for many years and what we should do to avoid these pitfalls. Throughout the book, we examine the unintentional harm caused by these tropes, the key issues that adoptees grapple with and how these conversations are evolving. We look at these narratives constructively and explore how these have been damaging to adoptees who feel they ought to live up to impossible standards. Through our book, we hope to kickstart new dialogues around the adoption experience and showcase how beneficial shared discussion can be.
We were lucky enough to win a Creative Edinburgh Student award in 2021 and a Young Scot Award for Equality and Diversity in 2022. We have appeared on BBC Radio Scotland, LBC and led a discussion talk with the British government.
We are very proud to share the book with you and hope it will start the ball rolling on a few conversations about your own about adoption.
“Whatever Next?: On Adult Adoptee Identities” is now available as a hard copy or an eBook at 404ink.com.
Learn more about the Whatever Next? project at whatevernext2020.co.uk.