When Do I Finally Get To Belong? On Being Both Native and Queer Enough

I’m saying these things now from a place of fear. I’m scared that people are going to accuse me of abusing the system, or challenge my identity or affirm my own self-consciousness.

When I first came out, I felt like every queer person knew more about gay culture than I did so I planned on binge watching The L Word, listening to Tegan and Sara, and otherwise studying “how to be gay.” My girlfriend introduced me to Autostraddle and I looked at it like some kind of Lesbian Bible. (Sometimes I still feel this way.) When I read “You Need Help: Being the Visible Femme,” I had a serious breakthrough. “Guys, this is an actual thing that other people experience. I’m not the only femme in the world!” It blew my mind.

I’ve struggled a lot with “invisible femme” syndrome. I became frustrated as I scoured the internet for images of what queer ladies look like and couldn’t find someone who looked like me. I started my own tumblr, Dress Me Dandy, in hopes of expanding my queer femme world. Having a dashboard full of #femme and #lesbianfashion images that I can connect with (and clothes that I envy!) has been really empowering. Despite this, I still struggle with the inside/outside dynamic. Looking like I belong within the community I identify with has always been a tricky topic for me to navigate.

At the tender age of 11 I wrote a piece very similar to this. It was titled “Blueberry Eyes” and was published in the employee newsletter at my mom’s work. I talked about the disbelief I encountered when I told someone I am Alaska Native (the term “Alaska Native” encompasses many tribes, just as “queer” does for many identities. It is the preferred umbrella term.) To non-Natives, my outside didn’t match their ideas of what an indigenous person should look like. I am Native from my mom’s side of the family. She and I look a lot alike but I get my coloring from my dad. With my paler skin, light brown hair and blue eyes, I don’t look the (stereotypical) part. I’ve carried this sentiment with me as I’ve grown up. Eleven years later and I am still writing about the disconnect others see between my identity and how I present myself.

While my younger self confidently stated, “I just let them believe what they believe because I know that I am [an] Alaska Native,” my present day self has been a little more sensitive when it comes to owning my queer and Native identities. Why do I think it’s important for other queer people to recognize me as queer? I just want that acknowledging head nod that screams “I’m gay and you’re gay and we play for the same team! Hooray!” I don’t think it’s too much to ask for.

My mom is awesome and made a kuspuk (an Alaska Native overshirt) for my childhood stuffed animal, Pink Bunny.

My mom is awesome and made a kuspuk (an Alaska Native overshirt) for my childhood stuffed animal, Pink Bunny.

I never felt comfortable in my Native identity so I don’t think I really allowed myself to pursue it and learn about cultural elements and really own that piece of me. When I came out I was so excited because I felt like maybe I could actually be a part of a community now — I finally had my people! There is no denying that I am what I am. When you see me holding my girlfriend’s hand down the street, you know I’m gay. But how do I break free from my identity as it relates to other people? How do I move past only feeling Native based on whether I fish or know the traditional ways? How can I push past feeling like my queer identity is tied to how much I listen to Uh Huh Her? (Which, to be honest, isn’t that often.)

The idea of self-identification is difficult for me. In the United States there are blood quantum regulations that denote whether or not someone is considered a Native American in the eyes of the US government. You even get a kind of membership card called a CDIB (Certificate Degree of Indian Blood) that you need to prove your identity in order to receive certain services.

The fact that Native identity is in some way regulated by an outside organization, that an authority exists that can deny you as part of your culture, has affected my belief that if I see myself as Native then I am. There is a guilt in passing. I receive certain benefits from being Native and yet I am able to pass as white and avoid much of the negative stigma. I am gay but pass as straight. I am frustrated that my different communities may not see me as who I am, but I can escape the outright bigotry many queer and/or Native people have to face. It’s all because I look like something I am not. I cannot change the color of my skin to appear more Native but I have thought about changing the way I dress to look more gay. My girlfriend rocks the dapper look but when I try to wear those things I feel like I’m playing dress-up. I thought the whole point of coming out and embracing my identity was to actually stay true to myself. (Which is why I prefer dresses to pants most days.)

