Internationally acclaimed queer singer, songwriter, and vocal powerhouse, I Used To Be Sam (formerly known as Annie Goodchild), explains how she is giving transracial adoptees a voice through their latest music project.
Like most transracial people, when adopted by parents of a different, or partially different, race, I Used To Be Sam always struggled with their identity. Discovering their true roots through a DNA test shortly after becoming a mother in more recent years, led to the birth of their latest music project titled I Used To Be Sam.
This project tells the story of their complex transracial adoption experience and self-discovery in five tracks entitled “Gentle,” “Mountains,” “Seamstress,” “Grateful,” and “Forgiveness.” The compilation of cinematic tunes touches on complex and emotional themes of identity, love, loss, anger, gratitude, and self-acceptance, often experienced by adoptees, especially transracial adoptees.
The queer musician said she wanted to create something that would resonate with other adopted and transracially adopted people who like them may have struggled to come to terms with their identity: “Being transracially adopted makes it really hard to claim things about yourself. You feel like a fraud… and not enough of anything. I'm not dark enough, not white enough, not gay enough, not straight enough.”
Not being able to see their experience as a queer transracially adopted person reflected anywhere didn’t help: “Everybody deserves to have art that mirrors their own experience – through visual art, film, music, as everybody deserves to see themselves in some way. But I didn’t have that. I wanted this EP to provide that.”
While she was learning more about the transracial adoption experience, “it became abundantly clear how much our voices are not heard, nor are they at the forefront of these conversations,” shared Sam. “The narrated focus tends to be from the vantage point of the adopters, rarely ever the adoptees. So I found more people through social media like myself and ended up interviewing ten other transracial adoptees from all over the world. Some of those conversations are also used in the EP and each music video.”
Getting to write music for transracial adoptees out there who haven’t had music to mirror their experiences is the most meaningful aspect of this whole project for Sam. “Unfortunately for me I only had Little Orphan Annie, the musical, which didn’t help matters,” she shared.
Annie, the name given by their adopted family was always the subject of so much hostility growing up as she was always teased about being Little Orphan Annie at school. “I had countless fights with my mom, asking why she had to name me after the most famous orphan in the world. My parents always told me, ‘you’re named after your great aunt, and everybody loved her.’ But I didn’t feel like this lovable, jolly Irish woman who I was named after. It just didn’t emotionally resonate with me at all from a really early age,” explained Sam.
Sam was adopted some months after their first birthday by an Irish and German family: “My adoptive mom is from an Irish family and is hugely proud of her culture. My adoptive father is German, with mostly Austrian ancestors.”
Despite knowing that Sam was loved by the family who adopted them, it wasn’t easy being a transracial adoptee. When Sam was out with their mom in the early years, she realized that others found it hard to believe they were related because they looked nothing alike. Growing up, she discovered that she related more to pop icons like Mariah Carey (mainly racially ambiguous women that were available to them at the time), and attracted to characters like Princess Jasmine and Edward Scissorhands. But she didn’t speak about these things out loud until she found herself moving toward other queer people at high school.
Sam’s music career happened purely by accident during her travels. Although she loved singing as a child, she hid her talent from her family and friends, only ever singing in secret to an audience of lined-up stuffed toys, using their hairbrush for a microphone. Sam's voice was discovered while she was traveling around Guatemala with a friend after she left high school. “One night, lost in Antigua, we stumbled upon this little tequila/mezcal bar on an open mic night. My friend, as a joke, offered me up to sing and when the guitar was passed to me, I – completely terrified – played a three-chord Tracy Chapman song. Everyone was super kind and really into it, and the owner of the bar ended up offering me a regular gig once a week.”
She ended up spending four months in Guatemala performing five or six shows a week. Since then, their music career took off and she toured practically non-stop for four years with her band throughout Europe before she got snapped up by PunchDrunks’ New York hit show “Sleep No More.” Soon after that, in their early 20s, when she became pregnant, Sam felt the old and deep desire to find out more about her roots and to find their birth mother.
So she took a DNA test that radically changed Sam's life. “I also got an answer to a question that I had been asking myself my whole life: Does my birth mother want to meet me? The answer was a painful and clear no,” recalled Sam.
Although she did have some beautiful reconciliations and connections with some members of her birth family, she got a very hurtful rejection from their birth mother: “That was really painful and it's still really painful. As a mother now, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around it.”
