Category Archives: Deep Topics

Nationality, Ethnicity, Heritage & Me

 

2017 is being an intense year for the Western world, marked by the rise of nationalist movements. Anyone with a basic understanding of fascism, xenophobia and white supremacy would have probably seen this coming in the last few years.

When politicians across the spectrum use migrants as a basketball ball to score points, when challenging racism becomes a bore-some activity for so called progressive/liberals, when dealing with inequality and xenophobia is seen as a matter of “overrated identity politics, when people pretend only white people are working class and suffering since the financial crisis of 2008, when the media is still unable to check their biased language, and when all of the sudden everyone wants to pretend we are all equal as if a few decades of brown and black people seen as human (debatable) erases the effects of centuries of genocide, slavery and colonisation, well…. You get this. A region in which racial supremacy and discrimination are okayed again (to be honest, were they ever not okayed?) in the name of freedom of speech.

At the same time, everyone willing to challenge this bigotry is called a “regressive leftist” by people who genuinely believe they are progressive leftists, while being moderate centrists, if anything. Neo-Nazis and conservatives might refer to them as “easily triggered snowflakes”, which is ironic since they turn purple and angry whenever you call their statements ‘racist’. “Clueless social justice warriors” is another label used often by people who still don’t know their right to freedom of speech can only be violated by governments and their agencies/bodies, not by fellow citizens counterarguing what they say.

And lastly, my personal favourite one: “entitled millennials”, a tone-deaf term used by adults who believe young people under 30 years old are all middle-class babies who had everything handed to them (working/lower class young people don’t exist anymore), were rewarded for mediocrity (seriously, where are all these awards? I didn’t get mine) and can’t live outside safe spaces (apparently young people live in protective bubbles away from the cruel real world, I can’t believe I didn’t get one!).

I’m not going to go any deeper into the political situation in the West, I’m still on an indefinite break from writing about social issues at a non-personal level. I just wanted to give a brief look at the context in which this personal article is set. The ongoing discussions about nationalism, patriotism, culture and ethnicity have made me think deeply about my own identity. How I identify and how I am identified. I struggle to determine to where I belong and to which countries/regions I should be loyal too. My national, ethnic and cultural identities are complicated to the point in which I’m uncertain I have any of these.

I was born in the Basque Country, an autonomous region in Spain. I lived there till 2012, the year I moved to England, where I currently reside. My nationality is Spanish and despite living in Britain for over four years, I still have a strong (Northern) Spanish accent. At the same time, I have adopted various British customs, such as saying “sorry” non-stop without an actual reason, eating roast on Sundays, being passive aggressive and drinking a lot of tea throughout the day (just joking!). Despite all this, I was born (and I live) in a different place to where my parents and grandparents were born. Hence, my nationality and place of residence say little to nothing about my ethnicity and heritage.

My mother was born in Equatorial Guinea, located in Central/Middle Africa. Her mother (my grandmother) is from there too, while her father (my grandfather) was originally from a West African country, either Cape Verde or São Tomé and Príncipe (I can’t confirm which one it is since I have been told different things). As you can see, simply in my mother’s side there is already a mixture of ethnicities, which would be even bigger if specific ethnic groups/tribes would be considered (which I won’t do because I don’t want to overcomplicate this article).

Although it might seem confusing, describing my maternal heritage is easy compared to my paternal heritage: my biological father  (from whom I inherited my genetic traits) differs from my legal father (who legally recognises me as his daughter). I have never met my biological father and I know little about him. Meanwhile, I was raised by my legal father and he is the only person I consider a “father” in my life. I was told that my biological father is Senegalese and Bissau-Guinean (both West African countries). My legal father is from DR Congo and his parents (my grandparents) migrated there from Angola. Both countries are in Central/Middle Africa.

I learnt most of this information about my family during the last couple of years. Growing up, I was never curious about my ethnicity and heritage. I never even tried to define them. The only things I was sure about were my race (black) and my nationality (Spanish). While I grew up immersed in Spanish culture, I never felt part of it: it wasn’t something I could claim as my heritage. While Spain is a “colourblind” country in many aspects (when I lived there, race and ethnicity were not officially recorded as in UK), racism and xenophobia are common. People always give you subtle and not-so-subtle reminders about you not being “originally” from Spain.

