Greg Louganis and his biological father, Fouvale Lutu, in 2017
I learned about this adoptee from a favorite adoptee blogger, Tony Corsentino, in a recent blog LINK>Beautiful Man. I personally LOVE reunion stories.
I’ll admit I really didn’t know anything about Louganis’ Olympic career. In 2017, People magazine wrote about his reunion with his paternal family – LINK>How He Found His Birth Father by Patrick Gomez. Louganis told People – “I needed to know I wasn’t a throw-away child.” Like many adoptees (my mom included) being adopted filled him with questions about his birth parents. Being told his biological parents had been young when he was born and had no choice in giving him up for adoption, he says “helped ease the question of whether I was loved.”
Louganis’s birth parents met in Hawaii, but his biological mother moved to San Diego while pregnant and Louganis entered the foster care system at birth. At 9 months, he was adopted by Southern California-based Frances and Peter Louganis, who were unable to have biological children. The couple had also adopted a daughter two years before and were always open with their kids about their family history.
Among his biggest fans was Fouvale Lutu, who for years had quietly followed his son’s life from afar. When an endorsement event for Speedo brought Louganis to Honolulu in 1984, Lutu decided it was time to meet his first-born son. “One of the hosts came up to me and said, ‘Your father’s here.’ And I said, ‘My father’s in San Diego,’ ” recalls Louganis. Then he said, ‘No. Your biological father.’ “
“It was interesting because as the years progressed,” Louganis says, “I saw a lot of similar traits in him that I saw in myself.” He adds, “when I did the DNA testing and found out how we were connected, it validated everything that I knew in my heart.” Through the DNA test, he also discovered the identity of his birth mother.
Back to Tony Corsentino, his adoptive parents extolled Louganis as a role model for him. This caused him to realize he had resented Greg Louganis as a child. In maturity, he realized that his parents’ tokenizing of Louganis as what adoptees can achieve was mixed in with his resentment. Then, he realized that he would have needed to be able to theorize his adoption in terms that separated his own self and his questions and needs as an adoptee, from his adoptive parents, their motives and their needs as adopters. The idea of adoptee-in-reunion erasing everything that does not support the dominant conception of adoption as child welfare through family creation. The very idea of finding and reclaiming one’s roots.
A bit more about erasure from Tony – the term is a cultural project requiring many interconnecting parts: laws, institutions, ideas. Denial of citizenship to intercountry adoptees is one manifestation of it. Also, adopting children out of their communities; punitive, draconian terminations of parental rights through our systems of family policing; sealing of birth records. More broadly still: ideas of adoption as child rescue, and the presumption of adoptee gratitude, function to enmesh everyone in the project of erasure. Against such a polymorphous force, resistance takes correspondingly many forms. Greg Louganis’s willingness to talk about his reunion and his reassertion of his ancestral identity through inscribing and adorning his body with native tattoos are potent acts of anti-erasure, no matter how personal their meaning for him.
I love reunion stories because I had to make a determined effort to reclaim my original roots for my own self.