I tried to write this unapologetically. I don’t think that happened. I tried not to list reasons why you should believe that I’m Native enough. I’m not as secure as I want to be in my identity as an indigenous person. I am so scared that someone is going to comment on this article and say that I’m cheating the system when I mark down my race on a standardized test. I’m afraid that someone will say that I don’t belong here. The fact of the matter is that I’ve said those things to myself thousands of times. The damage that’s been done has mostly come from inside myself. I’m trying to look at writing this as a kind of healing ritual. A public declaration. I’m putting myself out there for the whole world to wreck and I’m hoping that I make it out alright on the other side of this. I want to believe that how I self-identify and how I feel are the only things that matter. Maybe that starts with wearing whatever I want. Maybe it starts with writing all of this down.


feature image via Shutterstock


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” 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.

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When she's not pushing papers, Kirsten makes art and writes poetry on typewriters. She is awesome at flipping pancakes and wants to be an orca when she grows up. You can find her photographs and other works on her website and on Society6.

Kirsten has written 1 articles for us.

53 Comments

  1. Thumb up 13

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    this article gave me so many thoughts and feelings, a lot of which i do not talk about on the internet for so many of the reasons you talk about in this article, and wow. thank you for articulating all of this, i’ll be coming back to it a lot.

  2. Thumb up 19

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    Hi Kirsten. I feel you.

    I am mexican, of lebanese and european descent (mostly spanish and french, as it would be) who spent my formative years in upstate NY and have struggled to this day with what that all means. My skin is by all accounts white, with yellow undertones which made finding makeup in the 90s kind of a pain. In that lovely few weeks in central NY when it isn’t unbareably cold or unbareably hot to be outside, and so I would be, with Jane magazine in hand, my skin turned a lovely shade of brown all my white friends envied. I have been confused for a bunch of things, including but not limited to all of the following: Straight (all the time) turkish, italian, hawaiian, generic white, but never queer latina. Moreover, when the people assuming these identities for me found me out, they verbally expressed their disappointment that I wasn’t “one of them”.

    In college my best friend told me she didn’t like me at first because she’d heard me introduce myself sometimes as being from Mexico and others as being from Ithaca, so not only was I a liar, but according to her also saying I was latina when it seemed convenient.

    Once again in college at a party a girl who was discussing my identity said I couldn’t possibly be from Mexico because she knew everyone from Mexico and had never heard of me. Lol. I mean. She was talking about small town Mexico, NY, which I had never even heard of. So.

    When I came out as a femme too I now had to struggle with not fitting in to the very “open minded” ithaca butch lesbian scene. THEN after dating women for some time and wanting to hook up with a boy I got really nervous telling my lesbian friends that I am bisexual, i guess? I got expansions in my earlobes because EffingDykes said this was one of those telling signs, and thanks to Tawapa i could use big dangly, yet strong femmy earrings. I cut my hair asymmetrically, and got myself some flannel. With the right accessories I felt femme enough but still wearing all the “signs”

    Idk. It’s a constant struggle. All this to say. I feel you. You are not alone. And I’ve realized that the thing that saves me and others the embarrassment of misidentifying me is by saying it, loud and proud. All the time. To everyone. It’s a little harder when you’re still figuring it out but then just saying “this is where i come from and this is what i think right now” is plenty. You do you girl.

  3. Thumb up 6

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    Wow. Just wow. This is really beautiful. I haven’t experienced passing racially or femme invisibility, so I’m glad to learn.

    What I do understand right from my gut is “I’m saying these things now from a place of fear”. I do a lot of reassuring other queers that their voices/experiences/preferences/selves are 100% valid, but I often lack the courage to stop hiding my own insecurities and smoothing over my own story. Thanks for writing so honestly.

  4. Thumb up 10

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    Thank you for writing this. So often it feels like everybody is so so secure in their entitlement to be a queer person and participate in queer culture! And I just don’t understand. I never had that. And it’s really nice to see thoughts like that on a site like this. Like maybe even if we think we don’t belong we might sometimes get to be part of the community after all.

