Steve Jobs was one of my personal heroes. I probably wouldn't have gotten into IT or started my own business without his influence. But my grief at his passing was marred by the constant references to his adoption. And the adoptee stereotypes I've encountered made my jaw hit the floor with the speed of the Tevatron. (Not the LHC, because I live near Fermi so I'll give some love to the home team.)
What scares me is that I didn't even notice myself at first, and trust me, my adoption-BS meter is finely tuned. We all saw what the news coverage was like. Steve Jobs, gone! Such a visionary! Such a genius! And did you hear he was adopted?
Even adoptees mentioned it, talking about Jobs as "one of us." I started to do the same thing. I was proud of Steve for being adopted, for showing the rest of the world we're worth something.
And then I realized, holy shit, what we're really saying is, "Steve Jobs succeeded even though he was a bastard." We're praising him, not because he succeeded, but because he Succeeded While Adopted (SWA).
Bastards have to work harder. We're never good enough. Not even Steve Jobs was good enough.
It's even more obvious in the Walter Isaacson biography, which has more adoptee stereotypes than an NCFA convention. The first chapter is the incendiary "Abandoned And Chosen," loaded words which epitomize the primary adoption stereotypes: that birth mothers abandon and that adoptees are "chosen" for "a better life". Notably, a biography of an adoptee begins with the lives of his adoptive parents. The adoptee is always a secondary character in his own story.
Steve's first mother found out he hadn't been adopted by college graduates as she stipulated, and refused to sign the papers. "The standoff lasted weeks," Isaacson writes, and describes that Jobs' mother eventually "relented" (read: gave up after constant pressure and coercion) but made the a-parents "sign a pledge" that they'd send him to college. Yeah, about as enforceable as any of today's supposedly "open" adoptions. Then Isaacson goes on to interview Steve's friends about his feelings about being "abandoned" (even though his mother obviously fought for him). Like many adoptees, myself included, Steve internalized abandonment because everyone in his universe told him he was abandoned. The rest of the chapter is equally repugnant. Steve Jobs lived the adoptee stereotype and, in death, he's become the epitome of it.
This is a best-selling book! What the hell kind of message is this for adoptees, especially young ones, that a wildly popular book about a wildly popular person is riddled with stereotypes? I'm not talking about a stray remark here or there. I'm talking screaming misogynistic anti-adoptee lunacy. If anybody brought us to the 21st Century it was Steve Jobs, yet his authorized biography reads like a 19th Century handbook on social work. Go read even just the first few pages and you'll be as appalled as I am.
In the vernacular, OMG. *deep breath*
Another underlying message I heard in the buzz surrounding Steve's death was that adoption redeemed him: that if he had been raised by his birth mother he wouldn't have succeeded. We don't know that. Maybe he would have been an even greater success. Adoption is trying to take credit, when the credit is due to Steve for fighting the societal restrains of being a bastard.
Steve Jobs succeeded despite adoption, not because of it.
Many of the less-desirable personality quirks attributed to Steve, in particular his control issues, are traced back to his adoption. As adoptees our lives have been controlled for us. Is it any wonder we want to take that control back? Why is that seen as a bad thing? Is it because allowing us to do so might acknowledge our humanity, and the inherent problems in adoption?
Words are powerful. If you say something it is likely to become true. (Or, as Wang Chung said: "The words we use are strong; they make reality." Profound advice from 1980s pop.) I thought we were making some progress on adoptee stereotypes but now I'm realizing we've only scratched the surface. It's so ingrained we can barely get people to acknowledge it much less treat us with some level of respect.
Jaw still on floor, gathering neutrinos.