letter to my younger queer self (inspired by the letter q: queer writers’ notes to their younger selves)

dear mariama,

i have this dream. it has many variations. always some sort of disaster. an earthquake shakes my childhood home. a fire burns it slowly to the ground. a tsunami swallows the whole neighborhood in one big gulp. the world around me falls and i spring into action. always there is another girl inside the house. sometimes she wears the face of my sister. my mother. my best friend. i go to her. grab her. whoever she is. by one long braid. or one small wrist. hoist her over my shoulders and run. out. away. to higher ground. safe house. and just as we make it. catch our breaths. stunned to be alive. i wake up. and i am a woman.

you can’t see it now but you’ve been saving yourself from the beginning. some will call you an angry brooding secretive girl. they will not understand your stoicism. your ability to retreat into yourself and watch the world with quiet empathetic eyes. they will not understand that you do not yet know your anger. that your self isolation and quiet acts of martyrdom are all faulty tools of navigation. that the mirror does strange magic on your heart. even though they love you. tell you you’re home. you know you belong more than one place. but where else? you dream of another woman who smells different. like you. you wonder: what else is a home but a scented body? you feel safe inside your own small growing one. so you stay there when you are scared. confused. hurt. angry. happy. in love. you keep to yourself. you hold every emotion on the shelves of your shoulders where they cannot be broken or lost or taken away. this is how you survive. by holding yourself closer than anything anyone else. by becoming a safe house. higher ground. shelter of your own making.

i wish you knew then how strong you are. how brave it is to be a girl living in the undefined territory of her own shape. conjuring ways to love herself.

and beautiful. you are. even at twelve years old. with your uneven shaved head and one pierced ear. even with your brace face smile and inability to keep your mouth closed when chewing. even in your ren and stimpy t-shirts and baggy overalls. stunning. gorgeous. and no one will tell you this until high school. and no one will show you your beauty until college. when you begin to believe your skin’s wealth at the hands of a lover. when you lose that lover and still manage to go on. when you find words. your voice. a way out of yourself.

and although it is 15 years later. and you are still learning to speak. to love. to let go of the things piled on your shoulders. you are still the same girl. resilient. observant. thoughtful. border-less. brave. how did you know? even then. as a child. you had plans for us. even then you knew. how to take a body and build it right. sturdy. open. questioning. expansive. even then you knew. when to build walls. and when to bust holes in them.

all this time. i thought i was saving you. maybe i dream. maybe i run into the house. grab you. or some version. maybe i do it. to remember. i am still alive. because of you. because you made me a home out of nothing. and never left. never left me alone.

love always,

Posted in adoption, identity, queers | 2 Comments

Letter to a Younger Self (Inspired by The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves)

For D, whose bravery helps me believe. 


Dear Elizabeth,

Today you wrote your first story.  You are five.  It is the story of a small bunny that searches the forest desperately for his “real mother,” is fostered by other animals, and eventually finds what he’s looking for – happily ever after.  I know it’s not easy to say these things out loud, so you write them and draw pictures and make a hard truth pretty somehow.  How brave you are.  But I know it doesn’t feel like bravery yet, it just feels lonely.  You are so much closer to the source.  You’ve only been apart four years and some months – I think maybe you still feel her, our mother.  I realize I’m envious of you, even though I wouldn’t go back.  Listen, I want to tell you some things.  I don’t know if they will make any difference.  I don’t know if what I’ve learned in the last 28 years is any wiser than what you already know in this moment – this moment of translating grief into art, finding language to say the unsayable – but I want to tell you anyway because maybe one of us needs to hear it.

There are so many pieces of you in this story you have written today.  So many things you can’t see right now.  The way you took the saddest, truest part of you and bared it to the world.  The way you weren’t afraid to say something you knew people didn’t want to hear, something you knew you weren’t supposed to say.   Or maybe, it’s the way you were terrified and you did it anyways.  There’s the queer way the bunny is a boy of many different colors – this will make sense to you later, will make you happier than you’ve ever been and will also make you intolerable to people you foolishly thought would always be there.  There’s the way different kinds of animals take your bunny in until he can find his mother, the way a family can be built – you’ll need this when you leave home, when it’s not safe there anymore.  There’s the way you know things are temporary sometimes and that that’s ok.  Most importantly, there’s the way you believe in love.

Don’t worry, Little Bunny, you’ll find her.  I can’t tell you what happens after that though because I need you to see it through and if I tell you what you find, I’m afraid you won’t go looking.  But I know your hunger, I know you’ll be strong.  Some things won’t change much.  You’re still a storyteller.  You tell stories to survive, to make sense of the world around you and you will need to make sense of this one.   To be honest with you, we’re still writing the same story 28 years later, maybe forever, I can’t say.   We still live inside our fantasies, inside our stories.  We imagine something different, we imagine everything possible – this is important.  This will allow you to encounter cities and adventures and loves so spectacular, you wouldn’t believe me now if I told you.  Your dreamlife will still keep you up at night and if you don’t write them down, they will drive you mad.  So write them, just write and keep writing and eventually you’ll understand this is a life.

