Meghan & Me

People hate being reminded fairytales aren’t real.

Meghan & Me

Until Meghan Markle came upon the scene, I had little interest in the British royal family. Now, I am riveted by the Meghan effect on the entrenched Windsor narrative, and how her presence has disturbed and infuriated so many people all over the globe.

Though she likely didn’t intend to be, Meghan is a disruptor. She came into an institution with a deeply ingrained, iconic, and unchallengeable story, and merely by behaving according to her own principles — and putting her and her children’s needs before those of the royal family — she cracked the high-gloss veneer of the British monarchy, exposing the ugliness that seethes underneath, both in the aristocracy and in the attitudes of the greater public.

By refusing to keep quiet about the Windsors’ behind-the-scenes machinations, particularly when it comes to the way that they collaborate with the tabloids, Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry, are pulling back the curtain to make explicit the horrible toll a sclerotic, superannuated institution takes on everyone involved.

Appearance-obsessed, lifestyle-peddling Meghan Markle is not someone with whom I would normally identify, much less admire, but in this battle royale, I am Team Meghan all the way. She could’ve easily acquiesced to being a junior partner in “the firm,” as everyone before her has done (at least until they divorced out of the family). But when she recognized the too-heavy burden she was being asked to shoulder — sacrificed on the altar of English racism to be the foil in the media for all the other royals — she spoke out. And for that, she and her family got hounded out of the U.K.

Besides being mixed-race and American, Meghan and I had very little in common until 2018. That was the year she married Harry and I published my novel, Famous Adopted People. In the aftermath of those events, we both began to speak out to dismantle a beloved institution. Like the British monarchy, adoption is regarded with avid sentimental fondness by the public, even when they have no connection to it (that they know of; adoption has touched many families unbeknownst to individual members, though such secrets are getting harder to keep with the popularity of home DNA-testing kits).

Everyone has firmly established opinions about things, and when those opinions are threatened by a whistleblower like Meghan or adoptees like me who criticize the adoption-industrial complex, people tend to attack the truth-teller (the one with lived experience) rather than interrogate the veracity of their own beliefs. They will come up with all sorts of reasons to discount witness testimony in order to protect their own cherished assumptions. In Meghan’s case, she is dismissed as a gold-digging, spotlight-chasing, class-crashing, uppity social striver. In the adoptee’s case, we are disgruntled, angry, ungrateful, selfish malcontents.

Like the Duchess of Sussex, the outspoken adoptee is working to reframe an age-old fairytale. It turns out that marrying Prince Charming doesn’t lead to happily ever after. Neither does being separated from your original family to be raised by genetic strangers. The opulence and pomp of Buckingham Palace does not equal protection and safety, and neither does a prosperous, two-parent family. Once you become a royal, or an adoptee, your story is subsumed by a larger narrative, one established to safeguard the institution and not the individual.

If you play along with your preordained role, no matter how stifling and harmful to your person, you will be praised and admired. But if you point out that the popular narrative does not at all resemble the real story? People will vilify you for asking them to think critically about long-held beliefs. (Because once you start to question the myths around the British monarchy or adoption, what’s next? The U.S. Constitution? Capitalism?? God???)

It can’t be that the public has been duped by a lie; it must be that you are the liar, perversely causing narrative chaos just for the attention. It can’t be that people should make an effort to rethink an embedded assumption; it must be that that the person with the counter-narrative needs to be ridiculed, shamed, and threatened into silence.

It requires a lot of courage to tell people that fairytales and happily-ever-afters aren’t true. People want to cling to their feel-good stories, sometimes the only certain thing in a fast-moving world. But whether it be in the institution of the British monarchy or of adoption, those who carry the heaviest burden of a false narrative are finally revolting by speaking their own truths.

Alice Stephens is the author of the novel Famous Adopted People, as well as a book reviewer, essayist, short story writer, and a columnist for the Independent.

Believe in what we do? Support the nonprofit Independent!
comments powered by Disqus