An Other Amongst the Others
I was 5 years old when I recognized the difference between my parents. It wasn’t based on the fact that their skin tones were different. Or that my mom has beautiful blue eyes and my dad has lovely chocolate ones. It had nothing to do with the obvious physical characteristics that we so urgently assign as qualities identifying one race or another. No. It was based on how I was treated by others when I was out with my white mother versus when I was out in the world with my black father.
My Blackness and my Queerness have always been determined by your perception of me.
As a light-skinned, biracial, femme-presenting, bisexual woman my “identity” has been fluid depending on the company I keep and the gaze of others. As a result, I’m never “enough” of this; or conversely, I’m “too much” of that. An Other amongst the Others. I’ve spent significant, probably too much, time analyzing how this has created the person I am. This reflection affirmed that while my self-identity tends to remain stable, it’s the labels placed on me by others’ perceptions that constantly seem to change and, thereby, impact my lived experience.
I’m realizing that this Country has a perception problem. Specifically, we have a problem in how we perceive each other; or, in colloquial parlance, how we profile the Other. As some of us were told in kindergarten, our differences are beautiful. However, in actuality, our differences become a cause for confusion, fear and hatred. As we’ve seen, and continue to see, our differences are used to alienate, to dehumanize, and ultimately, as a legal justification to deny us our rights (and sometimes our lives).
In the past few weeks I have revisited and mourned the death of too many of my black/brown/queer brothers and sisters; untimely deaths met through police violence, public shootings and targeted, prejudiced-based violence against our communities.
But I am told I have things to celebrate. People of all kinds are taking to the streets to protest oppression and call for justice; SCOTUS ruled I can’t be fired for loving my (soon-to-be) wife. But I am finding it difficult to be jubilant. We have spent years as men and women of color and as LGBTQIA individuals celebrating the crumbs of justice we have been tossed. And while I recognize these achievements, my spirit is emaciated and needs more.
Recently, I found myself wondering whether people look at me, at my face, at how I express my gender, and dismiss the pain I feel for my community. Do they think that because they can’t quite tell what box I belong in that I fall outside of all of them? Do they see how I struggle every day, limping along, praying to make it to my wedding day before that right gets stripped away? Calling my parents more frequently just to make sure they made it home safely? Tentatively opening the news app on my phone, hoping there’s no new trauma to process?
This wondering is, of course, a symptom of the life I’ve lived; a layered experience of being a queer woman of color in this Country. I spent the better part of my 40 years asking myself: What defines me? Where do I belong? Who am I? Who do I want to be? But I don’t ask those questions any more. Instead, I built a community around me; a literal rainbow village that accepts me and supports me as I process the pain, anger and frustrations that I feel.
I keep hearing that this is a turning point for us as a Country. I want to believe that, although I’m not sure that I do. I hope we at least use this time in our history as an opportunity to ask those tough and uncomfortable questions. The questions that dig in to the truth of our being. Perhaps we should start with, Who do we want to be?