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The beauty in the in-between: Reclaiming my multi-dimensional identities
Because I’m ‘passing,’ my identities are at times privileged and at times oppressed.
I am a nonbinary queer transracial Honduran adoptee with a physical disability. Try saying that 10 times fast.
No, don’t. You did, didn’t you?
I am a nonbinary queer transracial Honduran adoptee with a physical disability. My intersecting identities make me who I am. They don’t exist without the other. I don’t exist without them.
At times, my identities are privileged and at times they are oppressed. Benefiting off of white privilege as a transracial adoptee is confusing and often imposed upon us. There is the “privilege” of not having to disclose having a disability because you pass as able-bodied. Living as a nonbinary person who passes as their sex assigned at birth could also be seen as a privilege. But is it a privilege to never have to speak up or be asked to share your opinion about being Latinx or disabled or queer in America because no one suspects you are?
Part of me felt safe hiding with my closeted identities. It’s only recently that I’ve started to reclaim my identities, and learn how to navigate discussions based around the intersections of race, disability, and queerness. My identities are dynamic and sometimes feel very evolutionary as I learn more about myself and how I relate to the world. But the truth is I still search for belonging. I still search for myself.
For the longest time, I saw my identities as in-between. It was neither this or that. Rather, my identities were the “or” –I felt caught between worlds, unsure if I belonged; -unsure of how to enter; unsure if I had the right to enter.
I grew up as a visual minority in Portland, Maine in the ‘90s. I didn’t really identify as any race. Many adoptees document not growing up talking about race or having the opportunity to talk about race and how it relates to them. My curiosity about my race never really lingered. Within the white community I grew up in, I was perceived as being “tan all year round.” Imagine your racial identity being taken away from you before you understand what it is to be a racial being. Each time I made an effort to connect with someone who shared my ethnic background, I felt like I got dismissed very quickly. I was an outsider. I did not belong to my own race. I was not sure how to negotiate my existence, to live in a world where my identities were multidimensional.
I am often asked to justify my disability; asked to provide evidence or proof to the able-bodied world. Within the disabled community, I held a sense of privilege since I could “pass” as able-bodied. “You don’t look like you’re disabled,” able-bodied and disabled people would say to me. I frequently felt uncomfortable disclosing that I had Cerebral Palsy because my CP was so mild. Who was I to talk about disability or take up space?
Again, I felt very stuck in-between two worlds. Even though there was a sharp longing, a sense of curiosity, an intense feeling of wanting to belong, there was a backdrop of an emotion that said, “Hey, dude, it’s cool, just sit back, get comfortable. Be part of this in-between town. I mean, you could be mayor of Mayor of In-Between Town if you wanted.” And so I stayed and appointed myself Mayor of In-Between Town, population: me. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure how to leave.
In addition to having CP and being a transracial adoptee, I knew that another part of my identity was different. Within the heteronormative community I grew up in, it was assumed everyone was straight and cisgender. But for me, I had fallen in second-grade love with my soon to be third-grade teacher’s daughter. I wasn’t sure how I felt about my gender but I knew that I wasn’t a girl. I didn’t exactly feel like a boy, either. My mom embraced it. And I embraced my very limited understanding of what it meant to be this identity that I had no language for.
I decided to stay in the closet. Looking back, I wish I had treated myself with more tenderness and had the courage to embrace who I was. But I also wish that I lived in a society that embraced identity rather than pushed people to conceal their authentic selves for fear of ostracization or worse.
Because of my “passable,” in-between, invisible disability, nonbinary identity, I was able to exist in-between worlds. But existing was not living. I was able to successfully suppress my ever-churning questions of my own gender identity. I was able to suppress my feelings of inadequacy in an able-bodied world by using humor as a crutch. I was able to ignore the fact that I was, indeed, a racial being. But here’s the thing: suppressing something is never a success. It’s a double-edged placeholder. It’s a bandaid that gives us just a little more time before we implode.
As I grew up being perceived as able-bodied, I hid my weaknesses behind my strengths. I was too scared to be honest. I was already being bullied for being adopted, having a single mother, my physical features (the physical features that made me Honduran), and much more. I didn’t really want to add more to their laundry list of insults. So I kept it to myself. I kept everything to myself.
In my early twenties, I met a girl in Thailand. As our friendship grew, her trust in me grew and I began to meet her family, one by one. One day she invited me to sit with her family in the back room of the bar they owned. She introduced them as her siblings. I immediately saw something in them that I saw in me.
I pulled my friend to the side and asked if they had Cerebral Palsy. She said yes in a soft voice. Without looking too excited, I told her I had CP, too. She smiled.
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Soon, I shared with her siblings that I had CP. Their eyes lit up. I saw myself in them and they saw themselves in me. Maybe this is what I was looking for all along. If I had grown up with representation, perhaps my early beginnings would have been different. Maybe I could make it different for them.
I don’t know if there is a place called In-Between Town, but I know that I felt that I was a citizen of it before I realized that all of my identities have a place in the world and I am part of this world. I want to honor and make space for my identities. I want to reclaim my identities and be the author of my own narrative. There is power in that; there is beauty in that.