Tag Archives: queer people of color

Edges

This post is inspired out of a recent conversation with the magnificent Wheelchair Dancer.  As two physically disabled women of color, a conversation about our edges is complicated.  There are many edges and, for me, it is hard to know where to begin and how to enter.  Our conversation began around a table in the sun one afternoon with not nearly enough time to share everything. We decided we would continue it here on our blogs and post our thoughts on the same day at the same time.  Her post can be found here

I am grateful for this space to talk about my edges, a place to lay down some of the swirling mass inside my head and body.  When I think about edges, I think about my limits, the places where I need to stop in order to take care of myself.  I think about my physical limits particularly, as someone with a physical disability, and how far is “too far” to push my body.  Many times this was dependent on actually being able to feel my body—a complicated task for so many of us.

As someone assigned female at birth and socialized as a disabled girl and woman of color by white adoptive parents, my emotional edges have seemed impossible to find.  I have always felt that because I have physical limitations, I can’t have emotional ones.  It has felt like I’ve had to learn how to hold emotional space for others, in order to redeem my physical “shortcomings.”  As a girl and woman of color adoptee it felt like this was a way to “fit in,” to not be a burden, a way to finally feel wanted.  It was a way that I could give back, instead of always being made to feel like I was taking too much, instead of constantly being called “lazy.”  A way I could hold other people and have them be dependent on me, instead of the other way around. Pushing past my emotional edge has looked like giving too much emotionally, denying my own emotional needs for the sake of others, holding emotional intensity even when I didn’t want to or wasn’t ready to, shrinking, never sharing my emotions with people or learning how to make others feel emotionally (comfortable) close to me, but rarely having people I felt emotionally close to or comfortable with.

This strategy of emotional edge pushing also aligned with being feminine and indeed, as people who are (socialized to be) feminine, we are taught that it is our job to take care of other people’s emotions, denying our own.  As a disabled girl of color, wanting to try and find any way into “woman,” not having emotional edges seemed to be almost desirable; or rather, it seemed like it would make me more desirable.  The cruel cutting twist that heteronormativity seemed like the only route back to being desirable after ableism had pushed me out and adoption had pulled (taken) me away, and left me with a life-size puzzle of asian-disabled-womanhood to put together on my own.

I have lived a life of pushing myself too far, well past my edge, partly to survive and partly because I had no clue where my edge was.  And this is still true in so many ways.  Ableism is so seductive, so alluring, so all-together-spell-binding, that I find myself erasing my edges and redrawing them, until I become laid up sick in bed or physically injure myself.  I am constantly navigating access or connection, “my edge” or being with community.  The pull of connection and relationships, is always what gets me.  It excites me and makes me abandon my edge.  It is the part of me that foolishly thinks I can be someone who can party hop, work a 14 hour day and then go and socialize, doesn’t need sleep, doesn’t need to bring my wheelchair.  It is internalized ableism.  It is the seduction of ableism.  And it has been the only way I have been able to be part of queer people of color community and social justice community in any real way.

I know what’s at stake.  The edge is no mystery.  I know that disabled and sick people are coerced in small and big, covert and blatant ways everyday to harm ourselves by systems, institutions and the very people we love and who love us.  I know that the life I have lived, the amount of people that I know, the relationships I have been able to build, the access to love, sex, desire, laughter and community that I have had are a direct reflection of (and have been dependent on) me pushing past my edge.  Otherwise, I could not have been part of the work that I so love and the communities that have saved my life.

This should not be the way it has to be.  We cannot keep asking our kin to harm themselves to feel like they belong or to be worthy of connection.  We cannot keep expecting that ableism (and capitalism) will do the work for us to keep disabled people segregated or propel us to push, those of us who can, past our edges.  This is what I think about when I think about edges.  I know I am one fall, one slip away from a very different edge; one that doesn’t have as much give and take.  One that cannot do stairs, even on a good day, even with enough shame to motivate me.

I am learning to find my edge.  My edge is different on different days.  Some days I can feel my body, some days I can’t.  Some days the pain makes it too hard of a place to be.  Some days I can handle what is revealed from feeling, some days I can’t.

There is memory there, mixed with blood and bone, cells and tissue.  There is history that you cannot turn away from embedded in these veins.  There is a telling of war and pain, division and separation, loneliness and longing, humiliation and violence, resiliency and returning.  There are stories of a land, a family, a body, a heart, a life.  Knowing my edge means knowing all of this, as well as when I feel tired and when I need to rest.  Knowing my edge means knowing myself and all the ways my body (heart) has been pushed past what was good for it.  It means knowing inside and out that belonging does not have to be proven or earned or sacrificed for; it is for all of us.  For all of us.

