*In which I actually talk about the intersection of my marginalized identities publicly*
I’ve been book blogging more or less consistently for about 19 months or so, with emphasis on “diverse” authors and stories. I’ve learned an absolute treasure trove’s worth of value and insights into other cultures and subcultures, representation of ability/disability status, the fallacy of normativity, and the need for inclusion in a strong community.
Through all of that, however, I’ve been highly reticent to openly discuss my own marginalized identities. This is not an easy thing to admit to, as I’ve always considered myself a brave and self-honoring person, open to new ideas, but as is so often the case, apparently not as open to myself or about myself (let’s blame this on my astrology: Cancer Sun, Libra Moon, Virgo Rising).
But if I’m going to call myself a #DiverseBookBlogger, then it’s time to talk about these things. So here goes.
Disclaimer: This is a really long post. You have been warned.
Gender: I’m a cis white woman. Not too difficult, and not much to complain about there, except that I’ve always been highly independent, opinionated, curious, and outspoken. Oh yeah, and I was raised in a fundamentalist, independent Baptist culture. I attended Christian school: chapel 3x week, Bible class everyday, textbooks created by Bob Jones University and A Beka Book (known for loving nothing more than whitewashing and revising all of human history to make Judeo-Christian regimes look awesome), sexist dress codes, morality clauses, the whole works.
Growing up, the messages were quite clear–women are to be silent in the church, to be submissive help-meets to their husbands, to keep themselves “pure,” to raise a bevy of cherubic Christian children, to not take risks, to be the weaker sex, to be ashamed of female sexuality, to not tempt men’s lust. On and on and on. My pastor’s wife, who I highly respected, told me when I was 15 that “maybe God has called you to be single; you seem to have a problem with submission.”
Silly me thought these sexist attitudes were only in the church. Imagine my shock when I discovered that pretty much all of American society seems to feel the same way, just with different excuses as to why. I still struggle with being an intelligent, well-spoken, slightly chunky but still pretty, 30-something woman, like I have to choose between femininity and ambition. Luckily, my very best friends (male and female!) are also outspoken advocates for feminism and shattering gender stereotypes. Support systems are vital.
Obviously being cis and white means I still have untold privilege. I know how to play all the games, to make men comfortable, to act coquettish when it serves my needs, to know that cops will never feel threatened by me, to never have my gender or genitals questioned. I know with each deviation from cis+white, life is often exponentially more dangerous, so I continue to strive in combating systemic bias and my own unconscious prejudice.
Sexuality: Oh boy. Yep. If you would have asked me my sexual orientation in, say, 2000, I would have laughed in your face. Me? Anything other than straight? Being lesbian or gay is an abomination! Homosexuality is unnatural! Leviticus! Romans! Deviants! Get out of here with your disgusting question! As if!
If you would have asked again in 2002, when I moved from liberal coastal California (where even the weird fundies are pretty chill) to Greenville, SC to attend Bob Jones University (home of the infamous interracial dating ban that wasn’t dropped until 2000), I would have nervously laughed and told you that I wasn’t focused on dating, I was focused on my college education, thank you very much.
By 2004? If you were part of my college-sponsored mission trip to S. Korea, you might have been more interested in really pressing the issue due to my often angry, vehement outbursts toward an intolerably self-righteous ministerial student on the mission team, who was suffering from a particularly incurable case of redemption syndrome; in other words, when he was saying gays were like murderers and disgusting whores, I was nearly screaming back at him, in front of everyone, that his lack of compassion and tolerance and love were surer signs of a sinful heart than two girls or two guys who just want to kiss and cuddle and share their lives.
In 2008, I was going through a divorce from the husband I’d met while attending Bible college, and a lady kissed me. Bells rang all around! Hallelujah! Hark! Ask me now, people! Do it! FOR I AM A LESBIAN!! THIS IS WHO I AM! WOMEN WOMEN WOMEN!
