For a lot of queer folks, especially people of color, the mainstream media and mainstream communities provide little in the way of mirrors for our experience. I utilized fanfiction as a way of finding queer characters to look up to, and I know I am not the only one. Even now, I frequently choose which part of myself will be represented in a space: my queer self or my brown self. It mirrors the struggle of my younger life, constantly vacillating between identities in different settings, searching for belonging and acceptance but also wholeness.
Coming to this anthology of interviews, Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Volume 2, was like finding some of the elders and mirrors I had been searching for, as well as so much more. Each interview is a gold mine, a feast of quotes to be hung up on walls, tattooed on arms, and copied in notebooks. A flurry of words to hold close on nights when being seen seems impossible and it feels as if no one else in the world knows who or what you are.
I found myself taking notes, trying to find the pieces I wanted to carry away with me out into the world. I found myself highlighting, referencing, and writing whole quotes from each one, finding something new or some way of speaking that I had thought or felt, but never known how to articulate. Knowledge that I needed when I was in school, but that the ‘experts’ likely would not have prioritized.
“One of the things that frustrates me so much about the academy is the policing of what is knowledge and what knowledge matters and how that is used to keep Black and brown people down and out of the academy.”
My inner internet nerd was happy to come across Dr. micha cárdenas’s discussions on gender and their work with Second Life. For someone whose earliest experimentations with queer culture happened on the internet, it was so refreshing to hear gaming spoken of so positively and with creative thought as to its utilization. Dr. cárdenas’s words on migration and colonization spoke to the diaspora child I am, and for once, I was not required to choose which identity would be prioritized.
From start to finish, the book is packed with validating moments like that. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s introduction relighted a fire in my heart about writing ourselves into history, while offering a reminder that oppression sometimes results in history being lost. Juba Kalamka’s discussion of queer as an anti-assimilationist word also touches on our self-identification and the way in which queer for me became a word that could hold all of me, instead of only pieces. After hearing too many narratives about how coming out loud and proud is the only ‘right way’ to be LGBT, his words soothed the part of me that constantly says I’m not queer enough or that I do not perform queerness correctly.
The expression of our queer identities is often limited by oppressive stereotypes. “So if you’re brown or if you’re queer or if you’re different in some way, your art is automatically assumed to be ‘identity art,’” says Grace Rosario Perkins. Her take on the art world and its lack of space for QTPOC life and truth reflected my experiences as a South Asian theater major. It was like coming to a new sort of home, where all of my selves could speak to each other.
“The deeper we dig, the more it hurts.” Grace echoes a truth about art and about the process of digging into the histories of our people and ourselves. In this case, the further I went into this book, the more that I was heard, held, and soothed. These interviews watered places within me where I had become so accustomed to aridness, I did not notice the pain caused by lack til it ceased.
One of the interviews that speaks to me most features Elena Rose, whose words touch on violence and intergenerational impact:
“The history of colonialism, particularly the history of family trauma that comes from it … in occupied places, in places where armies have fought battles on top of Indigenous people, in places that have been invaded and taken over, in places that have had to divide into collaborators and insurgents, that gets into us. It gets into our hearts, it gets into our family lines, it gets into our blood. We take that violence, that state violence, that large-scale violence and that drawing of borders and it draws borders inside us. It draws borders across our bodies, across our spirits and through our families.”
While beginning to learn of the violence witnessed by my grandparents 75 years ago, it is revelatory to hear about the pain of colonialism from voices that are not looking from the outside in.
I think for QTPOC especially, it is vital to hear the words of other queer and trans people of color. To know that our community is broad and deep and wide and luxurious in its possibility. To hear about pain and possibility and life and what has come before. This book accomplishes all that and more. I hope it finds you and brings some nourishing healing to your heart, as it did mine.
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Two people are standing together, holding matching copies of Queer & Trans Artists of Color. One book has a teal cover; the other, orange. The person on the left is shorter with short brown hair that curls at the front. She's wearing hoop earrings, a pinstripe blazer, and a blue shirt. The taller woman has long curly hair, bigger hoop earrings, and bright lipstick. She's wearing a black dress with red cherries on it.
About Shivani Seth:
Shivani is a queer 2nd generation Punjabi American living in the Midwest. Her work includes queer and diverse fiction, teaching allyship, combating mental health stigma in POC spaces and living in recovery. Her writing, updates and other ramblings can be seen on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.