Not Your Token Puzzle Piece

My willingness to speak openly about myself has landed me spots on panels, interviews, art projects, and so on. I always approach these with an open-mind and am usually happy to have the opportunity to express myself – sometimes I even volunteer to. However, I have wondered if my body and my words are being manipulated.

I claim and reclaim my labels proudly: queer, Indian, South Asian, brown, desi, feminist, activist, social worker, etc.  However, I seem to be paying a price for being proud of who I am.

My willingness to speak openly about myself has landed me spots on panels, interviews, art projects, and so on.  I always approach these with an open-mind and am usually happy to have the opportunity to express myself – sometimes I even volunteer to.  However, I have wondered if my body and my words are being manipulated.

I’ve wondered if my position on panels has been more to visually diversify the panel and make the organizers look good.  I’ve wondered if interviews have happened because people were more intrigued by the idea of me, than my actual voice.  I’ve questioned how, and for what purpose, my body and face was being used in art projects.

When it comes to actually hearing me, it seems that people are a little more hesitant.  When they realize that my Indian status doesn’t mean a complacent brown girl with long black tresses, they seem put off.  I suppose it’s a hassle to have to work with a body that also talks.  Sigh.

When artists and organizers have to deal with me being multifaceted it seems too confusing for them.  Many outlets that have used me for my Indian-ness have overlooked the fact that there may be other key components to my life.  They often ask me questions that seem relevant to an Indian girl, not realizing how many heteronormative and racist stereotypes they are making.  I think of myself as a puzzle and they need to see every piece to really know me.  They can’t take out one piece of the puzzle and say they have the whole picture.

Outlets that have used me for my feminist voice are also often conflicted.  Maybe I’m the first feminist they’ve worked with or the first radical feminist to speak up.  After getting to know me they soon realize they do not like breathing feminists as much as the idea of a token feminist do-gooder.

When it is so clear I am being used as a token, my emotions become conflicted.  I am pleased when my identities are being acknowledged.  I am proud to be me, so when a part of me is acknowledged and given light to I often feel honored in a small way.  However, I know that it isn’t always meant as an honor or compliment.  Passive aggressive insults and backhanded compliments are all the rage and I am highly aware of them.  Those acquaintances that push me forward as their pet feminist may be more into introducing me as a “loud-mouthed bitch” than a “vocal advocate,” if given the opportunity.

Sometimes people identify me as their feminist friend, their radical activist friend etc. as a way of making me feel special.  It’s often a way of making me feel different, which isn’t bad because in many contexts I am different.  However, I want to feel like I have a home in a community and if my difference is constantly being highlighted, without ever being explored or necessarily embraced, then where is my comfort?

Anyway, there is no one better than Audre Lorde to turn to when feeling the reality of intersectionality.  I’m going to end in true Anurag-fashion with a quote from Audre Lorde:

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

 

About the author

Anurag

Anurag is a queer, feminist, social worker-to-be. Currently residing in the cornfields of Illinois.  Fierce, emotional and reclaiming the brown-ness.