queer community

Ode to the First Woman I ever Loved

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Credits: Leonie Barkakati. Swollen River, Montague, MA

I guess the ugly truth I know now is that nobody, not even women, cares about women who love other women. I don’t even have to look too hard to find the apathy. Literally everyone I have come out to so far has responded with “I don’t care”. It has not occurred to them to congratulate me on finding a good person, the best person I have had a relationship with so far. It has not occurred to them to tell me they are happy for me. It has not occurred to them that this is what I really want.

I guess I ought to have expected nothing more.

I guess, more for my own sake more than for anyone else’s, I have wanted to write about the first woman I ever fell in love with for quite a while. I can’t quite explain the reasoning. My brain has been rather foggy these days, either with seasonal depression or just with bad food. I think on one hand, it’s about proving something. I think people in my life suspect I am going through a “phase,” like all the other ones they have seen Leonie go through over the years. I guess they think I will soon see the error of my ways and yield to other people to make decisions for me, like I have so many times in the past.

On the other,…and that’s the thing, I don’t know. I waited ten years to come out properly, but I knew I was queer when I was 15 years old. And I guess I can start my story there.

For the sake of privacy, I have changed her name, but the first girl I ever loved was Wendy Chau, who I met when I was a freshman in high school. She was a year older than me. We knew each other from the Speech and Debate team and from the newspaper staff.

I knew I admired her, but it was a different admiration than the people I usually used the word “admire” for.

I think queerness was this question that I knew, but I refused to ask myself. I knew it was an inconvenient time for me to have these feelings, and although I had never seen anything overtly violent, I knew it was dangerous for me to be queer. No one ever suspected it about me, never brought it up or asked directly, so the only person who could ask me was myself.

I put it off for a long time, the asking of the question. But my fondness for Wendy grew every day. I liked her very much. She was wildly intelligent, but not arrogant, unlike many of our peers. She was a brilliant math student, debater, musician, and writer, and everyone had great confidence in her ability to teach. I think I liked how silly she could be. She would laugh at things I said and call me ridiculous in jest, but I took such pride in being able to make her laugh. I liked that I was close enough to her that she let herself be vulnerable sometimes. She once told me I ought to do things that make me happy, not things I felt needed to be done out of obligation. I have held on to that thought ever since.

It amuses me somewhat that nobody figured it out the entire time that I loved her. I talked about Wendy all the time, tried to make every conversation about her somehow, how much I admired her, how smart she was, how kind. I suspect most people just didn’t think I could be queer. They thought I was an innocent little Indian girl who does everything mommy tells her to do. I guess that’s not what queers look like.

One year, we went with the newspaper staff to a conference in St. Petersburg across the bay. On the first night, at dinner, she was wearing a shade of pink lipstick that I don’t think I have stopped thinking about since the day I saw her wear it. I wanted to kiss her, though I never acted on the impulse, and finally the question had to be asked. Was I in love with her, a girl? And the answer was yes, I most undoubtedly was.

I was surprised, shocked even, that that was the answer. I did not think I was capable of loving women, had never considered the possibility that queer was a word that could apply to me. There was no gay-straight alliance at our high school (I don’t think there is even now), and the only queer person I knew was a gay white guy who hung out with one of my friends.

I thought I should detach myself from her. Who knew how Wendy would feel about me if she ever found out? I didn’t want to know. I knew keeping my distance would keep my heart safe.

I never told her. I watched her give a truly magnificent speech as the valedictorian of her class. Her last interp performance at the Speech and Debate banquet my junior year was also excellent, and one I will always remember. She was a good friend and a kind person, and I have remembered her that way.

I thought perhaps that was some quirk of being in high school, some flaw in my system which went away after Wendy graduated. My hope was short-lived. Not even two years later, I fell in love with another woman, one who had a boyfriend so I wouldn’t act on the feelings with her either. I’d get to grad school in Massachusetts and fall in love again.

I am queer, whether or not I like that about myself, whether or not I think it is good. I remember telling this to a co-counselor of mine the other day, that it’s not something anyone would choose. Statistics for queer people of color are abysmal. (I can’t find any links at the moment, but honestly, read a book, they’re not hard to find.) They apparently can’t keep jobs, can’t get housing, can’t access healthcare or education, and are at high risk for mental health illnesses. I don’t think anyone looks at a life like that and says, yes! That sounds like a wonderful way to live!

