A New Yorker’s adoption story has brought him TikTok fame as well as opportunities to help others like him.
In 1994, Ben Smith was adopted from China at 11 months old by two men, his dads Sam and Bill. He was brought back to New York City, where he grew up in Union Square. At the time, Smith was one of the first babies to be adopted from an overseas country by a gay couple.
Though he wasn’t the only adoptee in his school, Smith says that with both of his dads being white, it did make him stand out a bit more from other kids who looked like their parents.
“It was on the first day of school, when I had to really come to terms with my differences. After my dads dropped me off, another kid came up to me and asked, ‘Why do you have two dads and why don’t you look like them?'” said Smith. “I remember standing there for a while, before finally responding, ‘Well, I was adopted from China and instead of having a mom and a dad, I have a dad and a dad.’ She gave me a funny look at first, before saying, ‘That’s so cool. I want two dads!”
Smith says that confusion about his family structure would often turn into support after the initial introduction. Though his dads couldn’t necessarily relate to his experience of being adopted, Smith says that they did understand being seen as “different,” which he believes helped in his childhood.
“As a kid, I was always very proud of my differences. Sometimes adoptees and people with differences feel shame, especially in a culture that expects people to fit in, which I understand. For whatever reason, maybe because of how I’m wired, along with my upbringing, I usually felt proud. At times, I have been uncomfortable and hoping for acceptance from other people, but I was generally proud of who I was,” said Smith.
At 5 years old, Smith’s dads divorced and Bill adopted another child who became Ben’s sister. Eventually, they both found new partners, but still maintain a healthy relationship despite not being together anymore. Ben spent half of the week with each parent growing up.
Smith knows that his story is likely shared by other adoptees. Smith started making videos on TikTok to tell his story.
@becomingben it’s the orange shorts for me 🤣 #dads #adoptionstory #gayparents #gaydads #fyp ♬ original sound – Ben Smith
“I downloaded the app, but only as a consumer. At the beginning of this year, I realized the opportunity to share stories about my family not only existed on TikTok, but also really needed to be out there,” said Smith.
Smith began to tell stories regarding his adoption, his fathers’ divorce, and more, complete with home video footage of him as a child with his dads. He initially started posting hoping to be able to reach fellow adoptees who may have similar experiences.
What he didn’t expect was his stories to go viral, with some of his TikToks amassing millions of views. From there, Smith felt that he had more of a responsibility to share more.
“A lot of kids, especially adoptees, struggle with mental health. It comes down to various things, like being othered or being made to feel different,” said Smith. “Growing up, I didn’t see much representation of adoptees or LGBT families. Having my unique family background and being comfortable with sharing, makes me feel like I have a responsibility to put things out there and to be a voice for other people. Many people have never seen a family like ours, in the middle of the U.S. or on another side of the world, so I’m happy to share a new perspective on family diversity.”
These days you can find Smith running Goal House, a communal living community near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Smith fell in love with co-living as a young adult and spent five months living abroad, staying in 20 different hostels at the time.
Goal House is the home to 20 people currently and is 70% POC and LGBTQ, and about 25% international. They host weekly dinners together, where residents can show off a part of their culture, as well as community events.
“People move in to be a part of the community and to learn about other people,” said Smith. “It’s the idea of learning and growing into more holistic and worldly people that excites me most.”
Smith is dedicated to helping his fellow adoptees, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ adoptees, and giving them the opportunity to find a place where they can find more people like them. In an effort to help, Smith started a housing scholarship fund to help one BIPOC adoptee move to New York. The scholarship includes a one-way flight to New York, two months of free living at Goal House, a front-of-house job at a Brooklyn restaurant and $500 in cash.
“Because I run a communal house, housing is the starting point, the minimum I can give. Here in this house, you get access to a community of people. We’ve had other adoptees live here and sometimes we organize picnics, meetups, lunches and dinners,” said Smith. “I want them to be introduced and to feel comfortable as they experience a new diverse chapter in their life.”
Smith wishes that his scholarship could do more, and hopes to make it broader in the future. But for right now, as applicants come in, Smith is looking for someone to award the scholarship to that will find their people right here in New York City.
“My goal is to find someone who is an incredible person but who may not have the resources they need to move to NYC, DC, wherever. someone who can use the scholarship as a launching point. It’s around $3,000 worth of value,” said Smith. “And it’s about providing an opportunity for someone who didn’t have the same privilege and access to diversity that I did growing up in New York City.”
Updated at 4:37 p.m. on June 14, 2022.