The Queer Self
- B. James, "Untitled"
- Katharine Dick, "Bisexuality: What is it and What Does it Mean For You to Identify as Such"
- Marcos Santiago Gonsalez, "Stories for Those Not Here Yet"
- 고드윈오스애, "Identity Crisis: The Path to Queering My Life"
- Roberto Chavez, "Seeking Racial Justice as a Queer Man of Color: A Memoir"
“Conventionally, one comes out of the closet…so we are out of the closet, but into what? What new unbounded spatiality? the room, the den, the attic, the basement, the house, the bar, the university, some new enclosure whose door, like Kafka’s door, produces the expectation of a fresh air and a light of illumination that never arrives? Curiously, it the figure of the closet that produces this expectation, and which guarantees its dissatisfaction. For being “out” always depends to some extent on being “in”; it gains its meaning only within that polarity. Hence, being “out” must produce the closet again and again in order to maintain itself as “out”. In this sense, outness can only produce a new opacity; and the closet produces the promise of a disclosure that can, by definition, never come.”
–Judith Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”
When I was a little kid, I always felt as though there was something inherently different about me. While I desired to participate in the myriad American cultural assimilationist activities of my peers (read: clothes from Children’s Place, multicolored nail polish, all spice girl CDs, et cetera), my family’s working class status positioning me as a first generation Caribbean-American granted no excess resources, which effectively blunted these desires, at least in how I pursued them. I found that, unlike most American children, I could not learn to displace myself and identity in consumerism. My parents never allowed me to participate in consumer trends, and they were highly suspicious of the parents of the children who did, and the ways in which their lives were in direct conflict with deeply held Jamaican cultural values and beliefs. In this space of unintentional anti-capitalist upbringing, I learned to be creative, resourceful, and to be tough. In a sense, I could not relinquish the control over myself that my peers seemed to have; so I made the unintentional my intention.
(pictured above: me in 3rd grade, serving butch thug realness)
That was the niche I created for myself, and it worked for me. My dark skin, still natural hair (I didn’t get a perm until fourth grade when my mother gave up on my abundant and kinky tresses) and lean, proto-feminist demeanor was so fitting and so natural (think Beyonce-type “natural”) that I never suffered the exclusion many of my peers did for being different. As a skinny black tomboy in elementary school, I was already sharpening the edges of my parameters. I was already demanding the space of fear, and so when I was feared—for my blackness, for my anger, for my androgyny—it never meant anything because that was exactly what I wanted. So when the boys didn’t like me, it was because I beat them up; when the girls were my friends, it was because I defended them.
(Pictured above: my little sister and I, around ages 3 and 6)
By middle school, I learned I how to move with masculinized confidence, keep a straight face when walking in the hallways, and zone out to ensure the unfaltering nature of my butch posture. I oozed masculinity and a cold hardness, blunted only by my embarrassing obsession with pop rocker Avril Lavigne. Around this time, end of fifth grade and beginning of sixth, I began getting interested in really lame music intended for angry rich white children (nu metal, anyone?), but made it something I could understand in ways completely unrelated to what they were actually singing and screaming about; after all, I knew nothing about the monotony and pressures of white suburban life , aside from my white friends complaining about their parents not buying them the exact $70 Tripp pants they wanted over the weekend.
The point is, I interpreted my reality differently so that I could grasp a sense of freedom, and carve out a space to express my rage. I was waifish, dark-skinned, and not particularly beautiful, although not terribly ugly even though I felt that way. I continued to demand a place feel powerful, even though I was being crushed under the weight of my extremely strict and religious parentage, and simultaneously trying to survive in a world that already devalued my repressed embodiment. Poetry was a means of escape, and in the myriad notebooks I kept during those three years, I found myself trying to articulate a terrible isolation I didn’t have the words for, but that seared through me, white hot and merciless, whenever I opened my mouth to speak honestly to my parents or to any of my friends.
I was still religious at the time, and had very strict Jamaican Christian upbringing. Like many people, I was raised to believe that being gay was wrong, and when I felt the foreign churning of desire ripping through me, I suppressed them and transformed it into something I could deal with: anger. I directed that anger quite pointedly at feminine girls, and straight boys who dared to question my ferocity. Music at that time was the only way I could express myself and dissociate from my reality, and I was looking for something fresh to replace the nu metal and progressive rock I settled for. When I stumbled across punk rock on my local college radio station, I knew that I had finally found a home.
(Pictured above: me, around 16 years old at the Madam Tussaud Wax Museum in NYC)
Between the leather jackets, combat boots, fucked up hair and mean expressions, I found a form of freedom. I wasn’t allowed to go out , and to go to shows I had to beg and plead and cry, but I got there. I was still alone, and I was still angry and confused, but those were all things that punk rock claimed to be about. In punk rock I didn’t have to be resentful about the fact I couldn’t afford Hot Topic clothes because it was all about D.I.Y. ethics and making your own. Music was the only place that I didn’t have to compress myself, like a thin black hole, absorbing everything and silently ripping myself apart.
I started to think about my desires differently as I got deeper into the scene, especially because of my introduction to riot grrrl. I started to imagine my sexuality as curiously asexual, but still keeping within the parameters of straightness. I knew I had never had a crush on a girl, but I knew, vaguely and cautiously, how I felt in the few extremely brief moments I allowed myself to be entirely present in my body. Below is a video of one of my favorite songs during that period:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewK6Grf08jM (Babes in Toyland “Bruise Violet”)
Queerness for me was a matter of perception, and although I did not use that term to articulate my desires, I knew on some level I was faking myself straight. In other words, I had learned to master suppression in a way that I could even suppress my own thoughts from myself, thus shaping what I could and could not perceive. Years of suppressing my thoughts and feelings, both physical and psychic, under the rule of my strict parentage gave me the tools to do this. However, even with the confusion I felt (when I allowed myself to feel it) I knew that I wasn’t gay or bisexual or trans*. In high school I became actively involved in my high school’s Gay/Straight Alliance, also known as GSA. By my senior year, myself and another friend were the acting leaders. That year when my punk rock identity was fading for a more nuanced image of self, my GSA’s teacher moderator (who was an out lesbian teacher for an Italian language class) lent me a copy of Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name that I picked off her shelf after loosely recognizing Audre’s name. I never understood why she seemed so delighted that I wanted to read it.
Reading Audre’s words, I sensed something that I never felt before stirred inside me. Her growing up was the same as mine: strict Caribbean parentage, feelings of ugliness and rage that became our armor, the inescapable confusion and anger our beings inspired in others, and other things that are still difficult to write or talk about. I didn’t know what I felt because it wasn’t rage, or hatred, or confusion—the emotions that usually peppered my days and perceptions. I realized a little later that what I felt was recognition—reading her book was the first time I saw myself in someone else.
