What It's Like To Be A Queer Woman Of Color

by Maya M

If you've ever seen The L Word, you already know queer women like to form cliques — partially because it's great talking about hot girls with other hot girls, and partially because no one will understand you better than a community of like-minded people. Though I love my own queer girl communities, I think it's worth mentioning that not all queer women have the same experiences, and my life experiences as a queer woman of color can differ significantly from the life and experiences white, queer women have. This is especially true if they're white and living in the United States or Canada, Western Europe, or other areas of the world where queerness and homosexuality are generally accepted by society.

This conversation can be a loaded one, so I want to clarify that I never want to diminish, belittle, or undermine anyone's hardships or experiences; nor would I ever want to alienate myself from a community of people I've come to understand as my own family. Rather, my intention with this conversation and others like it is to highlight the fact that there isn't just one "queer woman" experience — that even within a group of people, individuals can have their own unique narratives. Mine happens to pertain to race; someone else's might have to do with the intersection of queerness and disability; a third may have to do with something entirely different.

With that in mind, here are some ways my experience as a QWOC can be totally different from the experiences many white, queer women may have in their lives.

1. I Have To Deal With Language Barriers In Unexpected Ways

In my language and many other languages, there doesn't exist a word for "gay," "homosexual," or "lesbian," either officially or colloquially. This can make it really hard to come out to friends and family members without saying awkward things like, "I have sex with other girls," or ,"I love girls like girls are usually supposed to love boys." This elementary level of communication is not often something white people from North America or Europe — particularly English speakers — have to experience, because there exists enough language to come out and substantially talk about sexuality without having to beat around the proverbial bush.

2. I'm Often Asked To Represent My Sexuality And My Race

A lot of out, queer women are asked to talk about "the queer perspective" or represent "their community" during class or work discussions, and therefore are forced to compress the complexities of an entire community down to a couple of broad generalizations. In my case, I am asked to represent three or four communities: The queer community, the South Asian community, the queer South Asian community, and sometimes even the queer Muslim South Asian community (but that's another article). That's a lot of communities to have to reduce down and explain to people at once, and it's something queer, white women don't typically have to deal with.

3. People Fetishize My Race And Sexuality At The Same Time — Even Other Queer Women

Queer, white women are often fetishized for their sexuality — there's no denying it. Look at the countless examples of lesbian porn featuring white women, made almost exclusively for the consumption of straight men. My experience differs a little from this, however, because I get sexualized for the intersection of my race and my queerness. People have said things to me like, "I've never seen a brown lesbian before, I'd like to watch that" (said to me by a frat bro), or, "I've never gone down on a brown girl before, but I bet it'll be spicy" (said to me by another queer woman). Many people — regardless as to their sexuality or gender — say offensive or problematic things about the intersection of my race and queerness without considering the impact it could have.

4. Coming Out Can Be A Mess

Let me start by saying that coming out is hard for everyone, no matter your skin color or racial background. Parents can reject their children for being gay whether they come from a black family, white family, brown family, interracial family, or any other kind of family, and being a queer person in this world is challenging no matter what. However, I will also add that people of color often come from countries and communities where homosexuality is significantly less accepted than it is in the Western world. When a white woman in the United States comes out and gets rejected by her family, for the most part she has a larger community she can turn to and pockets she can find where she can feel safe; most importantly, she won't be killed by her government or religious community for who she loves. In the part of the world I'm from, homosexuality is punishable by death, and even if your parents are accepting of you (which is very rare), the hostility of the community at large could stop you from coming out for safety reasons.

5. I Have To Live Several Separate Lives, And It Can Be Exhausting

When I'm at school, I can be my queer, brown self, but sometimes I have to withhold my queerness if I'm somewhere like a frat party or event where I don't know if the space is queer-friendly or not. When I'm at home, I can only be brown, since coming out as queer would be unacceptable. When I'm on the subway in Boston, where people are known to make Islamophobic comments, I'm someone who keeps a low profile, whereas in a safe space, I'm someone who likes to be seen and heard. I have to switch my queerness on and off, and though I can't change color like a chameleon, I have to choose racial battles as well. White queer women may live a few separate lives, but they rarely have to worry about situations that arise from the intersection or race and sexuality.

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