There’s a beautiful, haunting song in the award-winning Broadway show Hamilton, in which the widow of the former treasurer secretary ponders who tells your story, and how and why?
Remembering her late husband Alexander Hamilton after his fatal duel, the character playing Elizabeth Shuyler Hamilton sings:
It’s only a matter of time… will they tell your story?
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
Songwriter: Lin-Manuel Miranda
That haunting chorus came to mind this past weekend, when word broke of a new movie being released in theaters. It’s called Blue Bayou, and it’s based on true events, reportedly inspired in large part by the still-unfolding tale of American adoptee Adam Crapser. (Please join the protest: sign the petition here.)
Involuntarily Deported, Unexpectedly Exploited
Adam Crapser’s misfortune became public knowledge in 2016 when he was an adult, although he’d been adopted from Korea at the age of 3. Adam, who was adopted and un-adopted by two abusive families, grew up unaware that neither couple had thought to secure his citizenship here. After some youthful criminal offenses, Adam straightened his life out and married and had children, but later got involuntarily deported without his family due to a federal immigration dispute.
He had received a sympathetic message in 2015 from writer who’d learned of his saga in the news and wanted to know more. Adam responded, asking him to contact someone else working on his behalf, but never heard back. He was banished overseas, and is still forced to live abroad, so Adam was stunned last year when a Hollywood producer contacted him asking him to contribute personal photos to promote an already-completed major motion picture that borrowed from his story in graphic detail. (He declined that “offer” and refused to sign their proposed relese, as well.) Learning years later that his life story had been fictionalized for entertainment purposes, after a movie was already released to film festivals and cinemas, was intrusive, unethical and exploitational.
Attorneys working on Adam’s behalf may be able to seek retribution and negotiate damages, but they cannot give him back his privacy. He and his children are already working through the trauma of the family’s separation, but how will they process the more brutal scenes the public will now have seen of the abuse Adam suffered at the hands of his two adoptive families? Who got to tell Adam’s story to the world before he did, and why? Who makes that right, and how?
This isn’t just something that happens to foreign-born adoptees caught in political crossfire, however. (And therein lies a deeper problem.)
Don’t Tell a Story That Isn’t Yours to Tell
Everyone has the right to tell (or not tell) their own story, yes. But at the point that your story interacts with someone else’s, it’s not just your story you’re telling. Storytelling, by its definition, typically involves more than one character. These can serve as forms of education or entertainment, yet real stories including others require personal permission in order to be told.
Anyone who has ever endured a parent or other relative recounting a personal story about themselves knows how anxiety-provoking or distressing that can become. And for anyone who has been adopted, there’s an extra layer of privacy being violated in that telling. There’s a line being crossed that, truth be told, we’ve all accidentally overstepped with the best intentions (yes… even Abrazo, unintentionally.)
Birthparents who have faced the decision to place a child for adoption often need to be able to share that experience with others. Parents that adopt take great pride in the way their families were formed, and they too want to tell their story. Neither is wrong in doing so. Adoption professionals have a wealth of information to share, based on their professional experiences, provided they aren’t violating anyone’s confidential by doing so.
Yet none of the above have the right to tell the adoptee’s story for them. Our job (all of us) is to empower adoptees to know their own story (all of it,) and to decide for themselves if and when and with whom to share part or all of it– or not.
Sometimes, children proud of their own adoptions will blurt out details in settings they may later regret. Let them do it– it’s their story, and they can rewrite it later if need be. Adopted adolescents may choose to deny their adoption in the effort to be “just like” everyone else, and even if that worries a parent, it is again their story to not tell. Adoptees may harbor a very different version of their adoption than their birthparents or adoptive parents do, which can seem hurtful, but future revisions may surface in time, with age and maturity, so let it be.
For adoptees, who tells your story matters greatly, and that decision is all yours to make.