  5. Thumb up 11

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    Hello from another half-native dress-preferring queer. I’m also native from my mother’s side (Dine’) with pale skin from my father’s side. Nobody ever sees me as native. White people tend to see me as asian, and non-white people tend to see me as white. (Though some asians occasionally see me as asian too.) As a late queer-bloomer, I already had a lot of practice being misread ethnically, and it’s not much different being misread orientationally. Everyone misreads my age wrong too, assuming I’m a decade younger than I am (thanks native genes!). So I’ve had to get used to coming out all the time in many ways. You will too. It gets easier over time. It’s even fun sometimes to see people’s faces when you confound their assumptions. :) Just be you – life’s better that way – and know that you do belong.

  6. Thumb up 12

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    Oh, gosh. I so relate to this.

    I’m mixed race/bi/femme and often pass for white and straight. I find it really hard to speak with authority because I’m constantly questioning where I fit in/whether my voice is relevant or one that should be heard/feeling anxious about privilege that sometimes is applied to me and sometimes is not, depending on how other people perceive me.

    Thank you for writing this. I think you’re really brave to put this into words.

    • Thumb up 2

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      Isn’t it weird when you start questionning wether or not you are “relevant” somewhere, or in a specific group?

      Also I think you look very beautiful in your icon photo, be proud of your amazing genes. Superwhite, curious people like me often wonder if it is okay to ask people with mixed/different genes what their origins are. What if I’d accidentally offend someone who was born here and considered himself to be 100% Canadian/ American?

      I love dark skin, I love olive skin, I love super black hair or super blond hair. If one of your features stands out, chances are you’ve got me curious. It’s all genuine curiosity too, like that of a child. Where are you from, have you been there before? What’s it like, over there? My favourite conversations! I’m just so afraid that I’m pestering people, haha.

      x

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      I’m also mixed race/bi/femme and often pass for white and straight, too! (Even though it’s not my choice.) It makes me so happy that there is someone else just like me. Though I could have probably guessed, it never happens in real life, and thus seems impossible. It’s an odd dynamic, navigating these different worlds/communities and feeling confident enough to claim your identity. Quite often, I end up second guessing myself simply because of other’s perceptions. I LOVED this article because it conveyed some of the difficulties in feeling as though you belong. Beautifully written and well-spoken.

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      Laura,
      Thank you so much for commenting!! I loved what you said about “feeling anxious about privilege that sometimes is applied to me and sometimes is not, depending on how other people perceive me.” Yes. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to hear someone else say that.

  7. Thumb up 5

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    I am also part native, and I know the struggle. I cannot disown my mother nor my father’s ancestors. I also cannot suppress my attraction for a person based on superficial qualities like gender. Id rather be a complete person. It is a hurtful thing to teach our children to isolate and confound themselves through this labelling, even worse when we live under governing bodies which perpetuate extremist binary value systems by choosing who we marry and how we affiliate ourselves through blood quantum. We are living beings.

  8. Thumb up 5

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    YESSSSSSS.
    I have a CDIB and my grandmother was born on the rez and I have family still there but I’ve always felt a disconnect. I remember being really little and at a powwow and my grandma trying to get me to participate in this blessing by the elders for all the kids and I resisted because I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I still don’t. I feel uncomfortable at tribal events because I’m usually five shades lighter than everybody else, even if I have more “Indian blood” than some of them. I feel like a poser, like those obnoxious people that claim they’ve got some ambiguous Native blood in there somewhere.
    And I feel the same way about my queerness. I blend in pretty easily into heterosexual society and so I kind of stick out in gay places, and people have flat out told me they think I’m just a barsexual or bicurious or something.
    Another similarity is in regards to facing discrimination. When my grandmother talks about growing up looking Native, or when my person talks about getting harassed walking down the street because she’s not gender normative, I can’t relate at all and I feel guilty about that.
    But I don’t feel at home in white spaces or straight spaces so it’s like I can’t win.
    Anyway, thanks for writing this. It’s beautiful and perfect.
    It’s funny, I’m not Alaska Native but I was born and grew up in rural Alaska and people easily pegged me as Native all the time. Moved to the Lower 48 and only sometimes, usually near reservations, do people notice without my saying anything.

