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One for the Hapas: Navigating Queer Biracial Identity

This AAPI Month When do mix kids get their stories told? As a biracial Chinese-Malaysian and Polish, first and third generation American, a queer lesbian, a cis-ish switchy femme with a hard-on for gentle masculinity in a variety of bodies, I’ve never been in a space or group where I truly fit in. I’m too freckled to be Chinese, too mixed to be identified, too immigrant to be white, too white to be Chinese, too queer to be Asian, too femme to be masculine, too masculine to be lesbian, too lesbian to be queer...

I’ve spent most of my hapa life living in response to where I am and the expectations and assumptions of others. Like most first generation kids, my parents really wanted me and my sister to be “American.” In reality, I spent most of my life being labeled Chinese and living in extreme opposition to the whiteness around me in my small, conservative town. Theirs was a wealthy whiteness. We’re talking own-your-own-skiis-and-horses-wealthy. For my entire childhood, we were the Chinese family in town, which came with its challenges. I remember as a kid trying to explain why my snack had beans inside, and why they were sweet instead of salty; why my father had two first names instead of one, even though no one even tried to use it. I have stronger memories, too, like visiting my friend in the hospital after he had been targeted for being Chinese/East-Asian. It’s a scary thing to learn as a young one that people can target you, intentionally hurt you and people like you, just for being who you are. A scary truth for too many QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous People of Color) in our country.

Othering as a child can be a heavy experience, whether we have language for it or not. I grew up feeling the hatred that the Coronavirus pandemic has brought back to the surface of American mainstream. Model Minority and all. Socialized as a Chinese teen, I didn’t know whiteness could mean something different, or that it was a part of me until I was 18 and I moved to college. In my small, all-girls’ school outside of New York City, made up mostly of Black and Latinx girls, it was the first time I was ever considered white. The few Asian girls on campus didn’t give me the time of day, and I began the life-long work of navigating white-passing privilege and biracial identity. I was crushed and confused. In no uncertain terms, I was the perfect backdrop of every “you don’t know me” meme walking around campus. College is also when I “came out.” First as bisexual (thanks, heteronormativity, you heavy blanket), and then as a lesbian, then as queer, and now as some hybrid queer lesbian, lesbian queer. As someone who was socialized as a Chinese girl and “good Catholic girl,” you’d think I’d be the perfect candidate for self-shame around my sexual orientation. Meanwhile, I was a baby femme crushing on cuties in Kindergarten, having “bonus” sleepovers with my friends that “didn’t count because we’re girls”, and I took to coming out with pleasure.*

* To everyone except for my immediate family, but that’s a story for another time.

The thing is, when many white people come out, it’s the first experience they’ve had that moves them from the center of power. Maybe it’s the first time they’re thinking and/or have their families worrying about whether they’ll be loved, whether they’ll be safe. For me and so many of my QTBIPOC family, that’s not our experience. It’s not easy to be a hapa, ever-floating between groups, cultures, identities. Knowing you’ll never fully belong in a given group.

And yet, I credit my ease into queerness to the resilience I learned as a biracial kid. Unlike white teens, I didn’t have a connection to a privilege to lose.

I’ve always thought of my racial and sexual identities as separate. Even trying to weave these stories into one is a challenge. The white-centering of the LGBTQ+ community and it’s narratives run deep. Homophobia in Asian communities has a long and lasting history. I’ve spent most of my adult life studying, teaching, and organizing around LGBTQ+ identity and it’s taken me years to find (and often build) places where I can take up space and find community. Erasure and identity navigation hurts. It’s heavy and confusing and real. But it’s not oppression. And it’s an honor to be in QTBIPOC spaces and to engage in solidarity work with the most system-impacted communities at the center.

And yet, wading in the water of social justice advocacy sometimes feels like zipping up all of my experiences: my grandfather who was sold into slavery at age 9, my father’s immigration to America alone at 23, or my own complicated quilt of experiences - to be quiet. But I also need space.

So today, during AAPI Heritage Month, I’m grateful for this chance to lean in and shine a light on Queer Asians, even the hapas like me. This moment in time, this bubble, this deep breath, this one’s for us. Bex What now? Join Bex this Sunday, 5/23/21, for a “QAAPI Healing Offering” on IG Live @HouseOfOurQueer. 10 am PT/1pm ET. Bex Mui, she/her, is a queer, cis femme, biracial, LGBTQ+ & Equity Consultant and spiritual organizer.

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