White queers, this is a betrayal.

Writing from Coast Salish territories.

I’ve just arrived home and I smell like fire.

I feel like fire too. Raging, quiet, resilient.

Today, QTIBIPoC living on Coast Salish territories gathered to mourn, pay respects to, to send love away with the 49 people who were murdered in the Pulse nightclub on June 12th in Orlando, Florida.

Today, I held hands with friends and cried silent tears onto an altar of offerings. Today, I heard prayers spoken in Spanish, in Arabic, in Punjabi and sung in vocables from the lungs of Indigenous bodies. Today, I learnt new ways of loving and healing that I was never allowed to know. Today, I understood why I am crying, 3,000 miles from Orlando.

Vigils have happened and we are late to the game. This time, it is not like usual. We are not late because we are communities of over-worked, labouring bodies not accustomed to (or interested in) Western time structures. We are late because they never invited us to play. The whistle blew and we were still tying our shoelaces.

It is not with ease that I call out white queers (my friends, my family) but it is with passion that I do so. This shooting has been eye-opening to many but I didn’t think that my learning would involve feelings of betrayal, hurt and erasure. They are not here for bodies that are Black and brown and queer. And this really hurts.

They have co-opted a tragedy that bled through the heart of silenced Latinx, Black and racialized communities. They have painted rainbows over undocumented families and migrant workers and son-less mothers and English-less abuelas and forced labourers. They have the energy to create racial division; to blame terrorism, which they use synonymously with Islam yet none to recognise the beauty and profoundness of racialized communities. Can their understandings of race only go as far as demonising Muslim bodies?

I can say this with such certainty because today I stared down at the 49 faces, laid as remembrance on the altar de muertos and was overwhelmed by their brownness. All shades of melanin except the lightest. Why were white people not at the club that night?  This is not to say they should have been; this fate could not be wished upon anyone. This is to say fervently: if white queers are not there for us in life, they mustn’t pretend to be there for us in death.

I get it, you are sad too and thank you for that sadness. It is valid and important. But when your shouts are louder than our (specifically Latinx and Black) cries, the hurt we feel is multiplied.

On that same night, I too danced with friends and lovers in a queer space. (What if it was us?) I too felt the urgency and liberation of blending bodies and hearts with those whom all other interactions are cautious and unsure. I too knew the importance and sacredness of creating spaces outside the walls of heteronormativity and homophobia that we must navigate in all other walks of life.

But I did not feel the same profound and unbinding connection that I’m sure many felt on Latin night in Pulse nightclub. Unless a queer space is specifically for people of colour, I am never an equal participant. I am a token, an object, an exotic presence; stared at but not desired, touched but not loved. It takes everything in me to say this, because my entire existence has been built on the antithesis but I deserve more.

Where are they when our trans friends are murdered? Where are they when we are unhomed because colonization made our families think ancestral ways of loving are wrong? Where are they when our histories are erased by Hollywood? Where are they when our language is appropriated; when “yaass queen” becomes common place on the tongues of white gay men?

This incident is an attack on queer people of colour. This is an issue of race and queerness in tandem and anyone who denies that treads on the graves of the slain. Yes, perhaps the shooter had no intention of gunning down fellow brown bodies but this was never a matter of one man and one gun. This is a matter of America, of guns, of violence, of foreign policy, of conservatism, of white supremacy.

Today, I watched queers of colour come together and locate the direction of Mecca. Today, I lay vibrant prayer mats down on the cold white floors. Today, I heard the azan in a woman’s poetic voice. We must do these things for ourselves because the wider LGBTQ+ community has made it clear they are not here for us. And this really hurts.

Today, I walked with friends to a site of historical resistance, to a piece of these lands and waters gently nurtured by the Coast Salish people. Teary eyed, we burnt the altar offerings, sending the 49 souls to their next place. The waves crashed against the shore; our ancestors are sad too.

I smell like fire, and I’m crying 3,000 miles from Orlando.

