Struggle Olympics

Photo Credit: Author

To be LGBTQ+ and a person of color is a struggle that often gets overlooked. Overwhelmingly, the portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community in the American media centers on white LGBTs and their experiences. LGBTQ+ persons of color are severely underrepresented in the media in comparison to their actual population within the community. In GLAAD’s annual “We are on TV” report, it was found that out of the 813 broadcast network’s series regular characters, only 13% are black, 8% Latino/Latina, 4% Asian, and 2% multi-racial. Out of the 74 LGBT-identified characters on mainstream broadcast networks, only 11% are black, 11% Latina/Latino, and 5% Asian. People of color therefore make up 27% of characters and 34% of LGBT characters. What people see on television are white stories and experiences.

When I attended a students of color conference, I went expecting to only entertain discussions with the other participants about my experience as a student of color in a predominantly white private school. What I found instead was an enlightening conversation at a caucus for LGBTQ+ people of color. As we sat around in an unused lecture hall for a few hours I heard so many different stories that ended revolving around the same themes, time and time again. Stories of their white counterparts having taken up the whole of the space and subjecting them to strict scrutiny for both skin tone and sometimes even their sexual or gender identity. Themes of being treated lesser or being made to feel as though they couldn’t share their personal struggles in those spaces unless it was with other LGBTQ people of color.

J. told a story of an experience he had with another gay friend. In it, J. had been trying to tell the friend about how he was struggling to find a relationship due to some of the rampant racism he faced as a gay Asian man. Only to have that friend turn on J. and say how he also struggled equally if not more than the student because he was gay. All of us sitting in the circle exclaimed in annoyance that someone could have been so brazen like that. But in the end, we all knew someone who said something similar to us at one point in our lives. That there are white people in the LGBTQ+ community who don’t understand that for people like the ones in this group, they had to fight the unending racism in the LGBTQ+ community on top of daily racism in their lives and the struggles with being LGBTQ+. We all knew how often talking about this subject suddenly made it a “Struggle Olympics,” as we coined it, with white LGBT people.

I detailed a story of my personal struggles with being fetishized as a bisexual Asian woman. Messages riddling my inbox asking for threesomes, and calling me “a born slut,” and even a few death threats from lesbians due to a long-term relationship with a man. And I wasn’t the only one as a few other students, some Black and others Latina, chimed in with similar encounters in their lives. Because of media representation of women of color who are LGBTQ being highly sexualized, these students suffer from those stereotypes and images despite having done nothing.

And the story that nearly all of us could recount was one of being told that we weren’t struggling but rather we just want to be more “special.” That struck with me as how in the world was being marginalized twice or ever three times over beneficial in anyone’s eyes. Who of us would want to be subjected to cruel words and treatment for our skin tone, our sexuality, and for some our gender identity? No one in their right mind, obviously.

The more we discussed it the more we concluded that it was because for many white LGBTQ+ people, their entire identity revolved around being LGBTQ+. Unlike us who viewed our sexual identity and/or gender identity as simply being one facet of our overall identity along with our cultural backgrounds. We joked around at discussions of how suffocating that must be at times to have your entire identity just be about who your romantically and sexually attracted to. That it was really no different than some straight white people we’ve encountered in our lives.

At the very beginning of the conference, the student chair in charge of organizing the conference, Rani, broached to us about spaces of color. In her speech to the room came the notion of how this conference was not intended as a way for students of color to learn how to better include and maintain strong communities of color at their respective schools. While that might be nice of the students to do so what was more important in her mind was the fact that it should never be on the students themselves to maintain an environment of diversity and inclusion, but the school administration.

At the end of the 3-hour long caucus, even though the events of the conference were, for the most part, done for the chilly day, we in the circle weren’t quite done. Instead, we linger draped over chairs and sprawled on the floor, slowly grabbing our coats and bags spread around the room. Someone chimes in to follow his Instagram. Another rushes to write her Twitter handle on the white board with a hot pink marker. Few of us joke about creating a group chat so that we can keep talking, read complaining. The moderator, J, starts talking about heading to a bar for dinner so that we can all keep riding on the high mood of the afternoon. A few underage kids respectfully bow out, a few others pout at not being able to drink with their new friends. I shake my head at the offer, explaining that I’m a month underage, which got me some shocked looks given my status as a senior. Grabbing a few stickers being offered, I catch up with another student on the way out and we chatter about our athletic rivalry before I end up running into students from my group. I never found out what got discussed that night in the bar. But that’s just another struggle to deal with next time.

A Primer on Non-Binary and Transgender

Rainbow

Gender identity is becoming an increasingly prevalent matter as transgender and non-binary individuals are more visible now than ever before, banding together, campaigning for fair treatment, and asking people to question the binary that has been touted as the end all of gender in western society, despite examples of people who have broken the mold throughout history across the world. Younger generations especially are becoming more open to the idea that gender is not one of two options assigned at birth, but rather a spectrum.

Who is transgender? Well, anyone who identifies as a man if he was designated female at birth (a transman), and anyone who identifies as a woman if she was designated male at birth (a transwoman). Non-binary people are those who identify as neither man nor woman.

How can cisgender people (those who are not trans or non-binary) accustom themselves to the existence of transgender and non-binary people? Ultimately, it comes down to respect, and acknowledging that everyone’s reality is subjective. If somebody tells you which pronouns they go by, and what name they’d like to be called, use those pronouns and that name for them (as you would for someone who goes by a nickname). Do this all of the time and not just in front of them; it is not respect if you use the pronouns they were given at birth and their birth name (commonly known as a “dead name” in the trans community) behind their back. When people do this, it indicates that they actually don’t respect trans and non-binary individuals. Closeted children who hear their parents misgender and dead name people who they know are trans or non-binary come away with the impression that their own identity will not be respected by the people who are supposed to unconditionally support them.

It is also essential to disregard any stereotypes concerning trans and non-binary individuals. Like everybody, trans and non-binary people are unique and have their own experiences relating to gender and society. Just because there are certain ideas of how trans and non-binary people should present, does not mean that they are obliged to fit with society’s expectations, which often coincide with the gender binary. Like color, how a non-cisgender person presents themselves exists on a spectrum. A transwoman can have a beard and is still a woman, a transman can have breasts and not desire to medically transition or bind and is still a man, transwomen can dress traditionally masculine and transmen are free to wear dresses as they please. Not every trans person or non-binary person defies expectations, but some do, and their identity as trans or non-binary is as valid as those whose experiences more closely align with typical gender norms.