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my pace
Office of Multicultural Affairs—NYC

Bi-Racial, Queer, Femme and Finding My Voice

Add a half a cup brown, half a cup white, 2 tablespoons green, take one out, one cup pink, talk half out; add one cup yellow, a cup of curls and add gold glitter liberally. Let simmer; spice as necessary.

I knew I wasn’t white before I could read. In first grade when our new black principal arrived, my admiration of her was instantaneous. When we went to church and I told my mom that wasn’t what god looked like; that she had dark brown skin and curly pop-pom pigtails. I knew I wasn’t black when the man with the bullhorn yelling at the black kids to get to class because they were late stopped, said hello and asked how my day was. When the kid in my homeroom read the names of my favorite bands and looked at me; bewildered.

I knew I wasn’t straight when I stopped myself to check the perceived gender of a passerby before sharing with my friends that I thought they were cute. When I fell for my best friend. She was brilliant, beautiful, the girl I could share all of my secrets with. I knew I wasn’t gay when I didn’t want to march in pride parades and I knew marriage wasn’t the goal. When I stopped shaving and started processing.

I knew I wasn’t poor when I had two parents working. When I didn’t worry about where my next meals were coming from. I knew I wasn’t rich when my paychecks were spent before they were received. When I hoped the food would last all month. These glaring contradictions led me to explore the identities I called my own and along the way I found many others.

Interracial, was my white mother’s response to my sister telling me we were mixed as a child. That sounded too awkward and formal but mixed didn’t fit right either, so I tried on the black hat and it wasn’t my size. Growing up with a black father who taught me all too well what disappointment means, I succeeded for a while in trying to distance myself from one of my more obvious identities. It was easy enough; the shows I went to, the classes I took and the interests I had didn’t have many other folks who looked like me so I could avoid it for a long time. It wasn’t until a couple of years after he was gone that I finally wanted to search for and re-claim my brown skin. I had previously discovered that I could be black OR gay but not both; fine, I thought, I’ll be neither. After landing on POC and brown I grabbed the ends of those threads and tried to bring them back to queer spaces.

My queerness shaped my politics and my politics dictated my queerness. I figured out what it meant to be a lesbian; apolitical, fast-moving relationships, cats and not-so-great hair, and that wasn’t what I wanted. Then I figured out what the queers were all about; radical activism, body hair, radical relationships, fierce hair and glitter; and that is where I found my home. I began attending organizing meetings, planning marches, workshops, making and contributing to zines and processing everything. I found the folks who wanted to not only discuss but create action around dismantling the gender binary, giving pride back to the people, creating safer spaces for people to be who they are, however they are and creating chosen family. Who ask and respect gender pronouns, name changes, spellings and word spelling alteration to resist an able-ist patriarchal way of using language. When I found my queer community I was able to breathe for the first time. I was no longer the only one in the room wearing a dress with armpit hair, the only female-bodied person with a shaved head, no longer did people want to talk about when they were going to marry their boyfriend and how many children they would have together now I talk about short shorts and glitter over dismantling oppression and different ideologies. Everything had changed.

Old ideas evolved like wildfire; non-monogamy, child-less lives and queering my hair. I found the space to express my desires of being femme, something I had always dreamed I was but I never quite fit until I discovered the difference between straight femme and queer femme and suddenly things made sense again. I could still be femme and wear whatever I want, have body hair, not wear make-up if I didn’t want to but rock lipstick whenever I saw fit. I could be assertive and dominant or demure and submissive, now I could mix up all of those wonderful adjectives. I could flag a right or a left or switch it up all night. I could explore my gender identity and still be femme; I didn’t have to use she/her pronouns, I could use they/them or none at all. I found other people who worshipped body-positivity; the radical notion that your body is amazing just the way that it is. I felt empowered to call myself fat, that word I had been taught to be afraid of. My stretch marks became battle wounds, my body a canvas and the best tool I could ever have. My wardrobe got a little bit shorter, a little bit tighter and a little bit brighter. Earrings were and still are the perfect accessory. This rang true especially when I decided to shave off my famously curly hair.

