A book launch gave David Gilbert confidence to share his experiences of transracial adoption with others
One of the most important events in my life happened on Friday 19 May 2006. On this day I met other transracial and transnational adoptees for the first time in my life. Most had endured the same struggles as me in coming to terms with who we are and where, or if, we belong.
I attended the launch of In Search of Belonging, a book I appear in about transracially adopted people. Within minutes of arriving at the event I felt a sense of deep emotional affinity and reassurance. I saw others like myself and was surrounded by people from a range of ethnic backgrounds and ages.
Normally I am shy and find initiating conversations difficult. Suddenly a lifetime’s shackles of self-consciousness fell away and I was chatting to people about my childhood in Surrey. I talked about the first 18 years of my life, which at the time was almost exclusively monocultural. I never felt I belonged and experienced constant and debilitating racism. Then, throughout my career, I have been marginalised and ostracised through personal and institutional racism that have affected my professional development and sense of self-worth.
I spoke about meeting my birth mother in the US in 1994 and how my initial elation was tempered by her obsession with concealing my existence, just as she had done when I was born in 1962. I shared the joy of a recent occasion when, having hurt my knee, she telephoned me the same day. After giving detailed instructions on what I should do, she said: “Aren’t you lucky to have a mom who is a nurse.” Her acknowledgement that she really was my mother had a deep resonance in my heart and tears rolled down my cheeks.
I described my grief regarding my Yemeni birth father’s rejection of me. It is his culture, his language, his religion I yearn so much to connect with. In some ways our distance – both emotionally and geographically – is indelible. Yet, I wish so much he would at least acknowledge me.
As I listened to people’s experiences and shared my own, there was an extraordinary feeling of self-affirmation. No longer did we find ourselves pathologised, marginalised and in the borderlands of society. We shared the pain, loss and grief that comes with transracial and transnational adoption. Listening and talking to others who had also encountered years of torment, pain, loss, rejection and a quest for an identity gave me a new strength and resolution to pursue my ethnic heritage. To my joy, I was no longer an isolated outsider. Up until this day, we had been largely alone, misunderstood and, for some, alienated from our family, friends and colleagues.
Friendships that would normally take months or years to develop were established inside hours. We exchanged addresses and telephone numbers. Within a few days I had heard from several of my new friends. I genuinely feel I have finally met my family; a family I shall cherish for the rest of my life.
David Gilbert is transracially adopted