The DNA results changed Sam's world and subsequently resulted in a new music direction, accompanied by a name change to acknowledge their history, which also happens to the name of their EP, I Used To Be Sam. Despite the DNA test clarifying parts of Sam's identity, the “self-doubting never really goes away,” she noted. “Adoption has a cruel and unique way of messing up your identity.”
Fear of abandonment also reared its head when Sam decided to raise their baby with their daughter’s father, a cis white male. “I was hit with an old and deep fear when I became pregnant and committed to raising my child – the first biological relative I would ever know or lay my eyes upon. Would my precious and lush queer community still see me? Would this other family that I needed so badly abandon me like my birth mother did?”
Thankfully, those fears were not realized and, instead, Sam was embraced by their queer family. “Being able to write and release this EP, which I so desperately wished I had growing up as a transracial adoptee, has been cathartic for me. I hope my listeners can take away the knowledge that everyone deserves to have their own experiences validated. I want the adoptee and transracial adoptee community to know their incredible worth and to know that they now have another small piece of music and art, to mirror parts of their lives.”
I Used To Be Sam is already creating a safe space to open up the narrative around transracial adoption. In fact, the EP has been signed by LAVICHI Records, a women-owned music label committed to amplifying the work of diverse musicians in the music and the recording arts.
“When I was first introduced to I Used to Be Sam's music, I was blown away by their artistry. Their voice is one of the most powerful and enchanting sounds hitting the airwaves in music today,” shared LAVICHI Records Founder Michi Raymond. “I Used to Be Sam gives voice to a topic and community that has been marginalized and underrepresented for years. Their music is changing hearts and minds all over the world. Listen to their EP, their story, and you will be taken on a journey you'll never come back from."
I Used To Be Sam: The Journey in Five Tracks
I Used To Be Sam’s adoption story starts with the opening track “Gentle“ – a plea to be gentle with herself throughout this process. “‘Gentle’ was the first song I wrote for I this album. The song really became my vows to myself,” shared Sam. “I knew this process would be hard. I knew it would make people in my life react a certain way, as well as the public. So this time around, I was going to be gentle, loving, and kind to myself.”
“Mountains” ties into the specific day on which Sam was adopted and explores the sensation of emerging out of “the fog,” a term that some adoptees use to describe the way they feel, think, and operate while growing up cloaked in denial, conditioning, and ignorance. “‘Mountains’ is the only song on the EP that represents parts of my own anger. To me mountains represent a strength in foundation, which is something I have always struggled with,” explained Sam.
“For a long time, I didn’t know I was allowed to be angry at really any aspect of my adoption. We are conditioned to think we need to be grateful all of the time and are told how ‘lucky’ we are. On the day I was adopted, I was brought home to a loving family. It’s been hard hearing about the stories from the first months of my life post-adoption. I was told I would lay down and cry and wouldn’t let anyone touch me. But my mother would pick me up, describing my body as ‘stiff as a board’ and hold me. It was her way of showing me that she was there.”
“Seamstress” is an ode to Sam’s birth mother: “It was a song I knew I would have to write almost immediately after the whole concept came to me. It is a song to and for my birth mother. ‘Seamstress’ focuses on the realization that my birth mother doesn’t want to know me in any way or even acknowledge my existence. I’ve spent my life wondering whether she thought about me. Can she remember my face? Do I look like her? Does she want to see me and meet me as much as I want to meet her? I got my answer and although it’s not what I wanted, ‘at least now I know.’ So it was really important for me to have a song recognizing that realization. It hurts, but at least now I know. There is no more wondering and I can start to heal from it as much as I can.”
“Grateful” is a song of reflection; for the work that Sam has done to get here, and also a thank you to the people in their life who have helped Sam get to this point: “‘Grateful’ is my fourth song on the EP. Writing these songs became feasible thanks to my chosen family and the TRA community. For the first time in my life, I found people who I could relate to as their experiences mirrored mine. I think I didn’t realize how badly I needed that until I actually found it. ‘Grateful’ is about recognizing and thanking those people.”
“When I wrote ‘Forgiveness’ I knew it would be the song I’d close the EP with. To really ‘move on’ from the re-rejection of my birth mother I would need to forgive her. But by the time I was adding the last mantra-like lines to the song, I realized I needed to forgive myself. I needed to forgive myself for thinking I was the reason I was given up. So ‘Forgiveness,’ for me, is the first step in the right direction,” concluded Sam.
Find out more about I Used To Be Sam here.
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