It was also hard for me to feel attached to my African background because I didn’t grow up with my family (except my siblings). Now and then, I did have access to my parents’ cultures, mainly during family celebrations and spiritual rituals, but these were limited. I can name some basic Congolese food dishes, some basic Equatorial Guinean food dishes. I can understand some words of Lingala (Congolese language) and Pichinglish (Creole language in Equatorial Guinea). I’m aware of some rituals and customs. But my position regarding these cultures is the one of an outsider, rather than someone actively involved in them. In addition, till no long ago, I silently rejected my African background because of the gender roles that were being forced on me in the name of it.

Moving to England and becoming a young adult triggered in me an interest to know more about my roots to define my ethnicity better. In England I saw how most black people, even if British, embraced their ethnicity a lot, not just as “African”, but as Nigerian, Ghanaian, Jamaican… Or even specific subgroups, such as Yoruba. I felt a lot of envy about this, I wished that was me. Meanwhile I realised that I would never be considered Spanish and I wondered if I wanted to live in this continent forever. In addition, when deciding what to study at university, I remember how my dad pushed me to go for something that could help people “back at home”, meaning DR Congo for him.

All this inspired me to learn more about my roots. I asked questions to my family, and I did an Ancestry DNA test to proof-check their answers. While Ancestry DNA isn’t 100% accurate, it is an indicator, and I’m hoping to do a 23andMe check soon, since it is considered more reliable. Here are my Ancestry DNA results:

(*Trace regions are regions/countries which are only possibilities and might appear in the results by chance.)

My reaction to this data was a mixture of confirmation and surprise. I suspected most of my ethnicity would be African. I knew I had some European ancestry because my maternal grandfather was creole/mulatto. I thought I would get a small percentage for Native American (defined by Ancestry as indigenous groups from North to South America) because I was told my maternal great-grandmother has an Indigenous Cuban ancestor (the ancestor might be too distant to appear). I definitely have Afro-Cuban ancestry, something common in my mother’s home country, yet it isn’t reflected on the test since Afro-Cubans, as other Afro-Latinos, are direct descendants of black African slaves sent to the Americas.

I was surprised by the percentage for the Middle East, and although it is just a chance, it might be true due to extensive presence of Middle-Easterns in Africa, particularly in countries that make up my ethnicity. Regardless of this, I’m happy with being just black African, that’s how I have always identified. (Black) Afro-Hispanic is a label that wouldn’t bother me either, since linguistically speaking, I’m indeed Hispanic, which is not the same as Latino by the way (though I do have Latino [and Caribbean] heritage since I have Cuban ancestry and I grew up quite influenced by it).

When comes to individual countries, I already knew I had Senegalese roots, though I didn’t think it would be my biggest percentage. Conversely, I knew I had Bantu background, since my maternal grandmother’s ethnic group is Bubi, a Bantu subgroup, but I didn’t think the percentage would be so small. I was dazed by the rest of African countries and for the lack of mention of Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde or/and São Tomé and Príncipe, in the list. However, a small look at African history helped me to make sense of this.

Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe were supposedly uninhabited islands when the Portuguese arrived to colonise them. They were populated mainly through European settlers and slaves from continental Africa. That’s probably why countries like Congo and Benin appear in my Ancestry DNA: many slaves were taken from there. A similar logic can apply to Equatorial Guinea: that country was inhabited prior to Portuguese and Spanish colonisation (by ethnic groups like the Bubis), but there was a lot of migration from neighbouring areas afterwards.

Except for two, all the African countries/regions in my results are in West & Central Africa. Considering how European-made national borders in Africa don’t respect ethnic groups and tribes, the variety in my ethnicity makes more sense: the ethnic groups I belong to could be found in various countries in the area. Nationality might not be the greatest indicator for ethnicity in Africa. It is also important to keep in mind I don’t have full access to knowledge about my biological father’s family background. And, as I mentioned earlier, Ancestry DNA isn’t 100% accurate, although my results look more right than wrong.