  9. Thumb up 4

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    Thank you for writing this!

    I can relate to being femme and being “invisible”, and to feeling like you have to “wear the signs” to be in the community. When I was done coming out to most people, I got myself a “I love boobies” bracelet, and also caps I could wear on backwards. Ya know. I did it because I was just proud to be out and now wanted to belong. Also because I felt good finally wearing those items. Some people took my new clothing choices as an arrogant way to “pretend to be” what I wasn’t.

    Also, even though this text isn’t about bisexual erasure at all, it reminds me a lot of this feeling I get when I desperately want to be part of the “culture”, and then feel like I don’t belong because people don’t take me seriously as soon as I mention my boyfriend.

    I’ve been told before that I should be ashamed to “claim” a part of the “LGBTQ” blanket only for coolness factor. Because I know nothing of the “hardships” REAL LGBT people face.

    Oh well. More related to your text, I’ve met a few Canadian Natives before, and most were very much on the fence or not too chatty about their origins. I got a feeling that being Native wasn’t quite as simple as being 100% Italian or 100% American. It’s not all black or white. The stereotypes aren’t usually flattering either. Belonging must be a real challenge, at times.

    Sorry, I got chatty. Stay strong, sister!

  10. Thumb up 7

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    Thank you so much for writing this. Every time I log on to Autostraddle there’s always something oh so relevant and timely, but this one really hits home.

    I have Native ancestry (Narragansett) on my father’s side, but inherited the light skin from my mother’s Irish Catholic family. It’s funny how no matter what our genetic make-up or cultural heritage might be, if you have white skin you’re white, and that’s that.

    I used to not want to speak about this at all, for fear of, like you said, being called out as “not Native enough.” But, just like being out helps queer visibility, so too does talking about our experiences and heritage help Native visibility. So many people in the US have these really stereotypical images of what Native American and First Nation peoples look like – your story might cause them to rethink their assumptions. :)

    Be out, be proud, be you. And don’t let the labels get you down.

  11. Thumb up 9

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    Hi, Alaska Native here as well.
    And to those that have native blood, but appear white, please please don’t feel shy about going to gatherings or pow-wows. If anything throw yourself in there.
    Absorb all the rich culture and communities. Pass the pride to your children. Your parents, grandparents, or great great great grandparents would be so disappointed if you just brag about the amount of native blood, but don’t participate in what made them and you native. They were most likely shamed and had a lot of the culture beaten out of them, and now the history, culture, and language is being bred out.
    I don’t give a crap if you’re blond hair blue eyed at a potluck/pow-wow, I’m just glad that someone is paying homage to their ancestory.

  12. Thumb up 4

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    This hit so close to home…took the words right outta my mouth.

    I am a first generation Vietnamese Sicilian QPoC (Queer Person of Color). My dad’s family emigrated to the States from Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon, after having been refugees on the islands of Malaysia for several months before getting sponsored by a Catholic charity to come to Oregon. My maternal grandmother is full Sicilian, and emigrated to the States through Ellis Island in 1939 before the rise of Mussolini (so I was told). She (grandma) married an American man and then had three kids. My mother, the oldest, was the first white woman to be married into my reserved Vietnamese Catholic family, making me the first bi-racial child born into that family.

    No pressure.

    In addition to a heady family history, I had also eventually begun to identify as queer. Being gay wasn’t something you “did” in my family, so as far as I know I am the only queer who is out. The TL;DR version of that is I remember very clearly trying to figure out how to “be visible” and to have all the “signs”. These days I fit the image pretty well (stylish faux hawk, boots, etc). And this time it wasn’t out of wanting to fit in, but rather what fit right. And even then, I still love my dresses and stilettos, or suits, or flannel, or a goddamn onesie if I feel like it.

    Regardless, there was still a vacancy as to what constituted being “queer enough”. I still feel that way, because if anyone is familiar with Portland, OR, it’s a mega queer hot-bed of feminist lore. But I only have one city to draw from specifically. Since I don’t necessarily adhere to the queer checklist that is Portland, and since I’m a QPoC, that makes finding common ground…difficult. So I mostly keep to myself.