One of the things I love about you the most is how you never bought into the things they told you about god, about your body, about your love.  Even as a very small girl, smaller than you are now, you knew they were full of shit.  Instead you felt something electric, a kind of connection to everyone around you, something that tethered you to this earth, kept you from floating away, and made you want to love with your whole heart.   Your task in this life then, will be learning how to let yourself be loved.  This won’t be easy.  Love will start to make you angry, soft touches will sicken you, your body will become an enemy and you’ll shrink away.  The terror that engulfs you now, that makes you sick all the time, makes you miss school, that makes your stomach burn and your jaw lock up, you’ll let it win for a while in your twenties.  You’ll discover a place where you no longer want to live, the bottom of a well, the limp body of a girl on a dirt floor.  But the story you wrote today will save you.  You’ll remember that there’s one last thing you need to do before you die, you need to find her, and by the time it’s finished, you’ll want to write a different ending.  See, it doesn’t matter if she loves us or can even look at us, it’s the hunger, the desire, and the imagining that will save you.

As I write this to you today, I’m about to finish our first book – can you believe it?  Yes, of course you can.  I think you always knew.  What you might not know is that despite all your best efforts to resist love, someone incredible fell in love with you, you have an enormous family that adores you, and you are held and inspired beyond your wildest dreams.  I know this might sound like a real stretch as you sit there alone today with your new story, wondering how it will be received and if they will go away from you, but I promise, love looks really different these days, you just have to keep believing in it.

Yours Always,


Posted in abandonment, adoption, grief, queers, search and reunion | 3 Comments

Geographies of Kinship: Please support this exciting and important new film!


Deann Borshay Liem, a documentary filmmaker and adoptee, is currently at work on her latest film, Geographies of Kinship.  Her first two films, First Person Plural and In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee are about her own adoption from Korea into the Borshay family in Fremont California, and her subsequent search to find the girl she was switched with before she came to the US.

Deann’s new film, Geographies of Kinship, follows five Korean adoptees from the U.S. and Europe on their journeys to reconnect with their birth country and piece together their past. Their riveting stories serve as a springboard for exploring the history of transnational adoptions from Korea, from the 1950s to the present.

Deann and her crew are asking for support to help finish Geographies of Kinship through a Kickstarter campaign that ends July 31st.  They have already raised an astounding $58,000 of their $75,000 goal, a great testament to how important Deann’s films are to adoption communities and to the adoption conversation. Please consider joining BYLM in supporting this exciting and important film!

Click here to support the Geographies of Kinship Kickstarter Campiagn!

More Links:

Mu Films:  http://www.mufilms.org/

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/mufilms

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Mu_Films

Watch First Person Plural:




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How to be a Normal Family

By Liz Latty

a small girl wriggles around on the couch under a blanket
rubs the soft corner against her cheek.
the doctor enters the room, closes the door. he tells the mother to lay on top of the small girl. when the small girl screams, her sound is muffled by the weight of the mother’s love.
the mother grunts. i love you so much. don’t you want to love me too?

This results in a lack of ability to attach or to be genuinely affectionate to others.
According to The Center’s treatment protocol, if the child ‘shuts down’ (i.e., refuses to comply), he or she may be threatened with detainment for the day at the clinic or forced placement in a temporary foster home; this is explained to the child as a consequence of not choosing to be a ‘family boy or girl.’

Dad: Do you think that maybe you’re gay because your birth mother couldn’t care for you?
Me: Huh?
Mom: Yes, well I’ve read about this sort of thing as a symptom of Attachment Disorder.
Me: Are you fucking kidding me?
Dad: Well we’re just saying, maybe if you would have been able to breastfeed and bond with her then you wouldn’t…well, you know.
Me: Like pussy?
Mom: Elizabeth!
Dad: Chase girls around.

deep tissue massage, aversive tickling, punishments related to food and water intake, enforced eye contact, requiring children to submit totally to adult control over all their needs, barring normal social relationships outside the primary caretaker, encouraging children to regress to infant status, reparenting, attachment parenting, or techniques designed to provoke cathartic emotional discharge

My therapist has no idea what she’s doing, but I don’t have anyone else so I let her do things. She says she is going to “re-parent” me. I let her cradle my adult body in her thick arms, like a baby against her breast. She smells of lavender and her skin feels mealy on my cheek. I tell her it hurts, but she encourages me to stay with it, stay with her. She coos and talks to me in a baby voice, tells me how much she loves me. I try to remember my mother, pretend to cry. After a few sessions of this she just stops, never suggests it again.

the following sequence of events is described: (1) therapist ‘forces control’ by holding (which produces child ‘rage’); (2) rage leads to child ‘capitulation’ to the therapist, as indicated by the child breaking down emotionally (‘sobbing’); (3) the therapist takes advantage of the child’s capitulation by showing nurturance and warmth; (4) this new trust allows the child to accept ‘control’ by the therapist and eventually the parent

Andrea Swenson, Age 13
Lucas Ciambrone, Age 10
David Polreis, Age 2
Krystal Tibbets, Age 3
Candace Newmaker, Age 10
Logan Marr, Age 5
Cassandra Killpatrick, Age 4

You are so special. You were chosen.
It is perfect, you are perfect and we want you to always know this.
There is an ache you would not understand, dull and insecure.
Can’t you just be grateful you weren’t thrown in a dumpster?
No, my real parents.
You’re such a pretty girl, yes you are! Who’s mama’s pretty girl?!



