Letters to the editor

Should adoption records be open to adult adoptees? Plus: Oral sex self-portraits aren't art; "U-571" director has no right to question the authenticity of "Das Boot."

Published May 10, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Stalked by my birth mother

As a member of the executive committee of Bastard Nation, I was intimately involved in the drafting of Measure 58, the ballot initiative Oregon voters eventually approved that allows adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. So I am dismayed to see Beth Broeker state that this law assumes that all adoptees, or as she puts it "every child" yearns to "hunt down" their birthmother.

Oregon's Measure 58 was written and supported by people who believe that adult adoptees have a right to their identity and a right to access their own government-held documents.

I believe that every adult has a right to determine with whom they wish or do not wish to have a relationship. The government makes a poor arbiter in this complex dynamic, although if someone is stalking you, whether they're related or not, the remedy is a restraining order, not creating secret dossiers for law-abiding adults.

Broeker is correct that society, in general, stereotypes the adoption experience. If we're not tugging heartstrings in fairy tale reunions, we're depicted as unstable stalkers with no boundaries. Neither stereotype is satisfactory.

-- Ron Morgan
executive committee, Bastard Nation

Beth Broeker implies that the outrageous snooping in her adolescent life by an intrusive birth mother has some connection with the new laws in Oregon and Tennessee that allow adult adoptees -- not birth parents -- to have access to their unaltered birth certificates. She is mistaken. Had Broeker and her parents had access to her unamended birth certificate, they would have known with certainty whether the woman stalking her was her birth mother.

The new laws in Oregon and Tennessee are not about reunions. They are about providing adoptees with the biological facts of their lives, the same facts Broeker sought and was denied by the adoption agency when she and her parents attempted to verify the connection alleged by that woman.

-- Jeff Harris

As an adult adoptee who had a happy reunion with her birth mother, I am horrified by Broeker's tale. No one should be compelled into a relationship with a birth parent -- or a biological child, for that matter. While I know who and where my birth father is, and have contacted him, I have also accepted his silence. Broeker's story has reinforced my sometimes-shaky resolve to let him be.

But I do hope that one day all adoptees will know their birth parents' medical history. I believe we have the right to that much.

-- Stephanie Seery

Thank you for this article. I am a therapist who works with people who did not want reunions and were made to feel "guilty" or "flawed" for having these feelings, those who had reunions forced upon them (usually from the work of private detectives) and those whose reunions were complete disasters.

The people I counsel have been subjected to all those TV shows, stories, newspaper reports, etc., of happy reunions, but as the author notes, these "happy reunions" are not as frequent as we are led to believe. As well, I have seen the longer-term results which the TV doesn't show -- happy initial reunion, difficulties and family issues as time goes on.

-- Maxine Mann

Thank you for printing this essay, Salon, and thank you, Beth Broeker, for writing it. I was adopted over 30 years ago by very loving parents and I have never looked back. I am repulsed by the media's portrayal of reunions as the one thing adoptees and birth parents need to make their lives complete. I'm distressed by the increasing frequency of laws that overturn the privacy of all concerned in adoptions. I have no interest in meeting anyone from my biological family, and, in fact, would resent it as an intrusion and an invasion of my privacy.

I am grateful to the woman who gave me life, and who gave me up so that my parents could become parents. I believe so strongly in adoption that my husband and I are now in the process of adopting a child. I have known all my life I was adopted, and have also known so much love, that I would like to provide that to a child without a home, without parents who can care for her, and who, I hope, will never feel a void in her life. Just as I never have.

-- Suzanne Halmi

"Digital Diaries"


My God! Taking pictures of yourself having sex and putting them in a book that a real publishing company is paying real American dollars to publish! What's next? On second thought, I don't really want to know. Natacha Merritt is a living and breathing product of the moral vacuum that passes for family life in far too many American homes. Whatever happened to shame?