I sobbed until I felt sick although curiously relieved, even if a little fearful of what it all meant.
It wasn’t until college that I met the person with whom my desires could crystallize, and that finally gave me the space I desired to release the supernovaic energy of the love I was too scared, too scarred, too unknowing to share. The first time I looked into my partner’s eyes, I saw all of the times I begged god, any god, to free me; and realized that still being capable of loving openly and honestly and being loved the same way was and is freedom. It’s what I tried to find in the loud fast music that I loved but didn’t represent all of me, and in the guarded and jagged toughness I created for myself. I am still locating myself in this freedom, and learning to let it expand over the whole of my existence. I’m learning that loving queerly is something that I have to un-grip my fists and allow, not a destination to arrive at.
For me, queerness has been a verb, but never a noun or an adjective. Towards the end of class, the discussion began moving in this direction, and I’ve thought about it since then. What if the parameters of my existence, the space I take up, were queer? How does onefeel queer if it is not sensory but the very essence of being?
What I am tentatively moving toward here is the idea that queerness is. That is, unlike other forms of sexual identity, it does not necessitate a coming out because it is not defined by the language or politics that mandate coming out as a rite of passage into political visibility, and materialized reality. Queerness is the means through which the imperceptible can sear open a space between the visible and the invisible; in other words, it is a crystallization of liberation from the forces which govern how we are able to speak of and conceptualize our bodies and our desires. Judith Butler does a phenomenal job and at talking about the problem of coming out:
“What or who it is that is “out,” made manifest and fully disclosed, when and if I reveal myself as a lesbian? What is it that is now known, anything? What remains permanently concealed by the very linguistic act that offers up the promise of a transparent revelation of sexuality? Can sexuality even remain sexuality once it submits to a criterion of transparency and disclosure, or does it perhaps cease to be sexuality precisely when the semblance of full explicitness is achieved? Is sexuality of any kind even possible without that opacity designated by the unconscious, which means simply that the conscious “I” who would reveal its sexuality is perhaps the last to know the means of what it says?” (emphasis added)
Enough of my life has been spent allowing the pain of others and the politics of identity to define how I experience myself, my movements in the world, and how the world moves through me. I have come to my own frontier, a psychic disjunture that meets in the somewhere middle of my flowing consciousness, and unconsciousness . The two are material realities that converge in the form of my body, and the words I use to talk about it, and what it does. My queerness is a verb that describes the action of living, of daring to take up space without setting up the boundaries for where it begins and ends. Others move around me and through me because I refuse to have those others define the parameters of where my consciousness can extend.
At the risk of sounding pretentious and idealistic, I am taking that chance, because for me, the world is not a tool through which I can define a self or understand a self, but with which I can allow the concept of a self to rush through flowing freely and without end. I understand the dangers posed to my embodiment and psychic life. Everything that I have experienced and continue to experience remind me of these very real dangers, and I come up against the barriers of my fear from time to time, reminded of my vulnerability in the act of remembering. Remembering the first time I got called a “nigger” at two years old by my daycare attendant; remembering the uncertainty and anger in the face of my parents when my father got laid off from yet another factory job; remembering being violently accused of being a faggot and the feeling of numbness afterwards; remembering loss, panic, entrapment. The remembering feeling as weighty as oppression itself, acting as the evidence of my childhood self’s imagined worthlessness. The space of psychic conflict between an imagined “me” then and the “me” now.
But now I consider this: maybe there is no conflict, and the beauty that I have forged for myself is derived from the parts of me that I thought I had discarded, ashamed and traumatized, so many years ago. Maybe it is in the memory of those gardens, assumed burned and destroyed, in which I began to grow; seeds beneath the dark rich earth untouched, tiny and determined, waiting for rain. Waiting for the friends who have cared to really listen, the hands that have held my own, the eyes that leveled my defenses, the mouths that curve to say I am seen and loved. And, at the center of my gratitude, the long anticipated moments of solitude that feel like wholeness after a lifetime of being only pieces. I remember reading the words of Audre Lorde in Zami, speaking on the few black queer women she knew in those days: “Many of us wound up dead or demented, and many of us were distorted by the many fronts we had to fight upon.But when we survived, we grew up strong .”
Bursting upwards and sideways through the rich soil of my burned down gardens, growing crooked and strange and beautiful. Growing strong.
Katharine Dick, "Bisexuality: What is it and What Does it Mean For You to Identify as Such"
Bisexual,the most feared word for parents everywhere (well mine at least), “what exactly does that make you anyway?” they seem to ask as they squint their eyes and turn their heads. The worst part about this question? Most don’t know, or maybe I am projecting too much and it was only me that did not know. Coming from a small town in the middle of suburbia Long Island I did not even know one could be Bisexual until High School. I knew about being straight and gay and lesbian, but never that there could be an in-between. So whenever I noticed any inkling of attraction for a close friend who happened to be a girl I thought that it was normal. I just figured that I was attracted to boys and that everyone was supposed to feel that level of attraction and caring for that one girlfriend you had. After all isn’t that what it meant to be best friends? You just felt more for each other than you did for the other friends you had. What a slap of reality that was to find out that no, not everyone felt that way towards their best friend. It will be a very long while before I can forget the time my closest friend from home was complaining about not knowing how to properly kiss a boy, and naively I offered to kiss her so she could practice. Never since then have I felt such a blow of rejection as her, “Katie! Normal girls don’t do that!” I guess it also says something about me finally coming to understand that I was in fact not “normal” but “queer” during my years in College.
I first recognized my attraction to girls somewhere in the haze of puberty between Middle School and High School, and then very promptly hid it so deep that I forgot I ever knew. That is until my freshmen year of college, where I was away from Mount Sinai and it’s small town mentality for the first elongated period of time. Even then, though, I had a rather hard time coming to terms with this part of my sexuality. After all I had a boyfriend in High School! I had “hooked up” with (not even just one, but plural!) guys in the beginning of freshmen year! I couldn’t be gay! So when I began to feel attracted to a friend, who openly identified as Bisexual herself, I told myself what many others have told me since then: “you are just experiencing normal ‘college girl’ feelings of wanting to experiment – it means nothing!” Oh, how wrong I was.
Coming to terms with your sexuality is never a very easy or pretty thing – gay, straight, lesbian, Bisexual, polyamorous, trans, or whatever you choose to identify as. Although, because I personally identify as a Bisexual woman and am currently a little bit upset with the treatment of my fellow Bisexuals I would like to take this blog post to discuss the issues around coming to terms with being Bisexual. So if you would all please bear with me I promise to make it as accessible as possible, and as entertaining as I can with many personal and horrifyingly embarrassing stories. Also, before I start: I personally do not enforce the gender binary, but for the purpose of this blog post I am only going to discuss “male” and “female” Bisexuals to keep my writing a bit more focused. I hope you all understand and are not offended, I love you all no matter your gender, non-gender, or whatever you choose to identify as, even if you all do not love me back.
