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Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Apr 30, 2019

MOTHerview with Dana LePage (formerly Stallard)

by Suzanne Rust

Dana Stallard

“Growing up, I felt conflicted about who I was, never quite fitting into any community, whether it be Koreans, other Asians, or Caucasians; queer folks or straight ones. I never felt ‘enough’ of any identity to really fit in.”

Connecting with her Korean birth family helped Dana explore her identity, question personal truths and discover some surprises. 

How did you know that this was the Moth story you had to tell?

It’s the wildest thing that has ever happened to me! But in all seriousness, the entire way my coming out story unfolded was such a life changing experience. Telling my story with the Moth helped me process everything, and it was incredibly healing.  

Identity plays a big role in your story. As a Korean-born woman raised by a white family in a very white environment, you talk about hating being forced into that world, but also desperately wanting to fit in.  How and when did you make peace with that duality?

As I continue to grow and have various experiences, the duality has definitely lessened and, honestly, I think I’m still making peace with it. I think the journey started when I went away to college. Even though I was still in a mostly white environment (I went to SUNY Geneseo in upstate New York), it gave me some separation from the community I grew up in, and I was able to choose the organizations and activities I wanted to get involved in. Those included the Korean American Student Association and GENseng, an Asian American Acting ensemble unique to my college only.  Then, when I moved to New York City in 2012, I was suddenly surrounded by all types of people every single day. My workplace and clientele became 100% more diverse and I felt so much less like an “other.”  I joined Also Known As, an organization for international adoptees, and that membership is how I was able to participate in the Moth. I made several other international adoptee friends who shared similar experiences to mine, and I began establishing my own community.

Earlier this month, my partner and I got married, and she is a first generation Korean immigrant who moved to the US in her early 20’s. Being in a relationship with her has helped me continue to explore my Korean culture and heritage, through food, travel, traditions--I’ve even been picking up some Korean words!

Who are your favorite storytellers and why?

My favorite storytellers are poets like Nayyirah Waheed, Rupi Kaur, Upile Chisala and songwriters like Brandi Carlile and India Arie, because their storytelling is so universal and so many can relate. Their words evoke such emotion and they are always vulnerable, sharing so much of how their own identities as women of color and/or queer women, shape their stories. 

After 23 years, you finally got to meet your birth mother in Korea. I love the part in your story where you notice that you have her hands. Can you tell me more about that moment? What things stand out most?

That first meeting was such a blur. That’s the one thing I really remember in detail… looking down at our hands on the car seat between us and seeing just how similar they looked. I remember being shocked and even laughing a little and my birth mother laughed too, once she realized. I had received a (blurry) photo of my birth family before I even traveled to Korea and I was disappointed I couldn’t see much resemblance between us.  Now I can see more of a resemblance (and so can my family and friends!), especially to my younger brother, but I will always remember that first acknowledgment of resemblance being our hands. 

It must have taken a lot of courage to send your wedding photos of you and your then-wife Cynthia to what was, at the time, your newly found Korean family. However, by doing so, you found out that your birth sister was also gay. Talk a little bit about that level of acceptance, at least from her.

It was and still is one of the most incredible and surreal experiences in my life. Growing up and through my teens and early twenties I had always felt disconnected in some ways to most people, even to my immediate adoptive family and my extended relatives. I felt conflicted about who I was, never quite fitting into any community, whether it be with Koreans/other Asians or Caucasians, queer folks or straight ones. I never felt “enough” of either identity to really fit in.  Even after getting married to my now ex-wife, Cynthia, I felt somewhat like an outsider within her white, Italian family. She was so close to them and they all resembled each other physically. So even though I was a part of that family, I still somehow felt like I didn’t quite belong.

After I found out my birth sister was also gay, I felt a sense of connection and belonging that I never quite felt before. It was so undeniable, even though I grew up in another country with a completely different environment and opportunities, I still had this major thing in common with a biological family member. It makes me think I would be gay no matter what, even if I didn’t discover that part of my identity until I was in my early twenties. I feel more at peace with who I am. Having her acceptance and understanding means so much. On my last visit there, my current wife and I were able to meet her partner of 13 years for the first time and we spent time with them, just getting to know each other. It was a powerful and wonderful continuation of my journey.

Coming out to both your adoptive and birth parents presented serious challenges. How have those relationships evolved over the years?  

My relationship with my mom is complicated. In some ways, I’ve been able to move past the way she reacted when I first came out. In other ways, I am still that rejected 19-year-old. I know she loves me and also, it still hurts. My relationship with my birth mother is a bit less complex just because of the space and distance between us. I’ve had the opportunity to visit her twice since my first visit in 2009, so I see her about once every five years. We don’t communicate in between those visits because she doesn’t know any English and I hardly know any Korean. When I see her, difficult feelings sometimes come up. She always says she prays for me and I like to believe she is praying for my health and wellbeing, and not that I’ve miraculously become straight! During my last visit just a few months ago in February, she met my current wife. I’m very appreciative to be able to introduce them to each other, even though my birth mother did refer to her as my “chin-gu” (friend).

What did it mean for you to be able to share your story on the Moth stage? 

It was therapeutic. I felt recognized, validated, understood. People from all over the world reached out to me and, although at times, it was a bit bizarre as a social worker to meet clients who recognized me because they had heard my Moth story (and really, my life story), I am so grateful for the experience. At the time, I thought I would just be sharing it with close friends and family in an intimate performance, I never thought I would have a chance to share it with so many others. I always say it was the coolest thing I have ever gotten to do as a New Yorker! 

Would you ever share another story? If so, what would it be about?

I would absolutely love to! Another story might be about how my cultural identity as a Korean American adoptee has shifted over time, focusing on my marriage to a first generation Korean immigrant. 

Please finish this sentence: Storytelling is important because….

All voices are important and everyone deserves a chance to tell their story. 

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Lost and Found Daughter

by Dana Stallard

An adoptee fears rejection by her birth family in Korea.

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