There are three most important determinants of mental health, as highlighted by the World Health Organization, Canadian Mental Health Association and the Mental Health Commission of Canada: social inclusion, freedom from discrimination and violence and access to opportunities and resources. When the ethnic integrity and diversity is threatened in the queer communities, the lack of comfort in the (theoretically) intersectional queer groups in Peterborough causes a heartfelt (and brain-felt) decline of mental health. As a queer woman of colour, I feel that the intersectional oppressions that put me and others like me at a disadvantage are overlooked and, quite frankly, never truly addressed at Trent and Peterborough as a whole. There are many of us stuck feeling helpless despite the “intersectional” efforts that the “woke” groups on campus seem to be aware of, but are never held accountable for.
Having barely been introduced to Peterborough, there are many of us from different countries with conservative backgrounds and who are in the process of unlearning the patch of disgust we have with our own sexuality. People of colour, like myself, do not have the privilege of exploring our sexuality and gender – such ideas are fruits of white, cis privilege and freedom (even if there’s a revolution around it in this country now). The folks who are actively, dedicatedly questioning and voicing concerns about such issues while excluding culturally diverse opinions must acknowledge that their concerns are from a worldview that allowed them the freedom of expression in the first place. When the majority of queer folks (who, I must mention, have also faced ostracism in numerous ways in their communities) fail to uphold the promise of acceptance, love and opportunity to people of colour, we’ve lost the game even before playing it – the false assurance of community that is offered in Peterborough to a person of colour is worse than having none to start with.
Instead, for the most of us from different ethnicities and not-so-privileged backgrounds, a safe space is found at the rare white, cis, straight friend’s house who wants to welcome us: who wants to learn more about our culture, who wants to be the poster child of ‘I-know-my-privilege’ – and not the groups who allegedly provide safe spaces. They operate under the guise of welcoming ideas, with very little diverse ethnic representation, and focus outreach to cater to similar company. And still, the onus is not on these organizations, who claim to fight for our rights and hold the mandates to create revolution: it is on the people of colour to create a safe space for ourselves and those like us within the cocoon of the same privileged people we wish to attain autonomy from, while simultaneously safeguarding ourselves from the constant tokenism we’re likely to be subjected.
When the immediate comfort for recovery from recurrent exclusion and discrimination is the conservative, ashamed and stifling family (or a similar entity) who doesn’t believe that queer people exist – who we’ve hidden our identities from and have to seek out for a sense of belonging and care despite this – the freedom of expression is oppressed once again, in a country which prides itself on its cultural inclusivity and open-mindedness. And if this is the community that Peterborough chooses to foster for queer people of colour – where one seeks to find consolation in people from a country where homosexuality is, at the very least, a social crime – it reflects on how much is truly being said in between “radical” conversations of mental health, inclusion and intersectionality in the city. While I understand a little bit of the argument and stigma that surrounds intersectionality (where some deem it appropriate to use it as an excuse for unhealthy behaviour, and I am aware of these approaches to reform), I cannot excuse the burden and the responsibility that is put on queer-identifying people of colour. We are expected to take a backseat on addressing microaggressions and social exclusion in the Peterborough queer community.
It’s easy to engage in the idea of diverse opinion. What’s hard is to sit down and ask yourself as an individual, an organisation, a part of the community, if you’re truly extending a place on the table next to your established friends; the hand to help discover the wonders of sexuality and gender; and the empathy for learning the ways of growing, in not just your own worldview, but of others who don’t share the same privilege, freedom and expression as you. As community members, we do not ask for you to teach us your ways of learning queerness, but to include us in the same conversations, seeking knowledge and respect for our culture that ultimately has forged our colour in the queer rainbow.
How genuine are the efforts of intersectional social justice in Peterborough, and more importantly at Trent, which continues to be the hub for many, many internationals and immigrants from queer-phobic countries and conservative family members? My role in the community is currently at its very roots, where wearing a ‘QUEER’ pin and hoping someone can find a sense of comfort so, so many miles away from their home country is one of my only goals some days. But what next? Will they find a community that cares about them and wants to empathize with their understanding of sexuality? Is there someone who wants to grow with them? Have I found that community? These are questions I seek to find and create the answers to, as I try to find more comfort in the little amount of expression and love (juxtaposed against conformity) that I am allowed, even in this country.
Safe spaces are not enough. Using queerness as a response to exclusivity is not an acceptable justification. Knowing what queerness is and freeing yourself from gender identity is not enough. If the community truly wants to make a difference, there’s a need for collective care of queer folk, where people of colour have representation for their cultural values, and not of white ideas of sexuality. There’s a need for respecting, wanting, appreciating, including and creating space for the colour in queerness – and I hope that this piece is a reason to begin for some.