December 3, 2011

#i’mbitter

[Disclaimer: I’m not here to play Oppression Olympics, i.e., “when two or more groups compete to prove themselves more oppressed than each other…in which the most oppressed are worthier” (definition provided by Geek Feminism Wiki). I am merely assessing a personal issue I’ve been meaning to explore for quite some time but never had the courage to remotely start articulating my thoughts…until now. Also, I apologize in advance if some of the things presented here instigate some confusion (read: I’m sleep deprived/not completely alert/am a perpetrator of word vomit/this is too complicated to maintain coherency) and can be perceived as facetious due to copious amounts of sarcasm; you’re more than welcomed to approach me with your questions, I’ll try to answer them as efficiently as possible and with less humor (read: I’ll ramble on until someone intervenes).]

In the same vein found in previous posts, particularly equally read-worthy ones by Ryan and Kory, I admit: It sucks when you’re bitter with life. Well, that in of itself is a rather loaded statement to make, I know. I’m still riddled by the gravity of it, saddened even, and how heavily it applies to my multifaceted life. It’s worse when you’re so conscientiously aware of it, too.

You must be asking yourself, why so bitter, Sara?

Unlike those aforementioned posts, I’m bitter about other things, things you can’t necessarily escape from unless you choose to turn an ignorant eye, as most often do unbeknownst to them. I’ll break it down for you, simple really, I’ll attempt to avoid the gritty, visceral details because it’s already nuanced enough with the first couple layers, let’s avoid this post from turning into a dissertation of some sorts (another day, then, maybe).

At the core of it, once you unravel the convoluted tangles and piece together the split ends, my dissatisfaction predominately stems from this epiphany I’ve unknowingly juggled with all my life:

I am doubly marginalized, y’all—I’m a minority in a minority.

…Now what does that actually mean?

As a woman of color, it’s unfortunate to admit that “marginalized” is a way of life, even more so because as being biracial I’ve struggled to fit in either racial community without having to overcompensate for one or ridding my association of them both. I continually have to validate my existence in both communities, reiterating to them that I am half Korean, I am half Black, I am both, please accept that, accept me. Except…to say it’s messy is a gross understatement.

“Oh, wait, sorry, you’re too dark to be considered Korean.”

“You’re not black enough to be Black.”

“You’re also a woman? Tough luck, kiddo, this patriarch-friendly society deems you oversensitive, invalidates and belittles your so-called oppression, and would like you to take a seat, Miss Man-Hating, Femi-Nazi, LOL.”

You don’t meet these stifling, ridiculous, you-need-to-read-this-invisible-manual requirements that somebody had to have written, because we sure follow them with little to no amounts of questioning the rationale behind them. Navigating between two begrudgingly, dissimilar worlds is taxing, frustrating, a unapologetically tragic journey I’ve allowed others to allocate me to, and so deeply ingrained in how others perceive me, I sometimes forget that it hides the real me just lying underneath.

Now throw in some queer in the mixture, and you’re just digging yourself a deeper grave. What’s even harder is the isolation, self-imposed or not, I’ve experienced in queer culture as well. When I first began my questioning phase (quick disclaimer: I refer it as a phase, because it was a phase for me, and I’m not saying questioning for all those who experience it should be labeled as such), I temporarily avoided human interaction and turned to my safety blanket—media, be it literature, TV, the internet, whatever. Consequently, what I discovered was disheartening: There is a scarcity of open racial diversity in the LGBT culture.

Do you know the difficulty of finding a fictional character who’s a person of color and isn’t the token, isn’t weighed down by preconceived stereotypes, isn’t a caricature of some narrow-minded perception painted by ignorance and just so happens to be LGBT-identified on top of that?

Do you realize half of those characters have limited screen time, are only important for Aesopic Episodes, episodes that teach a moral, whose sexual orientation or gender identity is the sole marker that makes them holistically unique from all the other characters?

Do you know how much harder it is to find "out" celebrities who are people of color as well? My pool of potential role models is so much thinner than any dating pool I’ve personally encountered.

Sure, media is slowly picking up the slag, but we’re far from reaching a good, safe place that doesn’t automatically place cisgendered, white gay males, sometimes lesbian females if it’s generous, as the default representation of the LGBT community. People need to cease describing media as “progressive” simply because it portrays LGBT-identified characters in popular television programs. For example, I’m sorry, but Glee is just not a sufficient example of your so-called “progressiveness”, and if you want to disagree with me, be my guest. I for one am not content with your differing treatments between LGBTQ couples Kurt/Blaine* and Santana/Brittany, where you handle the white gay male couple with far more care and meticulous depth and leave the queer women—a bisexual and a Hispanic-Latino American lesbian, who (spoilers!!) after being outed, is rejected by a beloved family member—to the ravages of stereotypes (“oversexualized, high school cheerleader lesbians”, but it’s gotten better…marginally). Santana's story as a queer woman of color is a realistic reflection of 21st society. Non-white communities continue to shun individuals of their respective communities because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Homogeny is the way to go; otherwise you’re ostracized right out of the group. If you’re an out person of color and you haven’t been a victim of backlash, you’re incredibly lucky. Unfortunately, I can assert that it’s a rarity to come across that sentiment.

