This piece was written for an asexual people of color zine. I was originally planning on waiting ’til the zine was published to post this piece, but this topic has become relevant to some conversations I’ve been having recently, so I figured that I might as well post it now.
This is a piece that grew partially out of thoughts I had after being interviewed for the piece on asexual Latinas, partially out of some experiences with activist work in the past few years, and partially out of the weirdness that is standing in an intersection that not many people openly inhabit. It is also, I guess, an explanation for anyone who has wondered why I don’t blog about the intersection of race/ethnicity and asexuality more often.
Here’s the thing: When people talk about their ethnic background, I feel like they tend to talk about shared experiences, community, some kind of sense of belonging. When I talk about my ethnicity, it tends to be a story of isolation and shame. Shame because I was bilingual until mid-elementary school when my family moved out of our predominantly Latin@ neighborhood and into an almost entirely white neighborhood and cut off contact with the Latin@ side of my family. Shame because I am a terrible Latina for not being able to speak my own native language with any modicum of proficiency. Isolation because I haven’t felt like I belonged to a community since I was 7 or 8. Isolation because, aside from my brother, the only other Latin@ kid I knew growing up had been adopted by a white family. Isolation because I’m one of very few Latin@s in my department and the only Latin@ in my offline ace community. Shame because I spent a good chunk of my teens having older (mostly white) women coach me on how to look “less ethnic” (straighten my hair, pluck my eyebrows, don’t wear that skirt, stay out of the sun), and, for the most part, I caved, because the “whiter” I looked, the less likely I was to be harassed or followed around the store or propositioned on the bus or treated like I had only been admitted to [academic program] because they needed diversity. Shame because I “don’t look Latina,” and shame because I feel like I should, and shame because I don’t know what looking Latina even means.
I often feel that I can’t speak to “the asexual Latina experience,” because I don’t feel that I can speak to “the Latina experience.” Part of that is because of my disconnect from Latin@ communities and my extended family, part of that is my disconnect from my nuclear family (who I’ve been distancing myself from since I turned 18), and part of that is because I am significantly more likely to be read as white (or mixed East Asian/white) in academia (because Latin@s aren’t smart enough to be academics and what would a nice Latina girl be doing studying Japan anyway?).* I’ve had (really crappy) peers tell me that I should just identify as white because it’s not like they can tell I’m Latina or mixed race, and do I really want people to think of me that way? None of these are particularly unusual things for mixed race folks to hear, and so I often feel that I can speak better to the “mixed race experience” than the “Latina experience,” even if I can claim both equally. I’m connected to mixed race communities, though, and have other mixed race friends and peers I can speak to, so I don’t feel quite as much isolation from that identity.
I was on a panel for Asexual Awareness Week last year, and afterwards someone commented on how disappointed they were that everyone on the panel was white. On one hand, I know I am significantly more likely to be read as white in ace and queer spaces for many of the same reasons that I’m read as white in academia–people assume that only white people are ace/queer, and so they see what they expect to see. But, on the other hand, when I am added to panels in order to “diversify” the (otherwise white) panel, that puts pressure on me to be the APoC spokesperson. Part of that pressure is feeling like I have to “look Latina” in order to be a good spokesperson–after all, if someone sees only white people, I’m not doing a very good job being the diversity card, am I? Another part of that pressure is feeling as though I need to be able to make a concise statement about “the APoC experience” or about the intersection of asexuality and race, which is pretty much impossible. APoC are a diverse bunch, because the world isn’t divided up into “white people” and “people of color,” each of whom can claim a single, monolithic racial experience, and so my being the only non-white panelist puts me in a supremely uncomfortable position. How can I be the only one on the panel answering questions about the intersection of asexuality and race when I feel that my experience is so singular and isolated that I can barely speak for myself, let alone anyone else? How can I be a spokesperson for so many people with so many different experiences than mine, and yet none of the white aces on the panel are expected to speak to the “white ace experience”?
Not that this is an issue I have offline only; I have had people read my blog and assume I’m white (because everyone knows all aces are white).** My favorite really crappy assumption was the person who decided to complain about how there are no ace survivors of color talking about their experiences. None. Zero. I can’t think of a single one. Do I have to preface every sentence with “as a mixed race Latina” in order for people to remember where I’m coming from? Because I can tell you that when I do, people are significantly less likely to read what I have to say. I often feel that there’s no point in talking about this particular set of experiences, because they’re so hard for me to talk about (emotionally and linguistically) and it’s not like anyone cares anyway. Or, well, they care when they want to add diversity. The projects, calls for moderator applications, calls for submissions, etc. I’ve seen that say, “We’d love to have a non-white person, in order to talk about race stuff!” make me uneasy, because I don’t want to be picked just to add “diversity” to whatever project, blog, or zine is being put together. I don’t want to be picked as the token non-white member of the team because people think that I can represent some sort of monolithic APoC experience. If people want me on their team, I want them to want me for my ideas, for my writing, for the way I can bang words together and form semi-coherent sentences, not just for the color of my skin or the shape of my eyes. I want them to want me as a full package, to be aware that my ideas and experiences cannot be divorced from the context of my race and ethnicity. But, like when I’m the only non-white person on a panel, I often worry that I am being picked for something I’m not, to represent some experience I can’t speak to.
I exist at the intersection of queer, asexual, and Latina, and each identity keeps the others invisible. I’ve spoken before about being visibly queer and invisibly asexual, but what does it mean to “look queer” when the only visual queerness I know is based around body and hair-types I don’t and can’t have? What does it mean to be a gender nonconforming Latina when so many visual signifiers of “Latina-ness” are tied up in femininity? (What does it mean that when I see queer Latin@s I feel pressured to cut my hair short and dress more like them?) How can I “look asexual” when being recognized as Latina often means being seen as hypersexual, as sexy, as seductive? Is it possible for me to be recognized as all things at once? (Do I even want to be recognized, or will recognition lead to further tokenizing and fetishizing?) What does it mean that I spend a good chunk of my time as a non-white foreigner in a country where “person of color” doesn’t make sense as a designation? (Do I feel weird about claiming to be a person of color because of that experience, because of the comparative paleness of my skin, because I’m mixed, because so many people have tried to convince me that I’m not or, at least, that I could be white if I just tried harder?)
This is why I don’t normally talk about the race/asexuality intersection. I don’t even know how or where to start, or if anyone other than me cares. I don’t feel that I have the language to talk about it, but then again, it’s not as though I have a great deal of practice. I can have a conversation with a random group of aces about consent or romantic orientation or gender or compulsory sexuality, but when I’m surrounded by white aces, talking about race is hard. It’s hard to have a conversation with people who feel that they don’t have anything to say, and it’s even harder to have a conversation when every time you speak on a topic you feel as though you’re being viewed as the representative of a huge group of people (none of whom agreed to you representing them and many of whom wouldn’t want you representing them anyway). So, in some ways, it seems easier to stay quiet and invisible.
*I once told someone I was Latina and they became clearly discomfited and started asking about my family, and when I told them my dad was white, they looked relieved and said, “Oh, so you must get your smarts from him then, huh?”
**I’m pretty sure this has happened to pretty much every APoC blogger at this point.