    I guess I’m still floating in limbo. So this? This beautiful, beautiful piece of identity? Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing this story about yourself. Really good launching point in having me re-examine my own intersectional identities.

    t

  13. Thumb up 1

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    I feel this. When I came out, I went as ~butch as I could … Which for me, meant a lot of flannel, an alternative-lifestyle haircut, and boxers. Over the years, I’ve realised that isn’t me – I’m much more femme than I thought! This has changed a lot of things in terms of how others perceive me: mainly, people don’t realise I’m gay by looking at me. That ~can be a good thing (and it’s unfortunate that I have to say that), but it can also be the worst. I balance it out by being extremely queer. I’m also really glad to know that I’m not the only one who feels much better wearing something obviously gay! (I wear a couple of bracelets on my left hand, the type that you can’t take off without breaking – and one of them is always a rainbow one.)

    Also, as a Latina from a country where a lot of people are white sue to having European ancestry (Uruguay), I feel this even more.
    I’m the darkest in my family, but I’m by far not the darkest in general … I’ve been told that I can pass as a really tan white person, which has upset me quite a lot. I feel like I don’t get to claim being Latina because I don’t stereotypically look the part, but I’m not exactly ~white, either … It can get frustrating. Especially because my ancestry is mostly Spanish (although not completely white Spanish), with the exception of some native from my father’s side. That’s another thing – because I don’t know where I come from, claiming the “brown girl” title seems like I’m lying sometimes, too. Sometimes I just feel like yelling “I’m not white, really! I’ve never had white privilege, I promise! Please accept me!”

    I’m rambling, sorry! This article was honest and well-written and I really appreciate the feelings it’s made me have, even if they made me a bit uncomfortable.

  14. Thumb up 0

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    A very interesting article.

    I can relate to these issues. I am half Aleut but was born and adopted raised in Scotland! I constantly get asked where I am from….and a lot of “o really, you don’t look….” Frustrating at times. I’ve visited North America and I’ve had folk shouting across the street “hey native girl!…”

    I wish I knew more of my roots…One day maybe!

  15. Thumb up 4

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    An article from a native person! This is the second I’ve seen (besides one about a straddler on the street) and that’s awesome! As an Ojibwe femme, I can definitely relate to a certain degree. My looks to most people are considered “racially ambiguous” so people “know” I’m not white but they can’t tell which race! Frustrating, I’m usually considered “hispanic”.
    Autostraddle: more indigenous articles please! Might help clear up all these confusions and offer more insight!

  16. Thumb up 5

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    Thank you all for being so amazing! It’s been so wonderful to see your comments and hear about your experiences. I’m feeling a lot of love. Autostraddle is such a fantastic community. Thanks for truly making me feel welcome.

  17. Thumb up 2

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    Well,
    I didn’t know it was possible for someone else to pretty much write my exact experience without knowing me…

    But seriously, what a great article! I’ve also often felt conflicted, guilty and alone.

    I am Aleut ( Alaskan Native tribe) and queer and I pass as a straight, white girl.

    I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with being Native, when I would visit family in the village I would often get made fun of by the other kids because I looked so different, even though I bared the same last name as my kuka (aleut for grandma) and would come back every year for fish camp… still I was teased. I knew that i was native, but i had people telling me I wasn’t native enough.

    And well sometimes when I told people I was alaskan native I would get comments like ” no way your too white,” or ” do you have a polar bear?”
    or if I am wearing my Kuspuk someone asks me where I got the cool tribal gear.Put that on top of when I am out with my girlfriend and someone asks us where our boyfriends are-

    It’s hard. but ultimately. I know who I am, where I came from and who I like.

    Thank you so much for writing this. I think you address some of these points so gracefully and truthfully. You really did an amazing job and I can’t wait to share this with my family back in Alaska.

  18. Thumb up 1

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    Yes. Yes! YES! This article is like a navigation of privilege, the passing privileges you mentioned. We need more of this self-reflexivity articulated and visible for others to read and absorb and reflect on. This article makes me so warm & happy inside. ^.^

  19. Thumb up 4

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    Thank you for your courageous vulnerability here. QED, it matters to many others. I’m glad to read your words.