To start this post off officially, as in we are getting to the good stuff; let us start with female Bisexuals. I will also discuss the male Bisexual experience, but because I do identify as female I only know about it from guy friends so if I explain anything wrong please feel free to write in and we can discuss!
For females who identify as Bisexuals the difficulties that they face with the queer and straight world are very different from those that Bisexual males have to deal with. When out in the world and interacting with the “straight world” many Bisexual females (as well as lipstick lesbians) have trouble convincing men that they are not interested, especially if they are currently in a relationship with another woman when it occurs. This phenomenon is not helped by a modern trend of women who identify as straight telling men at bars and clubs that they are lesbian so that they will be left alone. Of course there are so many issues within those past sentences that I would love to address more fully, but for clarity reasons I will simply identify them.
One being that anybody having to convince someone else of their sexuality. A sexual identity should not be something that must be proved, a topic I will go into a little deeper later on. When someone tells anyone, Mom, Dad, homeless man, drunk man at a bar, Priest from the local church, that they identify a certain way there should be no “let me do this to prove it to you”. This idea that an identity needs to proved supports the belief that if you do not do certain things than you are not really that identity. If someone says they are Bisexual but have only previously dated men, they should not and do not have to immediately rush outside and start making out with the next girl that they see. This proves nothing, but, it does reinforce the absurd idea that someone can be “not gay enough” or that they “aren’t really that identity until they do something specific”. Sexual desires are something very personal, and a part of a person’s identity that no one but himself or herself can really know. In addition to this, admitting to yourself and to others that your identity is not within the realm of “normal” can be extremely terrifying and anxiety inducing, so shaming someone because they are not up to your standards can cause them more confusion and pain.
The other troubling part of the paragraph that was written earlier is this idea that women feel the need to lie about their sexuality to prevent someone form making further advances. The word “no” has lost almost all meaning within the modern world, of course that is considering if it ever really held any weight in this patriarchal society that we inhabit. When I am at a bar dressed up with my friends and a guy comes up to me and starts making advancements, I should not have to say “Sorry, I am into girls” to make him stop. This leads me to one of the largest problems that I have faced being a Bisexual woman – the over-sexualization of the identity.
Bisexual women have an extremely negative connotation within the “straight world” of simply being over-sexualized individuals who will sleep with everyone, anytime, and do anything. Honestly speaking, (I’m sorry I am going to tell another personal story now) when I go out with certain friends I will make a decision of if I am defining myself as lesbian or straight within ten minutes of reaching wherever we are going. Over the past four years I have found that if men think I am a lesbian they will usually leave me alone, or spend the whole night telling me that I just have never had sex with the “right man” before. A risk, but usually more effective than saying “Sorry, I’m straight, but I just don’t like you” where I come the “bitch” of the party and perhaps the victim of sexual and verbal abuse the rest of the night. Both of these results, however, have always been easier and felt safer than openly admitting to being Bisexual.
I was at party a little over a month ago, and because it was my first time out with friends after a break-up with a long-term girlfriend. Needless to say I was not feeling very understanding that night. I was talking to someone, when I suddenly overheard a part of a conversation about a guy who was defending his choice to bully gay boys on the football team in his high school. I soon found myself in the midst of a bit of a heated conversation with him, asking him how picking on anyone would ever be okay when suddenly he interjected “You are only this offended because you are queer”. Now, I have never met him before and figured my friend had let him know but still I was caught off guard. Since when do you have you have to be the same identity as someone to understand them? He then proceeded to state that “because I was lesbian” I was angrier than was warranted. Normally being called a lesbian would not matter, as I said I normally identify as lesbian sometimes to avoid confusion, but tonight it mattered to me that I not hide who I was because some stuck-up, over confident white male made me feel uncomfortable. So I corrected him, telling him I was Bisexual and not Lesbian, and he responded “Wow, that’s hotter.” In a matter of seconds I went from untouchable because I was Lesbian, to being open to all of his advances. He commented how I must be open to things, and that was about the time I walked away.
It is men like this one that cause such trouble for Bisexual women. Their identity is not their own, rather it is a fetish for them to enjoy; a turn-on and something for them to enjoy, than a way for women to express themselves and their sexuality. It is why other women who identify as straight automatically label Bisexual women as “sluts” and spread rumors how they are out to steal boyfriends. It is why my other Bisexual female friends and I sometimes feel safer identifying as Lesbians instead of Bisexual.
With Bisexual males, however, the problem is similar in that their sexuality is also denied by the society, but in a different way. Within present society there is a very strong idea of what a “man” is, a reason why Gay men have so many problems being accepted as well. To society being born with a penis is a gift, a sign of power and authority, dominance and control. For some reason, however, it is seen as emasculating for men to partake in or enjoy anal sex with other men through the use of their own penis. It is as if masculinity is lost if a penis is not used to dominate a woman, which is troubling enough in itself. Due to this belief, society cannot seem to grasp that men could enjoy sex both with other men and women. To them it is a one-sided identity, you are not Bisexual, you are Gay and are just attempting to seem as if you are straight. This idea that any man who has or wants to have sex with another man cannot have any straight tendencies is something that is not only perpetrated by the males within society. In fact, I have met many women who refuse to accept the idea that men could be Bisexual, even if they agree that women could be. Sometimes, even if they say that they accept men can be Bisexual they use the condition of, “but I would never date a man that has even kissed another man”. I have actually worked with a girl that had this exact conversation with me, where she went on to explain to me how to her it was only logical that a she would not want to date a Bisexual guy.
What I also find interesting about the male Bisexual identity is that, unlike many female Bisexuals that I have met, they will tend to identify as straight. There is this fear that if they admit to even a small amount of attraction to men that they will be feared from the other males and become unattractive to the females they are with. From talking to male friends of mine that identify as Bisexual, as well as witnessing some of the behavior myself, it is sad to admit but I can personally confirm this thought pattern. From the girl that I worked to, to other male friends that I have talked to among others, many people’s minds will drastically change if they find out that a male is not straight.