And by 2011 I wasn’t sure. Today, I’m married to a wonderful woman. We’ve been together for 6 years. But the whole time, from probably 2004 until, well, now (and ongoing), I’ve had a pretty difficult time unraveling my own sexual identity and orientation. The best I can actually come up with now is that I am atypical. I love romance, and I can be highly sexual, but I could give it up, too.
To solve this, I looked at a chart and realized that I am Panromantic (cause gender is such a stupid thing to matter), Demisexual (sexual attraction only happens when I really feel emotionally connected to a person I know very well), and Sapiosexual (intellect, including emotional and socio-cultural intelligence, is required).
Whatever I “am” sexually isn’t as big of a deal as it once was to me, and now I’m much more likely to spot when biphobia, transphobia, ace erasure, etc. is happening. If you were to ask me how I identify today, I would say, “I’m gay,” or “I’m queer.” Unless you want to look at the chart with me!
Religion: Not Christian. Not anymore. But not NOT Christian either. Cause I love the words and works of the Biblical Jesus. But I also love other holy works, such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Dhammapada and the Dao De Ching. I attend a Universalist Unitarian group, but also love to attend silent meetings at the Society of Friends and hear the voice of…peace, perhaps. I believe in a Universal Force and am drawn to Hinduism, Transcendentalism, Buddhism. I think the word “God” is a loaded word but universally accessible at the same time. I practice pacifism,vegetarianism, small forms of magic from time to time, meditate, dream journal, and believe that humans both are divine and flawed.
Why include this in my post on my marginalized identities? Well, because America is still predominantly evangelical Christian, I feel like being true to my spirituality identity has been another coming out process. I was taught that “true happiness only comes from knowing Christ as Savior” and that the blood of the unsaved is on my hands if I don’t “witness” and “lead them to the Lord.” The force of the shock and pity that happens nearly EVERY SINGLE TIME I tell people I don’t go to church, I’m not Christian, etc., can be overwhelming. Then the church invitations begin. Or the lectures: “You were raised to know the truth,” and on and on.
And yet still privileged. I don’t wear hijab or a turban or even a shirt proclaiming atheism. Through reading more books with initiatives like #MuslimShelfSpace, my resolve is even further deepened to speak up for people who are afraid to openly practice their religious identities.
Mental Health: Last category. Promise. I first remember being depressed when I was 9. I first remember feeling anxious when I was 5. I know I had about 2 years of ongoing nightmares from ages 3-5 with occasional nightmares the rest of my childhood and through adolescence.
This topic is really loaded. Not only is mental health enough of a stigma overall, but it definitely was in the church. Modern psychology, counseling, and psychiatry is considered “man’s methods” instead of God’s. Some people I know actually believe it’s sinful to take anti-depressants, and even more people I know think that being mentally ill is sinful in and of itself. Couple that cultural attitude with my atypical sexuality (which no matter what I SAID in the year 2000, I knew something wasn’t “normal”), and knowing that my parents believe in things like conversion therapy, well, it wouldn’t take much to figure out that I was gonna be depressed and anxious.
What I didn’t know growing up that I do, thankfully, know now is that various forms of mental illness run in both sides of my family. One side is rife with bipolar disorder. The other side is rife with substance abuse and anxiety. Looking back at my life, I can start to forgive myself for being a bad daughter, an overly emotional sister, a perfectionist freak. Some ways my mental illness has manifested itself over the years is through anorexia, bulimia, suicidal ideation, depression, trichotillimania, and excoriation disorder. Only recently did I give myself permission to start anti-depressants, but guilt for doing so still lingers. That’s why I’m so happy to see books like Under Rose-Tainted Skies drawing attention to people suffering from mental health disorders.
Those are my marginalized identities. I have so much to be thankful for regardless, not least of which is the wonderful community of Diverse Book Bloggers that continually promote and advocate for marginalized voices. I’m proud and honored to be part, if even in a small way, of the beauty and perseverance of this work. ❤