After I moved to Canada from Trinidad as a little girl, I was brought into a really unstable abusive home, which pushed me to move around a lot. Violence and the movement it brings are in my blood. I am a product of the legacy of colonization, which has remade countries and borders and families. Indentured workers brought from India to Trinidad laid the foundation for my grandfather’s arrival. A savage genocide waged against the Arawak people had mi abuela speaking in hushed tones when she talked of her past and a paternal grandfather from Scotland called ‘massa’ by even my paternal grandmother, an enslaved African womyn hailing from Dominica. And my mother left Trinidad at 40 years old to begin an entirely new life in Toronto, Canada — I was 6 when I saw my first snowfall.
I have always been a traveler, particularly as an immigrant and as a person with family hailing from Venezuela to Dominica to South India, ‘home’, ‘family’ and ‘belonging’ have always been complicated concepts. But as femme genius Yumi Tomsha says, we mixed folks are “layers, not fractions.” These complications find their solace in my bones, my laugh, my irreverent queerness and my sensitive stomach without even trying. They are self-evident in my spoken Creole Spanish and an effortless Dahl I have perfected. I am not fractured and tortured, I am multi-faceted and rich. I draw upon all of me in all I do and I seek kin in places all over the world. I have flown across an ocean every year of my life, as a matter of necessity. Regardless of how cash-poor we have always been, I have needed to return and seek out places where I am not always being asked, “Where are you from?” The quintessential question asked to anyone who is assumed not to be a ‘Canadian’ or an ‘American’. For the rest of us, whether we want to or not, we hyphenate. African–American, Chinese–Canadian, terms like Native American or Native Canadian make it very clear who is being imagined as the default.
As much as ‘home’ is a place, I have also found it’s a time. The older I got, and the more I transformed and the more my surroundings transformed me living and working in cities in Canada and in the U.S. The more my queerness was framed by the culture and the language that I access here, the more my body was marked by what has always been an Indigenous and African practice of tattooing that has since been appropriated by the West, the more boldly this Queer Black Girl accessed space — the more difficult it became to return to that ever elusive place called ‘home’. My nephews would now tell their friends that I was their aunty from ‘foreign’. Instead of familiar smiles and knowing glances, I began to garner fixed and steady stares. So my scope of travel changed; instead of yearly trips back home to Trinidad and Tobago, I wanted to seek out the other places that I am connected to not based solely on imposed borders but based on relationships of mutual reciprocity and a commitment to learn about each other from each other.
A couple years ago I backpacked through Nicaragua. A combination of working homestays and $3 hostels, I ran errands to the markets on sweet old horses, practiced yoga with 9 year olds, drawing pictures in the sand to bridge their Miskito and my functional Spanish and on weekends explored some incredible sustainable fincas and climbed a massive volcano. I loved it all, and recognize my incredible privilege as someone with a Canadian passport and all the mobility that comes with it. I also want to note that I was alone. I never saw another Queer, Quirky Black Girl. Now I understand that ‘visibility’ is a tricky thing, and that safety is something that has to be negotiated along with our visual femifestations of ourselves. But in 3 weeks, I never saw another Brown, Dark Brown or Black Womyn with curly or kinky hair AT ALL. Everywhere I went, I was pointed at, shouted at ‘Negra’ or ‘Negrita’, people reached out to touch my hair, my skin. And regardless of all the ways people reacted to me, rarely if ever, would people talk directly to me. I would return their stares at first with a shy smile and they would quickly look away or continue to stare. This is not to say that the families that I stayed with were not sweet and friendly, but more than once, I was told that they were very surprised that I was, well, Black.
This is not the first or the last time. At 17, I travelled through Poland and Germany with my best friend at the time and their family — a guest on their family trip. One woman literally lifted up my shirt to see if I was Black all over. I understand you are seeing someone who is new to you, but I am still a human. I feel like it is pretty basic in terms of interaction to at least ask questions before you venture out to touch, much less attempt to undress someone who you have never met before in your life.
As a Queer Femme, so often my sexuality is defined in relation to whoever I am rolling with. When seeing people say that ‘femmeness’ is invisible, I ask them to look a little harder. If in your version of ‘queer’, it only seems to exist in flavours of androgynous and butch, I strongly encourage you to change your minds cause we ain’t changing our gender. Regardless of this, I have found that there is an added layer when I travel with a partner. My partners have varied, but most often they have been masculine of centre identified, with my fiancée right now being a self-described ‘Ol’ School Working Class Butch’. Regardless of whether we are touching or not, this tends to make it clear to many folks that we are lovers or partners. (The fact that we flirt shamelessly with each other and are always staring in each others eyes probably also cements it for people.) This compounded with the fact that she is white has now transformed the gaze entirely. Men wait till she heads to the bathroom to wink and smile and pass notes to me, but when she returns, avert their eyes or position themselves directly behind her. Regardless of the fact that I am a Spanish speaker, people all rush to communicate directly with her particularly around exchanges of money. I am still not talked to for the most part, but talked about. My response — one I learned from climbing that volcano, 18km straight up a muddy slope, with swollen ankles and tired arms — I learned not to keep looking for the end, the light just past the leaves and instead focus on the step just ahead. Breathe deeply always, remember your ancestors and the faces of all the people who love you exactly as you are.
I am still a sparkly Black winged unicorn. And I will never be anything else.
I found myself wondering today if there is a place in the world where being a Black Queer Mixed Femme, like myself, is the majority. I wonder if there is some sort of secret island out there where they are rocking booty shorts with Black Feminist slogans, living sustainably and doing each other’s nails. A place where I hear Patois’ and Creoles, where we cackle and kiki and when I arrive I am greeted warmly and welcomed. Where we share stories of our tattoos, scars and stretchmarks. Where we tell tales of our lovers and our parents and pray to a multitude of goddesses across the pantheon.
Until then, we find kin where we can and pay respects to all manner of resistance across the world. We move with an open heart and a guarded smile. We work to be filters, not sponges, so we don’t hold all the hurt in our bodies.
And we keep hoping that one day, and some time, we may all find our ways ‘home’.
feature image from shutterstock.com
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” column exists for individual queer ladies to tell their own personal stories and share compelling experiences. These personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.