Concerning the Bisexual identity as whole, including males and females that identify as such, a major problem that I have encountered within the Bisexual identity for both males and females is this constant fear of “am I gay/queer enough?” There is this anxiety over not being able to find acceptance by the gay community because of this absurd belief that Bisexual people can pretend to be straight. Maybe I should not say absurd, because they would probably have less qualms with having a heterosexual relationship than any either gay or lesbian. This is not the point though, the point is that you cannot help who you are attracted to, and if you are attracted to a woman having sex with a man is not going to be what you want or feel as satisfying. In other words: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There are already such withstanding stigmas of Bisexual persons within the “straight community”, so why must they also exist in the queer community? Forcing Bisexual people to choose one sexuality would be as oppressive and harmful as forcing a gay man to pretend he is in love with a woman, or a lesbian that she is in love with a man. The beauty of the LGBTQA community is that it is supposed to be accepting and understanding, especially where the outside community is lacking. By allowing hatred and anti-bi mentalities exist within the queer community the “safe space” that this group is supposed to be known for creating is absolved. It cannot be a “safe space” if not all identities are allowed to be free to express themselves.
Another problem that results in this idea of having to be “gay enough” to be accepted by other queer individuals also leads to the extremely harmful result of the invisibility of the Bisexual identity. As Marjorie Garber stated in her article “Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life” when discussing the treatment of Bisexual males, “By defending bisexual men as gay men, these theorists thus wittingly or unwittingly reinforced one of the bisexual’s most self-lamented characterizations: invisibility. Bi men, reappropriated as gay, either ceased to exist as a separate and separable category, or else were put down as closeted, self-hating, or self-ignorant-men who were “really” gay if only they had the courage to say so.” When Queer theorists first began to try and explain Bisexual males they were grouping them with Gay men something that, as I discussed, still happens today. Garber attempts to move away from this, to claim a separate space for all of those who identify as Bisexual. A space where
Out of fear of losing all chance of acceptance, because they would become ostracized by the straight world and simultaneously rejected by the queer community, many fear voicing their true identity. They unwittingly conform to the expectations set by the queer and straight community that I just discussed in the previous paragraph. There is this need to pretend to be one or the other around mixed company, or those that you are not familiar with what their views are. Not every Bisexual will, there are many that are worried about what certain people’s reactions may be. Sometimes it is just easier to play it safe, even if it means lying about yourself, an unfortunate reality that many within the queer community have had to come to understand.
Marcos Santiago Gonsalez, "Stories for Those Not Here Yet"
Disidentifications is meant to offer a lens to elucidate minoritarian politics that is not monocausal or monothematic, one that is calibrated to discern a multiplicity of interlocking identity components and the ways in which they affect the social.
- Jose Esteban Munoz
“Papa, tell me a story?”
“What kind of story, mi hijo?”
“Tell me a story about someone you knew when you were little. Tell me something you remember from when you were a kid. From where you came from!”
“Okay, let’s see. How bout I tell you about some of the times when I went to the rancho. I remember the times I used to go over to the horse ranch that was right down the street from your abuela’s house. I would go to watch the others ride the horses because I was far too scared to ride them. I was so skinny hijo that I feared the horses would buck and throw me high into the air, throwing my body so high into the sky that I wouldn’t come back down.”
“Papa, you were scared of the horses for them throwing you in the air. I wish I could ride a horse, if I was you I would have done it.”
“Shhhh, hijo, I was just saying how I was afraid. Don’t worry I did it. I had to prove to my brothers and sisters that I was a true macho, and could tame those horses.” At this Papa nodded his head and shot his arm up, flexing his little muscle he gained from the days tending to the yard and working under the flogging rays of the sun.
“But anyways, I did eventually learn to properly ride the horses and even competed in races. The family who owned the rancho really wanted to help me, especially their son Carlos. He was a good boy, constantly working on the rancho to support the family, caring for the animals and his siblings, with such kindness and passion that is rare to find. He taught me everything I knew about the horses and how to ride them. Funny thing was he didn’t even ride the horses, hijo, he just didn’t want to. I think he loved and respected them too much, seeing them as part of the family instead of animals. He cared deeply for each one, but that’s not saying we didn’t care for the animals too, but Carlos was a little more sensitive to those things. Either way, Carlos made some extra money by being the ‘horse whisperer’ and showing others the secrets to making the horses our friends so that we could master them.”
“He would coordinate my hands, place my feet in the right places, and shift my weight to control the horse, never once physically mounting the horse to demonstrate. He would just tell me and instruct me, which inevitably worked because I was the best horse racer and tamer around. Carlos knew how the horses liked to be handled which I believe was the way he was able to master the art of horse taming without ever doing the work. He would even show me how to groom the horses: making sure to scrub harder in certain spots under the belly, brushing the mane with the softest of touches, scraping the encrusted dirt off the hooves.
Papa mimicked what I perceived to be horse grooming motions, the brushing of the mane or the cleaning of some part of the horse, in a fashion so peculiar and feminine that it did not seem like him. The imitation of Carlos was dainty and perky, my father either exaggerating or actually mimicking Carlos’s bodily movements. He progressed to laugh at this reenacting of Carlos, explaining: “Grooming and caring for the horses was the job of the women, pero Carlos liked to do it. Sometimes I would hear his family, including my family, call someone like Carlos ‘sensitivo’ or ‘afeminado’. He was very delicate, a little too soft for a boy, if you ask me. Boys should be riding the horses, being as active as possible, it’s good for us, right hijo?”
Rhetorical question. Since God molded mankind in his image, specifically men, we are left to be strong, courageous, and creators.
“Nevertheless, Carlos was my instructor. He taught me all I knew. His family constantly pushed him to do it, but he refused. They started to see how good I was at riding and controlling the horses, so they started to pay me to compete. I was there little hombre, there hijo machismo, the hijo they wished they had. I remember they jokingly told me: ‘I hope you rub off on Carlos a little bit. You’re so fiery and such an athlete, we need more boys like you around.’ So I continued to race and compete in shows with the horses, winning and raising money. That’s how I paid for my trip to America, I saved a lot of money from my time working at the rancho that I could afford a plane ticket and some money to get a place in the Bronx. And that’s how I came to meet your mother and the rest is history.
“Papa, what happened ever happened to Carlos?”
“Well, I heard that he also came to America a little bit after I did. I’m sure here in America they don’t think of him as so ‘afeminado’, where back home he always had a hard time. American men are little more sensiteeve”. He laughed as he dragged out the sound of the “i” in sensitive, his tongue spraying the sound between his teeth, ending the word by withdrawing his tongue and snapping his teeth fast like pincers.
“He always did like grooming and playing with the horses’ hair, so maybe he’s here a hair dresser or something?”
At this he laughed again, uproariously and manly.
“Either way he is somewhere in the United States, doing something. Point of the story senorito, be a champion like me. You can’t succeed, back home or in the States, if you too weak, lazy, or ‘afeminado’. You gunna grow up to be a strong man, right hijo, like your Papa?”
He patted me on the knee, walked out of the room, and shut off the light. He left me in that dark room. I was afraid of the dark.
“Papa, can I tell you a story?”
