Adaptation and self-image

One supposes it must seem strange to someone who was never adopted to consider what it is like growing up around people who look nothing like you. Adaptation is the key to adoptee survival, adapting to a world that is out of joint, a world that is filled with cracks, fissures, where an identity can disappear, only to be replaced by a legal fiction. A world where international adoptees can be disappeared as non-citizens, non-entities, adrift in a liminal legal state between countries. Adapting to this world as an adoptee does set one apart from the ‘normal’ experiences of family and society. One must adapt, as there is a kind of warping between one’s personal expectation of one’s eventual appearance and the actual appearance one naturally develops into… I did not know, when I was fifteen, what I will look like when I turn fifty.

As I aged, and my appearance changed, I felt the fracture between myself and the adopted family within which I’d been placed grow ever keener, sharper, hard-edged. I felt my social circles expand in directions that provided escape, freedom from a space that increasingly seemed confining, suffocating. Realistically, I am unable to tell if my experience was tied to any one trigger, or if it was a cumulative pressure of a number of factors. I am certain that I would have given up, lost the will to live, actively pursued self-destruction, if it weren’t for my friends who found ways to extract me from the home environment I felt trapped within.

Now, years after that time in my life, and a full beard or two later, I know who I look like and what to expect. Discovering that information was painful, and grueling, and worth every moment of anxiety and confusion. To lack a sense of identity is to be unmoored from the very fabric of society. Not having that internal sense of how I could expect to age, to know how I will appear given enough time, was one constant source of dissociative stress.

Now, accentuate that disassociation that a person adopted into a family of a different culture, skin tone, or country. Imagine the impact that the lack of genetic mirroring must have on an infant, a child, an adolescent throughout their life. I acknowledge fully that I have had it easy, compared to an adoptee who is ‘transracial’ or who was adopted from another country. Spare a moment to consider why adoption must appear as itself traumatizing, when there is such a life-long compounding of the lack of physical identity, a mirroring that all non-adopted individuals take entirely for granted. I survived, but not without scars and a great deal of emotional strife. I’m a lucky one, there are adoptees who have had much, much more difficult lives… and all too often, those lives didn’t need to be so disrupted.

Fantasy Life

I suppose you could say I had a rich imagination. When you are presented with a reality, your first impulse is acceptance. So it was with me, at first. But over time, curiosity fuels speculation.

Youthful speculation began at puberty, when I found myself imagining that my birth parents were aliens, or werewolves, or some other otherworldly, supernatural situation surrounded my birth, and that this occult matter would eventually be revealed to me in an apocalyptic revelatory experience, something epic, on par with Darth Vader unmasking himself to Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.

This was amplified by my voracious reading appetite.. of course I had the same love of science fiction as millions of other kids my age growing up in the eighties, and I watched Star Trek religiously throughout my child hood, then Star Trek TNG through puberty and high school. But science fiction and fantasy only satisfied me for so long – I quickly became enamoured of horror and dark fantasy, and ultimately more occult and esoteric writing as well.

I found my way from one end of the metaphysical spectrum to the other, dabbling as I studied.. a tarot reading for some friends, or to explore possible issues and their resolutions.. a candle engraved with bindrunes to help facilitate locating a job upon moving to a new town.. astrological charts to prepare for Saturn’s return, drawn up a few months in advance.. invoking the spiritual forces at work in the heart of the forest in an ecstatic trance – you know, dabbling. In seeking answers to questions I knew no direct way to ascertain, I cast about more widely in terms of what could provide insight.

So yes, I did spend nights trying to project backward in memory, or outward through meditation, to find my relatives. I tried to use spirits and spells, candle magic, tarot cards, and other types of omens as guides to find my way back through the weave of time and fate. I was born in the Magic Valley, after all. It’s not surprising to me, at least, that I would have had the strange luck to put the pieces together. How much real magic was there in finding my biological relatives? How much fate?

I think I found that, for myself, there is a kind of internal balancing necessary to survive the constant threat of identity dissolution. That balancing provides control over one’s own internal psychological states. Adoptees are positioned in a sociological framework where one’s identity is always already a construct, something adopted, for lack of a better word, as a survival mechanism, rather than an expression of oneself, then the self remains always in defensive posture, always already in denial of performance. Magic, at its most atavistic, at it’s root, is an expression of the identity of the individual in harmony with the universe, in defiance of institutions that might undo the individual, and in concert with articulations of divinity that might help protect and nurture an individuated self, particularly in times of crisis or transition.

I know there are technological advances which made the discovery more likely, still… all of life is so wildly improbable. To succeed at anything at all in this life, especially something so confounding, something that cut to the heart of who I saw myself as, who I thought I was, and then see that shift, change over time as I integrated that knowledge… that’s really the alchemical moment, that’s the magic.


One of my favorite games of the last few years is Gorogoa, now featured on my wife’s web site “Play like a Feminist.”

Play like a Feminist.

Gorogoa is a gorgeous puzzle game that involves rearranging hand-drawn squares as it tells you a non-linear story about time, aging, and desires.

Who Should Play:
Gorogoa takes a while to get a hang of how to play, but once you get into it, the puzzles are absorbing and visually stunning. It’s not great for first time players, but provokes good discussions and meditative play.

Made by: Producer: Annapurna Interactive Digital; Developer: Buried Signal, Jason Roberts

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One

Price: $4.99 – $14.99 (depending on platform)

Play time: 2-5 hours

Questions for Gorogoa:

  1. Gorogoa was hand drawn over the course of about four years. How does a hand-drawn game change how it feels to play?
  2. The narrative of the game was somewhat elusive, yet always present. What do you think the narrative was, and in what ways was…

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