Posted in adoption | 7 Comments

Shit People Say to Adoptees

Wow, your adopted parents must be SO AMAZING!

So what happened to your real parents?

OMG, you and your brother could like totally date since you’re not really related!

You must be really against abortion then, huh?

What was wrong with your real mom?

Did you see Sandra Bullock’s new kid!!?? squeeee!! he’s SO adorable!

Oh, wow, adoption is so beautiful – I love adopted people!

I totally want to adopt some day. I just don’t see the point in having your own kid when there are so many out there I could have.

oh wow, you are SO lucky!!

Yeah, I would totally adopt some day, but like only a baby, not one of those special needs or foster kids – i know this is fucked up, but they’re just so, you know…damaged.

so, do you know your real family?

Ugh, I SO wish i was adopted. My family is so fucking annoying. It’d just be nice to know i didn’t actually come from them.

Wow, you’re like, really angry.

I mean, at least you weren’t thrown in a dumpster.

Oh, you must be so grateful!

Isn’t it great that your parents wanted you SO much?? Oh, sorry, i mean your adopted parents.

You are so special!!

It’s so weird, but you almost actually look like your parents.

You must really love your birthmom for being so selfless and courageous.

I think it’s so great how celebrities these days are adopting all these unwanted kids, don’t you? I really admire them.

Oh…I’m sorry.

So, wait, I’m confused. Your step-parents? Wait, no your real parents? I mean your adopted parents. Wait, fuck. Ok, who are you talking about?

So was she like on drugs and stuff?

Oh really? My __________ is adopted. She’s so well adjusted. Not like you, I mean, sorry, I just mean she’s not all sad and angry and stuff. She really loves her parents.

Oh really? My _________ adopted a kid. He is SOOOOOOO cute and cuddly. They got him after that big disaster in ____________. Thank god they saved him!

But don’t you think you’re totally better off?

I always wished I was adopted.

Your parents are so nice though! You really shouldn’t be sad. If I were you, I’d be so grateful just to have a home.

OMG, you are SO fascinating – your life is just like an Oprah episode!

I know, I totally get it. I always felt like I didn’t belong in my family either.

So do you think you’ll adopt some day?

Posted in adoption | 21 Comments

shit people say to transracially adopted girls

so… what happened to your real parents?

so you’re like, practically an orphan

were you like one of those african babies with flies on your face?

you must be prolife

who’s that white guy you’re always with?

so is he like your step-father or your father father?

wait, was your real father even in the picture when you were born?

was your real mom on drugs?

I just don’t think I could ever give up my baby

you must feel so grateful your didn’t grow up in the ghetto

wait, if  I come over, are there gonna be white people at your house?

so… your family is kinda like the Obamas

wait, if I come over are there gonna be black people at your house?

wow, your family sounds so…interesting

I wish I had two moms

you must get sad sometimes

is that your real name, like from your real mom

i’m confused, did you even know your real parents?

were you like in an orphanage for awhile?

you’re so lucky your mom didn’t have an abortion

are you in love with Brangelina’s family or what!

your family is just like a rainbow, so cute!

so did they like, find you in a dumpster?

I wish I had a black sister

you talk just like a white girl

you’re like the whitest black girl I know

how cute is Sandra Bullock’s son?

so like, do you ever think about finding your real mom?

you should go on Oprah and ask her to help, I’d watch that episode

do you even know your real mom’s name, wait aren’t you named after her?

don’t worry, when I met you I couldn’t even tell you were adopted

your family sounds so …lively

do you like LOVE that you’re family is so unique?

do you  just feel so lucky sometimes, I mean who knows where you could have ended up

I think I want to adopt, you know there are just so many unwanted children out there

i’ll probably adopt a baby of every race, to be fair you know

i really like that you’re not like, stereotypically black

are you afraid of people leaving you?

you’re like, not that fucked up for an adopted kid

Posted in adoption, identity, pob, rage | 1 Comment

in this story

i am also                      the one who leaves

the baby who rolled away

down a long hospital hallway

never to return


i did it

just like the women

before me


first mama       giving into the emptiness

of her unwilling womb

leaving small parts of herself

buried in the earth like treasure


then mother     enduring my kicks in secret

nine months of punishment from the baby

she did not want to keep as her own


and me             a woman now

living all the way across the country

kicking lovers out of my bed

refusing to return to anyone


a disappearing act         the finale


even when i am wanted

i don’t know how to belong


By Mariama Lockington

Posted in adoption | 4 Comments