Three Queer Women of Color On Coming Up and Letting Go

Three Queer Women of Color On Coming Up and Letting Go

If being gay were easy, everyone would do it.

But it’s not. It comes with a long list of caveats, including how much pride you’re allowed to feel. We have to fashion ourselves in ways we don’t really want to sometimes in order to feel safe. We have to simplify the breadth of our existence in order to feel understood. And even when we do, we’re still sexualized and demonized. So there’s a point at which we stop bending over backward out of fear of causing discomfort with something as harmless as our humanity.

This is what our come up looks like.

Ali

I used to be super cautious around straight people, especially straight men, because they’d hypersexualize anything I’d say or do. But now I’m honestly like “Fuck it!” and ditch whoever makes me feel weird.

Any time I’m around older straight people or any STEM event filled with stiff white dudes it feels like a space I’m not really welcomed in. 

Keeping up small talk so people don’t ask intrusive questions or dressing like a normy is my version of trying to be less visible. It’s so performative and slimy, but made me feel safe because I could slip through the cracks.

As I’ve gotten older, I love the realization that I’m in control of whatever I say, do, or spend my energy on. Nothing is worth my time if I’m uncomfortable or stifled. Not caring is hella beautiful.

Salina

There is no experience quite like asserting your queerness. I walk around in my skin and I am seen as brown. I am seen as a woman. From my hair to my feet I am seen and perceived as a million things, and rarely is queer one of them. Despite this, or possibly because of this, it has become the most valued part of my identity.

I feel stuck between constantly wanting to protect this part of my identity because it is precious and not for anyone else. Yet at the same time, I have this urge to scream it from a mountain. To step up to every little heteronormative thing that exists and resist it with force, with power. It wasn’t until the rapid change in our social and political climate that this pull has been heavily one-sided.

I respect the fact that everyone has their very own unique coming out experience and that family acceptance is the most important part of that process. I am also fully aware and incredibly thankful to have a loving and supporting family. However, if we’re talking about muffling our queerness I think that a lot of us can relate to that experience around family. I constantly find myself censoring my language; my opinions are silenced.

When I feel the urge coming on to protect myself, to say “You have it pretty good, be grateful,” I remind myself of how precious my queerness is and why I place so much value on it. My queerness is my power. And I scream from this metaphorical mountain that things can be so much better than they are.

Alexis

My queerness is a huge part of my life and how I interact with the world. When I have I have to constantly come out, I feel unseen. It’s sort of painful that I have to come out at all or be assumed straight and often after coming out, I’m still assumed straight anyway.

Work is definitely a place where I feel like I have to muffle my queerness. It often feels dangerous and humiliating when my queerness or queerness at all is brought up. Within my own family, I am one of the only queer people I know of and I have to pick and choose what parts of myself I want to be open about and it often comes down to hiding that part of myself or being forced to be the voice for my entire community by answering invasive questions.

I feel like I hold on to labels and stereotypes that don’t fit me. In straight spaces I’m more inclined to identify with very binary terms and very basic tropes because the idea of describing myself outside of those things and being met with someone not understanding or even pushing back is so horrifying that I would rather just keep those conversations for myself and loved ones.

I am very privileged to have friends and some family that I feel safe confiding in. Being my whole self, not worrying about being too gay or not fitting the expectations put upon me. I’m privileged to live in a city with so many diverse pockets of queer people, putting on events and holding space for people like me where I can truly let go. It’s a huge weight off your shoulders to be able to shed that kind of fear for even just a moment.

The way people characterize coming out, you would think it’s a one-off experience like chicken pox. Once you live through it that first time, you’re free to be gay all over the place without ever having to explain yourself again. In reality, the first time is the hardest but not even remotely close to the only time you’ll have to contextualize your existence for people. It’ll happen when you’re at the bank and when you’re checking into a hotel and every time you enter the world without a badge that says I’m with gay. It’s a perpetual ritual that makes you almost numb to the whole thing. It also makes you hyper-aware of yourself.

The side effects of internalized homophobia manifest themselves in a million ways, one of them being respectability. Appearing as non-threatening as possible is how you survive the unfortunate reality that every space you enter won’t be queer or even queer friendly. But there’s a feeling of deep catharsis that comes with letting go of the fight to simply survive the world. It comes with letting go of all those safety locks you put on your identity. Letting go of all the other ways you could exist. Finding yourself, your most authentic self, under the rubble of this external pushback is what culminates in the queer experience of letting go. That come up? It’s glorious.


Andrea Ngeleka

Andrea Ngeleka is a writer in Los Angeles.