National Adoption Month: Prisms

The Next Family

Feature Article for The Next Family

By: Mark Hagland

My name is Mark. I am 51 years old. (GULP!) I am a member of the first wave of Korean adoptees.  I came to the U.S. in 1961 at the age of eight months and was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by parents of Norwegian and German ethnic heritage. I’ve been very active in the KAAN Conference, an annual conference focused on Korean adoption. KAAN is truly unique, and over time its leaders (among which I am now one) are looking to expand its scope to include those outside just Korean adoption. (Certainly, anyone with interest or involvement in transracial and/or international adoption is very welcome.) Our annual conference this year will be held in Albany, New York in July. So there’s one slice —my Korean adoptee slice.

Here are a few more:

I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and, after receiving my B.A. in English, came to Chicago to get my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. I’ve been a professional journalist since 1982 and in the health care publishing field for 23 years as a reporter, editor, author, and speaker. Journalist -another slice!

I came out as a gay man while a freshman in college, and have been socially open for a number of years. I’m blessed to have a wonderful life-partner of over 26 years. Another slice!

Eleven years ago, I volunteered to be a co-parent with a female, unmarried friend. I now have a wonderful ten-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother. Another slice!

In choosing to become a parent, which has been one of the great blessings in my life, I knew that my identity as a gay man would change, and it absolutely did.  Nearly two years ago, I became involved in a wonderful group called Gay Dads Chicago, and have gotten to know a number of other gay dads locally. But even in that group, I’m in an extreme minority with regard to the way in which I became a father. Most in the group married, had children, and discovered they were gay later on. Which basically describes how things have worked out for me my whole life: I’ve always been the only asterisked person in any group I’ve been in.

Certainly, growing up as an Asian-American, transracial adoptee in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin of the 1960s and 1970s was a marginalizing experience, despite having wonderful parents and a loving family. As I like to say, I grew up feeling like a Martian and then when I finally became part of the huge actively participating Korean adoptee and transracial adoptee community at age 40, it was like happening upon a convention of Martians in spaceships!

So… how many Asian-Americans do you know who are partnered gay men, biological fathers, Korean adoptees, and journalists, all rolled into one? Sometimes I feel as though I have more prisms going than a world-class crystal paperweight collection. And it can get very confusing for many people, because they keep getting reminded (hopefully gently) as they get to know me how complex my identities and perspectives are. It reminds me of a comment I read in an interview in an LGBT newspaper years ago. An African-American gay activist was being interviewed about her sense of identity; she was black, female, and gay. And she was asked, which are you first? Black, female, or lesbian? And naturally, she said, well, it’s not like I can go out my door and leave any one of my identities behind! That’s exactly how I feel, too, of course. Being Asian, being an Asian-American, being an adult transracial adoptee, being a gay man, being a parent—they are all me!

There is a richness in having so many prisms through which one sees the world. Often, being the only person of color in a gay male gathering, or the only gay person among an Asian group, or the only parent among a gay social gathering, or the only gay person among a bunch of parents, or the only adoptee among a gathering of adoptive parents (and on and on) offers me unique perspectives.

Isn’t that part of what makes life so rich, anyway—that we can all share our individual experiences with one another, and be made the richer for doing so, and for our mutual support?

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