And here I am, giving testimony that I have, in fact, been this way for a very long time. Life has not been peaceful since this process started, but the thought that pacifies me somewhat is that I have not done anything wrong. It is not wrong for me to love someone who was assigned female at birth. Our love story is as beautiful as any epic ever written, even if no one will celebrate it with us. We are not doing anything wrong.

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The Creating Change 2017 Review

I got back Sunday night from my first ever Creating Change conference! To give you all a brief roadmap fo this post, I’ll be talking about the experience by first evaluating how accurate my predictions were from the Preview, and then evaluating the conference itself.

For the evaluation, I have devised a system of 5 categories that I will use to assess my experience. The categories are Venue, Crowd, Workshops, Logistics, and Utility of Experience. I find that venues are really important for conferences. It can become obvious very quickly if a venue is not equipped to accommodate a conference. Venue is closely tied to Logistics, though it gets its own category because the venue and conference logistics are handled by two different sets of humans. The venue is sometimes more closely tied to the community, whereas the conference may not be. Crowd just means who attended the conference. As in, what kind of human beings were there? I know it’s super judgmental to make this a category, but to be honest, it’s the make-or-break category for me. A lot of my enjoyment comes from the people I meet. Workshops are undeniably important as well. The topics of workshops tells me what is relevant to the community at the moment. It also tells me who the conference thinks is worthy of attention. Lastly, Utility of Experience refers to what practical information I can take from the conference. Basically it answers the question, did I get something out of it that I can apply to my life? After all, when I’m paying money to go, I do want some useful information.

I will evaluate each category on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest score and 10 being the highest score. I am aware of the problematic nature of quantifying what is arguably a qualitative experience, but I find that quantifying gives people some idea of my own standards so I don’t just seem like a needlessly critical person.

Implicit Biases

I will acknowledge here that there are certain biases with which I approached this conference. The first and most obvious one is that I am a cisgender femme person of color, so I don’t necessarily look queer and might therefore be treated differently than people who are visibly queer. I am also bisexual/pansexual/asexual, which frequently impacts my ability to find community of any sort.

In addition, my experience of this conference is impacted by my past experiences. The most recent conferences I went to were the New England QTPOC Conference (2015), East Coast Asian American Student Union (2014), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (2013). If you can’t tell from the titles, all of those conferences were by and for people of color. Of those three, Advancing Justice was by far my favorite. I attended that conference as a senior undergraduate. Most of the workshops at that conference were panel-style, so we had access to many working professionals who came from a community organizing background. These were people who are passionate about what they do, and eager to encourage young people to find their voice, so the Utility and the Crowd factor were very high (I did, in fact, find an internship with Advancing Justice in 2015). I must concede, I judge most conferences based on my experience at Advancing Justice (neither ECAASU nor NEQTPOC compared even remotely).

Furthermore (and I will most likely talk about this further in the Logistics section), I actually ended up not going to about half the workshop sessions of Creating Change. This was partly because I wanted to explore Philadelphia, a city I have never visited before. It was also partly because as a person who works evening shifts, I just can’t be awake at 9:00am. At least 2 days of the 5 days that I attended, I slept in so that I could recover from the early schedule of the day before, and to avoid becoming sick.

Evaluation of Preview

Reading my preview is really funny now because I seem to know myself quite well. All of my hopes were accurate. I did nearly all of my processing with one of my friends from graduate school. I’m so thankful she was present or this conference would have been a hot mess for me. As it turns out, the Racial Justice Institute was one of the high points for me. Being in spaces exclusively for POC was a great way to start. Exploring Philly was another high point. My friend and I ate a lot of good food and saw the entirety of the Philadelphia Art Museum during the course of our stay.

