Family is More Than Just DNA

Mina Himlie, online publishing coordinator

“To me, family isn’t something that’s a given; it’s something that’s chosen.”

Mina Himlie

It’s becoming easier and easier to get your hands on DNA technology like 23andMe. For just $100, you can spit in a tube and find out where your ancestors came from and possibly even find some relatives you didn’t know you had. It’s a cool concept, but it becomes less cool when you’re like me and you have to pay money to find out who your biological mother and father were. Most people know at least one of their biological parents for free. When you don’t know this information, when you’ve grown up with a family who loves you even if they aren’t biologically related to you, it makes you question how important biology really is.

Netflix recently came out with a new documentary called Found that follows three transracial Chinese adoptees, meaning three Chinese babies adopted by white people. They connected with each other because one of them took a DNA test and found out the other two were her cousins. The documentary follows them as they went on a trip to China and two of them chose to employ a professional’s help in searching for their birth parents. Biology seemed to mean a lot to those two.

I share these girls’ experience of being a transracial Chinese adoptee, but I could not relate to the process of searching for my birth parents. Though I’ve thought about it, I have not done it because I’m not convinced it’s worth it.

When I say I don’t want to look for my biological family, people always ask why not. Maybe they don’t mean anything by it, but it always feels as if there’s an unspoken judgement behind that question. It’s like they’re saying I should want to find my biological family just because we share DNA. As if DNA is what matters most in determining who your “real” family is.

This idea that DNA makes a “real” family is made obvious through the types of jokes people make around adoption. For example, when your brother does something stupid, sometimes people will joke, “Oh, he’s adopted.” But if you break that joke down, it’s making a statement about adoption and biology. It’s saying, “I don’t want anything to do with him, and I’m making it clear that we aren’t the same by claiming he’s adopted.” It’s saying that biology is what connects them, and if you disregard that, then he’s not a “real” part of the family.

Plenty of adoptees do want to find their biological family, though, and that’s a valid choice they make. I just hate how much society pushes us to do so. I constantly get messages that my biological parents are an important part of who I am, mostly through the questions people ask when they find out I’m adopted. And maybe that’s true genetically and for health reasons, but the thing about identity is that I get to choose my identity. We all get to choose the components of ourselves that are important in making us who we are. If someone decides they don’t want their biology to be central to their identity, then that decision should be respected.

To me, family isn’t something that’s a given; it’s something that’s chosen. My parents aren’t my “adopted parents,” they’re my parents. I choose to consider them my family, not my biological parents, because they have been there for me since I can remember. 

Family are the ones who accept and support you no matter what. The ones who laugh with you and cry with you. For various reasons, these people aren’t always the ones that you are born to. Regardless, everyone should have the freedom to choose their family without judgement from others. Biology might mean everything in this society, but it really means almost nothing.