It happens often. I get invited to perform as part of a group of people with X identity, and I am the only one who is also Y. The only brown in the queer group. The only queer in the brown group. The only woman-ish person in the disabled group, the only disabled person in the women’s group.
It happens mostly with race and migration. The only brown in the queer group. The only brown in the feminist group. The only brown in the mentals group. The only brown. The only migrant. The only one who has to code switch and wonder if their attitudes, their words, their displays of emotions are too much, too intense, too incriminating for some reason. I chew up and swallow my words. I have to develop four stomaches to properly ruminate the words, and then get called a cow. I shit the words, muddy glitter cakes with traces of lisps, false friends and poor grammar.
I have to look up if the linguistic phrase is “false friends” or “fake friends”. I have to make sure with “false friends” I mean “words and phrases that are mistranslated into completely erroneous meanings just because this word in the target language looks a lot like that word in the origin language – e.g. using ‘sensible’ to mean ‘sensitive’ because that’s what it means in Spanish, but in English it kind of means ‘rational and practical'”. This post may be quite sensible in one way, but not sensible in the other way, I don’t know.
Still, I get people shocked and surprised that this shitcakes unsensible sensible possum finished TWO Masters Degrees (one of them pending graduation ceremony), published one book, recorded one album and writes all these words, in English. Wow. And I still make less money than my cousins who didn’t finish High School but who are doing more hands on, necessary stuff in their home country.
So then when the opportunities come, paid or unpaid (exposure), I swallow them whole. I overwork myself. And that’s how I end up being the only brown in the panel, the only foreigner, the fattest person in the room, the oldest performer, the youngest performer, the tick on the company’s Arts Council England funding application form so they can get more money, which then gets trickled down all the way down until I get peanuts, or two tiny beer bottles voucher to exchange at the bar. The beer bottles are warm. Budweisser, half a pint each. They charge seven quid the entry. Their friends get more of the funding and go find themselves in Cambodia. Find other tokens.
People like me get treated like tokens and get paid in tokens. Tokens for tokens.
Maybe I did benefit a bit from this at first, but now I’m kind of exhausted of this tokenism. Yes, Kim, there’s people that are dying; but as the world reopens – and no, I will not reopen until everyone is safe and healed –, I fear I might not get many opportunities home or away because I didn’t properly hustle during a time that was meant to be for rest – and I didn’t properly rest either, feeling guilty about the lack of hustle erasing my footprint from the circles I had so painstakingly developed. And then I get DMs from Police Constable Nicholas Merryweather-Cumberwhaite from Surrey based in gentrified Peckham saying “as a fellow queer poet, I invite you to read my self-published Yass Kween Love Wins pamphlet on Kindle”. We are not fellows, my dude.
My book Meanwhile is about living in between: between genders, borders, years, bodies, states of mind. Hardly quantifiable, neigh impossible to pinpoint. So please, do not box me into postcolonialist parameters of existence and resistance. I am now working hard on unboxing myself and embracing the full spectrum of being.
I am more than my identity. We are more than our identities, isolated, intersecting or combined. We are goldmines. I am a goldmine.*
I’d come up with a better simile, and even look up if I used the word “simile” correctly, but it’s a Bank Holiday in lieu of International Workers Day, which was on Saturday 1st May. And now I worry I’ve become a scab, but I would barely call this a job, to be fair.
I initially wanted to be seen as an example of “see? Migrants can make it abroad. Queers can have a successful life. Fat people can be beautiful, smart, hot and worthy. Mad people can live with love and dignity”, but I doubt I’m that much of a positive example. Plus, I hate being singled out and put on a spotlight when I’m just vibing and being. Maybe go look at, I don’t know, Guillermo del Toro? Salma Hayek? Or maybe not. Don’t look at them as “in spite of” stories, but look at the quality of their work.
Or maybe just stop looking at artists and look at the people near you, in your communities. Look at their kindness, compassion, values. But don’t stare, because it’s overwhelming and yep, tokenising. Even if you don’t know their values, kindness, compassion or “quantitative” effect in the community, just peacefully cherish their existence. Our existence. “Making it” is not about making money or having a reputation, but literally “making it” alive. Just being.
Or stop looking at other people and start looking at yourself. Within yourself. You are. Regardless of all things, you are. I am. We are.
*just because I am a goldmine doesn’t mean you can deplete me.