As you can see, my ethnicity and heritage are heterogeneous. My mother, my legal father and my biological father are all from separate places, even different to their own parents. It is important to mention that while I didn’t inherit genetic traits from my legal father, his heritage and ethnicity still influence my cultural identity. Now, add my nationality (Spanish) and my place of residence (England). To which country in the world am I supposed to be loyal? To which country in the world am I supposed to show patriotism? I identify as black African normally, but I’m aware I’m legally Spanish and I’m a citizen of England.

Having a transnational, multicultural and mixed background is supposed to make me richer in knowledge and experiences, which is not untrue. Yet, it doesn’t make you richer in company. It can be very isolating. You belong to so many places that you end up belonging to nowhere. And more nowadays, when nationalism and ethno-supremacy are such a trend worldwide. It is easy to force nationalism upon people when you haven’t been rejected by your country of birth, when the country where you live doesn’t hate you and when you don’t have a transnational family.

My nationality is culturally and ethnically meaningless. Living in England matters to me, but the current war on immigrants and Brexit make things harder. While I’m trying to learn more about the countries that compose my African background, I still don’t feel attached to them. That’s the main reason why I can’t get behind any person or idea that doesn’t consider that who I am comes from more than one country or region, and tries to shame me for not being nationalistic. I simply have a borderless identity not confined to a single culture or place. And I wish people understood this, just as I respect their right to be patriotic. Hopefully one day, people like me will be considered during political discussions about culture, ethnicity and nationalism. Hopefully.

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A Complex Relationship: Family, Nurture and Personality

When we are children we are taught that family is everything. Blood is very important. Honour your parents. Respect your adult relatives. Make all of them proud. Follow their advice. They want the best for you. Now, all this can be true most times. But in others, it isn’t. The concept of family as a loving institution is one I struggle with a lot because my family is deeply dysfunctional. I grew up thinking I was part of a small minority of children in the world who didn’t have normal Christmas celebrations, who didn’t experience happy family holidays, who disliked Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, who preferred going out with friends than staying at home with family, who barely depended on relatives for anything…

However, as I time went by, I realised people like me aren’t part of a minority. We are part of an invisible large group in society, a group that hides their stories and issues, while pretending everything is fine to keep going and to fit in. As members of the group, we know that if we voice our experiences and thoughts, we will be most likely misunderstood and thought of as “whiny, spoiled and uneducated kids that hate their relatives without a reason”.

Family isn’t everything for me. And I personally know other young people, with different backgrounds, yet in the same situation: no relatives to trust or cherish completely. I have read so many stories of LGBT+ teens that were kicked out of their homes for being who they are. I have read so many stories of teens with verbally and physically abusive parents, who can’t get help due to lack of social protection and/or access to welfare services. I have read so many stories of girls without freedom of choice and forced into marriage by their own mothers. I have read so many stories of boys whose depression is unseen and ignored due their fathers’ pressure on their masculinity. I have just read too many stories. And none of them were fiction.

Telling children that parents always want the best for them is dangerous. Telling children that family will always be there for them is dangerous. Telling children that love from relatives is unconditional is dangerous. All this isn’t true for many and it leads to delusions and false hopes while children try to please others at the expense of losing their identity and developing mental health issues. Psychological abuse is real and not only adults experience it. Many children and teenagers are trapped in abusive relationships, but their feelings and behaviour are ignored or misinterpreted till it is too late. The main problem with psychological abuse, mental health problems, and emotional issue is that they can’t be seen, so for many, they don’t exist.

Constantly insulting someone to the point in which they have no self-esteem and self-confidence isn’t discipline: it is verbal abuse. Constantly punishing someone physically because you are angry and think you have power isn’t discipline: it is physical abuse. I have experienced both things and at least 75% of the times, I did nothing wrong other than being near a really moody relative. Sometimes, the people who hurt me ended up realising they were wrong, yet they rarely said sorry. They normally ignored it and acted sweet minutes after, or they tried to put the blame on me with irrelevant accusations and mind games. You may think this isn’t a big deal, that complaining about it is being weak, and that it is something easy to accept and live with. However, it isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe adults should be respected, not because they are adults, but because they are humans and humans should be respected. Then again, there is a difference between respect and abuse of power. A difference that some don’t understand. Just because your son or daughter doesn’t agree with you, it doesn’t mean they are disrespecting you. Plus, respect should be mutual. Children should respect their parents and parents should respect their children. I’m not saying children should run their houses: I’m saying that children ought not to be insulted, maltreated and under-appreciated. And less without a reason other than their age or/and gender. The consequences of this can be negative and the impact it can have on a child’s future can be harmful.

