Navigating invisible identities
By Luisa Berios
The prospect of explaining myself to others is so daunting it makes me feel nauseous. Every key aspect of my identity is hidden, or, rather, not directly discernable. And people can’t help but generalize and label based on what they see. While such judgements may not be motivated by malice, they nevertheless require continuous effort from me and many others, whose identities are assumed from perception. I look like a Caucasian, suburban, heterosexual, Christian, and happily married mom of one. In reality, I am an Asperger’s mom. I am one-hundred-percent Hispanic. I am pagan. And I identify as pansexual. None of these intersecting identities is clearly discernable by simply looking at me.
Sometimes that complicates social and professional relationships.
Not being perceived as holding multiple such identities leaves you open to hearing hurtful comments in everyday conversations. I’ve heard colleagues and acquaintances complain to me about Latinos and illegal immigrants, never suspecting that I am the descendent of a thrice-deported grandfather from Cuba. Some around me have derided special needs students and went so far as to advocate for the removal of kids like my daughter from the general population! And similar encounters have occurred with people disparaging the LGBTQ community, my community, to my face.
Inevitably, though, I do label myself. But I do so only parsimoniously and when the identity I reveal doesn’t challenge my relationship with the person to whom I am opening up. Even then, unsolicited advice regarding how to express my identities regularly comes my way. Some suggest I should only describe myself as Cuban and not Puerto Rican as a shield against racism, as Cubans tend to be seen as “more white” in our society. Others encourage me to keep my faith quiet because paganism is allegedly too “New Age” and might cast me as flaky and unreliable. I was advised not to give detail about my sexual identity, as doing so may upset those around me. These repeated experiences reinforced my wariness about sharing too much when meeting new people, which creates a vicious cycle: If people with invisible identities are mistreated when we disclose those identities, we are unable to publicly challenge misconceptions about our communities.
When I was younger, I was engaged to a woman. We were assumed both to be lesbians. Then, already, I would hear less than tolerant feelings being vented against queer identities, even from members of the LGBTQ community, albeit infrequently. Thus, I was quite reluctant to out myself as, at that time, bisexual. There were women who looked on bisexuality as a false claim, motivated by a desire to please or accommodate men. The absence of a tangible, observable proof of my identity triggered constant denial of said identity. This is one of the struggles of having bisexual or pansexual identities: our identities are not punctually observable, and thus are treated with skepticism.
Despite constant evolution of society and its general attitude towards sexual and gender minorities, bisexual and pansexual individuals continue to be on the receiving end of insensitive judgement by those not realizing that one observable behavior, at a specific time, may not exemplify a lifelong identity. I feel comfortable, though, with the prospect of explaining to my daughter that her mother looked for relationships regardless of gender and found her father. I am confident I’ll be able to talk to her about my full identity, without concern for causing distress or rejection. To that end, and despite the current political and social climate, I continuously encourage my daughter to look at people as complex beings. I teach her to fight generalizing perceptions, and to be open to surprises when she meets someone new. I am hopeful that, as people within and outside of the broader LGBTQ community continue to educate themselves on bisexuality and pansexuality, my daughter’s generation will be able to grow up in a world where all sexual and gender minorities can be welcomed and celebrated. •
Art: Naomi Vona, The Invisible Gala #2 (2017).
Luisa Berios is an educator, knitter, and bibliophile. She is the proud mother of an amazing daughter. In addition to the identities described above, she proudly identifies as a Hufflepuff.
Luisa writes pseudonymously due to privacy concerns. –Ed.