My concerns were equally accurate. As it turns out, I did sleep in on a number of days. I think pacing myself the way I did helped with processing, as does writing. As it turns out, there was one solitary caucus group for asexual/aromantic people. It was on an evening when I was out with a friend, though, so inevitably, I didn’t go (which tells you something. That was the one intentional space for aces. There are some identities in the queer spectrum that were given 3 or 4 workshops/caucuses). I did get to connect with Bi/Pan/Fluid folks, another set of identities that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, so that was nice. The conference did feel like it was geared toward students, though. With the exception of one hour-long caucus group at the end of Thursday, there was very little to help young professionals connect with mentors or one another. There were a lot of workshops to help community organizers increase outreach, but not a lot for helping people gain jobs with those organizations. Thus, it was difficult for me to feel involved with the community at times.

Evaluation of the Conference

Venue: 8

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The Philadelphia Marriott Hotel on the foggy morning of Saturday, January 21

This hotel staff was unbelievably friendly. I didn’t think it was possible to find people in the north who meet my Southern standards for hospitality, but these people did. It probably doesn’t hurt that the city of Philadelphia is like, 44.1% Black (US Census Bureau, 2014, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045216/00) and therefore doesn’t feel as northern as, say, New England. The hotel staff of the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown was excellent. They would greet me the second I walked in, and they were very helpful with directions to places both within and outside of the hotel. And the hotel is beautiful, too. While it was somewhat labyrinthine at times, it was very accessible, with elevators and escalators to all the conference floors. The only thing that keeps me from giving the conference a 10 in this category is that a lot of the time, the bathrooms were not too clean. Honestly, even just a little air freshener would really have made a difference. In addition, there was not too much space to lounge. The lobby only had two small sitting areas for a conference of some 4,000 (number may not be accurate) people.

Crowd: 5

I’ll start with the good. I think the workshops that intentionally attracted POC did a great job (both with regard to facilitators as well as audience). Those were definitely the spaces where I actually had fun and felt like I could talk to people in the room. This was regardless of the social identities of the POC in the room. Across the board, the spaces that were exclusively for POC were more comfortable for me. I’ll give you an idea of how I felt the rest of the time at Creating Change. While I was there, I did present almost exclusively feminine; so lots of sweater dresses and makeup and boots. If I’m being honest, from what I could observe, there were very few people (feminine, masculine or otherwise) who presented feminine at all (with the exception of people in the POC spaces. So if I could put an emoji here, it would be the “hm…I wonder” one.) Across the board, the “uniform” for this conference seemed to be some variation of jeans, combat boots, sweatery things, and maybe a beanie if folks were feeling real adventurous. Perhaps this is a little cissexist or classist of me to say, but it felt very high-school. And in the same breath, the femmes I did see were so unapologetic, which I love. They wore things like off-the-shoulder dresses or magenta pants or badass red nail polish. If you are one of those people, I salute you.

There were also very few fat people except, again, within POC spaces. Somehow, I’m thinking none of these things are coincidences. In short, this crowd did not impress me. There are some exceptions to this rule, but it seemed really white.

Workshops: 5

The workshops at this conference were very hit-or-miss. I think my Friday morning workshops had a big impact on this score. I felt like I wasn’t finding my mojo. I came late to my first session (BPFQ: Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, Queer Interesecting Identities on College Campuses), which had been moved to a different room because there were a lot of people in attendance. I didn’t think to ask until about 15 minutes after I got there, and then I moved to the actual session. It seemed like it had been really good, but by the time I got there, the room was in small groups for the last activity. I was still able to join a group, and they were having a great conversation, but I didn’t get to see much of the workshop. My second session (Confronting Islamophobia in the LGBTQIA+ Community) was hard to watch. It was clear to me that the facilitator was wildly nervous. They seemed to cater to people who had never before engaged with Islamophobia. It seemed very introductory. Also, the audience was not woke at all. There were a handful of about 5 people basically carrying the conversation, but a lot of the (white) people there refused to speak at all, probably out of fear of their own racism. I left about halfway through and found another workshop (Faith and Family Acceptance in the API Community). The facilitators in this one were more comfortable and had created a welcoming space by putting the chairs in a circle. But by the time I got there, they were on their last story and were really in the closing stages. I think after those first few sessions, I was not too enthusiastic about more workshops, and I chose instead to explore Philadelphia. I didn’t attend another session until Saturday night, but those were the better ones I attended (Not Your Respectable QPOC, and the South Asian Caucus). In Not Your Respectable QPOC, I received very little practical information, but it was great to find a community of individuals who empathize with me when I describe racism. The South Asian Caucus was interesting. I don’t think any of us necessarily agreed on what was most important, nor could we agree on how to talk about the issues, but I thought that was a good thing. It is an indication that a space like that is needed to figure those things out.