There is an abundance of important conversations to be had, and wonderful people in Our Community here at Duke have already prompted these discussions on the blog, and I hope that my post further promotes more discussion. There’s something empowering when you see people that have shared shades of similar experiences you yourself have felt/endured/struggled with.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.” If Our Community marginalizes amongst ourselves, what good can we do when it comes to Fight the Good Fight for Equality? Wouldn’t its significance diminish in the process? We can strive to look past our own deep-seated prejudices and embrace and accept each and every member of Our Community and ultimately every marginalized group of people.

But for now? I’m bitter, and I am remotely okay with that.

* This is what I mean when media thinks this is the default for Our Community - cisgendered, white, and male. "Changing Hollywood?" Not. By. Much. Ugh.

5 comments:

  1. Dear Sara,
    So you're different. Hallelujah!
    Everyone faces difficulties, pain, and situations they consider to be unfair or undeserved.
    It is easy to get weighed down by our own struggles and forget the miracle of being alive every day.
    Bitterness can be a veil over our eyes.
    I hope you can see through it to the beauty and possibilities of your life.
    Love,
    a mom

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sara - THIS IS WONDERFUL. We freaking need voices like this in our community so, so badly here at Duke and beyond. As a queer woman, I can totally relate that it makes me so angry when folks credit modern-day white gay male media as being "progressive"; and it's just like you said-it's not progressive in the modern U.S. sense of the word at all. It's also amazing to continue to read more about queer women of color on the blog-it's really brave and wonderful of you to write something like this, especially when its SO NEEDED. Thank you! You didn't have to put yourself out here like you did, and I really admire and respect you for doing it. =)

    Anonymous above me-
    I would like to challenge you to re-read Sara's post and challenge on your comment. I don't think we can say that things are "equal". Yes, as you say, "everyone faces difficulties", but as Sara outlines above, these are not the same type of difficulties. For example, it would be so short-sighted of me, to say, as a white queer woman, that Sara and I face similar daily experiences. Take Sara's point of finding role models in the media; if I want to find LGBTQ role-models who look like me (aka white), I don't have to look that far. Sara just articulated that LGBTQ women of color are more difficult to find. Do we both face difficulty finding LGBTQ role models who are women? Of course. Are these the same difficulties? No. Sara is merely addressing that fact, as she should.

    Futhermore, I want to challenge you on your last statement as well. What Sara says above certainly doesn't "veil" her ability to see beauty and possibilities-she is simply talking about the long-held silence around issues of LGBTQ women of color. In fact, I would argue that Sara is LIFTING a veil for the rest of our community-as I've noticed in my own personal experience, so many "progressive" individuals don't even stop to recognize the uniqueness of multiple minority identities.

    -Megan

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh Glee, it went from season 1 being fun to watch to season 3 being something that I never want to watch again. MOSTLY for the reasons you've stated here. Again the media is telling me that I matter less, etc. etc., so why would I even bother to keep watching it (especially when I couple that with the other things I dislike about the show).

    But yeah, queer woman of color = isolation and uncertainty (which I'd argue reaches far beyond the ranks of "Forever Alone"). But really, what is there to do? America--and therefore American media--has struggled so hard with both race and sexuality. To mix the two is obviously going to be something that is a foreign idea to most, especially since the media is only now being more open to main characters of color and those of non-heterosexual sexuality. We've got a long way to go, and I'd say YEARS will pass before we even see a successful media portrayal of colored AND queer. Which is really sad. :(

    Anyway, great post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I. FEEL. YOU.

    The media is shameful, and problematic on so many levels. Not seeing yourself represented does take it's toll, for sure.

    For me the solution has been to find alternative communities and representations of QWOC away from the mainstream- tumblr is a huge part of that (which also often points me to resources/media that are QPOC representative/created, etc) and then also focusing on spending more time appreciating and having convos with the *actual real life* people I do know- whether in person or online- who "get it." Instead of looking to an institution that is almost inherently designed against us and not for us (by virtue of its capitalist nature and its general ownership by a white, hetero, male elite)... for me lately there's the issue of putting my energy into trying to 'fix up' things instead of channeling it into more immediately sustaining projects of alternatives.

    I feel like for so long I was super fight-the-system and it burned me way out. Not I realize I need to make sure I'm nourishing myself FIRST, then/also being critical and activist. This is just me, and just at this very specific point in my life right now (seriously recently considering moving to an all WOC/QWOC commune).. but I'm not saying we shouldn't be angry or complain or interrogate these things!

    I actually want to have this convo in person, b/c I'm self conscious about this sounding prescriptive... Unlike anon above, I don't think you're being bitter at all. I think you're being real, and honest, and that marginalized/oppressed people like me and you have every right to feel whatever we want about this kind of stuff :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. ...Or, sorry, let me say that even if you are "bitter" there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. (I just realized you described and titled your own post as bitter!) Essentially, I agree with what Megan said about the veiling and bitterness as a negative...

    ReplyDelete