Nurture (the environment and upbringing of someone) plays a key role in the development of a child’s personality and identity. It is said to affect incredibly a person’s social, emotional and intellectual skills, and I believe this. I know that my behaviour and attitude are extremely influenced by my childhood experiences. To explain how is this possible, I will use a psychological theory: the psychodynamic approach. The psychodynamic approach is based on the belief that human behaviour is caused and can be explained by the different conflicts in mind caused by consciousness and unconsciousness. One of the main psychologists who supported this perspective was Erik Erikson, who identified 5 stages of development:

  1. Trust vs Mistrust (0-1 years): Babies need adults to satisfy their emotional and physical needs. If these needs are satisfied, they will develop trust in their surroundings. If these needs aren’t satisfied, they will develop mistrust of their surroundings. For example, if babies are neglected in their house during their first year of life (e.g. they aren’t fed; their nappy isn’t changed), they will mistrust their carers, as they will realise they can’t rely on them to satisfy their needs.
  2. Autonomy vs Shame (1-3 years): Toddlers try to do things by themselves, without relying on their carers; they will try to be independent. If their carers shout at them every time they make mistakes, they will develop a feeling of shame, fear and self-doubt. In contrast, if their carers encourage their independence, they will develop a sense of autonomy. For example, when a toddler tries to eat on his own and gets messy, if the parents shout at him, he will stop trying, in order to not be shouted at and to not feel embarrassed. If the parents praise his attempt and help him the next time, he will feel more self-assured and will keep trying.
  3. Initiative vs Guilt (3-6 years): Children develop curiosity and try to learn through questions to adults in their environment. If their curiosity is satisfied (adults answer their questions), they will continue asking and grow up to be more ingenious. If their curiosity is not satisfied, or they are called silly, they will stop asking and grow up to be more fearful. For example, when a child asks his father if the sun is hot, if the father says “yes” and explains briefly why, the child’s knowledge will grow and he will develop a sense of initiative. If the father doesn’t answer the question or calls him silly for asking it, the child will feel ashamed and will end up thinking he is silly.
  4. Industry vs Inferiority (6-12 years): Children ask themselves how their environment is made and how it works. Industry will develop if children are encouraged to carry out projects and/or if they are helped with those projects. In contrary, inferiority will develop if children are not encouraged nor helped with their projects, hence they will fail and they will feel inferior to others who are successful. A good way of illustrating this is using school homework as an example. If parents motivate their children to do their work for school and help them when they need it, the kids will be more likely to be responsible about their studies. Conversely, if parents pay little attention to their children’s homework and don’t help or encourage them, their kids will be more likely to fail and care less about their studies.
  5. Identity vs Role confusion (12-18 year): During this period, distress is common amongst teenagers, since they are trying to find out who they are. In most cases, identity is developed from friendships. If a person doesn’t have a strong network of friendships, they will have trouble to understand the values and morals of a relationship. An individual develops an identity when they have a clear and consistent view of who they are, and when they find a point of understanding between their opinion and the opinion of others. If someone doesn’t form their identity, they will have difficulties to determine who they are and which their place within society is: this is known as role confusion. For example, children and teens who are bullied and don’t have friends will struggle to develop trust in future relationships, and will have difficulties to find who they are and where they belong to within society.

While all this is just a theory that doesn’t take into account genetic / biological factors and it may not apply to everyone, I can see how it translates to my life. I was in care (living in a children’s home, under local authorities protection) since I was 7 years old till I was 15 years old. Without doubt, my rough childhood and my confusing pre-teen years affected negatively my personal development, mainly the emotional and social aspects of it. I’m an extremely independent and autonomous person, my self-esteem is irregular, I have no self-confidence, I’m horrible socialising, I constantly fear being humiliated, I regularly get paranoid about my few friends hating me and I have trouble maintaining significant relationships. On top of all, lack of interest, frustration, flashbacks of traumatic events, sadness and feelings of hopelessness are things I have to deal with every day. And I know that great part of this is due to my upbringing.

