gallery Dear Adoption, Sometimes I Feel I Failed You


Dear Adoption, Sometimes I Feel I Failed You

I’m sorry I failed you. I remember, when I was very little, being told about how happy my parents were that they got to have their little girl. I know how much my parents wanted a girl, how much they went through in order to get one. Months of paperwork, flying back and forth from the United States to China, all to try and get the third member of the family. The third pea in the pod. I grew up hearing about how that little girl — the first and only child — was so important to my parents. It wasn’t that they would be unhappy with a son, but they picked a girl. They expected a girl. And they didn’t force me into dresses or to grow my hair long. It wasn’t that I had to be a girl, I just was. And they were sure to tell me, often, how much I meant to them. Their little, exceptional one. As long as I fulfilled the right expectations, did the right things, everything was fine.

Adoption, you were the reason I grew up in a loving home. You were the reason I spoke English, not Mandarin as a child. You were the reason I spent long nights reading Harry Potter with my father and the reason I got to see Shamu the Killer Whale with my mother. I have so many good memories because of you. My parents are happier people, I think, because of you. But you are also the reason I felt so, so, so much guilt surrounding my transition.

Do you remember, Adoption, when I was first coming to terms with who I am? Do you remember the anguish, the denial I buried myself in? Do you remember how my mom said — just once, but once is more than enough — that it felt like she was losing a daughter? Because she was. It didn’t matter that she was gaining a son. I was, with every step closer toward my real self, killing my old self.

Maybe that’s not fair. Because I’m the same person, yes, but not the daughter my parents adopted. Then again, is anyone the same as they were when they were three? Five? Ten? Fifteen? The guilt my mother placed on me, the guilt that eats me up everytime I see an old picture of myself, continues to this day and, even though I love her, I can’t help but wonder if I’m the reason our relationship is so damaged.

Adoption, you told me my whole life that my parents wanted a little girl. That they spent months waiting in anticipation for the day they’d be able to hold her. Adoption, you reminded me that my parents picked me because they knew what they wanted. Adoption, you told me all about how I should be grateful, how my entire life is better because of where I am. All I should do should be in thanks to my parents; I should remember how much they went through and how much they helped me to avoid.

It still, sometimes, feels selfish to have put my parents through so much. A better child wouldn’t have done this to their parents. I should have stayed quiet, sat down, dealt with my problems and worked through them without needing their help. If I was a better child, maybe I wouldn’t have put my parents through so much anguish. If I was a better child, maybe I wouldn’t be such a source of stress.

If I was a better child, maybe I wouldn’t have failed at being a little girl and maybe I wouldn’t feel I failed at being adopted.

Elliot Joyce is a bisexual and transgender author studying theater in sunny, Southern California. He likes to spend long hours inside avoiding his work and contemplating life. He dreams of a day where he can see people like him in books, movies, TV shows, and musicals. 


  1. Elliott, being who you are is really important. Your parents’ happiness is their responsibility, and you are not the source of their stress–their expectations are.

    “Always be yourself” (as Billy Elliott’s mother wrote in her letter to him). Y

    ou probably would have experienced guilt whether you went through life keeping a secret or you transitioned. I hope it disappears in one big poof. And while you’re spending long, contemplative hours inside, maybe you’ll think about becoming the author of some of those books, movies, t.v. shows and musicals that you long to see.



  2. [Adoption, you told me all about how I should be grateful, how my entire life is better because of where I am.]

    Same here. And maybe I am – maybe I really am better off, maybe I really would have grown up miserable and in poverty and hated school/working in my birth country.

    But it isn’t like I asked to be born into a Third World country, I didn’t ask to be adopted, I didn’t ask to be born with medical complications.

    Heck, when I told my mother that my mom had been able to afford piano lessons, she told me my mom gave me lots of things I would not have been able to do. I feel guilty for being ALIVE through adoption, that I should be ashamed for having access to so much luxury, and I didn’t ask for any of it, which makes me a rotten person by default because in another life, I *wouldn’t* have had any of it.


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