Feature image of author by Michael Kushner
Let me start out by saying: I’m not a physicist, so bear with me on this analogy. Newton’s Third Law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” That’s kind of how I feel navigating my biracial and bisexual identities — forces pushing off of each other. For every external action I take, I have an internal reaction asking myself which identity I’m uplifting, which I’m erasing, and is there a possibility to embrace both. Still with me?
With a society that seems to inherently divide itself into two options at any opportunity, the duality of existing in the in-between can seem confusing, complicated, or sometimes, downright impossible. My identities can feel like a negotiation within myself.
Everyone has these self-negotiation moments, but America’s roots in white supremacy and homophobia make biracial and bisexual bargaining seem like a more consistent practice. As society tries to course-correct centuries of injustice, I feel compelled to focus on uplifting my marginalized identities, putting distance between myself and my proximity to whiteness and heteronormativity. Perhaps it could be as simple as that, but it feels irresponsible to me to erase or ignore the privilege I hold within these groups.
Can I apply to an opportunity for Black women or am I stealing it away from someone whose parents are both Black? If I pass on joining an EDI committee, is it self-preservation to avoid educating white folks all of the time, or is it lazy white privilege?
When my gay and lesbian friends talk about their queer romantic firsts, I feel guilty that I enjoyed romantic milestones with men first, and then got to experience them again with women — and enjoyed those too.
And does any of this even matter when we have larger problems to address within both of these communities?
There are days where I feel completely solid and valid in my identities. On the bad days, I feel like a body of contradictions. The days where the imposter syndrome is on full blast, I ask myself, what is Black enough? What is queer enough? No identity group is a monolith, but they do develop their own cultures, and if I brush up against a cultural signifier that I don’t get, I feel like a fraud.
I cracked up at the relatability of #BlackSalonProblems, and I’ve commiserated about crushing on a woman to find out she identifies as straight. But I’ll admit, “That’s some white people shit,” or “that’s some straight people shit,” can make me prickle. On the one-hand, I completely get it — I’ve shared looks with Black folks on the subway when a white person is acting a fool; I’ve grimaced at the gender reveal photo shoots straight couples do on Instagram. Still, I automatically pull out a mental yardstick to see how I measure up, and wrack my brain if I’ve ever done anything similar.
As much as I can claim my own identity, our lives revolve around human interactions and social cues, and so it is still at the mercy of others’ equal and potentially opposite reactions.
I’ve reflected on how physical attributes play into all of this. I’m light-skinned and have 4b hair. To be honest, Black people usually know, but my interactions with white people growing up in the Pacific Northwest — peppered with “What are you?” — built up feelings of insecurity. I recently messaged a Black woman who I was on a Zoom training call with and said, “I was so grateful to see you, as the only other Black woman, on the call.” She replied, “I fully intended to look you up for the same reason!” My heart fluttered at the recognition, because just a few months earlier, someone commented on my TikTok thinking I was white. It took me several days to get the courage to correct them in the comments, because their comment had fueled a spell of self-consciousness. In a way, these moments feel like mini-comings out to me — an explanation of my identity that doesn’t fit with someone’s perceived ideas of me.
As a cis, (usually) feminine-presenting woman, conversations often featuring true mini-comings out. I remember the first time I actively corrected someone:
“Felicia, who is your spatula?”
“You know, the girl who would make you flip your sexuality!”
Excuse me? Consider me a whisk; there is no flipping here, I’m open to all gender identities at all times.
I count myself incredibly lucky that the partners I’ve been with have never expressed a problem with my bisexuality — no biphobia, fetishization, nor unwarranted threesome propositions. Going out with friends is when I feel most aware; feeling needlessly obligated to choose which gender and sexual orientation I “should” align with based on which bar we go to that night. Like the one time I was dancing with and kissing my friend who is a queer, cis man at a bar that caters to a majority gay male clientele, and two men pushed into us. Maybe they were just in a hurry to get more over-priced, watered-down drinks, but it felt intentional, and I couldn’t help but think it was because they thought we were a straight couple vacationing for the weekend. I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of them seemingly trying to keep queer spaces safe for queer people, and because we didn’t fit their idea of it, we were slighted.
I think I will always view my identities as an internal negotiation, but I’m trying to reframe it as an agreeable dialogue instead of harsh haggling. The advice has been offered to me to think of these in-between identities not as limiting, but as expansive — I can be a liaison, a bridge between communities. I do appreciate that perspective, but I find comfort in seeing myself as one whole identity, and not just two halves.
In fact, one whole identity that is made up of all of the different identities and lived experiences that have shaped me: an only child raised by a single mom in the Pacific Northwest by way of California, with familial roots in Texas and Florida, who loves musical theatre and Disney, and is a Capricorn. And it is ever-evolving. Kind of like Newton’s First Law about inertia (I think).
Again, I’m not a physicist.