What does it mean to be queer?
As a racially-mixed, female bodied, genderqueer woman, survivor of sexual violence, poet, and student, chances are you’ll find me dissecting, writing, performing, crying, or laughing, about one or all of these identities at any given time. Together they all influence the ways I operate on a level deeper than I can always understand- hence why I am studying theory, to help me wrestle with the socio-political-historical ways in which I have come to understand myself.
In one of my classes we have been discussing the dynamics of racialization and queerness, the politics of black and brown sexuality, and the ways whiteness dominates and silences the voice and experiences of people of color. Yet in these academic conversations on silence, a silence known so well to people of color, I often feel completely incapable of uttering a sound. How, when I am so used to speaking in front of people, when I carry endless thoughts and feelings on race, gender, and sexuality, do I find myself unable to speak? Why does my throat trap so many thoughts reaching to break through my lips?
- I have found that my body reacts in ways to trauma that are difficult to understand. I have learned how to take care of myself when having a panic attack, but sometimes my body tenses in unanticipated, less extreme ways which can be just as overwhelming. Expectations to sit still, act calm, and speak “intellectually” about readings that resonate a little more intensely than expected make the walls feel too close and the air too thick. Does my white professor understand what I’m physically and emotionally experiencing right now as a mixed person in this discussion? Are my peers writing me off as too sensitive or sloppy? Will I ever be able to think about gender outside of a framework of trauma? Do I leave this classroom at the expense of outing myself?
- The struggle is real: meaning this is our lives. Many trans*, non-binary, and women of color in particular don’t have the option of not thinking about race and gender (and often don’t have the option to ignore class or nationality). On campus I find it is easy to reduce activism as another interest or extra-curricular, to label and tokenize people as “social justice warriors”, instead of recognizing that resistance work is sometimes a way of survival in a world of multiple oppressions.
- Binaries: two “opposite” categories. They are comforting in their consistent and clear definitions until they’ve been transgressed, until the spaces in between them have been provoked, disturbed, creatively muddled. Binaries hypothetically inform us of who we are, we are either this-or-that, simple. This should in turn, inform us not only of how we should perform our identities, but how we punish those who do not follow the script. And the morality we place on binaries justifies this punishment in the form of physical, emotional, and systemic violence. I believe that part of the reason we put so much effort into maintaining binaries is because we are afraid of how fragile they are (i.e. the excruciating pains we take to police masculinity or the narrative of American racial categories as global, scientific, and historically fixed). Thanks to student activism, we now have gender-inclusive bathrooms and housing options. But the push-back from Wash. U administration demonstrated how desperately individuals and institutions cling onto these binaries.
-- As a child of an immigrant from the Middle East, I have felt the generational trauma of imperialism. As a white-passing American citizen, I benefit from it.
-- I am white enough to be white. I am brown enough to be not white. And the way I am perceived, or exoticized, changes depending on my environment.
-- I am as non-binary and gender-fluid as equally and fully as I am woman. I do not identify as cis. I do not identify as trans. I am still figuring it out.
- These histories, identities, and experiences co-exist within me in messy ways. Some days I celebrate them, some days I scramble to hide from them. What happens when moments like these expose them? The instinct to hide quickly crawls from my rawest parts to envelop me. How do I process this?
I simultaneously hold goofy amounts of chill and feel unapologetically angry. At times, the energy required to remind myself that racial, gender, and sexual binaries are not essential, and that I am not inferior for not fitting neatly into them, taxes my emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and mental well-being. At other times, this energy feeds me. And because I deserve to be fully human, I should be able to feel just as weak as I feel strong, just as confused as I feel confident.
- My queer identity has less to do with the sexual and romantic attractions I experience than it has to do with my racial and gender identities. This not to say that my sexuality is unrelated to my queerness, but rather that it is not central. And I believe this is why I feel the in-between space of queerness reverberate so saliently throughout my body.
- As I learn to read, re-read, and re-write this this history-soaked body, this queer-marked body, this body in communion:
Enter: SZA- “You keep talkin bout time, I got none/You can find me where/The sun don’t ever end and the waves you don’t part/ You don’t pay enough of my rent, don’t start” *
See: bills. piled on the counters of our chests, the expense of existing.
Enter: QTPOC spaces
See: Black Girl Dangerous “Why I Stopped Dating White Men”; “Here’s Why We Need to Stop Calling Pumpkin Spice a White People Thing”; “Caring for Each Other After Violence: 4 Things We Can Do To Create Trauma-Informed Communities in Our Schools, Organizations and Activist Groups”
Enter: sidewalk conversation, friend shares thought experiment-- give no fucks where fucks are not due. try this as a form of living the change you want to see in the world. adjust as necessary.
See: The Onion “Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show”
Enter: midnight, highway wind, J. Cole in background; five women of color shouting
GET OFF MY DICK
Enter: Noname Gypsy- “Who are you to tell me I’m not warm enough for summertime/I know I get beside myself/But you don’t know me like the sun you’ve never seen my horizons” **
* Easy Bake, Jay Rock
** Warm Enough, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment