thoughts on queer visibility from intersectional point of view

Hi. I am an Asian-looking woman in her 20s who’s been living in Germany for the past 11 years. And I’m also queer.

I wasn’t born knowing I was gay. In fact, being anything other than heterosexual simply wasn’t a concept in the country I grew up in. I started questioning my (hetero)sexuality when I had already been living in Germany for six years, and it took me another five or six years to the point I am at today.

But by the time I first started noticing my attraction to girls, I was already familiar with racism and the feeling of being the “other”. It’s a disconcerting feeling, like a bucket of ice-cold water being thrown over your head every day when you least expect it. It’s also a constant companion, because you can never escape it as long as you are among white people. It’s the feeling of alienation and isolation and paranoia. It’s Du Bois’ double-consciousness and estrangement from yourself.

This feeling of otherness has accompanied me every single day for the past 11 years. One of the reasons why it’s inescapable and such a huge part of my identity is because of my appearance. A race visibility, if you will. I recently learned that an adult needs only 120 milliseconds to register another person’s skin color. Only after that you notice the gender, age, etc. I can’t change the way I look, even though during my teenage years, I would have scraped my skin off if that meant that I’d turn into a white-looking girl. I don’t know how to explain the crushing – and this feels literal – sense of alienation, of isolation. The desire to jump out of my skin, only literally.

So when it comes to being an Asian, a foreigner, I was thrust into the battlefield way before I was ready, and it’s a battle I take up every day. Because being a person of color is a visible thing, sometimes painfully so. But how about being queer?

Admittedly, the majority of the years I spent in confusion about my sexuality (which will come and go, I am sure), I did so in my head. It was an internal battle, and even when I did first come out as bisexual (because that’s how I identified myself as for that period of my life), it was only to a handful of closest friends, plus my mom and my sister. Most of them were like, oh okay, and the topic never came up again. Because how do you portray your sexuality?

In our heteronormative culture, most of us are assumed as being straight unless told or shown otherwise. I am dead sure that I pass as straight for 99% of the time, benefiting from straight privileges. This experience of passing – it’s so different from my experience as being an Asian that I am flabbergasted. On the one hand, it’s so nice not to have to spend the time and energy on trying to diffuse the feelings of otherness. On the other hand, though, the otherness doesn’t disappear just because they are not visible. What’s more, this invisibility might even have a further consequence, and that’s questioning the legitimacy of my identity.

Being queer is something I had to establish first. Because it isn’t tangible, I tried to ignore it, run away from it, trivialize it. And most of the time I did so by keeping quiet about it. Even now, heteronormativity is so pervasive that I catch myself thinking that I am not really gay, of course I am straight, I’m doing all this just to get attention! (And then I imagine myself in a heterosexual relationship and hit myself on the head. Of course I love women. Duh.) You know what helps against this constant questioning of yourself? Talking about it. Talking with others about your experiences, their experiences, your feelings, their feelings. Connecting with other people and sharing stories help me realize that confusion is normal. Feeling conflicted is normal. Best of all, all forms of loving is normal: same-sex, different-sex, non-binary, pansexual, asexual…

In order to have these conversations, though, you have to find other queer people, and “out” yourself in the process. (The only way I can think of is to go about wrapped up in a giant rainbow flag, so if you have any ideas about how to display queerness, please let me know in the comments.) I realize that being out is not something that every queer person can safely choose. We all have to decide for ourselves when and how to come out. To be very honest, I myself am not sure whether I am prepared to be confronted with the subtle (and not-so-subtle) homophobia every day.

But here’s the thing: I won’t have to confront homophobia every day, because, compared to being a person of color, being gay is less visible, especially if you are not in a relationship. At the end of the day, I am torn between wanting to be visible – to own that part of my identity – and my desire for a less exhausting life. Because it does drain you of energy, this constant awareness of being the “other”. There’s no easy solution for this, only personal choices.

Stay safe. Be brave.

children in the zoo

They asked my name. I let the sound of my name roll through my mind, but it sounded off-key somehow, as if I had hit a black key while playing a C major scale. Even though I only knew a handful phrases in this new language, I could hear that my name did not fit into this new melody.

I thought I was watching a movie, seeing all these kids with their light hairs and blue eyes and exotic facial structures – I couldn’t say what was different, aside from the obvious color difference, only that it was different –, just as I had seen them in the movie theater or at home on DVDs. But in truth, it was me who was on display, and they all gawked at me like I was some strange animal. I think the reality hit me then and there like a sack of flour thrown on my head. I was the stranger. I was the different one, not them. For the first time in my eleven years, I saw myself from the outside, as if my soul had left my body and was critically examining it: black hair, black eyes, exotic facial structure, darker skin. Just, somehow, different.

They asked me what the name of my best friend was. What did it matter? Her name sounded just as wrong as my name. Just as off-key. Just another thing to single me out as different. I hated my voice as it came out in whisper, because her name was tainted now. I would think of her name and not think of us hanging out after school, waiting for her mother to pick her up (and me secretly wishing that I could borrow a ride); not remember the afternoons we spent screaming in laughter; nor would I feel warmth rushing through me when I thought of our history, our friendship. Instead, when I thought of her name, I didn’t feel anything. She felt hollow, so incredibly far way both in physical distance and in myself, as if I had dreamed her up and now that I was awake, she was gone.

The world was a cold, lonely place. I lost my name, my friends, and my past in the course of maybe five minutes. They weren’t gone forever, of course, but they were covered, and it was only much later that I found the tools to carefully scrape off the surface as to damage neither the first layer nor the hidden painting underneath.

But discriminations feel similar, independent of what you are discriminated against. So when I feel like I am the unluckiest, unhappiest child under the sky, I think of the other black, Asian, Latin-American, indigenous people; of people of ethnic minorities; of women; of Muslims; of people of religious minorities; of people with disability; of people of rainbow colors; of people from abusive families; of people with poverty; of people with mental illness; of people with physical illness.
I think, too, of the people who couldn’t understand my experience but who did listen; people who made me feel welcome; people who didn’t make a big deal out of the difference; people who respected the difference; people with smiles, people with kind words.
Solidarity gives you strength, but small gestures of acceptance and friendliness smooths the sharp, jagged edges of pain. Sometimes I think growing strong means feeling more pain; without the occasional healing, we’d all go mad. Kindness is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.