In my hometown, our crosswalks are rainbows. Queerness is part of the air; I breathe it in like it’s the third most abundant gas in the atmosphere, only behind nitrogen and oxygen. It’s quite typical of a San Franciscan to rave about our lovely little gay 49 square miles—how the drag queens strut the streets next to the naked walkers on the Embarcadero and how sexual innuendos inundate our storefronts—showing just how liberated we are compared to the rest of the world.
I can rattle off plenty of gay fun facts to my friends who have never been to the Bay. Even my queer friends at Columbia barely believe that San Francisco isn’t just an abstract gay fairy tale.
I thought moving to the gay capital of the East Coast and one of the gayest campuses in US would pump even more rainbow stripes through my veins. Yet somehow, it’s taken me 20 years to feel comfortable with claiming the beauty of queerness for myself. I struggle, as a bisexual woman of color, to understand which spaces are meant for me or which spaces are not.
I remember my first crush on a girl; she was my best friend in fifth grade. One day, I was so smitten with affection, I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. She recoiled, and in an effort to save myself, I shrugged it off and didn’t think about the incident for upwards of five years. I went off to high school, got my first boyfriend, and called it a day—never asking if I had made a mistake on defining who I can and cannot love.
Then, the summer before junior year of high school, I had my second crush on a girl—however, this time I was also in a relationship with my boyfriend. I cried for countless nights wondering how I was going to tell him. I would look at myself in my bathroom mirror and practice saying “I’m a lesbian.” I knew what bisexuality was, but I couldn’t even validate my own feelings because I was complicit in my own erasure.
What stuns me most, however, is not my own shortcomings, but the shortcomings of the supposedly loving queer community around me. San Francisco touts gayness like it’s part of our constitution. Yet when I was coming to terms with my reality when I was in high school, I only saw “queerness” as white gay™ men from the Castro, which I surely was not. I only saw “straightness” as an incomprehensive form of love, which I surely did not fit. So where did this leave me?
The fact of the matter is the queerness that is widely propagated in our society is overpowered by the wide-toothed smiles of white, gay, bearded men talking about their escapades in the club and how tacky someone’s boots are. I present this broad-stroking stereotype just to show that growing up with the majority of space taken up by white gays™, I felt little room to explore my bisexuality completely. As a result, I suppressed my feelings for five years until I absolutely could not handle feeling rejected from a space that should be mine.
I left San Francisco excited to breathe the same air as Marsha P. Johnson and many other queer and trans people of color activists from New York. But unfortunately, the mainstream gay community at Columbia is no different; I still see queer spaces dominated by white, cis, male gays. Then, I turn to see Proud Colors and Q&A fighting tooth and nail for what little space and resources they can get on the margins of Columbia queerness.
I also often find that others are quick to dismiss my perspective because I am not “queer enough.” This fear persists as I still engage with the politically queer community at Columbia from an arm’s length. There are so many articles about how problematic that rhetoric of bi-erasure and denial is, but to a degree, I understand where it’s coming from. I find myself having privilege—I’ve navigated heterosexuality, which makes me “straight-passing.” As a femme-presenting woman, my sexuality is not usually inferred by my appearance; the majority of discrimination I face is on account of my race and gender. I am not ignorant to the drive, sacrifice, and labor that went into normalizing gayness. I am not ignorant to the fact that in many places, it is still a life or death situation to be gay, out, and proud. So, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut in the name of “solidarity.”
But no matter how invalidated my sexuality may be and no matter how underrepresented my racial and sexual identities are in the mainstream, I am still part of this ever-elusive “queer community.” Now, I’m simply asking an earnest question about how we achieve inclusivity in a space that is supposed to be predicated on love—especially since so many members of our community do not feel loved or validated.
Even though I’ve found myself surrounded by validating, supportive queer friends at Columbia, even though they assure me the space is mine, even though I know the space is mine, it is still hard to claim so unapologetically. But I want people to know that I am not a guest in a queer space—that this is a space for me and all my privileges and identities. This is my home, so I’m moving in, and I’m coming out.
The author is a sophomore in Columbia College studying biology and public health. She is not your model minority and refuses to be used as a pawn in the game of white supremacy. You can find her meditating in her room and longing for the California sun to come to the East Coast and bless her vitamin D deficient skin. However, she loves her chosen family at Columbia and wouldn’t trade it for all the California avocados in the world (maybe).
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