    People throw around the phrase “passing privilege”. But often we don’t seem to think about the ways that being in a liminal, interstitial place is charged deep costs of alienation, isolation, fear… It’s no great privilege to “pass” in a space where your identity is run roughshod over or where you may be trembling with terror that your percieved ambiguities will be found out, maybe compromising your self or safety… Really, in such a situation, we are squarely enduring the fruits of oppression. We are being silenced, made invisible.

    And just why do we allow them to define “passing” and judge us against their standards? Maybe being in between is its own place, a freer place. When talking about your ambivalences around being femme, the specter I spied was the worn old canard that femme = straight. But how deeply wrongheaded that assertion is… Femme is just as legitimately rainbow as any other modality of Queer expression, deeply so. I’d venture that the loud assumptions regarding what a lesbian “ought” to look like is the artificial, unnatural imposition. A lived life trumps all hegemonic discourses and cliquish theories, and that goes double when confronting the big blocs of race, religion, culture, gender, etc. which squeeze so many of us out into the cold. It’s worth learning to be more assertive in proclaiming a voice of protest against totalizing forces.

    At least, I tell myself that. But in truth, I speak in fear, too, heaps of it. My own awkward liminalities are jagged sharp. Well, I reckon we do as we can do. Hopefully that’s provision enough for the heart.

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      “It’s no great privilege to “pass” in a space where your identity is run roughshod over or where you may be trembling with terror that your percieved ambiguities will be found out, maybe compromising your self or safety…”

      BOOM.

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      Nope, it’s still a privilege. A huge privilege.
      Look, I pass as white, and I pass as straight, and I pass as a bunch of other things I’m not. That can be really frustrating, most especially when people decide to say something homophobic or racist in my presence because they think it’s safe or something, and also when I feel out of place in the gay and Native/Latin communities, or when gay/Native/Latin people in those spaces look at me funny, like I don’t belong. And I’ve had lots of identity crises about it, as I mentioned above. I’ve really had to take control of my identity and be proud of who I am, claim it, etc.
      BUT. Do you realize how little an issue that is to experiencing homophobia and racism? It’s so freaking little. My person is mixed, too, but she’s Vietnamese and white. She doesn’t pass as white, and she’s gender-nonconforming so she doesn’t pass as straight, either. She gets insults hurled at her from cars when we’re walking down the street. The things people do and say to her about her outward appearance are enraging. My coworkers “joke” all the time about the fact that she’s Asian even after I’ve reported them, told them off, all sorts of things. I’ve watched the microaggressions my Jamaican aunt, my Vietnamese uncle and cousins, and my non-passing Latin and Native relatives experience daily. My grandmother tells me stories all the time about her growing up experience in the South as a brown-skinned person, and my grandfather tells me stories about his mother’s experiences as a brown-skinned person at the turn of the century. Getting beaten up, not being allowed to go to school, having racial slurs hurled at them, not being allowed to play with white kids, all sorts of things. I will never have to deal with that on a racial level. Ever. And yeah, I’ve dealt with a lot of shit over my sexuality, but I don’t get homophobic things yelled at me while I’m walking down the street, even if I’m walking with my obviously queer person. SHE’s the one who gets stuff yelled at her. I can walk into a church and not look so out of place. I can choose who to out myself to. And on and on.
      tl;dr: No, passing privilege is totally a thing my god.

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        yeah… i would absolutely agree with @Yaykaas. passing privilege is a thing. Internal struggles and alienation and psychological unrest are serious and terrible but i don’t think it’s necessary or valid to hold that up against institutionalized oppression and discrimination and being immediately recognized by bigots and other people who don’t like ‘people like you’ in order to talk about it. i think the struggles experienced by those of us who can “pass” can be discussed and dug into on their own without them having to be held up in opposition to passing privilege — those problems don’t need to negate passing privilege in order to be talked about as legitimate.

