White-dendities : Gender, Sexuality and Other Stuff American People Like
If have to hear about yet another book, whose title sounds something like “blank, blank, and blank”, using variations of the following words: Race, Sexuality, Gender, Identity, Class and White Privilege, I will most likely shoot myself.
Just the other day, an enthusiastic academic brought to my attention a book she thought was worthy of merit. I believe it was entitled, “My Gender Workbook”, and, as the title suggests, it was in fact a workbook, for the curious reader to ‘work-through’ or ‘figure out’ their unique gender presentation. Naturally, I scoffed at this. I’ve little patience for “academic theorists” (or half-ass attempts at practicality, usually aimed at privileged and elite academic circles that can go on for hours and hours about the same subject using the same bloody buzz words). I’m an MIT graduate, and “mens et manus” (mind and hand) will always guide my thought process. I don’t believe learning should be wasted on concepts or “theories” that can’t be applied practically, or contribute substantially to the improvement of the human experience. I mean, sure, there is merit in publishing non-conformist garble about “blank, blank, and blank” but lately, I’ve become so fed up with all of it. Not only does it exclude me as a westernized “queer woman of color”, it excludes the most important part of my identity; my African heritage and immigrant experience.
It’s no surprise to me that most of the authors of these books are white. Or, even that the relatively small percentage of contributing people of color authors tend to be very light skinned (and with short curly hair). Hence, it should be just as readily acknowledged that people like me – iQWOCs, immigrant, queer, “Women of color” (what does that even mean to me as an African? This, too, sounds very American and twice removed from my own personal, ethnic womanhood) are often completely left out of such discussions. But hey! Before the academics jump in to remind me that the “intersection of race, class, and gender” deals with this issue of leaving “women of color” out of “white feminist thought”, let it be known that I am talking about a more granular level of inclusiveness; I was never a “woman of color” pre-biculturalisation, even though I have always been a feminist. An identity based on geography, and subsequently, discussions based on that identity, fall short of global relevance, which, in my book, does very little to impact the ‘human’ (not ‘english-speaking, american human’ experience in the grand scheme of things.
Sometimes I have to take a step back, close my eyes and breathe because I feel completely invisible in this country, even among my friends, fellow queers, womyn like myself, who are angry about everything. Still, I feel completely invisible. I wonder, desperately, how it’s possible that an activist like myself, who has been organizing “queer women of color” in Boston for almost two years now, can feel so left out of her own work. Perhaps in my quest to ‘connect’ with Americans – being the bridge person that I am – I have lost that firm hold of my reference point (an african value system, 3rd world womanism, afrofeminism) and have left behind some of my culture? It was such a burden to carry it around. Everything offended me!
For example, just a few months ago I was at a friend’s potluck, in a room full of queer women of color. The “blank, blank, and blank”-type discourse commenced almost instantly after dinner, but at least we were chatting like regular people. Connecting. Sharing. On being queer. On being women of color. On the pros and cons of Alicia Keys coming out. On whether Missy should be forced to do so. On family, and what it means to disconnect from it. However, it was when someone responded to a woman, who had just proclaimed strength and individuality through her decision to break away from her homophobic family, by saying, “Well, not everyone is as strong as you. So many people are weak, and don’t have the courage to break free from their families,” that I fell back into a hole again, completely silenced by the statement as I remembered…
I’m in America. Where dog eats dog, it’s every man for himself, and kids actually ‘owe’ their parents money. I come from a completely different culture, where my strength and courage are shown through my consideration of my parents trials during their lifetime. Come out? Come out? Homosexuality is ILLEGAL in Nigeria. If I did, I would be thrown in jail, where I would most likely be killed by other inmates. And if nothing happened to me, my parents would be ostracized, criticized, and disgraced their old age. Why on earth would I come out to my parents? How selfish! My parents went bankrupt to send me here to school, they barely make ends meet, and I should repay them by being ‘out and proud’? Ugh! How selfish!
I understand that it’s real easy to stay ignorant about the social climate of the rest of the world in this country (since it’s really so big and it’s a keystone in the global economy), but the gall of it; the arrogance of it all, like there is ‘one’ queer experience in this ENTIRE universe, just really pisses me off. That, someone would get offended that I don’t jump at the idea of a ‘gender workbook’ when the illiteracy rate of Nigerian youth (included closeted queers who MAY benefit from such material) is over 70%. I mean, really. It just pisses me off so much, that in your most vulnerable, open moments, when you think you’re finally connecting with people who share ‘some’ of your experience in this country, you can get a reaction like that; the kind that reminds you that you’re still a ‘foreigner’ and people have to read books to understand you.
Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing, organizing for “queer women of color”, American queers. I’ve seen TWO Africans at my QWOC+ events, which means I’m not doing a good job of seeking out African immigrants, who don’t have the privilege (and burden) of navigating the bi-cultural experience. I need to bring my idealist passions closer to home in order to truly see myself as a part of the bigger picture. And I need to be a part of the bigger picture in order to do any work that matters.