*Disclaimer: I do not intend to speak on behalf of all those who identify as queer, nor do I deem myself an expert on queer theory or queerness. I am simply writing on behalf of my own existence and experiences in hopes that this will generate more conversation around the acceptance and understanding of those individuals who fall outside of the norm in regards to their sexual and gender identities.
As I sit at my computer listening to Monica’s Don’t Take it Personal (Just One of Those Days), a wave of catharsis washes over me. An almost overwhelming sense of validation in my current inauspicious and introverted disposition. The chorus bumps through my TOSHIBA speakers, a soft and reticent melody, circling in profound repetition. Monica’s soulful vocals giving off all the Black girl feels.
It’s just one of them days, that a girl goes through, when I’m angry inside, don’t wanna take it out on you, just one of them days, don’t take it personal, I just wanna be all alone and you think I treat you wrong, don’t take it personal.
The nuance of emotional turmoil is woven in the intricate complexities of her request to be left alone, while simultaneously pleading to be understood. The undeniable tinge of pain lingers, potent in the room’s air. To be misunderstood is one of the most isolating of all pains. It is a breeding ground for feelings of otherness and contempt. One begins to question their true self, dismantling their beliefs until there is nothing left but the certainty of uncertainty.
I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what it means to identify as queer in a world where we are constantly forced to choose between binaries.
Isolation is not an unusual phenomenon among oppressed groups of people. Often times, feelings of isolation are unavoidable for marginalized people living within the periphery of society’s norms and expectations. To merely exist in a world where the collective trauma of colonization and its ideologies that actively work in conjunction with the present structuring of society’s economics, politics, religion and culture, is not just isolating but tiresome.
As someone who identifies as a queer woman of color, isolation is a feeling I am well accustomed to. I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what it means to identify as queer in a world where we are constantly forced to choose between binaries. In thinking critically about my own queer identity, I am just now beginning to consciously explore how my identity’s fluidity extends to all aspects of myself as well as how I view the world.
When I first came out almost four years ago, I immersed myself in the works of Audre Lorde, Staceyann Chin, James Baldwin, Alice Walker and Nikki Giovanni. Although I found an abundance of freedom and affirmation in their stories, there was still a part of me that felt as though I didn’t quite know where my queerness fit within the LGBT narrative. I did not see my own mosaic of sexual and gender identities reflected in the fixed identities of lesbian or bisexual.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term queer as “worthless, questionable, suspicious, and differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal.” There have been countless moments in my life where I have been made to feel odd and unusual, my sexuality and gender presentation brought into question by both those in and out of the LGBT community. I remember being forced to choose very early on in my coming out. Forced to choose between whether I was a “full-on lesbian” or if I was bisexual. Forced to choose between whether I was attracted to more masculine- or feminine-presenting women. Forced to choose between who I was and who I was expected to be.
The notion of transformation was made possible in my mind’s eye when I began to view my gender and sexuality on a spectrum, rather than as these monolithic identities that inherently inform one another.
American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler describes gender as something that is malleable. In her essay “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Butler says, “If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style.”
Butler’s explanation of performative acts in relation to gender resonates deeply in the context of understanding my own shifting identity. This idea of one’s gender and sexuality as a “seamless identity,” unwavering in repetition throughout time, is in my opinion, the antithesis of queer identity, for queerness encapsulates the essence of the infinite possibility of transformation.
The notion of transformation was made possible in my mind’s eye when I began to view my gender and sexuality on a spectrum, rather than as these monolithic identities that inherently inform one another. As my queer identity continues to develop, I have come to realize that I am innately more attracted to being romantically involved with women. There is a sweet softness, an abundance of fulfillment and connectivity in the romantic intimacy between two women that I have not found in my relationships with men (I use the word relationship very loosely, as most of my interactions with men have not been intimate, even with the act of physical connectivity).
Masculine and feminine expression within the vessel of the woman are attributes that I can be attracted to simultaneously. I find immense beauty in both masculine- and feminine-presenting women. This is not to say that masculinity and femininity cannot exist within an individual concurrently, or that I wouldn’t be attracted to such a person. The fact of the matter is, I have yet to be involved with someone who scales between both in appearance.
There is a constant negotiation that takes place within the ever-shifting nature of my gender expression in relation to that of my partner’s. Depending on whether the person I’m with exemplifies more dominant or submissive characteristics within the relationship (in its entirety or at varying times), informs my own gender performance. There are times when I am happy to lead, and others when I am pleased to follow my partner’s direction, spanning to all facets of the relationship.
Harlem-born author, documentary film-maker, social activist and college professor Toni Cade Bambara’s commentary on the necessary re-evaluation of gender roles, in her essay “On the Issue of Roles,” is something I refer to often when I feel as though my existence is a contradiction in and of itself. Bambara renders the dangers of society’s defined codes of behavior: “It seems to me you find your Self in destroying illusions, smashing myths, laundering the head of whitewash, being responsible to some truth, to the struggle. That entails at the very least cracking through the veneer of this sick society’s definition of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.'”
The exhaustion that most all marginalized people experience comes from having to constantly explain the grief of being misunderstood, while operating in spaces that don’t fully comprehend or choose to ignore our ideologies and struggles. This can be extremely strenuous on one’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. The weight of being misunderstood and misrepresented feels all the heavier when it comes from within your community.
Recognizing and addressing one’s own melancholy or uneasiness is often viewed as a fearful task, but a necessary task indeed if we are to allow ourselves to break free of the confinement and find a new sense of self. Adapting, shifting, allowing for change, being open to new versions of yourself and others, are some of the many phrases I use to articulate my own understanding of queer identity. Queerness is recognizing all the intersectionalities that reside in you as well as the world around you.
The frustration that comes from having to validate your identity can at times be counteracted by sharing your story with those who have experienced similar realities.
In the words of The Lorde, “Healing occurs through testimony, through gathering together everything available to you and reconciling.”
Lauren Dunn aims to generate dialogue and exposure around and for the untold and often misrepresented experiences of marginalized groups of people. A graduate of Temple University’s School of Media and Communication’s, Dunn received her bachelor’s degree in journalism in May of 2015. Exposing the multifaceted complexities of marginalized people within cultural, political, economic, artistic, environmental and academic frameworks stems from her exuberance for social advocacy. Dunn’s passion lies in creating honest content-driven narratives that bring ethnic, gender and sexual minorities visibility within the public sphere.