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          Oh, I absolutely agree that passing privilege exists! It was nice to see, in this column as well as Brighid’s comment, my own experience of passing when I don’t want to and the unique set of problems and insecurities that creates. BUT the inner psychological struggles of passing are absolutely different than the pain of being visible, all the time, against your will, even in places where visibility puts you in danger. I would rather battle my own mental anxieties than worry about a mind I don’t have access to and which might tell someone to harm me for something I can’t control. They are both negative outcomes of a fucked-up system, but they are not the same.

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          Personally, I didn’t read the comment as negating institutionalized oppression and discrimination. Because I agree, that’s terrible.

          I think the point here is that for some people it’s more like, here’s oppression flavor A and here’s oppression flavor B. Some days you’re going to get a mouthful of dirt, and some days you’re going to get a mouthful of shit covered tacks. And you don’t get any control over what other people are going to serve you that day.

          Yaykaas I’m sorry your person has to deal with that. That sounds really awful.

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          (replying to Kaitlyn’s)

          1) One thing that being visibly one ‘thing’ does get a person, even most of the ‘labels’ discussed thus far, is other people who also identify as that one ‘thing.’ There’s strength in numbers, politically, socially, culturally, and/or in physical self-defense.

          2) Being visibly “ambiguous” or ‘more than one thing’ theoretically should get a person BOTH/ALL those potential allies, but often it gets you FEWER, i.e., mostly just other people who identify the same wayS.

          3-4) And being INvisibly “ambiguous” or ‘more than one thing’ can get you ZERO allies (except maybe your therapist, and they’re getting paid!). And when in this position it’s real easy to even turn against yourself: Then you not only have no allies, but you don’t even have yourself. I’m new to these kinds of analysis, but one issue I see in it is that it tries to treat being forced to be untrue to yourself, to betray yourself – or worse – like that reverse-sneering #firstworldproblems meme my heart wants to sympathize with some form of …but then it leaves me all alone… or worse.

          Let’s look at it another way. The hypothetical person in Paragraph #1 of this Reply of mine has a majority of humankind as actual or potential enemies, i.e., different than them. #2 has nearly all of humankind against them. #3 has ALL of humankind against them EXCEPT THE SELF, or 100 pct minus 1. And #4 has all of humankind against them, period. 100 pct. EVEN YOURSELF. Psychologically, and too often, physically.

          “Privilege” discourse strikes me as hugely insightful and useful, but also prone to getting so out-of-hand that it ends up often just one of the newer methods of divide-and-conquer/oppress/exploit. The advantage the other side has, besides being so many in numbers, is in being mostly unburdened by Privilege Analysis. The Hierarchy of Privilege serves most of the MOST privileged just fine. _They invented it!_ They parcel-out the privileges as serves their power interest. We need to do even better than this… build… improve.

          I have all kinds of qualities that could get me in trouble with Privilege Analysis. (I also belong to a faith tradition that retains sacramental confession and spiritual direction, so for me it ain’t a game!) But I’ll just include here that what drew me to the Original Article was the Native part and the “Queer-enough” part, especially addressing the various invisibilities, esp. femme.

          Also want to agree with every compliment regarding the Original Article. So expressive, communicative, honest, humble, deep, GOOD, GREAT!

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      I’m going to dump on the passing privilege thing here. Yeah, privilege exists, but frankly, as a Native person, I don’t want to hear another mixed Native using those oh-so-correct feministy words that frankly, keep us Native people divided from each other. Our people are our people and it only plays into the hands of those who would oppress us by not engaging in your culture out of a sense of imposed guilt. We are not all the same – there are as many Native experiences as there are Natives, and mixed Natives are a part of that. Being Native is not defined by being oppressed – we all had/have rich, vibrant cultures, arts, and languages apart from the bullshit we’ve been put through. Don’t do the oppressors work for them. The US/Canadian governments did all they could to keep us apart from our cultures. Don’t play into that. Whether you like it or not, whether you feel like it’s yours to take, you’re Native, and one of us. For every person that feels they are not Native enough and distances themselves, Native communities lose another person to advocate for us as people, and we as Native people are weakened. Let’s not let the racists define who we are. These ideas come from outside of ourselves. We are family.

