Searching for Something Denied
by JS LEE
They used to sell miniature horoscope scrolls at our grocery store checkout lanes. Every month, I begged for the chance to read my fate spelled out as fact on pastel paper. I’d spend an hour poring over each word, preparing for what to expect. Yet, it was more than a childish indulgence. It felt like an urgent need. With no history of my own, my astrological sign was a tangible truth. I clung onto each Pisces descriptor with pride. Compassionate, intuitive, artistic. A dreamer who loves the ocean and solitude.
As I entered my teens, I looked to magazine quizzes to find out who I was. Circling each answer, I made calculations, excited for the reveal. I became a personality test junkie and fell in love with Myers Briggs. This may seem ordinary, but went beyond curious entertainment. I was searching for something denied: proof that someone knew who I was and that I belonged somewhere.
Biological kids needn’t look far for these things. Who they are is reflected at home in physical features, voices, and mannerisms. Their musical skills were passed down from grandma. They might have their father’s temper—but luckily his humor, too. Their leaf on the family tree makes sense, spawned from two solid lines. My dotted line felt fragile and disconnected.
When I turned thirty, I happened upon the opportunity to view my adoption file in Korea. Unable to read Korean, it was read to me. Similar to my astrological descriptors, I expected the words to be familiar and validating. Instead, they were as foreign as the language they were translated from. My first birthday on record was two weeks sooner. In contrast to being delivered to the Seoul police station with care, I was found one hundred and fifty miles away in the cold of winter. I was brought to an orphanage whose name was unfamiliar. Sometime in the mix, a stranger kept me in her home. I’m still uncertain that any of this is true. The only comfort I walked away with was knowing my astrological sign was likely unchanged.
In addition to my shock, I felt deceived—by my adoptive parents, the agency, and all involved. When I shared that I no longer wanted to celebrate my sham birthday but perhaps the day I was found, a childhood friend refused to accept it. I envied her privilege, birthrights, and unwavering foundation. My identity was suddenly wrong and I felt I was living a lie. Who I was felt like a lie. But I was encouraged to keep things simple, and to think of it as a day to observe—much like a Sunday holiday observed on a Monday. When uncomfortable with your discomfort, some think minimizing is helpful.
Five and a half years ago, I took a DNA test. It was like any other quiz, but one you spit into for the results. While the ethnic breakdown isn’t completely reliable, it gave me valuable things I previously lacked. It connected me to distant cousins, helping me feel less isolated. And it came with medical probabilities and potential genetic predispositions. For a few months, there was some excitement over a possible birth father connection, but that fizzled out due to lack of cooperation. DNA is my last hope to know close biological relatives. There are some amazing adoptees dedicated to increasing our efforts (Thomas Park Clement and 325Kamra) and many families have been reunited—but I can’t count on it.
In the meantime, I still fall for quizzes that analyze and deduce. The latest was Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies. I’m a Rebel, which fits nicely with my Piscean traits. I don’t believe in fate and no longer check my horoscope. I know there’s more to who I am than any test can surmise. But I still find some comfort when identity-based descriptions ring true. I have no shame. As an international adoptee with little to go on, I allow myself the simple indulgence. Call it frivolous and unscientific, but it’s all I’ve got.