-- Jim Bell

That a woman has chosen to publish these pictures makes it art? I wanted to see for myself, but evidently Salon's editors have declined to print this kind of art, which in itself indicates their opinion of the work. I did find the pictures on a German site, and the work is standard digital-cam play, albeit Merritt is a lovely subject. To be fair to her, she did deny being an artist. That was Bowman's angle.

Am I the only one who is bored by exhibitionists and voyeurs posing as artists and patrons? There is nothing wrong with either one, but let's not dress up our fetishes with pseudo-artistic trappings, please.

-- Bill Fish

Art, particularly film and photography, is an arena in which I can lay claim to some measure of authority, and Bowman's facile review of Natacha Merritt's silly sexploit pics only trumpets his considerable ignorance on the subject. To assert that Merritt is the first to document her sexual life as art, as if Nan Goldin (photography), Cosey Fanny Tutti (music, performance art) and Annie Sprinkle (performance art) never existed, is a gaffe that ranks beyond sloppy. The phrase "depicting herself as a cocksucker" encapsulates Bowman's meager gifts most bluntly.

As any instructor at Cooper Union, NYU, CalArts, Boston Museum School or the Art Institute of Chicago will tell you, sexual autobiography like Merritt's pops up every semester or two, as it has since the '60s in various forms ... though usually by students far more literate and talented than she. The Web sports any number of diaristic sites offering the same fare with real-time video streaming. Well, aren't we hip and worldly! Sex sells, indeed -- but don't ask me to buy into Merritt ... or Bowman.

-- Gary Higgins

Mission from Mostow


I found it a little rich when Jonathon Mostow complains about the revision of history implied by "Das Boot."

"U-571" is set in spring 1942 and has an American sub capturing an abandoned German U-boat, stealing its Enigma coding device which helped the Allies win the war. Trouble is, in real life it was a British warship that captured the Enigma from a U-boat in May 1941, seven months before the Americans entered the war. Although the movie is a fictional story set against real-life events, vets are concerned that audiences will treat the film as fact due to the other real-life elements of the film being so detailed and accurate.

-- Joss Earl

In theory, I have no problem with Jonathan Mostow's "U-571" despite the fact that the definitive World War II submarine movie has already been made. (I refer, of course, to "Das Boot.") However, I do object to his questioning the authenticity of the German film. "Das Boot" was co-scripted by Lothar Buchheim, who based the film on his experiences as a war correspondent on German U-boat 96. Thus, I'm afraid I have to accept Buchheim's take on life and morale on a German submarine over Mostow's. As for the accounts of American sailors who captured gung-ho, pro-Hitler German submariners, what kind of a soldier, American, German, or otherwise, wouldn't maintain an air of confidence and patriotism in the face of enemy capture?

Finally, I'm not surprised that Michael Sragow found "U-571" more entertaining than "Das Boot." The latter film portrayed the hardship, pain and daily weariness of men at war, and if it appears as an unenviable experience, the fault lies with war and not with "Das Boot."

-- Maximillian Gill

The gay, the bad and the hottie


In response to the comment of Willow ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") having a "lesbian relationship," I would like to point out that she has not come out as a lesbian -- she has simply stated that she is having a relationship with Tara, a fellow Wiccan and woman. Willow -- one of the most likable and more complex of the characters on the show -- has had previous relationships with men (Xander, Oz). This certainly leads me to believe that she is most likely bisexual, and should be portrayed as such.

Bisexuality remains greatly untouched by the media today -- usually overshadowed by the easier-to-comprehend terms gay, straight or lesbian. To bring up the fact that it is possible and, in fact, common, though rarely discussed, to be attracted to BOTH sexes remains taboo in the mainstream media. In portraying a previously "straight" character such as Willow as having a lesbian relationship, the producers of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" have a unique opportunity to bring to light the very real orientation of being bisexual, in all its complex beauty.

-- Daphne Phillips

By Salon Staff

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