“This is a story of a boy who failed. This is the story of those moments that I failed you. Those brief and wondrous moments Papa, cuando me olvidé de que yo era un hombre. The moments where I was filled with the energy and passion of someone else’s life. Where my individuality was given up, where the pressures of life were void, unimportant. Where for sometimes hours, minutes, or even moments, I was able to escape this world of machos and expectations. Those moments where I was merely a body occupying space: inserting, receiving, crying, tasting, numbing, loving, breathing, forgetting, whispering, shouting, and remembering. When I was embraced by the arms of someone I met in the briefness of a night, who held me so tight I could not tell whether it was a man or woman, child or adult, human or beast. I thought my body was going to combust, inflated with the life of another’s breaths, ready to burst the pieces of my body into the atmosphere.”
“Remember when you used to hold me Papa? As I transitioned from toddler, to child, to teen, to adult, your embraces, each year seeming to diminish in strength like a bursting star; glorious in its inception, in my inception, then slowly fading and fading as the universe began to dictate what can and cannot be.”
I am not scared of death Papa, neither am I now. I am not afraid of this body, this corpse, which you all fear. This corpse where when I sweat you tremble; when I bleed you cower; when I cough you hold your breath; when I drink from your cup you rush to the trash; when I take puff from your cigarette you throw it to the ground and stomp it out; when I cry you buckle at the knees praying for salvation for my lost soul. My soul Papa is not rotting like this emaciated body. It is here, written on the walls of this house, for everyone to read from this day forth. It is entrenched within the soil where I planted the Lirios, those beautiful flowers that grow back every spring, stronger and brighter than the previous season. You know Papa, those flowers weren’t supposed to grow back, they were meant to live and die within a few months, but they keep sprouting and blooming in the same place in which I planted them the first day I received the news of my immanent death.”
“Papa, where I bring death and disease, life will still bloom. Not the life you may have wanted for me, of progeny and children. Again, I am sorry for failing that dream that you had for me the moment the doctor told you I was a boy.”
As I said this, a lonely tear trickled down my face. Slipping and moving down the side of my cheek, no one there to catch it as it falls. Who would be willing anyways? If my tear were to touch skin, to soak in the pores of another who is pure and healthy, would I not ruin a life?
“But Papa, I do have children: the nieces and nephews that I laugh with, the lovers whom I hold in my arms when they tell me they have been abandoned and disowned, the friends that I listen to when their expectations are met with failure, when I smile at a stranger playing the lottery hoping they win. Children are not just blood and similar features, instead, they are those people that you care and love when they need you. We are all children Papa, wanting to cry, to be held, to be told ‘that it’s all going to be okay’, but you’re too much of a man to ever admit to these apparent weaknesses.”
“I remember the look you gave me when I could not even lift myself off the bed. In fact, I remember not a look, but the lack thereof, as I was carried from my bed to the toilet, from the toilet to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the outside porch, your eyes avoided my body like the blinding sun on a July afternoon. My body, glistening and shimmering, my face as clear and beautiful as the pictures hanging along the walls- like Ma likes to say, retaining no signs of disease and death. Can you not handle the fact that as my body fails, as my tissues, blood, cells, atoms began to crumble and poison each other, my external appearance remains the “man” you raised? I look like you, lanky and able, which was probably why I failed you. I am a constant reminder of you, of something you could have been, a stark reminder of a life that lived and failed.”
“As my body moves less and less, as the functions of all my organs fail more with each passing second, the constant reminders of my bodily failures soaking my underwear and pants, I remember. I remember passing through the kitchen on the back of my brother, fragile and yearning for the recognition of a father, screaming inside myself: “Look at me Papa! Look at me your son, your blood, I am going to die!”, as you gaze upon the kitchen television set flashings images of tanks, bullets, and screaming children in some Caribbean village. I remember when I ring the bell for someone to help me relieve me of my wastes, I can hear outside the clicking and grinding of gears as you work on your cars. When I sit in the tub being washed by the few willing family members who would expose themselves to the dangers of my infected body, bashful because the crevices and cracks, which only have been explored by lovers, were now visible for anyone willing to touch my body, as you laugh in your foggy room to the radio host joking about the relationships between men and women.”
My father sat in the chair across from my bed, unflinching and unmoving, his gaze set upon the rug that had been the stomping ground of two generations of my family members.
“Do you hear what I am telling you, Papa?”
“Once so full of words and now silent. I ask for forgiveness and you cannot even look me in the eyes.”
He responds with silence. I can sense the tears welling up within me, fervently wanting to release and expel upon my father the torrent of frustrations and grievances that have grown too wild, hostile to contain within my ailing body. Unfortunately, they stay within, unable to come to bear upon the surface of the Earth. Land cannot yet fit them into its grand design. One day.
“Look at me Papa! Look at me for the failure that I am. Look upon my skin, the skin that has been touched, kissed, licked, and sampled by the hands of those that desired me and I them. Look upon my eyes, the eyes which have gazed, longed, needed, and adored you, waiting anxiously for you to tell me you love me. Look upon this hair, the hair that has been brushed, cut, braided, and tugged. Look at me Papa, your son, your manly requirement to produce a son gone terribly wrong, and now, you look upon this embodiment with disgust, disappointment, and grief.”
“You have long since buried me the moment I returned back to your home. But you know something Pa? I have lived. I have lived and experienced what I have wanted, dictated by me. Do you ever hear something whisper in your ear when you need to make a decision, or when you feel you are doing something wrong, and something either tells you to do it or not? I don’t have that. That whisper that constantly reminds you that you are a man and you need to be strong; that you need to be a provider or the pressure to be something that you did not construct or necessarily want. I did not have that whisper in my ear Papa, and for that I am grateful. God did not abandon me, as so many would say, instead, he has removed that whisper that so falsely guides and in its place gave me free will.”
“You, or everyone else for that matter, doesn’t fear this disease or this body. You fear that I will end here, that life is potentially not ever-lasting, that we will all come to some end. I am not an end, I am possibility. I am the creak in the door which lets in the light into the dark rooms. I am the space which none dare trespass. I am the possibilities of life that extend beyond my body, beyond the capacity to reproduce, possibilities of living which you could not understand. So, again Papa, I am sorry for failing you as a son. Forgive me someday, not for me, but so that someday you can see.
“When I die Papa will your lips forget how to say my name, or your ears forget the sound of your son? Will you try to omit me from history, letting my story go untold, unfinished? It does not matter, for my story was and always will be unexplainable, incomprehensible. There is no language yet discovered that can recount my experience, however, one day, I envision ink striding across the paper, attempting and trying, to find my story amidst the countless voices which were forever and always silenced. But now is not that time. For now all I can do is kiss the firm skin of my sister’s belly, where a new life wriggles and squirms to be set free, gently whispering: “Fail, fail as much as you can. For when you do little one, you realize that the expectations set upon you, suffocating and crippling as they may be, are illusions. Illusions set forth upon you, set forth upon us all, that are bound to repeat until we choose to break them. I broke some little one, all for you. I lived and I failed for you.”
