Laying Claim to My Sexual and Racial Identity Saved My Life

Finding happiness at twenty-two as a queer, mixed race woman of color has been nothing short of a two-decade struggle. Growing up in a household with a white mother and an emotionally unstable black father – who mastered the art of invisibility quite swiftly upon brining me into the world – created a unique set of insecurities.

I was a deeply unhappy child. Suffering from depression and anxiety as a young brown girl in a predominately white suburb of Philadelphia, I felt as though I had no option but to assimilate to the dominant culture that was laid out before me. With the absence of a prominent black elder to act as my mentor, I found myself stumbling in the dark unable to find the light necessary to illuminate my full potential as a black woman.

Attempting to assert myself as an independent being in the world at large has always been a grim challenge. From the time I was fifteen until I was twenty-one, I was utterly lost. Engaging in sexual relationships with men became my way of proclaiming a false sense of independence and intimacy as a result of never before experiencing an emotional connection with my own father. Each of my romantic interactions with men, whether short-lived or extensive, always left me feeling entirely unsatisfied and bewildered when it came to discovering my own personal sexuality.

The process by which I have come to navigate sexuality has been a terrain of indefinable exploration. I can distinctly remember back to when I was younger, having crushes on my girl friends. I recall the urgency in each swift dismissal of these feelings from very early on. The deep-rooted fear of my peers seeing another part of my identity as “other” in the conservative Eurocentric environment I was living in, was enough for me to conform to the heterosexual norms that encompass our society. Suppressing these feelings of intimacy for women – or rather at the time for girls my own age – stifled my emotional and growth while in the process adding to my already frail psyche and mental health.

Amidst the struggle to acclimate my sexual identity to that of customary heteronormative roles, I also found myself in the cross fire of colorism. As a woman of both black and white ancestry, identifying as black from both a personal and political standpoint, in a so-called “color-blind” society, I have always dealt with a strange dichotomy with colorism. With my Black counterparts, I have always been viewed as that self-righteous light skin girl. The one who thinks she’s superior to those sisters who are of a darker shade. To my white counterparts, I am viewed as the white-Black girl. The one who talks too “white” to be a real Black woman. My blackness has been repeatedly called into question through the stigmas of colorism. This painful double-edged sword of racial and gendered marginalization smothered the very essence of my character and hindered my path towards self-acceptance.

It wasn’t until I ended the emotionally crippling on-again-off-again relationship with a man who had been in my life since the age of sixteen, that I began to let go of the toxic views and standards I was desperately trying to live up to. During this time, I met a queer woman of color who shook my perceptions of beauty, love and happiness so immeasurably that I began to question my own morality. She opened my world to queer contemporary artists of color such as Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley and Glenn Ligon. Soon after I became acquainted with the art of spoken word poetry and fell in love with unconventional wordsmiths like Aja Monet, Saul Williams and Warsan Shire. I devoured books like Rebecca Walker’s Black, White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting SelfBlack Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. It was through this tremendous exposure to various artists of color that I began to gain insight into the realities of those living outside the status quo and doing so in such a way that inspired me to let go of the shame I had been carrying around like a bag of bricks for so many years. I had finally begun to lay claim to my own sexual and racial identity.

Revisiting painful memories and sorting through old feelings have become primary healing mechanisms. Over the years I have learned that allowing oneself to feel aids in identifying where the feelings of depression originate from. It is through this process of reflection that I have come to deal with my melancholy in healthier ways. Writing has and will forever remain my principal method of therapeutic contemplation. This is not to say that I no longer struggle with feeling comfortable in my own skin. There are still days when I experience such deep inner turmoil that it seems intolerable to break out of my sadness. The difference now is that when I experience such feelings of excruciating desolation, I turn to the works of Audre Lorde or Junot Diaz to remind myself that my otherness is not a curse but instead a blessing in disguise, as it allows me to experience the world in such a way that I can know pain and suffering and still find beauty in it.

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