As Queer people continue to fight for equality within society, Queer People of Colour are also fighting a second battle as they question their autonomy within the LGBTQIA+ comm-unity. Due to colonial roots, whiteness is often percieved by young People of Colour as the unspoken norm of Queer spaces. Jai and Vanessa discuss some pressing topics on toxic aspects of their community.
Before reading further, Jai and Vanessa want to acknowledge that they are in no way encompassing the experience of every Queer person of colour, but are rather sharing a part of their own experience.
On toxic experiences in the Queer community...
JAI: Being religious is something that is sometimes so foreign and has negative connotations in the Queer community. It’s pretty clear why, but that being said, one’s religious views are a person’s own business and choice. It should never be judged, but rather talked about to remove doubt and ambiguity. If God didn’t want gays, why did he make us? The discussion is important, not just for understanding other people, but for the progression of thoughts and opinions. The world is constantly changing and we should also keep moving forward. We should not have to question ourselves and our entire belief system just because another person doesn’t understand them.
The element of the Queer community I would want changed is the predominantly colonial white ‘norms’ that have been perpetuated into the 21st century. Each decade in history has been an important milestone, from the Stonewall Riots to the first countries legalising gay marriage. However, equal representation is still lacking in the Queer community, despite the global push for diversity.
VANESSA: I’ve had instances of microaggressions from Queer white people. When I’ve spoken about cultural traditions that were perceived as ‘cis-heteronormative’, or very ‘traditional’, they have often invalidated my thoughts in favour of a more ‘progressive Western approach’. Feeling like we need to separate our cultural background from our Queerness invalidates our identity as Queer People of Colour. I’ve also witnessed instances where Queer white people have stated overtly pro-police and pro-colonial statements.
Understanding each other before gatekeeping certain ideas about Queerness is really important. With a large Queer community comes an array of different identities and experiences. While many people in the Queer community are accepting of each other, there is a minority of people who still have fixed ideas of what a Queer identity can entail. My ideal Queer community would be willing to accept how Queerness intersects in other areas of a person’s identities such as ethnicity.
On how colonial structures of Queer culture have limited autonomy...
JAI: As a Queer man of colour, there have been instances where I’ve felt discriminated against because I was... well, not white. It sometimes feels like it’s not my space to claim despite my sexual orientation. Predominant notions correlating Queerness to whiteness are still perpetuated to this day. This component of Queer culture needs to change if it is to include Queer People of Colour. Understandably, back in the 1950s, the Queer community was more hidden as a result of rampant Queerphobia in society. Additionally, overt racism was much more prominent. We as a whole community need to become more accepting of one another, regardless of body type, skin colour, ethnicity, or anything else. The strength of this kind of acceptance will lead to unity within the community. I reclaim my autonomy now by asserting my identity in this space that is rightfully also mine.
VANESSA: In the past, I’ve had a complex relationship with gender as a femme-presenting person entering some Queer communities. When I was closeted, I would try to find solace in the online Queer community and discovered many people gatekeeping what certain gender labels meant, leaving me in denial of my own identity. I’m still exploring gender expression within myself today, through immersing myself in inclusive Queer spaces and communities. This has made me realise that labels don’t have to be fixed. For example, you do not need to look androgynous-presenting to be non-binary. It’s the colonial cis-heteronormative structures that have created such an emphasis on having specific and rigid identities in Queer spaces. Gender is a spectrum and sometimes people’s genders cannot be fully defined. I am proud to be someone who sees themself as gender-diverse but doesn’t fit within a specific label at the moment.
On dating and self-discovery...
JAI: There are a variety of people I have come across while dating. I think the most important thing is to recognize that everyone will possess their own proclivities and affinities. For example, an individual may believe in marriage and their dating goal is to find a suitable partner to settle down with. However, for others dating is just a path to sexual gratification (i.e. casual dating). I was mocked by this one guy for wanting to get married and have a family. The point is not to agree but to respect another person’s decision. I realised that I am not for everyone; my autonomy is more significant than another person’s opinion. I decide who deserves my attention and a place in my life.
VANESSA: As a person of colour, it can be hard to date other Queer people. I’ve even had Queer People of Colour tell me they would rather date white people as it was ‘easier’. A lot of Queer People of Colour are more likely to be closeted in comparison to their white peers as they fear ostracisation from their ethnic communities. My friends have told me about Grindr profiles that explicitly state ‘No Asians’, or use an overtly racist slur. I don’t think dating a Queer Person of Colour is some-thing to avoid. Like any other relationship, it requires open communication and willingness to learn about your partner’s cultural background.
Unique experiences as Queer people, whether negative or positive, shape who we are today. As Queer People of Colour, those experiences should unite us as a community so that we can tackle greater issues. Strength comes in numbers but only if those numbers aren’t fragmented. By taking the lead in decolonising Queer spaces, creating and occupying space in Queer communities, we can claim our autonomy collectively.