“Mommy, tell me a story?”
“This is the story of someone I loved and who I lost. This is the story of someone I wish you could have met because he was one of the kindest, funniest people I knew. Actually, you were both alike in many ways. You remind me of him”
“Mama, what do you mean I remind you of him? How?”
“I don’t know hijo, you just do. I see a lot of him in you.”
When she said this she cocked her head a little bit, inspecting me, the muscles around her face growing more and more somber the closer she inspects, waning against the pressure of some sad story ready to burst out, yearning to be told. She smiled at me. Her eyes filled with a glossy coating as she stared downward at the colorful specks imprinted in the rug, attempting to count them like how I try to the count stars, trying and trying with ‘optisim’- as my sister described to me- but it was impossible to count them all for the stars went far into the universe. The great big universe where untold stories and adventures wait to be told, desperate to break through to our galaxy. Waiting to land and shout “We Are Here!”
고드윈오스애, "Identity Crisis: The Path to Queering My Life"
Disidentification is meant to be descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship.
What makes us who we are? What facet of the world shapes our inhabitations and our choices to walk on the life path we have created for ourselves? We as human beings have identities we claim and emulate.Whether it is a gay, pro athlete who decides to embrace his gay identity, or a transgendered person who makes the decision to go into a full transition and embrace their true identities, we all relate to identities society has created, by choice or otherwise.With all of society’s labels and identities, can we blend them together to create our true beings or are we forced to disidentify in order to choose? That has become my dilemma as a gay, African, man in America.As a minority of all sorts, I have been forced to choose my identity or be punished as Jose Esteban Munoz describes in Disdentifications. I have struggled my whole life to blend my identities but I cannot.In essence I have found a way to queer my identities to benefit myself.This is a journey on the path to queering my identity; my definition of queer being anything that is not normative.
I was born in Ghana, a little country in West Africa which has become one of the leading forces in Africa entering what the media is calling ‘The Golden Age’.For 10 years, I was raised by my uncle while my parents’ were in America looking for greener pastures.My first bout with identity was religion.My uncle raised me on a very strict catholic faith.I was forced to go to confessions, bible studies, and church every Sunday.As a young child I was very aware of my surroundings so I shunned my religious identity.I was aware that the religion I was being taught was not exactly what I believed in.I was participating in something that was essentially handed to me by my superior.God was omnipotent and omnipresent, something I never believed in.To me I learned that God had disappointed me in numerous ways.I was not going to believe in a religion that did not offer me anything.I did not disidentify with my catholic identity, in a sense I endured it.
At the age of 7, my parents brought my youngest sister to Ghana.They believed that African values were much more impactful to a child’s upbringing than American values.I loved my sister very much, we shared a bond, and we still do that only mothers could share with their daughters.I was essentially her mother when she arrived to Ghana.I took care of her as baby; I fed her, changed her diapers, and fiercely protected her.At the age of 7 I was teaching a baby how to walk, eat and speak.Before I realized I was gay, I had imposed a maternal identity on myself due to my sister.For me, it was a survival instinct of mine to be that way with her.I felt that my parents had abandoned us.A baby needed her mother and if my mother was not going to take care of her, I was going to take on that identity and make her feel loved, because as a child I did not get that privilege.
I had my first gay experience in Ghana, the first of many.My first encounter was with my male cousin.We were playing video games and he had a runny nose.I remember telling him, that it grossed me out and if he wiped it off, I would kiss him.He wiped it off and I kissed him.That was my first male experience and my cousin and I did not think much of it.From that instance on I felt a strong attraction to men.As a young boy I was always around men because of my uncle and his friends.I always fantasized about them.At that point in my life I did not know what the word gay was or its existence.I just knew I was attracted to my uncle’s male friends.I did not have that label to identify myself with.Once again I imposed a feminine identity on myself in order to fantasize what my life would be with them.I realize now I was queering my identities.I was a young gay man identifying with the characteristics of a female because that was the closest thing to what I was experiencing.
I was probably the first young boy to openly ‘date’ a boy in any shape or form in an African school.The reason why I say that is because people did not know what we were doing, I did not myself.I just strongly identified with my female identity in a way that I knew I was attracted to males.I went to an early international middle school in Ghana.We had transfers from all over the world.At the start of the school year, we had a Lebanese transfer come to our class.I gravitated towards him because I was very attracted to him.We became fast friends to the point of inseparability.We walked down the halls of school holding hands, I would sit on his lap on the school bus and we kissed.In today’s terminology we were essentially dating, in a Ghanaian school.People knew what we were doing but they could not identify us.We had queered ourselves that even we did not know what experiences we were going through.We just knew we liked each other.The level of identification was not present and people accepted it.When I think of that experience I wonder if people embraced it because they did not know what we were or it was just a matter of circumstances.Circumstances being that he was not from Ghana.
When I moved to America, I had to disidentify with the female identity I had created for myself.It was a survival tactic, entering a new school in a new country, I had no idea how people would react to my attraction to men.In a way that identity dissolved.It seemed my attraction to men had disappeared and I had strongly taken the role of my African identity.I went to a middle school in Connecticut, which was predominantly white and as a new student from Africa, I was bombarded with prejudicial questions about Africa.I was very offended and as an African who had not grown up like it was depicted in television and movies, I decided to embrace my African identity and defend it.I was asked numerous questions about me living in a hut, drinking mud water and having lions as pets.I was deeply offended by this generalization and I decided to educate people on Africa.I decided to do my humanities project on the education of Africa and its people.As an immigrant to America, my African identity was the only thing I had.It was a safe shell for me to hide in a foreign place I had never been to.Immigrating to America started my path on me queering my identities.My education on different topics had exponentially widened and I now could identify the feeling that I had as a young boy.I could put a name on my attraction to men because I was not the only person who had gone through that experience.
Gay.A word I had heard repeatedly in high school in regards to my sexuality.I had learned the meaning of that word, but I was not willing to accept that as my identity.I was not willing to compromise my experiences with men with this powerful label that people saw as dirty and not normative, so I disidentified with it.I denied any allegations of that identity in order to protect myself.I was afraid of what my teachers would think, what my friends would think and most importantly what my parents would think of me.As a religious African family I knew they were going to shun me, I was not willing to risk myself to be labeled and identified as gay.I was not ashamed of myself, who I was or my attraction to men, I was just not willing to compromise my safety in high school for an identity.With that decision I decided to express my attraction to men through my clothes, thus creating a new and acceptable identity for myself.
