At first Queer Secrets seemed to be written in a foreign language. Demisexual. Cisgendered. Panromantic. Genderqueer. Intersex. Dysphoria. These words, which initially seemed pedantic and clinical, came alive as secret makers attached them to their stories. Some people didn’t yet have words to describe themselves. Some loved labels, some rejected them. Queer. Questioning. Asexual. Dapper queer. Dapper femme. Sub. Dom. Genderfluid. Transmasculine. Words of pride. Words of inclusivity and exclusivity. Words that defy the status quo, both heteronormativity and homonormativity.
I’m in my friend and cultural soulmate Hilly’s room (background: half white, half Hispanic, no one believes she's Hispanic, grew up in suburban southern California) , talking about a monologue I just wrote for next year’s Me Too Monologues.
What am I? is a theme of this monologue. I reflect on my gradual whitening since arriving at Duke. I wanted to finally express what word fit me, what experiences were similar to mine. Is my cultural and ethnic ambiguity a disappearing mirage or the symptom of an unchanging quality? I knew that “culturally Hispanic” was no longer cutting it. I’m culturally mixed not culturally Hispanic. And ethnically white? That’s a statement of fact, even if I’m not comfortable putting White on government forms or dating sites. So I’m culturally Hispanic/white, ethnically white. In that order. Like a heteroromantic asexual or a female-bodied genderqueer, right?
My body passes for Hispanic. My experiences pass for Hispanic. My pain and fear and anger and observations pass for Hispanic. The reason why no one ever “finds me out” is that at my core I’m not 100% white. There’s nothing for me to hide. Hispanic cultural and social events are not an opportunity for observation and cross-cultural education (nothing wrong with that, it’s what I do at other cultural and religious events) they are an opportunity for me for feel alive and connected to myself and others who share my values and cultural background.
If someone assumes I'm a recent immigrant or my first language is Spanish I'll correct them. The myriad other assumptions people make are so subtle I don't know if they're in my head, and if they involve culture (not ethnicity) a correction isn't actually needed. Blurting out that I'm white would just create distance and uphold the ridiculous idea of a monolithic whiteness that must be asserted at all times. It's like saying "That dude looks nice, no homo" or that I'm a straight ally.
Why do I feel torn about not correcting people? Eventually someone from Duke will meet my parents (who are quite culturally and ethnically white) and know what's going on. And an ethnically white person who identifies as anything other than white is just not cool.
The ability to navigate different cultures, to be accepted in different countries, to pass for different races is a privilege. A white privilege. A white person who adopts the cultural practices of a non-white people for fun, entertainment or street credibility is engaging in cultural appropriation, and it’s not cool. The key difference is that my Hispanicness is not a front or a phase. When I went to London I didn’t talk in a British accent or dance “whiter.” When I go home to San Antonio I don’t put on a chola tear and a bandanna and eat rice and beans every day. My Hispanicness is not mired in stereotype, irony, fascination or choice. It's not mentioned in contrast to my whiteness, nor is it trumped by my whiteness. It’s just me. All day every day, expressed in subtle ways.
Some people appropriate LGBT culture for fun, entertainment or street credibility. But not everyone who isn’t strictly L, G, B or T is engaging in appropriation. What about the pansexual person who has only been in heterosexual relationships? Polyamorous people? Bigendered, genderqueer and gender-non conforming humans? An effeminate straight dude? Straight people who pass for queer? Heteroflexible folks? A heteroromantic asexual? People who reject labels? Though they aren’t always accepted by the LGBT community, they live in the rainbow tree house. They, along with the entire LGBTQQIA diaspora, keep our community humming and relevant.
I’m not a one-off. Think all the children who have been adopted transculturally/ethnically/racially. The Colombian grad student who was adopted into a white family. People so ethnically/culturally/racially mixed they don’t know who they are, where they came from or where they fit in. Hispanic Afro-Caribbean people. The white guy who was Valedictorian at Morehouse.
Hopefully when we start posting our own queer secrets the words will appear.
My queer secret would say:
I'm culturally Hispanic/white, ethnically white. It's not a phase or a front. I'm not comfortable with the White greek scene at Duke or at nearly all-white events. I don't fit conventional white beauty standards. (But who does?) I talk with a Spanish accent. I'm told I don't dance like a white girl...every time I go out. Sometimes I have to represent Hispanic culture because I can't deal with ignorance and racism. When I embrace my mixedness I feel alive, but also guilty. People like me are supposed to be bad people, or at least the butt of jokes. I'm culturally queer and sexually queer. If I think about this too much my head will explode.