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Participants at the Not Your Respectable QPOC Workshop

Logistics: 3

I do wonder if this is the real reason why the workshops were not quite what I expected. The logistics of this conference were strange. On one hand, I did appreciate the 90-minute sessions. It was long enough to really delve into a topic. However, if it was a boring session, it also took a while to figure it out so I could go to one that I actually cared about. I didn’t attend the lunch plenaries or the keynote for this reason. If they weren’t fun, who knows whether or not I would be comfortable leaving. In addition, there were SO. MANY. WORKSHOPS. According to the website, there were 250 in the course of about 2 days, not counting the day-long institutes or Leadership Academies. There were 4 sessions a day, so for any given session, a person had to choose one of about 30 workshops. THAT. IS. RIDICULOUS. I understand this allows for a large variety, but I think a better screening process is badly needed, especially when some topics are getting 4 workshops and some are getting just one. (Granted, I do understand that some queer identities urgently need that kind of visibility, and I don’t think that should be overlooked. But also…why the hell do we need to talk about atheism and faith communities so much? Is that really a pressing issue?! I would think more about getting jobs or applying for healthcare is in order!). But then again, what do I know.

I feel like this problem could be solved by making sessions or lunch shorter and spreading workshops out over 5 sessions a day instead of 4. At least then, we don’t have this ponderous dilemma of choice. In addition, I would definitely advocate for starting later. Maybe one session before lunch and more after lunch.

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This is the schedule for only half the Friday workshops. The entire schedule looked like this. SO MUCH STUFF.

Utility of Experience: 5

As of right now, it’s hard for me to tell whether or not the experience was useful. I did get to meet a few student affairs professionals, and many of them said they were going to NASPA, so I look forward to seeing them again and possibly building more community. I do feel lucky to have found people in my field of work who identify the same way as I do.

However, they’re so far away! Everyone is up north or way out west. I’m always the only one in the South. *Sad face emoji*

In general, I feel like my interests don’t match the community’s, and perhaps that is why this conference didn’t really serve my needs. I have no interest in being out to anyone. I feel like the healing that could happen for me occurs mostly around QPOC, who don’t seem to care as much that “queer” is much further down my list of priorities than my more visible identities as a brown person and a woman.

I do think that queerness needed to be talked about more explicitly. I know I should probably take a gender studies class if that’s what I want, but I don’t like school, or more accurately, how much money school costs. While I could read a book, I also like the process of externalizing my thoughts, and I wish I had had more opportunity to do that at the conference.

~*~

In short, I do think either my expectations might have been too high, or Creating Change is slightly overrated. Frankly, the experience leaves me wishing there were more regional conferences for people like me. I know in Tampa, there are a huge number of queer clubs, but I’m not a night life person. I’d much rather meet in the day. Right now, besides student organizations, I don’t see a whole lot of opportunity for that. Here’s to hope for the NASPA Conference.

The Creating Change Preview

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Center city from South Street Bridge. (Source: King of Hearts, wikimedia commons)

Hey y’all, so the first conference from the Spring Preview is around the corner. On Tuesday, January 17, I will head to Philadelphia for the Creating Change Conference. Woohoo!

In my master’s program at the beginning of a class or a workshop, we used to do this activity called Hopes and Concerns (Adams et al., 2013, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice). It’s quite self explanatory; basically, the students would share what they hope to gain from the class and also the things they worried would happen in a space where delicate topics were being discussed. I share this because this is loosely how this post will be organized. I will start with my hopes for this conference, and then I’ll go into the critical stuff that you all love.

Hopes:

I’m so excited! This conference will take place in Philadelphia, a city I’ve never visited. A few of my friends from my master’s program will also be at the conference, so I’m excited to meet them. In particular, I’m glad that I’ll have at least one other person to debrief with. This conference is pretty long and involved, so I’m guessing there will be a lot to process.

