What I learned quickly as I was growing up was that it was shameful to be adopted, and because it's shameful, you're supposed to keep it a secret.
In fourth grade, I remember sitting in the front row of our classroom. The teacher was out of the room and I had my head down, reading the section she assigned us. One of the boys, I'll call him Mark, got out of his seat and walked over to the boy sitting next to me, Tim.
“Tim,” he said, “I just heard that Jeremy in your sister’s class is adopted!”
I looked up and saw Mark looking smug. He said it the same way he would have gossiped that someone had been sent to detention—it was bad and it was secret.
“So?” I said, looking at Mark, “I’m adopted.” I kept my eyes on Mark and suddenly noticed the quiet around me. I was reminded of being on the stage in the auditorium during the Christmas song recital. I was forcing myself to keep facing toward Mark while fighting the urge to turn around and see the audience.
Mark paused, stared at me a moment and then grimaced, “You’re not supposed to admit to that.”
“Why not?” I asked to his back as he was already scurrying back to his seat. I knew I wouldn’t get an answer but wished I would. It was normal for me, normal for my family, but not okay out in the world.
I suddenly felt different from all the other students around me. I was different, and I would be judged by it. I didn't know it was supposed to be a secret.
Over the years, I've gone through different phases about my openness with people about my story. But it wasn't because of shame, it was because it was always so interesting to everyone else. And not interesting in a good way - it was interesting in a way that felt sensationalized. So I learned that unless I trusted the person, it was better not to bring it up.
What's finally evolved is a place where I talk about my reunion and my life as it is with the all the complicated parts in place, and try to shrug off reactions. This is my reality, and I'm good with it. I'm not saying that it's all easy, but I can see what it is and accept it.
Besides, and the more we can expose all the various types of families that are out there, the more people will see the complexity and start seeing that stereotypes just don't fit.