To explain genetic attraction someone who's never experienced growing up without their biological family is a huge challenge, because it's something most people take for granted. It's an even bigger challenge if you call it by the name it usually goes by, and that's genetic sexual attraction (because er, incest).
As I've stipulated elsewhere on my site, I believe, in company with Joe Soll, adoption therapist, that genetic attraction is the more suitable term. Whether or not it turns sexual has more to do I think, with whatever interpersonal, cultural and systemic forces which have shaped our lives and characters.
Even when it doesn't, few adoptees are prepared for the cataclysm of emotions we feel on meeting our biological families as adults. It is our flesh and blood manifest in another person, usually for the first time ever. For some of us it becomes an obsession which upends our life. Others choose to document their own experience of this powerful force, which is what Roderick Edwards has done in his "memoir" Togethermore.
This was a tough one for me to review and I wasn't sure which hat to wear when reviewing it - memoir writer or adoptee? It misses the mark as a memoir, but mostly I think because it hasn't benefited from a proper edit (developmental or copy) nor a professional production. These things shouldn't detract from the story, but for me as a memoir author they do. So I'll call it a journal, and evaluate it as a journal (albeit one which is intended to be publicly read).
The author tells his account of how he emerged from the grey life of his inauthentic self, through divorce and onto a vibrant future living domestically with his biological sister. [Note, just for clarity's sake, I'll state here that nothing in Togethermore alludes to any sexual attraction, but the force of familial attraction felt by Roderick and his sister towards one another, is nonetheless obvious.]
As an adoption researcher, I wasn't surprised by the story. As a compulsive over-sharer myself, I wasn't shocked by the stark honesty. Trauma destroys any knowledge one has of appropriate boundaries, and who is to say those boundaries are appropriate anyway? Survivors understandably have little awareness of such virtual, often non-verbal borders.
Lack of surprises notwithstanding, it's still a valuable account to add to our collection of adoptee experiences, because so many of us do feel that we are abandoned children living inside a constructed self - a false name, a false heritage - and of course we have access far earlier than other children to the question "Who Am I?" Togethermore is Roderick's truth and should be accepted as such.
Still, I didn't sympathize with him as much as I could have or felt I should have, but at first I couldn't figure out why. Roderick goes on a journey to find his biological family and himself; but finding himself and his roots means he's no longer compatible with his wife or indeed with the life he's built for himself. It's a terrible thing to realise that you've spent years living a half-life, and I do understand. I don't think he could have chosen any other path than divorce if he intended to live out an authentic life, and for that courageous decision I applaud him. To tell the truth in such away that it risks condemnation is not an easy thing.
But I'm not only an adoption researcher and a memoir writer, I'm also a feminist. And it was viewing the story through this lens that really troubled me. There are so many tragedies here. Not only his tragedy, nor the tragedy of his traumatized sister who had been trapped in an abusive relationship, and for whom Roderick took on the rescuer role. He'd obviously felt the victim of the same circumstances his whole life and perhaps it felt healing for him to save his sister. Theirs is a happy-ever-after story.
But there's another woman in the story too, and that's Roderick's wife. The fact he lived inside a constructed self, also robbed her of any deeply satisfying relationship she might have had with someone else. She'd spent her whole life with him and had a child with him. He was innocent, but she was too. Yet Roderick, I felt had little sympathy for her wasted married life and his resentment toward her shone out of the pages, despite some superficial sentences to mitigate it. It jarred alongside the high regard in which he held his idolized sister (as well as another half-sister he admires). So when I looked at these women side by side, I noted the drastic polarity between them; Roderick seemed to have positioned his wife as the persecutor. It's true that he was a victim. But isn't it true that she was also a victim? Thus I felt rather than saw Roderick's bias against women in his text, which is why I went back to have another read through.
And then I found it in chapter 3.
The mother was whorish, to the point of having men call his dad from motels to say the man was done with his wife; come pick her up. The father was understandably drunk due no doubt to the actions of his strumpet bride.
These were Roderick's adoptive parents. He claims neglect over abuse, although I beg to differ. By his own hand Roderick writes that his father held a knife against his throat and threatened to kill him when drunk.
You're never going to amount to anything so I might as well kill you now.
That's more than neglect. His parents divorce when he's 7, leaving his mother to raise them as a single parent. She isn't a good parent, it's true (not many abused women are). But, even after the divorce, his father continues to drink heavily and demonstrate violence, though he only sees his adopted children at weekends.
With these scant facts, I would make a different guess and say that his father abused his mother. Yet Roderick writes that it was understandable his father drank because his mother slept around. Understandable! He puts his father's responsibility for his actions onto his mother's shoulders and in doing so demonstrates a gendered perspective which prevents me, as a woman and a feminist, from sympathizing more with his plight. No person is responsible for another's actions, no woman is responsible for a man's abusive behaviours, especially not drinking around children, especially not holding up a knife to his son's throat and telling him he's worth nothing.
Still, in my heart I also know this disturbs me so much because it also taps into my own internalized misogyny. For many years I like Roderick happily bought into the opinion of my abusive adoptive father, when he called my adoptive mother a whore (although in my mother's case this was merely a figure of speech, not a literal fact). She, like so many other women in the 70s struggled in vain for liberation over decades, but was permanently treated like a second class citizen and an object of scorn and humiliation.
Roderick knows how life can change with new perspective. So I hope he can also understand that when women are reduced to the status of objects, abused and disempowered, they are easy for predators to use and abuse, after which it becomes a inevitability. Because society says once a whore, always a whore. It's exactly the same thinking which forced so many women to give up their children, and hide the evidence of their supposed immorality. And above all, I don't want another adoptee to perpetuate the same oppressive system and thinking which traumatized us.
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