The variety of stuff on the schedule looks really great. I appreciate how they made the effort to separate people of color into different sections for the racial justice institute. I’m also impressed that there will be a workshop on Islamophobia in the queer community during this conference. I cannot wait to be around people who are critically conscious again, especially after the last few days at my job (which I’m sure I’ll post about soon enough).

I’m also looking forward to exploring Philly in my down time (or in those periods that I don’t feel like sitting in a session). My friends and I have made plans to do some non-conference things while we are there, like eat good food, watch movies, and maybe do a bit of touristy shit. It will be a nice break from the company I’ve had to keep the last few weeks. I almost feel like I’m going on vacation.

Concerns:

This is a long-ass conference. We’re talking about, like 6 days. I’m self aware enough to know that I’m most likely going to miss at least one morning session a few of those days so that I can sleep in. Sleep is no joke to me.

Because it is long, I also wonder if I will have time to process all the things I experience. Of course, I will be armed to the teeth with my usual notebook and pens to write all my thoughts, but I wonder if that will be enough. I’m sure if I do have time, you all will hear plenty.

Though it may seem unfounded in a crowd that is relatively woke, I am always skeptical that conferences will be very white, or centered on the thoughts of white people. I do see a lot of effort being made at this conference to keep that in check, but I can never be entirely sure. After all, I did a master’s degree in Social Justice Education and I still found my share of people who believe, say, and do very racist things.

I’m also suspicious at the lack of activity for asexual folks. I might just have to look more closely through the schedule, but I don’t see anything in particular for the asexual spectrum. I’m concerned because I was hoping to connect with other ace folks while I was there. Where’s that at? Where are my aces?

There’s also a lot of stuff on this schedule that I need to have explained. For example, what is a hospitality suite? What’s a butterfly? And I suspect that might be reflective of other things about the conference; for instance, people may talk mad theory that I can’t follow. It’s a definite possibility. We’re essentially throwing a bunch of people who have studied queer and gender theory in a hotel together. I’m not really about that academia life, so I hope it won’t be hard to find people I relate to.

Lastly, while this conference does attract people of all ages, it will most likely be geared toward undergraduate students, who I expect are the majority of the participants. Don’t get me wrong, I love students. They’re passionate and critical and brilliant, and they keep me from gouging my eyes out when I’m at work. However, I do think I am in a different stage of development than I was as an undergraduate. I’m a young professional looking for direction, mentors, and a better job. Speaking from my experience, students tend to be finding their voice, searching for community, and looking for emotional validation. Thus, many of the conversations might revolve around theory and might be more idealistic and less practical, which I can appreciate and I think those conversations are important for re-energizing us when we feel stuck. However, I need practical solutions right now. I need to feel as though the community is working in a direction that is sustainable, safe, and focuses on tangible benefits. I need to know that the most marginalized folks are being heard, and I will only believe it if I see improvement in real time.

~*~

It will be interesting to track how I feel during this conference. I do think having these hopes and concerns written out will be a good benchmark for me in the days to come. Look forward to lots of pictures. I’ll keep you posted.

The mid-July Emotional Checkpoint

You all can probably tell, but I haven’t been acknowledging my feelings much lately. There’s a lot there, and I’m scared to even start on it because I haven’t had a healthy outlet for feelings in probably over 6 weeks. I guess this post is going to serve as the litmus test for how much crazy I have been holding in, and can be the check point for whether or not things will get worse as I progress though this summer. This post will also be interspersed with lots of Manul cats to illustrate my face when I think about these things. This species arguably has more emotional range than a lot of humans I know.

For these past 6 weeks (and actually, the last 6 months, but I was in graduate school until May), I’ve been looking for a job. I don’t know if you’ve looked for a job recently, but let me tell you, the job search. Sucks. So Much. Basically, to keep from feeling like I wasted 6 years of my life, I try not to think about it, even though my excel spreadsheet of over 80 job applications and results continues to grow every day. It doesn’t help that I’m living in my parents’ house while I’m searching for jobs. While I’m thankful that they’re willing to let me eat their food and live in their air conditioning, this is the last place I want to be. Also, as a textbook empath, I tend to pick up on literally everything that either of my parents is feeling. So from my mom, that’s a whole lot of anxiety, and from my dad, apathy. Neither of these emotions are things I like to feel for any length of time, let alone almost two months. At this point, I would gladly spend the last of my savings for even just a different place to live, but that would be stupid without a job to keep me going.

