Magazine for adult adoptees raises issues of alienation, racism and loss

Kevin Vollmers, left, created the online magazine Gazillion Voices, and Shannon Gibney, center, and Laura Klunder are contributing columnists to the publication, which aims to provide a voice to adult adoptees. The three were photographed at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

When many people think of adoption, they tend to focus on the adoptive parents and the baby they bring home. But less attention is paid to what becomes of those babies.

Starting Monday, a new online magazine called Gazillion Voices aims to provide a voice for adult adoptees around the country.

"That's one of the biggest things about adoption that people forget to think about," said magazine co-editor Kevin Vollmers of Minneapolis. "We actually grow up and make something of ourselves.

"We have kids, we have families, we have our own professional lives," said Vollmers, who was born in South Korea and adopted at age 7 by a family from western Minnesota. "And there is some really important work that is being done by adopted persons."

Many of those adopted babies became artists, activists and writers who are helping shape the conversation on adoption, much as Minnesota adoptee Jane Jeong Trenka did when she questioned the effect of international adoption on children. Her activism led South Korea to pass new laws aimed at reducing overseas adoptions there.

Jane Jeong Trenka
Jane Jeong Trenka, an activist and author.
Photo courtesy of Jane Jeong Trenka

Vollmers and other contributors to the magazine say the success stories of adoption must be balanced with the stories of loss - an approach they expect will be controversial.

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Among the struggles experienced by some adoptees is a growing awareness that they are disconnected from a culture they were born to. Some who came to the United Sates as children later find that they are uneasy with the storybook narrative surrounding the notion of international adoption.

Laura Klunder, who was born in Korea and adopted by white parents, often felt confused as a child. "There's this story out there: 'We started when we fell out of the plane. We were destined for our adoptive families, and that we are just like you -- we are exceptional. We are not like the other poor, undocumented communities that we were born from,'" Klunder said. "And I had questions about that, even as a 5-year-old."

Gazillion Voices seeks to challenge the traditional narrative, in part by injecting race into the conversation.

Vollmers, who used to work to recruit adoptive families, said adoption agencies are not doing enough to prepare white families who raise children of color.

"If you are going to place an African-American child in the middle of nowhere in northern Minnesota where they are going to be the 'diversity,' you best make sure there are resources available for those kids," he said. "It's not just to say we have a great adoption culture here in Minnesota because we place so many kids. What do you do with those kids after they're with the families?"

Adoption agencies agree that it is a fair criticism but say they have adapted over time. Minnesota's Lutheran Social Service and Children's Home Society and Family Services provide 30 hours of training to adoptive parents. The training includes discussions on race, trauma, grief and loss, and other topics.

Vollmers is a well-known player in the Minnesota adoption community. His blog, Land of Gazillion Adoptees, often questioned the business of adoption. Alexis Oberdorfer, senior director of adoption programs at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Children's Home Society of Minnesota, considers Vollmers both an ally and critic.

But she throws her support behind Vollmers' efforts to elevate the voices of adoptees. "It's absolutely important that voices of all members of the adoption process are heard, and have a place to be shared, and for adoptees to find commonalities, and frankly, critique different pieces so we can evolve over time," said Oberdorfer, who is herself an adoptee.

"If you are going to place an African-American child in the middle of nowhere ... you best make sure there are resources available for those kids."

Writer Shannon Gibney, who was born to white and black parents before she was adopted by a white couple from Michigan, said adoptive parents could benefit from listening to her experiences as a biracial child.

"I have a great relationship with my parents. They were amazing parents in a lot of ways," Gibney said. "But the whole narrative of our family was, 'We don't see color, we're all equal, we're all the same.' But that didn't help me, especially when I hit puberty and started to notice people started to treat me differently.

"It was basically like, 'Race is Shannon's problem,' instead of, 'When we adopted you, a black child, we became an interracial family."

All three adoptees bristle at a frequently asked question: Are they for or against adoption?

"We kind of hate it, because it puts us in this binary that erases a lot of these complexities," Gibney said. "The reality is that we are here."

Vollmers insists that "Gazillion Voices" is pro-adoptee. Many adoptees think they have had good experiences, he said, and the magazine will have a place for them.

"It is very complex, adoption is," he said. "To break it down to into pro-adoption and anti-adoption is a disingenuous conversation. It doesn't allow for broader conversations. I've been labeled as anti-adoption, which is completely false.

"But that does not mean I can't look at, for example, South Korea, where I'm from, and say there is a problem when single women who actually want to keep their kids cannot do that because of societal pressures and familial pressures."

The inaugural issue will feature contributions from adoptees but also from a birth parent and adoptive parents.

Gazillion Voices

Web address: The site,, is set to go live at noon Monday.

Co-editors: Kevin Vollmers of Minneapolis and Shelise Gieseke, an adoptee who grew up in New Ulm, Minn.

Money raised on Kickstarter: $18,595

Subscription cost: $4.99 a month; $50 a year; $90 for two years