When I was little, I made sure my closet had a certain arrangement. Hand-me-downs from my two older brothers on one side, and clothes my mother had bought as well as my sunday dresses on the other. I would slip on a pair of tattered jeans and a Power Rangers T-shirt and make my way downstairs and when my mother asked me why I was wearing that my response was almost always “Well today I’m a boy but in a girls body.”
Now I know not every trans persons’ experience is like this, and that some transgender people aren’t sure of their gender identity until much later but for me, I knew something was up from a very young age. And I know that clothing aren’t gendered but it was the easiest way for me to comprehend what I was feeling at the time (and still today).
I knew some days I felt like una hijita bonita and some days un hijo muy macho. And on other days neither, or somewhere in between. At the time I knew what I was, but hadn’t come up with the actual term: Genderfluid. But this identity came with a lot of trials, especially because I was raised in the Latinx community.
Latinx culture is often described as a passionate one and because of that it is often too black and white. I grew up with an expectation of gender based on telenovelas I watched with my abuela. I knew what a latina woman was supposed to be; Small, thin, pale brown if not white, soft featured, always fashionable, fiery in a sexy way, always in distress or danger. And I learned what a latino man was supposed to be; macho, pale brown or sometimes even medium brown, tall, muscular, chiseled, hairy, aggressive. These two definite boxes were not only enforced by the community itself, but also in stereotypes by non-latinxs (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called a “Spicy Latina” by people I barely knew). I knew for certain, I didn’t fit either box, not only in my presentation but also deep, down inside level. But there was nothing I could do to avoid these influences, even the Spanish language itself was divided into masculine and feminine words. My mother had always placed such importance on me being assigned female at birth, and when I tried to come out to her the first time she shut me down with that mentality again. Because of her cultural (strict Catholic Puerto Rican) background it was near impossible for her to grasp that her daughter, dressed in pink within only hours after my birth, ears pierced at only 2 months old, was in fact, not a daughter at all. Even outside of the home I was reminded of the gender my community perceived me as, I couldn’t walk a couple hundred yards away from my house before being catcalled by men who reminded me of my father.
“¡Ay, mamí!” They’d bark at me then clack their tongues from the side of a ladder-topped white van. I wanted to hide away from it all and find security, and once I had finally become connected to the LGBT+ community I thought I had found that.
But not really.
Being part of the LGBT+ community didn’t protect me from the harmful anti-immigration ideals of other members. I had to tiptoe around political conversation. I would hide my cultural background because I didn’t know what to expect from them if my friends found out my father had entered this country illegally or if they would bring up their fetishized ideas of my people. I didn’t experience dysphoria the same way some of the other AFAB people did. I would always have a harder time passing with my large Puerto Rican lips, breasts, and hips. And time and time again, I would leave specific groups because of the general consensus that “racial inequality was a thing of the past” and “LGBT+ people are the most oppressed now!”
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is no Oppression Olympics, but it definitely lead me to realise how important Intersectional Activism is. And I think thats my main point with this. You can’t fight the good fight for one group of oppressed peoples and not another because the rates at which they overlap will astound you. For instance, 70% of LGBT+ people murdered in hate crimes are people of color, and 44% of that group are trans women of color.
So make sure your safe space is safe for everyone who might need it.