Recently, I have been reflecting about my experiences and about who I am quite a lot.  If my childhood had been different, would I be a different person? Would I be more confident? Would I have self-esteem? Would I be able to socialise better? Would I still have mental health problems? I’m aware that great part of my personality is determined by genetics and that people react different to different events. At the same time, I know that I can’t change certain aspects of who I am, even if I try every day. Consequently, I can’t blame others 100% for who I am and for how I respond to events in my life. I assume my responsibility to cope with my problems, to not be arrogant and stubborn to avoid confrontations, and to understand and/or forgive people who may have hurt me, as well as say sorry to the people I have hurt.

On conclusion: the relationship between family, nurture and personality is complex. Biological factors determine various aspects about ourselves while social and environmental factors also shape who we are. To be honest, I’m not completely sure about what I expect people to take away from this blog post. I have struggled to categorise it as a personal one, a thoughtful one, or an inspirational one (I ended up choosing the three categories!). All I know is that I don’t want sympathy or pity. My problems are my problems. I used my life to illustrate certain points I was trying to make, as I always do. I like sharing my personal stories with others because I hope people can get something out from them. I have learnt so much about how to improve my life and behaviour by reflecting on the experiences of others, it would be great if my readers did the same.

I merely wish people (parents in particular) were more aware of how their actions and attitudes towards others (children specifically) can affect and impact them. And more if these are repeated and regular. I also wish people would realise that everyone is dissimilar and we all react differently to events. There is a limit to what a person can change about themselves: making people feel “weak” for being sensible and for not coping with problems as you wish is not good, it is actually selfish and patronising.

Furthermore, I wish people would use love and motivation, rather than hatred and shame, to correct children’s mistakes. This doesn’t mean you can’t punish kids or you can’t tell them off: it means you need to balance the negativity with positivity. And lastly, I wish people understood that not everyone has loving families and those who don’t shouldn’t to be forced to feel grateful for things they shouldn’t. The abusive or/and neglectful behaviour of parents can be analysed, but it should not be excused. Never. Because if it is, children will find others to blame for the detrimental events they experience. And most times, those others are just themselves.

Gender, Race, Sexuality And Me

I was in primary school when I first started using the phrase “I’m not like other girls”. I was on holidays in Germany when I was first told “you have no [ethnical] identity”. I was sitting down eating when I was first referred to as “a feminist who is probably a lesbian”. I remember these three occurrences very clearly because each of them added more burden and confusion to my on-going identity crisis. Moreover, these aren’t isolated cases. My race, sexuality and gender are social constructions I have been struggling with since I was a kid, due to discrimination, stereotypes and society’s expectations.

I’m not classy, I’m not submissive, and I’m not feminine. I don’t care much about gossip, fashion, make up or dating. My appearance, my clothes and my face are not something I’m constantly worried about: in fact, I barely care. Boys rarely impress me, physically and emotionally: I always see them as potential friends more than anything.  I’m not interested anymore in dating, having kids and marrying. I know all these things are stereotypes and conventional social norms, but they are still real labels that girls have to bear since they are born till the die. I’m not saying these labels are negative by the way, there is nothing wrong with them. I’m just not like this and I wish people understood it and accepted it.

Being “different” is hard. You don’t fit in the femininity norm and you are suddenly excluded from all sisterhoods during school breaks. You don’t follow the stereotypes and you are suddenly not invited at all to birthdays or parties. You don’t act feminine or classy and you are suddenly “one of the boys”.

I still remember when one of my female classmates cried in a rhythmic gymnastics lesson because she had to do with me the end-of-year exhibition in front of everyone. She didn’t cry because I wasn’t a good gymnast, there were other girls in the group who weren’t great neither. She cried because she didn’t want to do the exhibition with one of the “uncool” girls (she was a “popular” girl). People in school often said I was nice and sweet, but when the moment of doing something with me came, they turned their head away, except my best friend. Even some of my other friends did it. It wasn’t because of my personality: it was because of my appearance and behaviour. Not girly, not classy, not pretty: not good enough. All this used to hurt me a lot, and I would try hard to be loved, unsuccessfully.

