‘Adopted identity is often invisible to society, like it’s something to be ashamed of. But it’s something to be proud of’
Anthony Lynch was adopted at 20 months. For National Adoption Week, he writes about how adoption is like having a superpower
by: Anthony Lynch
20 Oct 2022
Anthony Lynch, photo supplied
Identity and belonging are feelings that everyone wants, and they are often taken for granted. However, my path to them has been different from most.
I was adopted at 20 months from foster care and grew up in London. My parents already had two biological daughters when they adopted me, before going on to adopt another son five years later.
In our family, there is no hierarchy between the birth kids and the adopted kids. We are all one massive family, and I remember feeling really loved and appreciated. In my eyes, adoption gives children who can’t live with their birth families the life that every child should have: a life with a loving family that enables them to fulfil their potential.
I was lucky enough to have parents who supported me in everything I wanted to do. They encouraged my passion for music, and I went on to perform at the Barbican, Glyndebourne, and the Royal Albert Hall. Likewise, they supported me throughout my education and after graduating in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Exeter, I am now studying a Masters in Philosophy of Medicine and Psychiatry at King’s College London.
There was never a time when I didn’t know about my adoption: it was always spoken about openly in my family. My parents were supported by their adoption agency, Coram, to collate a Life Story Book containing some letters from my birth mum and birth gran as well as some photos. The book helped me understand why I didn’t remain with my birth family, providing a clear narrative about my life.
Despite the societal stigma surrounding care-experience, I understood that adoption is a beautiful thing and nothing to be ashamed of.
But despite this, I was still left with a nagging need for belonging. While non-care-experienced children are surrounded by their history, care-experienced children often feel uncertainty and ambiguity about their conception, their biological parents, and how they fit into society.
For me, my mixed heritage added another layer of complexity. My heritage is half Jamaican, half English; my adopted family had similar heritage, so my adoption was invisible to observers.
However, certain situations can force you to choose between your adopted and biological identity. Comments such as ‘’you look so alike’’ often draw wry smiles from myself and my siblings. But questions such as ‘’where are you from?’’ force a schism in my identity and present me with a choice. Do I give my adopted family’s identity, or my own? Sometimes, I have to ask myself if I feel safe enough with this person to share the information and wonder how they will react to help me judge when to disclose my full identity. It’s not an exact science and it often leaves me feeling anxious.
My mixed heritage also presents me as an ambiguous figure to others. I am othered by the white British population, despite being 50% English. In the past I have been subject to racism, and often feel uncomfortable in white spaces as the sole minority. Yet simultaneously, I am often rejected by black society.
I feel pressured to know black culture, music, films, and recipes— blackness is not just a quality: it’s an activity. If I don’t, then I am called a ‘’coconut’’ or a ‘’choc ice’’—black on the outside, white on the inside.
I used to keep a mental checklist of tasks I must complete to retain my ‘’blackness’’: visiting Jamaica, having a certain hairstyle, or keeping up with drill music. Yet I felt there was nothing I could do to reconcile these two identities, which are often pitted as oppositional and confrontational. I found myself isolated from both cultures, caught in a limbo: too white to be black, and too black to be white.
One way I’ve responded to this lack of identity has been through understanding my history. The past few years have been a painstaking process of collecting and fusing my identity into a cohesive whole, and one thing that helped was accessing my adoption records.
I don’t know my biological father, so I don’t know half of where my DNA came from. However, I was able to get a comprehensive collection of medical records, social worker meeting transcripts, baby pictures, and letters from my adopted and biological mum. It really helped me understand my early years, the justified decisions of social workers and doctors, and gave me some insight into what both my biological and adopted parents were feeling during that time.
Another positive way of exploring my experiences has been through creative means, which helped me build my own narrative of my experience. Too often, care-experienced children are portrayed as juvenile delinquents – see the Tracey Beaker series for an example. One of my life goals is to show care-experienced people that they aren’t unloved and unwanted, and that they have the autonomy to be successful.
I helped create and organise an exhibition on Mixed and adoptive identity called In-Between Lines. The process helped me explore both of my identities and it was held during Black History Month, also exploring related topics such as colourism, familial relationships, and hair.
One of my other co-creators was also adopted, so together we examined the concept of home and what it meant to us. One thing I learnt was that everyone’s adoption story is completely different—there is remarkable individuality in everyone’s story. But the common thread of our experiences was massively validating, and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Adopted identity is often invisible to society, hidden like it’s something to be ashamed of. But this exhibition really celebrated the idea of adoption and showed that it’s something to be proud of. Being able to provide that safe space for other care-experienced and adopted young people was very enriching, and it’s something I want to develop in the future.
My start in life wasn’t easy. But it’s given me a tremendous opportunity to radically design my identity in a way that many people born in conventional families find more difficult.
I’m immensely grateful for everything that happened to me, as it’s made me the person I am today. It’s also given me the drive to help others as others have helped me.
Adoption is a superpower: to know that your adopted parents went through so many hoops to have you should give every adopted child the knowledge that they are loved, and that they are capable of so much more than they believe. It’s high time that everyone in the UK knew that too.
Anthony, now aged 21, was adopted by his family through Coram at 20 months. Coram is celebrating 50 years of its adoption services this National Adoption Week, and Anthony’s story is one of those featured in its anniversary report ‘A Lifetime of Difference’. coramadoption.org.uk
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