Reclaiming my Ghost Kingdom
Guest contributor Kira Omans explores the concept of Ghost Kingdoms and the evolution of her own.
Hey y’all! Patrick here — I’ll be back from Korea real soon. Like last week, I have an incredible friend helping me out this week: the incomparable Kira Omans!
Ghost Kingdom: “Coined by Betty Jean Lipton, an influential psychologist who specialized in adoption therapy and fought for adoption reform, the Ghost Kingdom refers to the hypothetical world adoptees enter when imagining their birth relatives” (Michele Merritt).
The day I first saw a Disney movie with an orphan protagonist was the day I laid the first brick of my Ghost Kingdom.
When I was five, I wanted nothing more than to be a lost princess, and ironically, no one could say with full certainty that wasn’t true. Incredibly validating to a child with an overactive imagination. Grand adventures only happened to young people who lost their first parents (Snow White, Cinderella, Anastasia, Aladdin, the list goes on…), and I was prepared for my lost parents to be the most interesting, unsolved mystery of my life.
At age twelve, a kid in my science class asked why my real parents didn’t want me. That’s insane, I thought. In all my daydreams that starred my birth parents - whether they were movie stars who didn’t want their images tarnished with a baby, or the king and queen of China who lost me in a battle - not one featured a scenario where I wasn’t wanted. Quite the opposite, they’d usually show up on my doorstep one day and beg for my forgiveness.
I may have been too old for this to be the case, but my birth parents were still thriving in my Ghost Kingdom, and while there is shared blame, Disney’s glorification of abandonment and movies' portrayal of adoption tropes fueled my unhealthy fantasies.
At twenty-four, One Child Nation shattered the safety of my Ghost Kingdom.
I knew of the One Child Policy, but it seemed like such a distant cry from my little LA apartment where I made grilled cheese and played Just Dance. Over the years, I’d scaled my birth parents down from aristocrats to normal people who had to make an impossible choice. Their faces, mannerisms, and interests weren’t specific.
After watching that documentary, my birth parents’ faces looked like the talking heads, stoically admitting to leaving their daughter in a marketplace to die because they wanted a boy. I abandoned my Kingdom because for the first time, it was much, much worse than reality. I was haunted by images of infant corpses rotting in gutters, men who profited by selling relinquished babies, and the propaganda and population that allowed this to happen.
Now, at 27, I see my Ghost Kingdom for what it always was: a desire to turn my uncontrollable tragedy into an idealized story where I was the one who had the power. It was a deep desire for connection. It was a place where my birth parents couldn’t hurt me.
Clearly, I have a long history of letting media dictate how I feel about my past, but media also dictated what the world told me to feel about my life experiences. Even if I were to integrate more emotional complexity sooner, I still would’ve been met with swift invalidation, as mainstream messages weaponize saviorism, gratitude, and luck to force adoptees to fall in line. An overwhelming number of people are so committed to the Adoption is Love narrative that any perceived dissent is a threat to their very ideology.
This is why I fight for long overdue ownership of our stories.
There is an alarming lack of honest adoptee depictions in TV and film. In mass media psychology, cultivation theory dictates that the “danger of television lies in its ability to shape [people's] moral values and general beliefs about the world (Global Journal of Human-Social Science).” This framework proposes that “the relatively common outlooks and values cultivated by television become the dominant or mainstream culture of that society, despite individual differences (International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences).”
Then, outlooks like, “adoptees are lucky,” and “adoptive parents are saviors.”
Now, outlooks like, “birth searches are a joy ride with closure,” and “transracial adoptees are actually white.”
Then and now, adoptees are used as plot devices so heroes can undergo the transformation that a story requires. Storytellers need to see us as more, so the world can see us as more. So we can see ourselves as more. Creators need to take ownership for the messages they showcase to the world because regardless of intention, they are informing personal and societal values.
Today, my Ghost Kingdom looks different. It’s not the fantasy it once was, but it also isn’t informed by today’s portrayals of adoption. It’s always changing. The only constant, actually, is that my birth parents’ faces, mannerisms, and interests look a little like mine.
I often internalize this quote: “I am going to dedicate my life to mastering the art of making the people around me feel seen and loved” (Anonymous). Right now, for me, that looks like reading other adoptees’ work, amplifying our community’s voices, and pushing for the inclusion of adoptees at every opportunity.
I wonder what that looks like for you.
This week on Conversation Piece…
On this week’s episode of Conversation Piece, poet and educator Darius Phelps joins Patrick to discuss how men of color can uncover their own vulnerability and lean into it. Darius talks about discovering his own vulnerability during his journey, the role grief has played, and how excavation leads to emancipation. They also talk about the difference between ‘safe spaces’ and ‘brave spaces.’
What did you think?!
As more and more folks see Joy Ride, we want to hear from our community!
We’ve already received some incredible responses, and I’m reminded of the vast array of identities and experiences that make up our broad Adoptee community.
We’ll be sharing soon — stay tuned!
I’ll be back from Korea soon. It’s surreal to me that I’ll have been gone for over two weeks, with a full two weeks spent in my country of origin. There is a lot to process, and in the moment I’ve had some emotional breakthroughs that have shown me I’ve still got a lot of work to do. And that’s okay.
We’ve also got some exciting announcements coming up. Really can’t wait to share them all with you. It’s going to be a great back half of 2023.
Privileged to be in community with you all 💙
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