“You are so loved.”

Writing from Maastricht.

Today, my best friend and I had a conversation about love and loss and insecurity. About self-acceptance, moving on, independence, community and vulnerability. It was a magical conversation that somehow entwined my own relationship struggles with Severus Snape; two such unlikely subjects, married by the feelings of fear and love and how they are both so dangerously inextricable.

She reminded me that I have to love myself before I can expect anyone else to love me and I know this so well, yet I often can’t bear the slow and painful process of self-love. The hours and days of loneliness that are essential to true independence and freedom from attachment. I know I must begin this journey, of loving myself in order to undo all of the insecurities I am currently experiencing. I can’t continue to blame others for how I feel because although people hurt one another, sometimes the biggest damage is that which we do unto ourselves.  In the end, I think that was Snape’s mistake.

Is it noble or foolish to love someone so much that you sacrifice any other chance of happiness? To be so consumed by someone that the representation of your spirit mirrors theirs? To put yourself through the pain of protecting someone who doesn’t respect or value you in the name of the person you love? To always be a dark and bitter shadow of  a person in the name of unrequited love?

I am conflicted about the messages of this story. Harry Potter has always been about love, Rowling made no secret of this; it is always love that destroys evil in these books. But to what end? At a loss of independence, happiness, closure? I think this narrative has made me believe that to show love is to devote ones entire self to another and to sacrifice all that you are to be theirs.

While Snape is a clear cut character, his discernible personality traits are made up of sadness, bitterness and resentment. In some ways these characteristics have engulfed me too. I can’t separate myself from the person I love enough to love myself and to be my own person. I am an extension of her so when she hurts me I break because I have nothing to fall back on. I have come to associate any small mistake or lack of affection for betrayal and spite, when really it’s an attempt to escape my obsessive grasp.

Really, love is the most simple thing in the world; something that our bodies and hearts do without our control and I should trust that. If that is the foundation for what we have, then I am lucky to still have it, unlike Snape, driven mad by the lack of it.

I think perhaps, therefore, Snape never loved himself and so Lily could not give herself to him. And while James was an arrogant douche, he was confident and proud and self-loving. Rowling built us up to hate Snape for 10 years and only in the final hours of the seven-fold journey did she reveal that Snape’s pain was not hatred or anger, it was heartache.

I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want to have loved and lost and remain forever regretful of the mistakes I made. Snape was brilliant, but also stupid. Love over-shadowed his sense of self and that was his greatest mistake.

When someone asks,”after all this time?”, I want us to say “always” in unison.

R.I.P. Alan, R.I.P. Snape.

always

 

 

An Ode to the Old

Writing from London.

Today, my Nana, who naps upstairs as old people do, turns 85.

The are so many intergenerational barriers that keep me locked out of her weird and wonderful mind and her out of mine and yet we are so intrinsically connected in a way that transcends the sixty-three years between us.

It’s the scariest thing to watch her brilliance fade away and be replaced by bumbling confusion, shortness of breath and and hours of mind-numbing day time TV. It’s scary to think that living pieces of history, the slowly dwindling reminders of the 20th century, our very own, home-grown primary sources of historical investigation are swiftly being erased from the narrative of our nation.

Physically, yes, we will all pass on and be nothing more than sweet memories in photo frames and the objects we leave behind. But, it’s metaphorically that hurts the most. It’s the way the world is so rapidly and actively pushing away those who built the foundations of the cities we live in and wrote the scripts of our society (which are albeit largely problematic) and raised us from screaming peanut-sized nuisances.

Forty years ago my grandma was on the picket lines of the nuclear weapons factories and marching down the streets of London on the eve of huge parliamentary decisions and behind bars with feminist-socialist imagery emblazoned on her clothes and raising a little half-black girl with an uncontrollable afro and organising union meetings in her tiny living room. Today, she hobbles down the high street with her walking stick and is pushed aside by boisterous teenagers, disregarded by commuters, and is undervalued and under appreciated for her contributions to society because she simultaneously (and rightfully) demands more services and resources than able-bodied, working-age people.

