QA Blog Series: Doubly Others – Queers of Colour in the Diaspora
Posted on 15/01/2019 Written by Alexandra D’Sa for the QA Blog Series “Doubly Others – Queers of Colour in the Diaspora” curated by QA2019 Committee Member Misha.
Identity. It’s ironic that a word so many use to convey their uniqueness, or more commercially, their ‘USP’, has an etymological root meaning ‘the same’. Or maybe not. Because whilst I have my own unique identity, each category I identify with has an associated community of like-minded people.
And yes, in that order.
I encourage you all, as you’re reading this blog, to do the same thing. Write down the top 5 ways you identify yourself, and then rank them. As a little experiment, ask one family member, one friend, and one relatively new acquaintance to identify you. I guarantee that even if all the categories are the same, the order will be different.
You see, identity is always relative.
If I meet someone for the first time, I imagine the first thing they notice about me is the fact that I present as female, and that I have brown skin. This seems completely alien to me because (and try not to let my intense vulnerability become any kind of a factor here) growing up, sometimes when I looked in the mirror, I was genuinely surprised by the fact that I was brown.
Don’t get me wrong, my whole family are brown so it’s not like I had no point of reference. It might be because my family are Catholic, and churches tend to be majority white spaces in England. It’s probably because I was born in South East London and raised in the whitest of white suburbs (ex-headquarters of the BNP-kind-of-white). But maybe, just maybe, it also has a tiny bit to do with the fact that I’ve always known I was a lesbian.
I had no queer brown role models in my family, on television, or in any kind of history I learned about.
I had no queer brown role models in my family, on television, or in any kind of history I learned about. The LGBT+ figures I grew up with were Ellen DeGeneres, Anna Friel in Brookside, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, and the whole Bloomsbury group. Is it a wonder, then, that so many queer people of colour grow up feeling isolated from their family – the first ‘community’ most of us truly know? Is it a surprise that so many of us feel like we have to leave that community in order to be a part of the LGBT+ community that, in theory, is supposed to embrace the oddballs, the outsiders, the square pegs in round holes?
Examining my own journey, I really tried to understand what it was about the ‘coming out process’ that was so hard for me. Why was I so afraid? I suppose, like any kid, I was afraid of being different. And like any human, I was afraid of rejection and isolation from my friends and family. But if I’m honest with myself, I knew that my friends would be fine, and that my parents would be, too – they’d grown up with George Michael for crying out loud. Deep down, what I was truly afraid of, was that my grandparents would disown me.
Examining my own journey, I really tried to understand what it was about the ‘coming out process’ that was so hard for me.
For context, I have three living grandparents. These three grandparents are my world. I speak to them every single day. I try and see them every week. They moved to this country in the mid 60s from East Africa, also having immigrated to that part of the world when they were young adults. For most people who make the journey over here from another country, they do so striving to create the best life for themselves and for the rest of their family. As part of a school project when I was 18, I had to ask someone close to me what the happiest moment in their life was. I asked my grandma – and her response was as follows:
“I see all my children in jobs, married with children, and my grandchildren happy and healthy – that’s my happiness. I don’t need anything else”.
It might sound cliché. It might sound like someone wrote that as part of a 90s rom-com. But, it’s absolutely true. And whilst it is a lovely sentiment, it’s also probably why I was so nervous to come out to them as a lesbian. I don’t know whether to call it an ‘expectation’, but there was certainly this sense of …these people came here to give their family an easier life, and here I am making things ‘harder’ for myself. Of course, logically, that is not the case. It’s much harder to live a lie than it is to live your truth. And they probably came here to give their family a ‘better’ life instead of an easier one – and as any queer person can tell you, there ain’t no party like an LGBTQ party.
No matter how removed we think we are, no matter if grandparents or parents no longer play a role in your decision making, the inherited weight of expectation is still there. There is this invisible energy, this hope, that we try and live up to. It took me a long time to get over that. And it didn’t happen with coming out to my grandparents (my parents did that for me, much to my eternal gratitude, because I was too nervous). I don’t even think I’ve shaken it off to this day – a grown up, adult married woman. I still feel this duty to be the best granddaughter, the best version of myself I can be for them. But maybe, sometimes, that’s not such a bad thing.
Alexandra D’Sa is an actress, writer, and producer from London, with a background in Financial Services and Technology. She studied English Literature at The University of Exeter and Vassar College, New York, and received her Postgraduate degree in Acting from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Alex’s credits include: Ackley Bridge and Eastenders, and she creates her own content to serve the queer community. Alex’s ancestors hailed from Goa, an ex-Portuguese colony in India.
Watch this space for other blogs in this series curated by Misha.
Misha is a student on the MA Gender, Society and Representation programme at UCL in London. They are interested on the intersection of queerness and ethnic/racial identity.