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    I appreciate your point of view in this article. Our ways never included identity card, that is more for westerners than for us. As a Mexica from Mexico; I can relate to your point of view. This is especially the case when arguing native identity across political borders. I am reminded, however, as a blackfoot elder told me once, “we are all first nation’s people.” Being queer is not only acceptable, it’s part of the indian way…many of our creation stories recognize more than one gender…it’s inherent to our cultural identity. It’s Two Spirit medicine.

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    Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. I, too, have struggled for years with the very issues you write about. I’m a queer Femme, but unless I practically paint a sign on my forehead, no one would ever spot me as queer – I pass without a ripple in the straight world. Same with the First Nations….I am half Cherokee on my mother’s side, but inherited the fair skin, light brown hair, and blue eyes of my father’s germanic ancestry. I have been told To. My. Face. that I am ‘too white to be an Indian’. So thank you for expressing the struggle…I’m still processing the feelings your article brought up in me, but that’s okay – they need to be dealt with. Wado. (thank you)

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    I’m going to say something the queer community doesn’t always realize about itself. Queer culture in North America is greatly informed by western culture… and particularly, often by whiteness/white experiences. And in queer culture and the mainstream, Native experiences/cultures/peoples are not often deeply understood or present – is it any wonder you might feel a little out of place? I often wonder what queer culture would look like if Native American cultures were still dominant. There’d be a whole lot less short hair, although maybe you’d see some warrior women with scalp locks on queer style blogs instead. The butch/femme dynamic, which comes out of particular experiences and history, wouldn’t be the same. So, what I’m saying is, don’t get too tied into particular ideas because they are open to critique.

    I wonder if you’ve ever heard of the term/identity two-spirit? While I’m on the fence about the name, which was coined in more recent times, the designation is intended to provide an identity/space for indigenous people who would now be categorized as trans, bi, gay, lesbian, etc. It’s an acknowledgement that the majority of Native cultures incorporated such people into their communities and that there were often particular roles for them. There are specific words/roles in many cultures. It was a very different understanding than how we organize overall today. “Two-spirit” indicates a holistic approach that ties together an individual’s Native culture and their sexuality. Mainstream gay culture doesn’t always resonate with Native people, so by using the term two-spirit instead of other terms or in addition to other terms, people feel more at home, you could say. You may find it empowering to explore, and to connect with other Natives with similar sexualities.

    What would it look like if you incorporated your Nativeness and queerness *together,* stylistically speaking? What if you started incorporating jewelry/clothing from your Native Alaskan culture into your outfits? Perhaps you need to actively explore and carve out that space. I think this could help with those feelings of belonging, actually.

    You need to feel more grounded as a Native, and you have a right to do so. Forget the “passing” guilt if all it is doing is keeping you from standing with your people. Being Native is not all about being oppressed. What happens when you remove oppression? Do we cease to exist as peoples? Hell no! We have rich, vibrant cultures, arts, and languages spanning across the continent, and we have for thousands and thousands of years! There are as many valid Native experiences as there are Natives. The experiences of mixed Natives is part of the experiences of Native peoples as a whole. It’s sad that particular ideas of racism, imposed on us from outside, still defines and shapes us in many ways.

    And as for blood quantum – it’s a colonial tool. Don’t we have the right to define ourselves as peoples? Isn’t that what we used to do? Are we sovereign if some entity outside of ourselves mandates who we are? Blood quantum is problematic for a number of reasons… And the terms/designations Native American, Indian, and American Indian don’t even come from ourselves, they come from outside, and come out of the history of colonialism. But how strongly they have come to define us!

    It was government policy to disconnect and violently distance Native peoples from their cultures and languages, and to make them ashamed of participating. You have a choice – to actively learn about and participate in your culture, or to do the oppressor’s work for them.

    Sincerely,
    an Ojibwe Ogichidakwe (warrior woman)

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    Thank you for posting this. For real. I’m mixed race and bi with the bonus of having an adoptive parent. I totally get that “not sure where I fit” feeling.

    I’m also really feelsy over reading the other comments, I didn’t think it was like that for so many people.

    Thank you again for this post.

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