The elderly are so much more deserving (and needing) of respect and care and protection and company than the narcissistic, individualistic millennial generation (myself included) yet they are given only a shred of the admiration we give our relatively uneducated and unwise selves. We posit contemporary advancements in science and technology and our changing perceptions of culture and art and our “progressive”politics and human rights as the greatest the world has ever seen, only to forget that our grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents built us the nest in which we hatch our revolutions.

Nana is a piece of living history, a token of the past, a walking – or more like hobbling – symbol of the triumphs (and failures) of the 20th century. It’s sad to watch her no longer be the queer hitch-hiking, world-travelling, anti-racist feminist idol that she once was, and I never got to meet, but it’s beautiful to see her pass that down to me over a cup of tea, during an episode of Midsomer Murders.

Friend and Land: Quiet Nostalgia

Writing from London.

Pre-pubescent me read far too many Jaqueline Wilson novels about imaginary types of magical friendship in which best friends ran away together and became sisters and told each other their deepest secrets. I’m not sure if it’s the pseudo-Victorian, horrifyingly awkward and seemingly-superficial-but-genuinely-nice nature of British people that meant I never really found (nor really properly sought) this type of friendship in while living in England.

My friends here, in all their splendidly dorky Britishness are irreplaceable; to come home to them is paramount to my happiness and my feelings of security as the free-wandering Sagittarian spirit that I am. To always know that beyond the Atlantic Ocean lies a (relatively) unchanging gaggle of high school companions, doing a myriad of great and brilliant things, yet always returning to this dreary suburb for no other reason than love, is heart-warming at the least.

For a while I was confused by these friendships – we were close but not inseparable, not do-everything-together, not spend-hours-on-the-phone and not lovey-dovey-carving-names-into-trees types. We were more (and still are) laugh-’til-it-hurts, binge-drink-on-weekdays, camp-in-the-garden type friends.

It’s only now, five years since moving away from this small and rather inconsequential part of the larger bustling metropolis, that I realise the beauty and rarity of what we have and what these friends mean to me. So many international students that I’ve met have travelled abroad at the sacrifice of their friends back home. When they go home, they have family but no friends to return to. Without friends, those who’ve known me for 10 years or more to come home to, this city would hold so much less value. The streets would seem bare and unfamiliar and old hang-out spots would draw a sad nostalgia instead of a warm familiarity.

Today, I’m so happy that I have unlearned my childish expectations of friendship and broadened by understanding of what life-long companionship can mean. Some friends are not meant to hang off of your every word and be at your side in every event and be the holders of your darkest secrets. Some friends are meant to be quiet pieces of your past; sweet reminders of why you are you. They are meant to be little interjections into your routine, small hellos to counter every hard goodbye, spells of immaturity at the end of adolescence and friendly eyes over a pint of beer.

Friends don’t owe you their entire selves, just a piece to help your heart get by.

 

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Friends, circa 2009

 

 

Queering Trans-Atlantic Confusion

Writing from London.

It’s January 2016 and this is the twelfth time I have traversed the Atlantic Ocean to be “home”. Each journey brings a new emotion, a new range of bubbling feelings, new reasons to cry and new reasons to laugh. Old ones too of course, familiar faces and place and spaces. But it’s the newness that is surprising, the idea of returning to the place that shaped you to find its meaning has shifted in your heart.

I only know London as a child and so I don’t know how to behave here as an adult. In Vancouver I have an apartment, a partner, a car and a job. In London my parents drive me around and I still get pocket money from Grandma. It’s a luxury but it’s confusing. It’s warming and comfortable and safe but it means I can never consider London as home for adult-me, only a never-changing time capsule for my infant-to-adolescent self.

