Did I mention that besides being an amazing artist, Jiji is a natural writer? Yes, Jiji is back with another piece, this time about her childhood attempting to understand her mixed-race and queer identity. Read her piece below for a thought-provoking coming of age story.
I am far from my mother’s tree, yet I’m the roots of her tree, keeping her grounded. I am a constant reminder of how her family has developed, how deep the roots go and how high the branches reach. The fusion of cultures celebrated in my home was an environment molded solely by my mother. My mother passed on her eyes to me, her unique lens on the world, her creative mind, her art and the significance of self-awareness. She highlighted the importance of the heritage that she didn’t share with me, awakening me to the reality and beauty of being a person of color. We shared blood, but our experiences would never be the same. Something as simple as pigment made it impossible for our worlds to be exact replicas.
Wading in the clear, chlorinated water in Cape Cod one summer, my sister and I encountered the only other person of color in the pool. We struggled to locate his parents, but the only other people there were white. We realized that he was adopted. Our new friendship forced my mother to make small talk with his parents. After a while my mother came over to us, distraught but grinning, and she told us it was time to go. I later found out that the boy’s mother had asked where my mother had gotten us from, as if we were purchased from a store. The racist assumptions caused a temporary rift between my mother and me, in part because we experienced them differently.
Just as I started to become more accustomed to this kind of ignorance, my sexuality sent me flying from her branches. Confused and unable to completely grasp being queer, I knew from age ten that heterosexuality and I didn’t mix when just seeing one specific girl would set off an eruption in my stomach. Even though I was unable to interact with her, she made me realize something about myself. My feelings for her helped me become more comfortable with my attraction to girls, but I was still confused. I understood the concept of homosexuality, but I felt that the only way I could be attracted to a girl was if I was a boy. Perplexed by my feelings, I chose to ignore how I felt and settle for homosexuality. One night in the kitchen I wrote on a post-it “I like girls” and showed my mother; she brushed it off as if I was telling her what I wanted for dinner, and I felt her branches pull me closer.
The next few years I went through the world comfortable with myself, except that I internally identified as two genders. I would not learn about the gender binary until high school. The confusion about my gender identity threw me back into hiding. Eventually I grew comfortable with the label that chose me in fourth grade; perhaps it was because the girl who opened my eyes graduated, or because I was more comfortable with myself, or maybe both. Being queer in high school was easy; it didn’t phase anyone. The summer of junior year came rolling around and my sexuality was knocking at the door again. I ignored it for a while, but the girl who started my identity on a roll coaster showed up again. She became a part of my life, the way I had wished for since I was ten, and with her came self-discovery. When I learned the term genderqueer it stuck with me. I had never felt l completely feminine, but connected with parts of it; I felt the same way about being masculine. Learning to accept myself has allowed me to be my own person in the world, while still being connected to my mother’s tree. The roots of this tree will allow me to grow as I step onto a campus next year.