The act of one’s presentation is paramount to how they are perceived by other people.My act of presentation in high school was to dress very fashionable for people to know that I was gay, but I was not accepting the label of being gay.In high school I was a very eccentric dresser.I wore skinny jeans, tight shirts and colorful jewelry.People equated being eccentrically dressed in the suburbs to being gay, so I let people think I was gay, but when they asked me I denied it.I knew my idea to take on this identity of an eccentric dresser to veil my gay identity was working when I started carrying around a murse (man-purse) in high school.My father saw it and questioned me about the bag.He asked me who it belonged to and I said it was mine.He had a puzzling look on his face and for once I knew I had planted the idea of me being gay in his head without coming out to him.In essence my fashion was a way to mask my gay identity and people were noticing especially my family.
By my senior year I had fully embraced my identity as a ‘fashionista’, an identity that veiled my gay identity.I had blended and queered those two identities to create one identity and my family was catching on.In suburbia Connecticut everyone dresses casually and any blimp of eccentricity in clothing made anyone stand out, and I did.I stood out of the crowd because of how I dressed.My father one day asked me if I was gay because of my fashion choices and I denied it.I told him I just liked dressing eccentrically and he believed me.As a minority, I was not going to embrace my gay identity and face persecution.I wanted to protect myself thus creating my fashion identity.Jose Munoz’s statement of disidentification being a survival tactic for a minority to function in public holds truth to my circumstances.I had to disidentify with my gay identity and create a new identity in order to protect myself.In queering my identities, I had learned a way to use my identities to benefit myself and relate to other people.
I finally embraced my gay identity when I felt I was in safe space where that identity was not in jeopardy.I came out to my friends and essentially everyone in my high school when I moved to New York.I had an incline that New York was the city of dreams and I could be myself here without any discrimination.At this point in my life, my gay and fashion identity had become one and the same.In New York people could blatantly tell that I was gay by the way I dressed.Other gay people could relate to me because they visually saw me as a presentation of the gay community.New York City became a part in shaping my gay identity and helping me express the identity I had veiled for most of my life.I started using my queered identities I had cultivated over the years as a vantage point to get ahead in life.
As I go through life, I use my identities to interact with people and express myself.When I go on an interview for a job in the fashion industry, I highlight my fashion identity to boost my experiences.When I meet another gay person, I use my gay identity to relate to them and share my experiences.When I meet an African, my gay and fashion identity disappear and I connect with them through my African identity.My life experiences have queered my identities, given me the ability to multilayer myself and my identity to make me a unique person.Realistically I am just a Queer, African, Gay, man who’s just dodging the balls life throws at him!
Roberto Chavez, "Seeking Racial Justice as a Queer Man of Color: A Memoir"
We do not escape race and racism when we fuck. On the contrary, this fantasy of escape is precisely that which marks the sexual act as deeply implicated in the ideological processes by which difference is constructed and maintained.
—Robert Reid-Pharr, Dinge
My boyfriend Aiden Nguyễn and I have had various conversations while walking through Pace University on the racial microaggressions that we witnessed and experienced as gay men of color. I am actually quite content that Aiden and I have long discussions on these issues. I have also enjoyed the fact that we have been in academic settings where we could voice our opinions on the matter. Aiden is critical of labels and has an ideology stemming from Buddhism and Jacques Lacan that resembles the politics of affinity while I tend to lean towards the importance of labels.
I usually favor the politics of identity, because my scholarly crush Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez notes it as being “the articulation of subjectivity in process, both in language and in discourse – the constitution of the subject position as a speaking subject in relation to all kinds of discursive formations and power relations.” For instance, I relate to Aiden as a gay man, an ethnic minority, and as a bilingual man from an immigrant household; as an immigrant and U.S. citizen, Aiden understands my sense of being bicultural and is mostly able to relate to me on these issues of identity. I utilize these labels to reach out to others seeking a shared experience from similar backgrounds.
With that said, I am a young gay and queer man of Ecuadorian ancestry; I was born and raised in New York City, which means that I am a natural-born U.S. citizen. My parents are immigrants from Otavalo, Ecuador, which makes me Ecuadorian-American; I identify as Hispanic and Latino, even though I am well aware of how limiting these labels are for me. I also identify as a person of color, despite being alienated from the term when I first heard of it, due to being light-skinned and occasionally passing for a non-Hispanic White man. I try to be aware of my privileges as much as I can; as a male, a U.S. citizen, a cisgendered individual, a person of middle-class upbringing with working class parents, and a monosexual (gay) person.
I am particularly fascinated with interracial relationships and our interactions as queer men through hookups, friendships, and romances. I was silent about my attraction towards other men in general, since I feared homophobic reprisals and struggled with internalized homophobia for some years. I did not start to come out of the closet until the age of fifteen, but even then I had no gay, bisexual, or fellow queer men to confide in regarding my sexual attractions.
I had only been aware of my desire towards men that were not Hispanic/Latino when I started dating my first boyfriend, Steven Green; I became self-conscious that I was in an interracial relationship due to my mother’s rejection and the disclosure of her racial prejudices towards Black people. She did not want me to date a man in the first place, having struggled with my coming out, and she did want either of her children to date a person of Black ancestry – the latter being a surprise to me, having no recollection of overt racial prejudices towards Blacks. At the time, when challenged about this, she stated, “You can be their friend, but don’t date them.”
It became apparent to me how naïve I was on understanding people’s prejudices. In retrospect, I realized how my friends reacted to me dating Steven before learning that he was Black – when I described him to others, I said that we met at our youth theatre group, that he was funny, he was a theatre-geek (like me), and loved to read books (like me). I was so lost in my excitement of finally having a boyfriend and having my first kiss that I did not really process the stunned looks on certain friends’ faces when I showed them a picture of him – comments along the lines of “Oh, I never thought you would date a Black guy!” soon followed, or facial expressions akin to that. Now I wonder why is it such a surprise that a non-Black man would find a Black man attractive and wish to date him? Are interracial relationships still such a surprise to people?
Despite being attracted to various men of color throughout high school, I never thought I would date a Black man or an Asian man. As discussed by Isacc Julien, in Confessions of a Snow Queen: Notes on the making of The Attendant, “in this Western culture we have all grown up as snow queens – straights as well as white queers – Western culture is in love with its own (white) image.” White supremacy is both subtle and blatant, and takes on many forms, including who we find desirable. We as queer men of color are raised to identify with and love White male subjects. I always grew up thinking I would date a Hispanic (preferably someone of Ecuadorian ancestry who knew Spanish) or a White person. In retrospect, I realize that I grew up valuing Whiteness, while not acknowledging cultures outside of my own and White America.