In spite of this, it was easy ignoring people’s annoying comments and actions in school, but it wasn’t that easy with my relatives. My mum comes from a very traditional African family that was once middle-high class. I have various brothers, but due to some sexist reason, house chores seemed to be an important task for me and only me. I still remember the time I realised of this: I was thirteen, our house was messy, and my mum was ranting and yelling at me. “Emily, you are the girl of the house, you have to clean!”: this was one of the phrases she was shouting. My brothers were also told to do house chores and they were also yelled at, but not in the same level and with the same pressure I had.

In 2012, I moved to England to live with my aunt from mum’s side and things definitely got worse. My issues with my gender become more confusing and racial identity conflicts came into place too. My aunt is more conventional than my mum: she works but is a housewife, she has a partner and she is attached to her African roots, even if she grew up in Europe. When I moved to her house, her partner and she had patriarchal expectations for me that I was clueless about till much later. Adapting to live with them is one of the worst experiences I have ever had.

In the last year I have argued a lot with people. The latest argument was with my uncle. Apparently, my way of walking makes our carpet dirty so he told to me change it. Despite being dazzled by that claim and finding it stupid (the carpet is cream colour, everyone walks over it, and it hasn’t been cleaned in at least three years; I don’t even step on it with shoes I use outside) I played along with it and said I would try my best. A week or two later, I was walking upstairs and he stopped me and asked me why I hadn’t change my way of walking.  I had actually changed it but it was late at night, I was tired and I was barely conscious of my actions. Moreover, I have orthopaedic issues and I had invasive surgery in my hip a few years ago: my control over my legs and feet becomes irregular now and then, and more at the end of the day. Obviously, I defended myself, alleging “I was trying my best and I was gradually changing my way of walking”. And even if he was the one that asked for an explanation, he got angry and annoyed with my reply, so we started arguing till my aunt came downstairs to stop us. I probably shouldn’t have started arguing with him, that was my biggest fault and I regret it.

The rest of the story is irrelevant, except for the part in which my aunt told my uncle “we know you are the man of the house and you want things done your way”. In that moment I realised that my uncle’s desires were above my physical health and abilities, just because he is a man. Afterwards, my aunt spoke to me about how my uncle has a very “African man mind-set” and I have to accept it.

A few weeks ago I was in Spain, spending time at my father’s house and while having a conversation about my life in England with him, he said something that distraught me: apparently, when I had just moved back in 2012, my aunt wouldn’t stop complaining to him about how I was trying to “act like a white European girl” because I was not interested in house chores, I wasn’t good at them and I never tried to please my uncle by doing things like serving him food in the morning before he went to work or cleaning everything he got dirty and messy. For some reason, this annoyed me. I had always suspected my aunt thought like that about me, but I don’t think I was ready for the confirmation. My first instinct was defending myself, but then I stayed quiet and reflective, while a feeling of guilt and shame filled my heart.

I was born in Spain, Europe, were multiculturalism and diversity are not promoted at all. I went to a school for 13 years in which my brothers and I were the only black Africans. I didn’t grow up with my family other than my siblings. My knowledge of my parents’ cultures is very small, I just know a little bit about some traditions, cuisines and spiritual rites. I always thought when I grew up, I would learn more and embrace my roots. But now, I don’t have it so clear.  My family killed any curiosity I had because they never talk about our background except to support their sexist and patriarchal values which I don’t want to live under. I have no desire to marry, have kids, be a housewife and serve a man for the rest of my life. I don’t like house chores, being feminine or acting classy and submissive. I don’t like being in charge, I don’t like managing and I cry under pressure because I get frustrated. And due to all this, I act like a “white girl”.

I never knew you had to be a certain way to be part of a race and ethnicity. I can accept that I’m clueless about my roots and I need to change that, but I have never hated being black African. I always defend and support my race and my ethnicity. I used to try and show interest in learning more about my background. I’m fine with who I am.  But it isn’t enough, at least for my family. Either I am conceited or whitewashed, just because I don’t follow the values of the black African patriarchy they love and praise. So lately, every time I think about researching or reading a book about my parents’ cultures, I get dizzy and angry, and I decide not to do it. I know this attitude is bad and quite arrogant: my family’s ideology is not a reflection of my whole African backgroundd. I have read and heard nice things about Equatorial Guinea and DR Congo (my parents’ countries): they are beautiful countries with interesting culture, and I would benefit from learning more about them. However, I won’t do it till I move away from my family, so I don’t have to remember their rants and claims every time I attempt to know about my roots.

