A Space for Women of the World
It is not too often that you hear somebody say that they embrace their Queerness because it feels safe. Yet I find myself standing here, in front of this scared, newly-out young woman about to tell her exactly that. Not simply to assuage her palpable fear, although I would like to lessen her burden, but because it is my most honest truth.
Shortly over a quarter century ago, I arrived on this earth in the form of a roughly seven-pound miracle. At least that is what my parents like to tell me. My mother had her tubes tied a few years before I was born, so I was an unexpected yet welcome gift from the universe. I was the blessing that represented the union of two complex and beautiful families, more alike than different, but different nonetheless. My mother, a woman of German, Scottish, and Irish ancestry from suburban Indiana, had two daughters from her first husband, a distinctly Southern Navy man with unknown Indigenous ancestry buried beneath his slightly copper-toned skin. My father, the descendent of Oklahoma and Texas sharecroppers and of Indigenous tribes long lost, had two daughters and a son with his late wife whose deep brown eyes and cinnamon skin lived on in her beautiful children. They had never expected me, a sun-kissed, auburn haired daughter, to enter their lives, but they could not have been happier once I did. In a way, I became the biological glue holding this multiracial Brady Bunch together.
Even within my warm, welcoming family, I have always struggled to make sense of where I belong. The way that I see it, I have spent my life in the space between. Not quite old enough to grow up with my older siblings, but not quite young enough to grow up with my niece and nephew. Not quite light enough for people in my hometown to recognize me as my mother’s child, but not quite dark enough for them to refrain from asking me if I was all right when they saw me with my father. Active but not athletic, musical but not a virtuoso, gifted but distracted. There was no real place that I really just fit. As time passed, this heretofore philosophical limbo took on a physical manifestation when I was confronted with the first of many three square millimeter boxes on a government form asking me to declare to the world who and what I was/am/will be. African American, Caucasian, Latino/Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or other. I sat there, twelve years old, about to take my first big-kid standardized test staring at these labels like they were written in Aramaic and wondering which one best described the unique being that I was becoming. As had become my norm, nothing seemed to fit. That day, in the spring of 1999, I officially became an Other.
As one can imagine, being an Other was lonely. Especially growing up in a small town that, although diverse, was populated mostly by people who seemed to fit comfortably in their respective boxes. With high school being the bastion of individual, social, and intellectual uncertainty that it is, I had no trouble finding a group of peers who also seemed to be navigating the space between—at least at that point in our lives—to call my friends. We shared stories, secrets, crushes, heartaches, dreams, fears, passions, and promises just like any group of friends would. For a while, I felt like I had found my place in the world; and, for a while, I think I really had. But before we knew it, the SATs were over, college acceptance letters were in, and I was on my way to an elite university without a single one of my high school friends in tow. In what felt like the blink of an eye, I was an isolated Other once again.
I had heard stories and seen movies that make college out to be this amazing, life-changing yet life-affirming experience since my age was somewhere in the high single digits, so my expectations for university life probably should have been pretty high. However, my experience as an Other had taught me to be a realist (and perhaps a bit of a cynic), so I found myself thinking of college more as a means to an end as I began my freshman year. To the credit of the notion of self-fulfilling prophecies, things were a little bit bumpy in the beginning. However, as I moved into my sophomore year and met the person who would become my best friend from those years, my outlook turned around and my college experiences followed suit. Andrew was the second peer that I met who had the courage to come out and embrace the person he was meant to be. I had a good friend in high school that took the plunge, so to speak, and was greeted with mixed reception, but for some reason, Andrew was the person who inspired me to take that same risk. Perhaps it was because I saw so much of myself him or so much of him within myself, I honestly cannot say for sure at this point in my life, but there was something about his confession on the second-floor landing of our little white house called Mars that helped me realize that it was time for me to come out, as well.
Thanks to two Queer older sisters and the unconditional love of my parents, coming out was not really a big deal on the home front. I believe my mother’s response was, “I know,” followed by a few clarifying questions asked to uncover whether or not I was dating a good friend from my hometown. At school, things were a little more complicated at first. People who had known me one way (i.e. they had heard me ramble on for hours about how smitten I was with a certain multiracial boy) had a difficult time adjusting to knowing me in a new way (i.e. they now had to hear me ramble on for hours about the blue-eyed, mostly-straight girl who had stolen my wallet, followed quickly by my heart). With time, things became easier. There were discussions of labels and spectrums and love—more than anything else, love—that helped everyone, myself included, find their way to accepting the woman I was meant to be. Once again, I found myself in the company of Others—at least at that point in our lives—who were trying to navigate the space between, just like me. Two short years, countless beers, and what felt like hundreds of final exams later, we were preparing to graduate, to head out into the world and, hopefully, add a little more good to it. As I began the transition from newly out college senior, to newly out elementary school teacher, I could not help but wonder if I was to become an isolated Other once more.
This time around, though, things were different. Something amazing had happened in the four short years I spent in college. Without really recognizing it, I had found a place where I would always fit. I stumbled upon a community of people whom I like to call ever-Others: a group of people who are always navigating the space between, yet are never alone in that process. I had become a part of the Queer community and this meant that I would always have a home. No matter what city I inhabit or which university whose halls I may walk or whatever social network I may join, I always have a place to go to find who are like me in at least one fundamental way. I always have the peace of mind that comes with knowing help is a text, tweet, or community center visit away. I have the privilege of knowing love and acceptance among a group of people I may barely know. I carry with me the promise of hope and an air of possibility for Others like me who are looking for a place to call home. Where there was once what felt like an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, there is some comfort in this home, some guarantee of protection that supports me as I seek to discover the Other spaces in which I may fit and the Others who occupy them.
So, while being Queer is in no way easy and it carries with it a great deal of unfamiliarity and fear, there is safety in our community. You are never alone. There is always someone there to accompany you through the excitement of new love, the sting of betrayal, the pursuit of justice, the promise of great friends, the beauty of diverse communities, whatever challenge or celebration that life sends your way. A family of Others exists to love, nurture, and support you, whomever you are at any given moment. In our ranks you will find sisters, scholars, brothers, artists, lovers, laborers, mothers, fathers, a seemingly endless array of ever-Others to learn from, with, and for as you make your way through this life. At the end of the day, it is that beautiful fact that allows me to stand here in front of this young woman and share with her my hope for her future, my friendship for the present, and my most honest truth for as long as she may choose to heed it: being Queer has kept me safe and sane and given me meaning in a world full of unknowns. I take a deep breath, open my mouth, and declare to this young woman, in a voice so sure, I almost doubt that it is my own, “I embrace my Queerness because it feels safe.”