Here, I revert the cosyness of nuclear family snuggles and set meal times and old friends. There, I am an explorer, a never-changing wanderer, a fierce polyamorous queer lover and a walking embodiment of black activism. Here, I am held and loved but perhaps not as who I am but as who I was five years ago; freckled teenage angst, alcopops and carelessness. There, I am more… a scholar, a poet, an organiser, a social justice warrior, a nurturer, a community-builder.

I don’t think I am whole anywhere, but perhaps there I am closer to it than the stagnancy of what I am here.

Last night I went to a poetry night called Queer Qreations and things changed. My heart hurt with the sweet burn of familiarity mixed with rebirth and first-time fear. Queers performed. Queers of colour and of different abilities and with the grit of South London accents. I performed. I performed a poem I had written looking over the ebb of the Pacific Ocean and it was weird. It felt confusing, yet so effortless – is this what belonging feels like?

My queerness is so embedded in the snow-peaked mountains and temperate rainforest coastline of Vancouver that it almost knows no place in this grey and hard-edged city. It is there that I came out (and came in), that I fell in love with the same gender and with myself as I am, with blackness and queerness and radical communities.

I’ve learnt that my queerness and my adulthood feel synonymous and inextricable and now that I have witnessed a few magical moments of queer belonging on home soil I feel a sense of intimate growth within myself.

Feeling comfortable with this confusion is the hardest part.

 

 

 

Why is half-caste so offensive?

So this is one of those questions that is widely asked around the internet but with barely any detailed or intelligent responses.

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I’m grateful that we are living in an age where people are becoming increasingly interested in how not to offend each other and so here is my attempt to include mixed-race individuals into that unoffended category.

Firstly, my disclaimer on all terms where their offensiveness is in question – which is pretty much any word ever used to describe another human being – is that it is 100% the discretion of the term’s recipient as to whether or not they are offended. There is often the situation where one party, in this case me, a mixed race body is called half-caste and objects to the label. The name-caller then immediately, in that way that humans do to save face, starts to ramble on about how they have another friend who completely doesn’t mind the word and in fact self-identifies as such! Well, good for them! It is completely their choice, and although in my opinion, a bad one, to identify that way but I prefer that if you insist on entering into the dangerous territory that is a discussion about my race, that you use the word mixed-race.

Here is where I introduce the Platinum Rule. We all know the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. That’s all well and fine until you realise we are drastically different humans with different desires on how to be approached by others. The Platinum rule, taught to me by my boss but also trending across the mouths (and fingertips) of many people from social justice activists to business entrepreneurs (and that’s not to say you can’t be both). It’s this: Treat others as they wish to be treated. Really wasn’t that hard was it?

As I mentioned, I like to keep my explanations simple and understandable so I’ll explain this briefly. Think of the Indian caste system. It’s basically a hierarchy of humans meaning that where and to whom you are born, determines your position in life; your job, your spouse, your income etc. The higher the caste you are, the more fortunate and revered you are and therefore, a half-caste individual would be very low in the rankings and signify a lesser person. That’s strike one.

Strike two is this: the historical progression. History plays an enormous part in trying to understand the origins of racial discrimination and so the word half-caste has its fair share of stories. During the time when slavery was legal, when a child was born to a black slave and a white slave owner, they would be named half-caste in order to deliberately exclude them and thus the term continued on as offensive. Uses of the word peaked and fell throughout time and reared its ugly head about the time my mother was the only mixed-race kid in her school.

The etymology of the word also has some negative connotations. It comes from the Latin, castus, meaning pure. So the word means half-pure? That makes my skin crawl in the same way that anything remotely Neo-Nazi does. To summarise, remember how Malfoy calls Hermione a ‘filthy mudblood‘ in the Chamber of Secrets. Yeah, now imagine that without creepy diaries, pointy hats and a back-firing slug charm. Very, very wrong.

To any non-Harry Potter fans, shame on you. 

Don’t understand the Harry Potter references? Click the links in green.

Sources:

http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?p=440

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half-caste