Wild Dogs in the Basement: The Enigmatic Male Adoptee

Have you ever wondered why social media, conferences and political adoption reform efforts seem to attract disproportionately few male adoptees? Me too.

Historically, men, by nature, appear to have been wired for conquest, battle and embracing a challenge, particularly when it comes to threats to our families, our territory and our egos. When other men threaten to invade and take what is ours, we rally the troops, raise a battle cry, and take up arms. Our competitive nature shows up everywhere from the battlefield to the ball field to the board room and courtroom. But the one thing that can turn a 275-pound linebacker into a compliant, soup-slurping little boy in a television commercial is the emotional power of his mother. In the context of adoption reform, the old adage, "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" may take on new meaning.

There is no question that it was legislatures made up of white men who voted to establish laws imposing secrecy and codifying shame in relinquishment and adoption. Rickie Solinger points out that mid-20th century psychosocial theories about single pregnancy -- also largely set forth by white males -- "offered these girls and women a remarkable trade-off. In exchange for their babies, they could reenter normative life."[i] But there is equally no question that such laws and policies were largely driven and implemented by the influence of female social workers, adoption agency workers, nurses and maternity home owners. Women like the influential and now infamous Georgia Tann[ii], who betrayed and exploited other women in order to profit from the sale of their children, facilitated a massive -- if often naively short-sighted and allegedly well-intentioned -- disempowerment and dissociation of millions of children from their heritage. Obviously, about half of those children were male.

So what has made the difference? How is it that so many more women have embraced the cause and done a remarkable job of calling for changes in laws, policy and practice in adoption? Is it that women who lost their children to adoption have been finding their voices and speaking out? Is it that women "wake up" to the realities of relinquishment and adoption earlier and are better able to process their loss and grief? Adoptive mother Nancy Verrier has offered the opinion that many male adoptees don't confront these issues until middle age, when we are forced to consider our mortality and legacy. Then, by the time we've done the necessary work to more fully integrate our identity, it's getting close to time to retire[iii].