Xavier Qin Youngdale
They’re going to return to their ancestors or their birth family through reclaiming their names, through their transness, through their queerness, through being a proud Asian.
My white adoptive parents and my two sisters, who were also adopted from China, came to pick me up in China. I was told that I cried a lot. My mom said that I was probably the one who had the hardest time trying to adjust to being in America; I was already two years old when I was adopted, while my sisters were a few months old. I remember violently crying myself to sleep a lot, so my oldest sister would have to sing me Chinese lullabies to help me sleep.
Besides the Chinese Dance Theater, we participated in FCC events and similar Chinese cultural events. Even though I was raised as a girl, I don’t identify as one. So one of the downsides of being in that Chinese dance group for so long was that I had to maintain their expectations and memories of me. I wasn’t able to begin socially transitioning while being in their presence; it was only when I was leaving for my out-of-state college that I could cut my hair, wear different clothes, and change my name. I’m pretty sure that Chinese culture only identifies with two genders. So being nonbinary, I have to translate myself back into acting femme/performing femininity when I go back to this group. I’m still trying to negotiate my gender and racial identities. I guess I would use the word dysphoric in terms of trying to be non binary with Chinese people.
My gender identity was my biggest struggle. I was basically told by my mom that I wasn’t the child that she had hoped for or that she had planned for. She and my dad had given me a white English name, so when I began socially transitioning, I had told them that I wanted to have a different name. She was very upset about it, saying that I was selfish for wanting this. But I kept my Chinese name as part of my new/ chosen name because before, it was rarely on my legal documents, meaning my deadname was a purely white name that literally erased my Chinese origins. I do regret making Qin my new middle name instead of, possibly, my first name because people still misassume it’s a middle name (so they ignore it) or a last name (like Qin-Youngdale). I’ve been inviting/insisting people at my school to call me Xavier Qin, or at least read my full name so as to force them to confront their racial biases, specifically, name discrimination. I know how to defend myself now. I know how to force people to pronounce Qin correctly without feeling apologetic or intrusive.
My parents presented my adoption in the white saviorism, Orientalist kind of way. Not in the sense of you should be grateful, but it was definitely to put down my sisters and our birthmothers as poor and selfless and just implement the racial power dynamic between them. Throughout my life, I felt undeserving, unworthy. When I was younger, I felt a lot more shame and guilt about my adoption or adoptee identity. I was born with this black birthmark around my eye and I was mostly body shamed by non Chinese people, who made me feel like a freak, something hideous, diseased. This was excruciating because I also believed that if I ever returned to where I was found, my birth mother would be able to identify me by my birthmark, her last gift to me. And it hurts beyond words that I submitted to people’s disgust of my birthmark, where I cut it out of me through multiple surgeries. That was just a constant reminder of the conditionality of my being here in the US; my birth mother had to suffer for me to have this life. I’m still asymmetrical, I still believe myself to be ugly. So I hide my eye. But I’ve made the promise to myself that if my blackness ever grows back, I’m keeping it. I’m going to wear it with pride and anger and vulnerability.
It was only recently that I began researching the One Child Policy and the possibilities for transnational adoption to occur. That really stemmed from the people at my Chinese dance group not really talking about the One Child Policy and then my white adoptive parents spreading misconceptions of white saviorism or just ignoring the fact that adoption is trauma. The child that is being brought to America already has built in responses to trauma. So being culturally assimilated is only going to worsen it without the proper education and connection with their culture. Recently I have been thinking a lot more about how my adopted identity has changed from being shameful to feeling like I have a duty to help connect with and protect younger adoptees. I think the adoptive parent/s have to acknowledge that the children are not dolls. That they’re humans and they will turn out to be different than the parent/s had imagined. They’re going to return to their ancestors or their birth family through reclaiming their names, through their transness, through their queerness, through being a proud Asian.
Growing up in the north, I’ve only ever dealt with microaggressions, covert instances of racism where, at my predominantly-white schools, they were acceptable. And I’ve been thinking that the way they taught about East Asia (or just “included” us, East Asians) was extremely Orientalist. With COVID, there’s been multiple erasures and violences happening against Asian people. So it’s weird being a Chinese adoptee because I feel the need to prove my allegiance to Chinese people to humanize them. But then it’s trying to humanize people who “others” me and who don’t entirely acknowledge their own racism against other racial minorities. I’m grieving everyday for being an adoptee. I’m unlearning my Orientalist and anti-Black upbringing.
Sometimes I surprise myself because I have a very narrow perception of who adoptees are and what they’re like and how they operate in the world; like, for some, “adoptee” isn’t one of their first identifiers, or for others, they’re proud to be adoptees. I keep thinking about how my younger self would see my current self because I wasn’t really ever able to see myself graduating high school or entering college. Like, would they be able to recognise my grief? Would they believe I’m asymmetrical and cool and beautiful? And I guess I surprise myself for being nonbinary and queer, because yes, that’s a possibility for adoptees and that’s a reality.