As we wind down from Valentine's Day into the coming of a new spring, I’ve found myself frequently stunted in reflection throughout my journey toward the future. With my last few months of highschool slipping into the past as quickly as I can grasp onto their significance, and college creeping up, I –alongside my peers– rarely find moments to just exist in the present. I get simultaneously swept away into the rushing anticipation of new experiences while pulled back to my roots to measure how far I’ve come; yet, I barely even think about this place that I’ve come to. I think about who I was years ago and who I will be only months from now, but who am I now? Do I know myself? Entangled within my concerns regarding money, future success, and pride, I unearthed a variable to my anxiety and questioning that I hadn’t previously taken into relevant consideration: being queer.
First, I’d like to establish some brief context. The light guiding my personal realization of queerness and its effect on life has been none other than literary critic Eve Kosovsky Sedwick. As author Maggie Nelson beautifully accents in her work The Argonauts, “Sedwick wanted to make way for ‘queer’ to hold all kinds of resistances and fracturings and mismatches that have little to nothing to do with sexual orientation” (The Argonauts, pg. 28-29). This also obviously builds from the reclamation and celebratory usage of “queer” apart from its derogatory past. Sedwicks fluid interpretation of queerness as omnipresent, defiant, eccentric, and relative provides a key cornerstone to my argument. It’s so, so much more than just free love or preferred pronouns, and as important as the recognition of these elements is, it’s revolutionary that we let “queer” be whatever it wants.
I’d also like to hammer in the purpose of this article. In no way do I intend to elevate myself above others in speaking on this subject. Though I will not apologize for holding these opinions, I address them fully aware that I am A) not the only person with this experience, and B) not superior to anyone who doesn't share this experience. Nothing I say is prescriptive of what “queerness” means to all who resonate with it. What I find most important with this type of vulnerability and commentary is its validation of the dignity, frustration, joy, fears, and pride of others who seek an avenue to further understand themselves.
From here I may elaborate on the significance of queerness in my holistic reflection of self, specifically highlighting the complex relationship of queerness and race. I’ve found that my experiences seeking comfort within my sexuality/gender alongside my ethnicity mirror each other in many more ways than I could have imagined, settling on the common grounds of two major factors: materialism and community.
We fight for queerness as a movement, but we don’t want that stolen and packaged back in a polyester flag. I’m aware that this comes off as harsh, but that giddy moment of excitement in seeing the annual Target Pride section will never last as long as that rainbow-banded jacket will in a landfill. In a corporatized world this issue is inescapable, especially so in the lives of minority groups. Working toward finding peace with my racial identity in my past, present, and future meant confronting a unifying, yet disheartening similarity between (simply put) “the queer minority” and “the race minority”. If being queer is about living to make an unapologetic difference, a movement, some may assume that the POC (Person/People of Color) experience checks that box; however, for many on the inside its not living, and no way in hell is it unapologetic. It's being stripped and starved of identity, then gorging yourself on every bit of it that you can buy back. Just as they say “you are what you eat,” this reduction of culture in the cycle of appropriation and consumption not only fuels you, but becomes you.
In becoming a monolith of culture reduced to something palatable and marketable, minority communities undoubtedly lose solidarity and empowerment with one another. Taking queerness and race, either group’s presence within the other stirs up some striking examples of how stereotyping only seeks to dissolve power and ostracize. For example, the challenges of coming out as a POC only become amplified by the added layer of pressure and oppression one likely experiences with racial discrimination on top of discrimination faced from being queer. Forced to conform to the norms of a society that prioritizes being white, capitalist, and heterosexual, many POC are excluded from the luxuries of self-actualization and liberty. While the struggles caused by homophobic and racist oppression share many similarities, members of each group (or both) are prevented from realizing our potential strength in their solidarity. Finding a space to exist freely within all facets of one’s identity then becomes increasingly difficult.
My ending advice: taking the time to get to know yourself when given the opportunity is a priceless investment. Allow yourself to live for your own fulfillment, and speak out on what weighs on your mind free of guilt or shame. Ultimately, my only reason to confront these issues is to reject their consequences radically. Recognizing oppression is the first huge step toward overcoming it. To any readers who resonate, whether it’s in queer unity or not, forgive yourselves for feeling like an outsider. Take labeless expression and run with it, and most importantly, recognize the worth of who you are today and the strength you hold.