On the topic of being an empath–it’s something that I only recently realized about myself and probably should be explored further. But you know, that’s an emotional process, one that could leave me potentially vulnerable, and being vulnerable is literally the last thing I want to be while I’m interviewing for jobs and living with my parents.

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Let’s not.

Source: Oscar Carlos Cortelezzi’s Flickr

Then there’s the stuff in the news–Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the 5 cops in Dallas. These are upsetting times to live through, even if you have a job and you’re not living with your parents. I can’t bear to watch the news on television, though my parents insist on putting it on promptly at 6:30 every evening. The obvious partiality towards Establishment in television news is deplorable to me. As a result, I stay up until around 4:00 a.m., when everyone else in the house is asleep, taking in other, healthier things, such as the far more accurate reporting in posts that I get from my Facebook feed. No regrets.

As for the actual feelings about these incidents, I think my body is not allowing me to feel those at all, not even when I want to. I think it knows it would be too much to handle without emotional support.

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No feelings. Just no. 

Source: Tambacko the Jaguar’s Flickr

As a result of all this, I’ve withdrawn into books and art. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Four books in two weeks? For me, that’s probably a new record. When I was getting an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree, I discovered I didn’t need to withdraw as much because there were humans with whom I had deeply meaningful relationships, and whom I trusted enough to go out with and have fun. Right now, I don’t feel like I have any of that. Thus, I have regressed to my introverted high school self, the one that read books and made art. INFP. It annoys me that it takes so little for my entire personality to change, but then again, reconnecting to this part of my personality has its rewards. This blog hasn’t fared this well since 2014!

Effectively, I’ve blocked my usual needs for emotional connection and adventure by regressing and denying. That leaves one need that I have not figured out how to deal with yet…and the problem is, when I say “one” need, it’s probably more accurate for me to say “several”. I guess the best approximation of the whole problem in one word is “sexuality”, though for me it means a lot more these days. I mean, sure, there is a certain desire to be with another human being in a sexual sense, but I’m beginning to discover that I’ve never desired a relationship for sex. In the relationships that I enjoyed, I think I frequently took part in sex because the other party wanted it and it pleased me to give them pleasure. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy or desire sex. I do. I just never seem to want it as much as my heterosexual, masculine partners.

It was the emotional connection that I liked most about these relationships, the fact that these people were willing to reveal some depth about their personalities with me, as well as allow me to get physically close to them. However, it took me many years to realize that one can obtain emotional connection and physical proximity without any sexual interaction.

There are a number of confusing things about myself that arise from all these thoughts. The first would be that I’m asexual in some sense, which also means I’m queer in some sense. Strictly speaking, I’m not actually “out”, and I don’t intend to be. I toyed with the idea of being an “out” queer person, and then I had my horrifically bad experiences in New England and decided that was not something I want to do. At worst, it’s not even in a “It’s just not for me” type of way, it’s a “Wow, I vehemently disagree with the way the queer movement has been appropriated by the United States, and I really don’t fucking want to be a part of that.” That’s a post for another day.

On the other hand, though, I still experience strong attractions. Strong, stupid, idealistic, over-the-top, romantic, INFP/ENFP attractions. I feel them for people I haven’t seen in years. I feel them for people I meet in interviews. I feel them for people I’d rather not feel them for. I feel them for people who do not reciprocate the feelings. And I can’t help feeling like I am in deep, deep shit because in the entirety of my life, I have never sat down and talked to any of my past sexual/romantic partners about any of these things–not one. I picture some distant future in which I’m sitting down on my first date with some (probably masculine?) human and having to say things like, “So what do you want from a relationship?” or even “Do you want a relationship?” For some reason, this causes me the deepest, most unimaginable anxiety, probably because the first thing my brain does is go, “WHICH HUMAN IS GOING TO RESPECT YOU ENOUGH TO GO THROUGH ALL THAT? WHICH HUMAN IS NOT GOING TO BE OVERTLY ABUSIVE AND COERCIVE? WHICH ONE? DO THEY EVEN EXIST?”