My hair had always been the one thing that I wouldn’t let me forget who I was had I never taken the time to remember. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it until the brown folks I was surrounded by were trying their best to get rid of their own. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing, I thought. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it before but I did love my curls, they were just as much a part of me as anything else and I was not going to conform to any standards, especially those put out by a white male patriarchal society. Contain them? Contain them for whom? I then became afraid of not having a head full of hair; plus it would take too long to grow back, it wouldn’t look ‘right,’ it wasn’t something girls were supposed to do (turns out grrrls can do it just fine) plus everyone loved my curly hair. Was I now hanging on to this big, head of curls for someone else? Was that not the reason I wouldn’t tame them? I was in hair school at the time which was an extremely oppressive environment for a fat, queer, working-class, brown grrrl with thoughts of their own to exist in and finally the question of when I would allow my hair to be straightened ended. No, I will not allow you to attempt to put me in a box and silence my voice. So off they went. They have been slowly returning and it is great to see how my hair grows and how many more brown folks are allowing themselves to love their hair in the naturally and looking fierce while doing it.

Weaving all of these things together has given me back my voice, reminded me how to scream and that I can make as much noise as I want or need to. Once I found a solid foundation I could begin to dig deeper to explore more of who was under the labels. I keep digging up more and more which leads to unraveling the well-put together mess I’ve become.

It started twenty-one years ago, though that part does not matter as much as what came after. The priority was and still is happiness. She did not plan for this to happen. War is never the answer. I left you without saying goodbye far too many times and now can no longer tell who is leaving whom. Fate may have played a part or maybe have really been in control the whole time. You were missing. I am missing, you. Safety is the lie I tell myself before I fall asleep. I wanted to accomplish what I had set out to do, with you in my life. I am trying to forget everything. I never forgot, just moved on. It was time. Kindness was taught through the example of your hidden beauty. I miss you. I miss missing you. She wanted me. I knew that much was true. Many things I did not even know were dreams came true.

Advice is a form of nostalgia, a way to redo your own mistakes through someone else. Regrets hardened me. Regrets softened me. Regrets made me close my eyes and eventually they made me jump. I measured the great strength through the fire in your eyes. Forgiveness was not essential, but it did help the knot in my stomach from overtaking me. I left out the important parts. It has taken me four times. I am still working on it. He meant it when he said it. Hope helps. She is my savior. Hoping created an illusion of perfection. Truth carries a lot of weight, but how do you know when one is telling the truth?

I was at peace floating under that moon. Enough is enough. You will know when I have had enough. Fear has not motivated me the way it should. Passion motivates me. Conflict has lead to things that never would have been realized otherwise. I have learned nothing and everything at the same time. I am learning from everyone and they are all learning from me. It is still hard that I said goodbye. It is hard to say goodbye when I care. I always care.

Life is busy. Sometimes it is full. Her life is not that fair. We may meet again. It makes me smile the way you think we will. I am not so sure. However, there may be a big surprise. There are so many ways to get there and I have created one more. You started it with your ten-dollar words. The still point is in the water, under the moon. The unseen forces are always at work. I have had more than enough, but I keep going back for more. Masochist.

Passion can create. Passion can destroy. Passion is the only thing that has ever made sense to me. Promises give me a false sense of hope. You can help by never promising me a rose garden. Experience teaches me to build my walls of out sand so you can at least attempt to see the other side. He ended up there because he is trying to save the world and keeps forgetting to save himself. The danger in honesty is that they will find out how powerful yet maybe also vulnerable you really are. It frightens me that I am becoming idle again. They remember our first kiss. Is it still a secret if it is not kept? “When you grow up your heart dies.” She wanted this to happen. I made it happen. Injustice enrages me. It can be resolved through education and openness. It is harder than I let on. Time is flying now that I am running out. The impact of love is deadly. I could have said everything, anything; instead of watching you walk away. There is not enough time to say all that I have to say. “They were only words and I never meant them”

Fall 2010