As you may imagine from everything you have read so far, my relatives aren’t very keen on feminism, which is why I avoid saying that I’m a feminist and avoid gender equality discussions at home. However, one of my brother knows it and he thinks that I’m going to end up being lesbian one of these days because “most feminists are lesbians”. After he said this, my aunt started repeating hundreds of times that there is nothing wrong with being a lesbian, and I just removed myself from the conservation. I have always thought of myself as heterosexual, but I have never confirmed or denied my sexuality with anyone. People just have this wrong habit of assuming everyone is heterosexual till they say or prove otherwise, or till they see them “acting gay” (something that I find absurd to be honest).

While I don’t see anything negative about being labelled as a “lesbian”, because it is just a sexuality and I’m a supporter of LGBT+ rights, my brother hasn’t been the first person referring to me as such. Back in school days, there were similar rumours involving my best friend and me. Since I don’t fit in the femininity box, I probably don’t fit in the female heterosexuality box neither, since these two are always linked by mainstream society. Furthermore, I have never had a serious romantic or/and sexual relationship nor I share my romantic/sexual interests in boys with people other than with my close friends.

In the last months, I have been very involved with LGBT+ movements and campaigns because one of my favourite celebrities, Miley Cyrus, has been running campaigns and projects to support LGBT+ individuals. I have read a lot of articles and many of her interviews related to the topic. Her Paper Magazine interview attracted my attention especially, mainly this part:

“She (Miley) says she has come to consider her own sexuality — even her own gender identification — fluid. “I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me,” she says. “I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.””

http://www.papermag.com/2015/06/miley_cyrus_happy_hippie_foundation.php

After reading this, for the first time in my life, I felt understood when comes to my sexuality. The comment is very relatable. As much as I do it, I don’t like labelling myself as heterosexual because it often implies I would only date heterosexual boys. And it isn’t true. As Miley, I’m open to everyone regardless of their gender and sexuality. While all my “romantic” interests (mere crushes) have always being men (only two), nobody has ever shown love or attraction towards me. Currently, I’m not interested in dating at all, but generally talking, I’m down to date anyone that will be good for me and will love me, regardless of their sexuality and gender. I don’t think that we can control love or our emotions, so I can’t assure I will never have strong romantic feelings or sexual attraction towards anyone but heterosexual boys. I just can’t assure it.

Sexuality to me is more than a label: it is a deep subject that can be fluid and every human is entitled to explore it and discover their own one, while being respected and being respectful to others. We are all unique and I think sexuality is a personal identity rather than just a social label: I find it hard to put it inside a box and I realised other people find it hard too. Furthermore, I sometimes wonder if I only have attraction towards boys because that’s how I really feel or because I have been conditioned to feel like that by the heteronormative world we live in. This is just one of the few questions I have about my sexuality and I rarely discuss them with anyone, because it is difficult to explain and I fear that I will be misunderstood if I open up about them.

On conclusion: race, sexuality and gender are aspects about myself that tend to get questioned too often. Not “acting as a black African person” is an issue that I have been presented with recently, causing me a lot of guilt and anger. Not following the stereotype of femininity, not dating or showing public romantic or sexual interest in boys, and being a feminist makes people think that I’m a lesbian. Not being feminine or not caring about so called “girly” topics has excluded me from sisterhoods and the box of womanhood since I was a child. Either you fit into the stereotypes of your social constructions or you are a misfit, and people start to mislabel you. That has been life for me till now.

I’m hoping things will change as soon as I move to university and start my independent life, since my family are the main people questioning these three things about myself. At the moment, I just act with them as they want me to act, because I don’t like conflicts and I know I can never win with them. I don’t show them the real me and I no longer seek their acceptance. But as soon as my freedom comes, I will be able to start my journey to solve my identity questions at peace and on my own, without toxic people hurting me. And I can’t wait.

Sharing my thoughts,

Emilie. H. Featherington