When Steven and I started dating, we, as theatre-geeks and avid musical lovers, joked that we were Tony and Maria from West Side Story. We, however, were also aware of the limited meaningful representations of interracial relationships, especially gay interracial relationships. I was desperate to find positive onscreen and literary proxies, as most ended in tragedy or separation due to the forbidden aspect of interracial desire, or the sad reality of homophobic violence towards gay couples. This compounded my feeling of isolation since I was unable to discuss with Steven what was bothering me since I did not want to out my mother as a racist and say the unspeakable.
Steven and I walked hand-in-hand throughout New York City from the very start of our relationship. He told me that we could not initially hold hands in his neighborhood of Gun Hill Road in the Bronx; however, as time went on, after meeting his supportive friends and family, our courage grew and we openly displayed simple acts of affection over the city, despite the risk that could follow.
I would notice supportive smiles and statements from straight allies and fellow queers. One memorable instance was when Steven was resting his head on my lap at Union Square Park and two clearly intoxicated young women, whom I assume were straight, stated that we were “so cute” being an interracial gay couple. It was affirmation, at least. Even their boyfriends, or who I assumed were their boyfriends, were supportive and said to them to leave us alone and not interrupt our tender moment. However, other times were met with rude stares and glances that made me afraid for my safety, despite Steven’s reassurances and ability to defend us physically, if need be. What bothered me was that I was not sure if people were giving us these death glares because we were an openly gay couple, an interracial couple, or both. Not knowing really bothered my paranoid mind.
This feeling did not go away, especially after being verbally assaulted on the train ride to Coney Island just because I was sitting on Steven’s lap when there were no more seats. The ordeal seemed to drag on forever and was the first time I ever truly experienced blatant homophobia and racism in a public setting. The homophobe was a Black man who told us that we were expressing too much displays of affections (I was just sitting on Steven’s lap) in front of his young son; he also stated “just because gays can get married doesn’t mean you can act like this in front of everyone.” He was yelling at us, saying that if he had not been with his young son, he would have slapped some sense into us. He told his adorable child, who was probably age four, that “that” was wrong. Steven and our friend Abby chose to ignore him, laughing him off as some nut. However, it got to me. He pointed out to Steven that, as a Black man, he should “know better” not to date a “White” man or be gay. In this case I was perceived as a “White boy.” It only got worse when he then said that we must have been molested as children, which infuriated the usually calm Steven. Thankfully when we got to Coney Island, we were physically safe, yet I was shaken up by the incidence.
Our relationship did not revolve around or end because of racism or our racial differences; the opposition that existed caused some strain from time to time. I did not openly talk to Steven about the matter due to feeling ashamed of my mother’s racism. I concealed this from him during most of our relationship in order to spare his feelings. It was hard for me as a young gay man at eighteen to be involved in a relationship that was considered forbidden because of homophobia and racism. This eventually caused significant stress upon me that disrupted my ties to my family and others. Over a year and after numerous heart-to-heart discussions, my mother finally became supportive of my homosexuality and my relationship with Steven, yet it was a difficult process for all of those involved.
I recently told my White peer that I dated a Black man and to my surprise, he told me that he once did, too. Now, I ask myself, why was I surprised that my gay male friend also dated a Black man? Was I so accustomed to White, Asian, and Latino gay men telling me that Black men are not their “type”? I immediately assumed that my White friend would not find Black men attractive because he is a White man. Have I become so unaccustomed to hearing others speak openly about their cross-racial relationships, loves, and encounters?
When I started dating Aiden a few months after my relationship with Steven ended, I luckily had a family that was overall supportive of my homosexuality. I considered myself very lucky that my mother had no objections to me dating an Asian man; in fact, when she saw a picture of him kissing my cheek on Facebook, she stated, “Que lindo chinito.” (“What a cute Chinese boy.”) To which I replied: “No, Mami, no es chino. He’s Vietnamese.” My mother’s prejudice regarding interracial dating did not extend towards those of Asian ancestry; however, I wondered, if someone as dear to me as my mother could have racist beliefs, who else in my life held similar views? Who else would I have to be careful about?
Having experienced homophobic and racist microaggressions from loved ones and verbal violence from strangers, I am quick to be defensive. It upsets me each and every time a friend says someone outside of their race is not their “type” just because of a person’s race or skin complexion. I hear from many of my gay male friends that they would never date a Black man; I hear from some gay male friends that they would not date an Asian man because of sexual stereotypes about their penis size. I hear these remarks from the mouths of my peers of different races; I then think about all of my friends that have been hurt by such racist remarks.
When you say, “I don’t date [Black/Asian/Latino] men” I want to know why. I want to ask why. When my non-Asian gay male friends tell me that they are not attracted to Asian men, I want to know what is it that turns them off. What makes a person find an entire racial group unattractive, undesirable? Is it because of skin color, facial features, or other physical characteristics? Is it sexual stereotypes about that group? What is it?
We have to reexamine our desires – not just our romantic attractions but our sexual ones, too. We should call out racist implications and attitudes on Grindr and other forms of social media. Ask why. Why “No Blacks, No Asians, No Femmes”? While we may try to escape reality and indulge in fantasy through pornography, we do no escape the world when we fantasize to and masturbate about other men. We need to address the representation of men of color within gay male pornography and erotica, discuss about the hypersexualization of Black men (whom are often labeled under “Ebony” or “thug” pornography), the emasculation of East Asian men, and so forth. We should pressure pornographic film companies in how they market interracial pornography against using racist labels to describe men of color.
Intersectionality is key, since our gay male community values Whiteness and masculinity; our gender expression and our bodies policed and fetishized through role-play, photographs, and online chats. We as queer men of color are immediately assumed to take on certain sexual positions due to our actual or perceived race and ethnicity. Queer men of color face a risk of being reduced to sexual and racial stereotypes. It is assumed of gay men that are feminine are bottoms, or take on a passive or receptive role during sex; it is often assumed that the taller man in the pair or the more masculine one is the top. We limit ourselves to various binaries on sex roles, based on physical characteristics, such as height, built, femininity, masculinity, and even race and other’s penis size; we imagine we know a person’s sex role based on these traits and others, leaving no room for self-identification. We as men who have sex with men rob each other of sexual autonomy and are robbed of our own.
We must acknowledge our prejudices and fight them with all of our might. Queer men should critically and continually analyze their upbringings, the racial and sexual messages that have been conveyed to them, and to notice whenever cultural violence takes place. These are all hard conversations that must be had. Even between friends and lovers, there can be awkwardness and silence around these issues, but we must embark on this intrapersonal and interpersonal journey in hopes of obtaining some form of social justice, community, and inner peace.
The author (Berto) and his boyfriend (Aiden), 2013
Steven (ex-boyfriend) and Berto, 2011
Berto and Steven at Brighton Beach, 2011
Aiden and Berto, 2012
After Stonewall (2012) - Berto and Aiden