About six months ago I started working with a new therapist and a key topic on my mind was intersectionality and my personal identity. My lifestyle leads to a complicated list of possible labels, all of which are helpful in allowing others to get an idea of who I am, but also which limit the reality of how fluid we all are as adapting humans.
Ultimately my therapist helped me realize that I was a bit too stuck on the labels and instead I’m now embracing the idea of who I am without labels. Labels still come up, but I let them fill in rather than drive my story. I’m also seeing how my identity plays into representation for various groups (like queer, polyamorous, kinkster) and how I should represent these groups.
As this has become less about my identity and more about how I represent, an episode of the Curious Fox podcast really struck me and I’ll talk about this here.
I strongly suggest you give this podcast episode a listen before reading. However, while my writing references the podcast, it also stands on its own, so don’t be afraid to read on if you don’t have the chance to listen.
Curious Fox Podcast #85:
Culture, Identity and Polyamory with Michelle Hy
In the podcast, Jacqueline and Effy interview Michelle Hy, aka PolyamorousWhileAsian. The immediate question was “why that name?” Michelle responds with the obvious, “I’m poly, and I’m Asian!” She does go on to say that she wasn’t seeing a lot of people like her, so she put this out as a way to share her experience with others like her. Michelle finds it important to represent who she is – and especially the complete tapestry of who she is.
Jacqueline states something similar in the opening – she feels the need to be “more queer” during Pride Month and to emphasize her Puerto Rican heritage during Hispanic Heritage Month. I relate as I am very consciously trying to find the right queerness for myself. Part of that challenge for me is, “What type of queer am I?” And part of that challenge is, “How can I represent the queer community in ways that allow being queer to be more acceptable in society?”
There’s the additional challenge of representation versus fetishization. Again, this really resonates with me! Jeannie likes to poke fun at me because I have a type: young, Asian women. At first, I was really offended at the jokes noting that I hang out in communities where there is a younger population and Asians are overrepresented, so this is just probability. I was deflecting. Over time I’ve come to accept that I DO have a type, but thankfully, I’m not pursuing this type through fetishization. Dan Savage put this into perspective for me when he said, “Being attracted to a type is normal; forcing that type to behave in stereotypical ways, or pursuing them for those reasons, THAT’S fetishization and that’s not OK.”
Being Asian, Michelle has a more personal perspective. She comments that she feels almost honored by objectification because it brings attention to her in contrast to how Asian women are often socially overlooked. This highlights both the beauty of self-actualization and how, through confidence and nuance, we can take negative actions and work to reframe them in positive ways.
What does this all mean to me?
In this short post I cannot possibly do justice to what is covered in the podcast, so, again, give it a listen! But I can tell you a little more about what this means to me.
Most importantly, I want to not only be comfortable in who I am but to convey that comfort publicly to break down societal norms. I have so much respect for the way Michelle did this in the podcast and is doing this through her public identity. I aspire to be more like Michelle. At the same time, I’ll never be “like Michelle” because I’m practically the poster child for privilege. Michelle has faced challenges I will never face and that is why I feel so strongly that I need to represent the groups I’m a part of, yet people wouldn’t know by looking at me. I need to represent being queer. I need to represent being ethically non-monogamous.
I will continue to struggle with how to do this best, but after hearing from Michelle, Jacqueline, and Effy on how they struggle with this as well, I’m feeling like I’m in good company. Just the fact that we’re asking ourselves these questions, and sharing in a dialogue about them, is progress! I look forward to continuing the conversation and being able to help advance the cause as well.