Tanya: Mixed-Race Queer And Confused
Tanya Compas describes how different societal expectations created confusion as she grew up.
Being mixed-raced and queer, my identity has always been something that is up for debate by society, by family, by random people on twitter... it seems like the ambiguity surrounding my identity is frequently called into question. Or rather, people feel far too comfortable to debate and discuss these facets of my identity and everyone has an opinion on how I should identify.
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I have lost count of the amount of times I have been asked, “But what are you more though? Are you more white or more black?”, or been told that I am negating the white side of my family because I don’t ’act white’ or because I only speak up about black issues. First of all, the whole idea of ‘acting white’ is wrapped in a lot of negative and anti-black sentiments, and secondly I don’t need to speak up about white issues because, well, society already does that by default.
I am mixed-race of black descent. My mum is white English and my dad is black British - born and raised in London, but his mum came from French Guiana. My mum and dad have been together for over 30 years, and I grew up around my mum’s white family in a household that ‘didn’t see colour’. Race was never spoken about in our household. Even though they bought my sisters and I dolls and books that had black and brown people in it and made us read poems such as ‘Half-caste’ by John Agard, they never spoke about race, like how nobody dared to utter Voldemort’s name in Harry Potter. Even to this day I feel like if I bring it up at home it’ll only end badly for me. The truth is, I am not more black than I am white, but I have never lived in a white body, nor will I.
Not speaking about race meant that I lived in a bubble, and an ignorant one at that. I had always been a tomboy, but it only really became a problem when I started secondary school. I felt ostracised from the ‘cool girls’ who were all super feminine and I felt like an outcast based on how I presented myself. To counteract this, in year eight I began to play on the typical ‘lightie’ stereotype, trying to be as ‘exotic’ and ‘femme’ as possible, to the point where I began wearing god-awful makeup and hyper-sexualising myself. I wish I knew then what I know now. I had never heard of colourism and wrongly felt somewhat validated when I was ‘complimented’ on the lightness of my skin colour and my ‘soft’ hair, but because I was still a ‘tomboy’ and therefore wasn’t living up to the stereotypical hyper-feminine ideal of a mixed-race girl, I was made to feel like I was being mixed-raced ‘wrong’.
This is where my racial identity intersects with my sexuality. How I identify and how I present myself has always been a topic up for discussion. I was ‘straight’ up until the age of 23. Sexuality was something that was never spoken about in my household and I never saw representations of black LGBTQ+ people so didn’t even know it was something I could identify as. When I ‘came out’ to my family, I was told, “You can’t tell anybody until we understand”. As though my sexuality - who I love, who I date or who I sleep with - was a point of discussion, debate or something to be understood, rather than just accepted.
I came out as bi-sexual and was told that I was confused and asked, “Are you sure it’s not a phase?” I have since come to learn about queerness and realised that the term ‘queer’ is something that encapsulates who I am. It’s fluid, like me. However, once again, my choice to identify as queer is seen as ‘too political’ and something that’s up for debate.
I am still learning about my sexuality, I am still learning about my relationship with gender, I am still learning about race, and it can get overwhelming at times. I have had to learn, often the hard way, that I need to protect my peace. Just because people call my identity into question, it doesn’t mean that I have to engage in said debate and give a nuanced response.
All I know is that I will continue to speak up about my identity on my own terms, be the representation I wish I had growing up, and speak my truth. I am Tanya and I am mixed-race, queer and confused. But can you blame me?