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“Intersectionality” is a Big Fancy Word for My Life

(Excerpts from MBGLTACC 2010 Keynote Address)

picture of a green bottle with grass and trees behind it.We have to confront white supremacy within LGBT and Queer communities.  A queer politic MUST include solidarity with people of color; it MUST include fighting racism and white supremacy.  Because we aren’t queer OR people of color; queer OR white; queer OR able bodied; queer OR working class.  We can’t just decide to come together as queer people and expect that we are all going to be united and work together—or that we’ll even feel comfortable.

We must be willing to have hard conversations as queer people with each other about how we are different as queer people.  It helps us to expand what “queerness” is—to see that there are many different ways to be queer.  We can’t be afraid to do our own work at our own tables.  And yes, there is much work to be done out there, with folks who aren’t queer.  Yes, that is important too, but we are outsiders here as well.  Because really, there is no “out there.”

For those of us living with multiple oppressed identities, we know this well.  And as adoptees, we know this well—especially as transracial and transnational adoptees.  As people who straddle many different communities, so much of our work must be done with the people in our own communities.  And we do this work for our very survival, because often times, we do not have a choice not to.  There is literally no where else to go.  Our homes are rarely comfortable. (And I know as queer folks we know something about that too).

To the queer white folks in the audience and the folks who benefit from white privilege, I would ask you: how are you connecting your fight for queer liberation to challenging white supremacy?  How are you connecting your queerness to your white privilege?  How are you listening to queer people of color in your world, supporting them and practicing solidarity?  How are you actively noticing how whiteness, racism and white supremacy play out in queer communities, student groups, organizations, and movements?

Racism and white supremacy are so pervasive, that we don’t even have to be consciously or intentionally doing anything to participate in them.  It’s in the air we breathe; it’s how the machine rolls; it’s the default.  It’s backed by everything in our society.  That’s the thing about oppression, power and privilege: unless you are actively challenging it, you are colluding with it. We live in a heterosexist society, we live in an ableist society and we all have a responsibility to actively work against it. We can’t guarantee that things won’t be ableist or won’t be racist (that’s not the world we live in right now); but we CAN guarantee that when there is racism, when there is ableism, that we will do something about it.  We will LISTEN to those most impacted; we will listen to people of color, we will listen to disabled folks; we will listen to trans folks; we will listen to queer disabled people of color—and hear them.  We can guarantee that we will act and communicate with each other.  And we will make mistakes; and we will learn from them.

There is no such thing as neutrality.  If you have privilege, you can never be neutral, because you are constantly benefiting off of that privilege—even at the same time as you are also being oppressed. That is what “intersectionality” (for lack of a better word) is about.  It is about moving beyond single-issue politics; it’s about understanding the complexities of our lives.  It is understanding that fighting for racial justice IS queer; fighting for disability justice IS queer.

It is trying to understand the way our differences lie down inside of us, as Audre Lorde would say.  It is knowing that heterosexist and patriarchal modes of family and gender and sexuality were used in service of white supremacy as the building blocks used to colonize first nation communities and communities of color and their lands.  It is knowing that women of color’s sexualities and genders are policed everyday (in different ways), whether they identify as queer or not. It is being able to hold the trauma and exploitation of transracial and transnational adoptees, as queer people who often think that transracial and transnational adoption is a valid route to parenting.  It is holding the power of building queer family and new models of parenting AND also challenging compulsory child bearing in a heteronormative culture.  It is knowing that race gets used strategically to divide us all the time as queer people.  That ableism, capitalism and class get used to make us think that independence, freedom and consumer choice are more important than justice and liberation.

“Intersectionality” is a big fancy word for my life; for your life, for our lives.  It encompasses so much more than I could ever talk about in one talk.

Intersectionality is not just talking about the places you’re oppressed, but also the places where you have privilege.  Intersectionality is disabled white folks enacting their white entitlement through their disability identity.  It’s me having to choose between the POC caucus, the disability caucus, the API women’s caucus, or the adoptee caucus at the Creating Change in Detroit.  It’s thousands of LGBT and queer folks coming out for pride and 150 people coming out for Transgender Day of Remembrance…

So I would say the same thing to the queer able-bodied folks in the audience and the folks who benefit from able-bodied privilege (in many different ways):  how are you connecting your fight for queer liberation to challenging able-bodied supremacy?  How are you connecting your queerness to your able-bodied privilege?  How are you listening to queer disabled folks in your world, supporting them and practicing solidarity?  How are you actively noticing how ability, ableism and able-bodied supremacy play out in queer communities, student groups, organizations, and movements?

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