I was recently in a meeting where, as is often usual, I was the only person of color in the room, and certainly the only LGBTQ one. The group included a couple of guys I’d never met before. They held positions of power that gave them this aura of self-importance, and they carried it with them into the room.
Now in these kinds of work situations, I’m usually a pretty chill, relaxed energy. But as the meeting progressed, the Aries in me began to boil as I got little to no eye contact from anyone addressing the room. And there were only five of us there so it wasn’t like there was a massive sea of people to acknowledge. Regardless, this wasn’t the first time I had dealt with this kind of experience, so I tried to be calm.
I sort of watched as four people had a meeting in front of me. At times, I tried to interject with some insight or an affirmation, but I rarely even got a side-eye. Sometimes I find that the one who isn’t like the others just has to wait until he or she is called upon. And eventually, I was called upon.
After about thirty minutes of feeling like a ghost in the room, I was finally addressed by the straight, white man who had been talking for what seemed like days. He mentioned a Spanish word and then turned to me, looked me dead in the eye, and asked, “Does anyone know what that means?”
This was his first real piece of attention paid to me. And the cold response on my face must have translated to, “B****, don’t try me,” because after a beat, he turned to the others to ask if anyone else knew. Everyone sort of gave me side looks, wondering if I was gonna chime in.
First off, I’m not fluent, so I didn’t know. (The shame I have about that is a whole other piece.) But the fact that I’m not fluent and couldn’t answer isn’t the point. The point is I only became a valid member of the room when my ethnicity came into play, as if to say, “You can make your proper contribution now.” And if I had known the proper response, I sure as hell wasn’t going to play the part of his handy Latinx assistant.
I was a peer in this room, but was not made to feel as such. The meeting ended soon after and the people left. Thankfully, I had a private space to retire to with some pillows in it, because beating one of those pillows ultimately did me better than beating some man’s face.
Whether or not the way he regarded me had anything to do with my color or sexuality, I was still made to feel small and marginalized in that moment. And I’m so over it. For me, these inherent feelings of insecurity and doubt that showed up like a birthright while growing up gay and Latinx are a consistent struggle to keep in check. Especially as someone in the film industry--where most people at the table are straight and white--people like me have to work twice as hard to be seen and heard in the fight to shift representation and consciousness.
We are up against a systemic, lineage-specific problem in that we all got used to seeing the world through straight, white eyes. That’s the only perspective of life that media had fed us. There was very little alternative, and pretty much still isn’t. So now the talented queer and trans people of color with stories to tell have to transcend the not just professional and industry-specific hurdles everyone deals with, but also the hurdles that come with offering perspectives that are twice as unique. And some folks in that straight, white majority don’t want to bend their minds into thinking beyond their own experience. Or they can’t believe that anything without a strong, “mainstream” presence will ever find an audience. Finding success is not being made easy for any of us. So what to do?
As an LGBTQ POC, my goal is to let go of whatever inferiority complex I picked up along the way toward my destiny as a game changer. Whereas being gay and Latinx once accompanied feelings of shame or challenge--only exacerbated by bullies on the playground or grown-ass men in conference rooms--being those things now are badges of honor and pride. I left that meeting experience angry but also empowered.
I will not be made to feel like my opinion and my presence hold any less meaning than my heterosexual white peers. And part of shifting that is shifting my own inner story. I must tell myself that I belong. I must tell myself that my differences make me great and give me something special that only I can share.
I must know that I matter.
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