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This cat gets me on a deep level. 

Source: Wendy Salisbury’s Flickr

This probably explains a lot about why my past “relationships”, if you can even call them that, were so unsatisfying (with the exception of perhaps one). It also explains why I suddenly feel a paralysis in the realm of starting relationships. I mean sure, I’m on all the online dating websites and I feel attracted to people, I might even flirt once in a while. At heart, though, I’m scared out of my mind. How have I never noticed how safe it is to be alone before now?!

All in all, let’s be real, I need some hella help. I’m scared to seek it out at the moment because I keep thinking I won’t be where I am for long. Let’s say I’ll come back to this post in a week to see if I’m doing any better. I’ll plan what I do about it at that point.

 

Confessions of a Microaggressor

In the context of social justice dialogue, I rarely ever feel guilt. I am a non-Christian woman of color, so white guilt and the “shut up and listen” guideline is generally for other participants in a dialogue. I’m usually allowed to be as loud and angry as I want to be about social justice issues because if people ever microaggress, it’s usually against me.

I was reminded in one of the most embarrassing incidents that has happened to me in a long time that this doesn’t mean I am not equally capable of microaggressing.

Recently, I was watching movies with a queer friend of mine. Their roommate, who happens to be the guy I’m seeing, came in and sat down with us. I swore to myself I would not get too cuddly with him because I think it’s rude to make someone a third wheel. But two movies and 500 calories later, it was around 11:00 p.m. and I was definitely on the loopier end of consciousness and forgot that I’m not invisible when I flirt (not that that is an excuse for my behavior). When guy-I’m-seeing casually leaned over and started kissing me, my friend asked us to stop and reminded us in no uncertain terms that we were doing this in their bedroom (and I, on their bed) and we are a heterosexual couple.

The guilt recoil is not something I’m used to, and it hit me full force that night. I realized that what I did was offensively heteronormative, and I was guilty because I thought I knew better, or at least had more restraint. Being supportive of the queer community has always been a point of pride for me, and now I was suddenly seriously questioning how supportive I had ever really been.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve spouted the don’t-wallow-in-guilt spiel for white people who realize their white privilege for the first time (cue: white girl tears). I am a firm believer that guilt is not productive. It is a self-centered emotion that takes attention away from the actual problem and shifts the focus to whoever is guilty. Guilt is a token gesture in the grand scheme of overcoming oppression. The real acts of compassion (props, Paulo Freire) come from the people who can overcome guilt and channel their feelings into action to support marginalized communities. This support can take many forms—spreading the knowledge and joining organizations that support marginalized groups, among other things.

The worst part about that incident was wanting to talk about what I had done and not knowing who to go to about it. I couldn’t talk to my friend about my guilt—that would be incredibly selfish since they were the one I had microagressed against. I knew I’d have to talk to guy-I’m-seeing about it, but I felt so awkward and guilty that I couldn’t bring it up with him, not at that point. I thought of two other friends I’d usually talk to about something like this…and promptly realized both the individuals I was thinking of are queer as well. I didn’t want to unload guilt on them about a microagression that both of them probably experience all the time. All the while, my recurring thought was the idea that in public spaces, queer people can’t always show affection, and I’d had the audacity to do that in a queer person’s private space, perhaps one of the only places this person can feel comfortable showing affection.

The uncomfortable thing about guilt is having to acknowledge that that “other person” who microagresses all the time out of ignorance is actually you. Once I admitted that, I went to a place much scarier than where I thought I would go—fear. I know I had said sorry to them, but I was still fearful that perhaps my friend no longer thought of me the same way.

In truth, guilt is an expression of fear. It is the fear that people do not love you enough to forgive you for what you have done (or have been doing). There is, of course, an assumption here that people should love you, that they somehow owe you love and forgiveness. But people do not owe you love. People do not owe you anything. Guilt is selfish precisely because it demands something of people that they do not necessarily want to give.

So I’ve kept it to myself, but I resolved to tell guy-I’m-seeing that this cannot happen again. For now, I can forgive myself, and love myself by taking better care of this body I’m in so I’ll be less tired. The less tired I am, the less likely I am to forget things that are important. And when I don’t forget important things, I am usually a better friend to my friends.