Dear Inbetweener: Finding my place as a bisexual biracial man
Consider that the issue may not be that you don’t fit in, but instead that they haven’t done enough growing.
Editor’s Note: June is LGBTQ Pride Month. At Black Youth Project, we will be exploring gender, sexuality, transgender issues and queer theory, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
by Andrew Keahey
When your whole life is in the inbetween, you see things that other people don’t always get to see. You see how people interact differently within the confines of their safe groups that they fit perfectly into, and how those groups interact with others in their orbit. It takes a long time to find the cracks that you’re able to squeeze yourself into. It’s like there’s a party at every house in the neighborhood, and you weren’t invited to any of them; all you can do is look in the windows and think, “Well, that must be nice.”
That’s how it was for me for years and years. If people can’t put you in a clearly defined box, most really don’t want to be bothered with you. It takes so much effort for them to relate to someone who’s different, whereas if they meet someone that looks and acts like them, or at least someone they can definitively categorize as one thing, it’s easy-peasy. The framework is already there. They don’t have to adjust their behaviors or apply new information to their preconceived notions. Who has the time for all that? No, it’s better to just keep making the same jokes, and listening to the same music, and clinging to the thoughts and feelings that don’t make you feel uncomfortable. So, the people in the inbetween tend to fall by the wayside.
It can take some time to figure out why, and when you’re a kid, you tend to think it’s because of something you’ve done. Maybe if you just tried harder, they would bring you into the whispering circle, but that’s not the case. You probably don’t believe me, young inbetweener, but you should think about it. Consider that the issue may not be that you don’t fit in, but instead that they haven’t done enough growing, so they fear it.
I’m biracial and bisexual, which basically means that growing up, I was on the outs. I never told anyone that I was Bisexual, but being half Black and half white isn’t exactly something I could hide. People have particular ways of speaking and acting, and I hadn’t yet learned how to walk the walk or talk the talk. I felt very isolated, but I now also recognize that a lot of that was self-imposed. I didn’t feel like I belonged, so I figured, why force other people to deal with me and my awkward teenage energy?
I stayed home, playing video games in my basement. I had a few friends, but I didn’t go to those parties we all see in the high school movies. I had zero style, because I wasn’t sure who to dress like, my musical tastes were – and still are – positively manic, and every time I would speak to a white person who didn’t know me already, they told me that I was very well-spoken. That bothered me, but I wouldn’t know why until some time later.
I had biracial friends, but they all seemed to be able to handle it a lot better than I did, so it had to be me, right? They seemed to have a lot of friends, and had good social standing overall. We were friends when we were younger, but we grew apart as we went through junior high and high school. They were able to shift into the spaces they needed to by using slight personality adjustments, all while taking part in all kinds of clubs and sports that I didn’t care to be a part of.
I tried to “talk Black” every now and then, grasping desperately at anything I could that would bring us back to common ground, but at that time, it didn’t feel like me. I grew up listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, so those vibes tended to clash. It felt unnatural, and I had so little exposure to actual people of color in the rest of my life that my brain never felt comfortable. Without someone to emulate, adapting a new way of speaking is nothing more than a bad impression, or at least that’s how I thought of it. Eventually, I just stopped trying.
I remember once being called “mulatto” by a white guest speaker in a history class, so I decided that’s what I was. This person, whom I didn’t know, showed no hesitation in looking at me and calling me a mulatto, so that must be accurate right? Some are Black, some are white, some are mixtures of different cultures from here and there, and then there was me… The mulatto.
So, I’m already nowhere, floating in a nebulous cloud with too many colors blending together to be beautiful, and on top of it all, I had an attraction to boys.
There were older boys at my school that I thought were handsome, but I never made any moves. In high school, having that attraction wasn’t exactly in fashion, so I kept it contained to the people on TV. In the real world, people regularly used the word “gay” to mean “d*mb” or “bad,” which is something that I eventually had to train myself out of doing. Good ol’ midwest America. I saw people threatened with violence for just pretending to be attracted to someone of the same sex, so I kept that whole scenario hush hush. As a heavy kid, I didn’t need any more problems in the locker room.
If this sounds familiar to you, you have my sympathies. It’s hard to be who you are sometimes when so much of our culture that tries to force a binary existence, including race, sexuality, and gender. I can’t tell you how many videos I’ve seen on facebook of a white man ranting to no one in his truck about how, “You’re one or the other! There is no inbetween! Sorry, libs!”
But he’s wrong. He’s 100% wrong, and probably about a lot more than gender and sexuality. You don’t have to listen to him, or anyone that tries to box you up, and neither do I. You don’t have to listen to your family members or friends who tell you that because you’re queer or mixed-race, you’re making the culture weak. You are the culture, too.
It took me years to find my people. I spent many lonely nights begging the stars and planets for some kind of peace and understanding without hearing anything back. But gradually, my people found me.
Listen closely, inbewteener: You will draw your people to you. You go where you want to go, and you do what you want to do, and they’ll be there. Like you, they’ll learn that they don’t have a singular place, because their place is everywhere. They don’t fit in a box because they’re too big for boxes, and so are you. The don’t have to sound a certain way, look a certain way, or love a certain way, and neither do you. They’re free, and so are you. Though it doesn’t feel like it right now, and it may not feel like it tomorrow, they are out here waiting on pins and needles to meet perfect, beautiful you.
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry. Find him on Twitter: @formaldehydefce