I went to see a play today (April 11, 2018) called Scene about an interracial queer couple, and it got me thinking about identity.
About how long it took to start identifying as black/mixed race: because I grew up in a country where black and brown people were in the majority and were in positions of power, I had precisely the white Western experience that “people like me” are normal. Not that I didn’t know any white people – I did. I had white friends and family, but I was not aware of their race (or my own) as a thing. I just thought of them as people with different hair/skin to me, but not fundamentally different in any way. I certainly didn’t feel less than them, or that they thought of me as lesser. I had to move to the UK to have that particular experience. I’ve had to train myself to be aware of race, in a way that black people born in the UK probably don’t.
I identified as bisexual (these days I call myself queer) way before I started thinking of myself as black – and in fact I never did think of myself as black. I identify as mixed race, and I’m aware that other people think of me as black. For me, black is something imposed on me from outside – much like I thought of my gender, back when I (sorta, kinda, well-if-you-push-me-then-I-guess-I’m-female?) identified as female. It was never how I felt, more how I knew other people saw me. Which is weird in its own way – I knew it wasn’t me, exactly, but I tried so hard to fit into the boxes that other people put me in.
Now I don’t care – or rather, I do care, I just know that being myself is more important than trying to conform. One of the few positives I can say about having had cancer is that it really makes you think about what matters to you. And what matters to me is being myself, and not trying to fit into other people’s boxes. My therapist called me brave, for (finally) realising my gender identity and acting on that, and I told her that it’s not bravery, it’s survival. I can’t pretend any longer. I can’t spend the rest of my life trying to meet other people’s expectations, because I have become suddenly strongly aware that the rest of my life might not be all that long.
And identifying as non-binary has been an amazingly freeing experience. I mean, there are a bunch of downsides, like legally my gender does not exist in the UK. But for the first time in my life, I have stopped worrying about whether I’m enough – do I meet the expectations for my gender. Because there really aren’t any. I get to decide what I look like, rather than having to try and look how someone else thinks I should. I don’t have to worry about being feminine enough – because that’s not me. It has been so relaxing.