On Queerness, Culture, and Concessions

Last Wednesday I went to a series of short films as part of The Bisexual Resource CenterTruth Serum Productions’ Cinemental and madFEMMEpride‘s 9th “Celebrate Bisexuality Day, aka BI’s Night Out.”

I want to congratulate all of the organizers for a wonderful event. The movies raised some great issues, not only about the changes in the BGLTQ movement for expansion of rights, but also about the nuances for members of the Bi & Trans communities. (For general Information about the films, see here)

“En mi piel” in particular brought out nuances about a light-skinned trans man of mixed race  and his coming to terms with his multicultural identity.   The man had to negotiate the fact that after transitioning, he would be seen as a white male after transitioning, and how this went at odds with his own mixed race and culture. 

Coming from the southwest, where much of the Latino culture has coexisted with and (somewhat) adapted to American culture, it’s not surprising that his mother had grown up intent on assimilating, the safest way of functioning and co-existing in a white-dominated society. As a result, even though she is bilingual, the mother never tried to educate her son about his background. He never learned any Spanish because it would have been a detriment to him, evidence to the fact that yes, he is culturally distinct from his peers. As he transitioned, this chicano tried to get more in touch with his heritage, going to Mexicoand learning more about the half of him he hadn’t been able to explore. In Mexico, he wasn’t white or American; he was just Mexican. Nobody even questioned it, whereas he would always find people here questioning his own Hispanic identity. I found it impressive that his mother, who’d never been to Mexico, had, as a result of his previous voyage, decided to visit with him. Somewhere within her existed a yearning to learn about a side she had denied, but that she apparently always felt separated her from the rest.

What I find most resonating about the film is the struggle of feeling at home in a community, knowing that something does separate the way you and others see the world. It starts simply with the recognition that no matter where we go, we tend to make concessions or excuses about others’ actions. As immigrants of color, we have no choice buy to get along with others in this country: we have to give up something of ourselves not only to survive, but more importantly, to succeed. Whereas a white American (especially those not exposed to other cultures) does not question his identity and its grounding in society, I have no choice but to question my own grounding. For a long time I tried to pick and choose the parts of me that I wanted to reveal to others and I’ve finally come to the realization that if you really want me, you will need to have the whole package. 

It’s tiring. I’m tired of trying to account for others’ disrespect, insensitivity or just plain failure to understand where I’m coming from. I’ve gotten so used to it, it’s almost second nature and somewhat uncomfortable to even bring up. But I have; I’ve made excuses for others over and over and over again.   

I remember very clearly how much living in Colombia for a couple of months centered me in my identity. The moment I came back people all around me said I looked older, more mature, like an adult at last. For once, I felt grounded culturally, I understood why I thought about things a certain way, what it meant for me. When I was there, I didn’t really need to make excuses.